With the multitudes of comic book based television currently on air, it’s hard to compare them evenly to each other. Slating the dark humor of Preacher versus the thrilling drama of Legion would be a tall order indeed. However, there are two shows in the current comic TV landscape that share a special relationship: Arrow and The Flash. The latter born from the former, both series tend to orbit one another throughout each season aired on the CW.
Viewers enjoyed Arrow when it first hit the scene, taking a much grittier look at the emerald archer and actually making it work. When The Flash debuted, it was a considerable step taken towards the far more cheesy comic book material, all but eschewing the more grounded take its sibling show provided. This has caused a sharp divide with fans on which is better. While many enjoy The Flash for its lighter tone and far more fantastical rogues, it simply can’t hold a candle to its elder brother Arrow. Boasting an amazing team of support members, gripping villain conflicts and an iteration of a character that has become much beloved by fans, Arrow didn’t just kick things off, but still remains the strongest part of the Arrowverse.
CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD FOR VARIOUS SEASONS OF FLASH AND ARROW.
15. FLASH CAN’T TAKE HIMSELF SERIOUSLY
One of the biggest things about The Flash is the show’s more bubbly nature in comparison to Arrow. Central City is brighter, the humor more straightforward and most of the series’ problems are faced down with a laugh from Barry Allen. This usually works in the show’s favor, but it really gets hampered when the plot takes a turn for the more serious fare.
When Barry is faced with putting a stop to Zoom or unveiling Reverse Flash’s true identity, it’s a task that requires a bit of levity. Unfortunately, because the show regularly engages in cheesy jokes, awkward situations and dorky humor, illustrating tension makes the tone shift suffer. Seeing these seemingly always happy people try to bear down on a bad situation often results in their seriousness coming off like they’re trying too hard to be what they think a mean adult should be.
14. EVEN GREEN ARROW’S SECRET IDENTITY IS A HERO
Whether it be under a green hood and wielding a bow or clad in a tailored suit with a power tie, Oliver Queen has done his best for Star City in both arenas. The Green Arrow is a vigilante that roots out dangerous criminals at night and Oliver Queen is the mayor looking to build hospitals and support programs for those in need.
Despite being a crime scene investigator, Barry doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned with helping people while out of costume. His work at the Central City Police Department has taken a huge backseat to his heroics, even being called out by Julian in the third season for being rather terrible at his job. Barry is best at being the Flash and doesn’t really push himself to be better in both arenas, instead of just strong in one.
13. ARROW’S BROMANCE IS BETTER
Given that both shows rock male protagonists, it’s only natural that they encounter a lifelong friend they trust completely. For Oliver, that is a title given to John Diggle. Diggle started off as Ollie’s bodyguard in season one, eventually being among the first to join Team Arrow. Through betrayals, losses in the family and more, Diggle and Oliver have remained besties to this day.
For Barry, his resident bro is that of Cisco Ramon. Ramon was a S.T.A.R. Labs engineer and has since assisted Barry with all manner of meta analysis and cringe-worthy nicknames. Cisco however, is regularly bowled over by Barry’s decisions, hardly having an equal say in their discussions. Other than an odd reference to an ’80s movie and a high five, Ramon largely does what Barry tells him and fiddles away at gadgets. Their bromance simply can’t hold a candle to the bond Ollie and Diggle share.
12. NO MORE FLASH FRENEMIES
Early on in the first season of Flash, his greatest nemesis Captain Cold was introduced. Cold went beyond a typical villain in that he unearthed Barry’s secret identity and plotted to use it against him. The two instead decided to forge an uneasy gentleman’s agreement where Cold would continue his thievery without killing and the Flash would let him get away so long as no people were hurt.
This case of frenemies looked to be a huge factor in later seasons, but Cold was whisked away quickly to join Legends of Tomorrow. This cut down what could have been a potentially strong character relationship that could easily fuel more conflicts as the seasons went on. The duo has made only one friendly interaction in season three, but it’s not nearly as satisfying as a more longstanding partnership could have been.
11. ARROW’S VILLAINS ARE MORE THREATENING
Oliver Queen has had a lot of imposing enemies so far. Malcom Merlyn wanted to destroy the entire Glades with an earthquake machine, Deathstroke unleashed an army of super soldiers on its residents and Ra’s Al Ghul straight up wanted to wipe the city off the map!
Barry however, has largely had villains that are more so preoccupied with him than Central City. Reverse Flash’s entire shtick is ruining Allen’s life from the beginning. Savitar was similarly obsessed with Barry in stealing his speed and taking away everything that mattered to him. The only exception is Zoom, but even he was fairly stuck on the speedster for a good chunk of his tenure. Any way it’s sliced, The Flash’s villains don’t really care about harming civilians, just the hero, which makes their threat level pale in comparison to Arrow’s.
10. OLIVER’S TEAMMATES LEAD INTERESTING LIVES
The amount of mystery and eccentricity doesn’t simply stop at Oliver Queen in Arrow. John Diggle has a long and sordid past as a former member of A.R.G.U.S., Felicity has an estranged criminal hacker for a father and Laurel struggled with addiction alongside her father before they helped each other overcome it. Green Arrow’s friends are just as interesting as the hero himself, which lends to more fuller character arcs that play well into the story.
The crew at S.T.A.R. Labs however, seem to have fairly boring lives outside of helping Barry. Sure, Cisco had a slight tiff with his brother and Caitlin’s lack of a relationship with her mother was revealed, but never really given a lot of depth. The characters appear to have little life outside of assisting the speedster, which makes them seem like shallow background on the oft Barry-centric stories.
9. LESS VILLAIN-OF-THE-WEEK FORMULA
Given that both Arrow and The Flash rock fairly long seasons, it makes sense that smaller villains would take the spotlight to pad out the down times in the main rogue’s story. The Green Arrow has easily tackled this with random mob bosses, psychotic drug dealers or simply other vigilantes coming into the fray.
The bigger discrepancy between the shows is that The Flash gives far more backstory to the so-called filler villains than it should. Tragic backstories, dossiers and heart-to-heart conversations between Barry and the baddies are often had in each episode. While it fleshes out the villains’ characters, it also quickly becomes a waste of time as they’re locked away or shelved until they return next season (if at all). The frustration with the weekly rogue rotation is only compounded by Cisco’s emphatic need to nickname every one of them.
8. BARRY IS AN INCREDIBLY SELFISH HERO
Oliver Queen is nothing if not self-sacrificing. Always willing to put himself in danger before others, he has exhibited difficulty in finding comrades for fear that they would be killed in action. Green Arrow disarms explosives, runs headlong into armies of ninjas and goes toe-to-toe with powerful sorcerers whom he doesn’t have a prayer against, willingly doing so if it means a chance at saving a few people in the process.
Barry Allen however, is largely selfish in his bigger goals. He dedicated a lot of his initial run (pun intended) to exonerating his father and punishing Reverse Flash for killing his mom. Likewise, his single biggest motivation to stop Savitar wasn’t to seal away a great evil that could rule the world, but to stop his great love Iris from being killed. While romantic and well-meaning, Barry has always been selfish in his heroics. Don’t even get us started on Flashpoint.
7. OLIVER STOPS ACTUAL CRIMES
Green Arrow does his best to have crime on the run in his show. Whether it’s chasing down drug runners or dismantling underground trafficking operations, Oliver is tireless in his pursuit of justice. No fish is too small, especially if it means protecting a few lives in Starling City.
The Flash however, has a much differently filled plate. Often he’s chasing after metas that happen to cross his path or start up chaos in downtown Central City. While Barry putting a stop to superhuman rogues is certainly a good thing, he seems to have little concern for the more ground-level crime. Case in point: Iris West investigated an illegal arms operation herself before Barry, because the latter deemed it less important for him to focus on. If it doesn’t involve metas or a member of his team, Flash largely doesn’t concern himself with stopping “regular” crime.
6. FEWER ALTERNATE WORLD LOOPHOLES
When Barry discovered that he could travel between alternate worlds, it opened up a veritable Pandora’s box of confusion. Truly, the numerous extra Earths have acted as a writer’s safety net for the Flash. Whenever there’s trouble, he can easily dump off his loved ones in another world or pull another hero for temporary backup. The alternate Earths have become less of an interesting parallel and more of a bailout for the hero.
Arrow is mostly free of this problem. The one exception being the appearance of Black Siren, doppelganger to Laurel Lance, but that was not due to any involvement on Oliver’s part. When folks on Green Arrow’s side run into issues, there’s no escaping to another world for backup. They simply have to dig in their heels and face the problems head on, which makes for great drama.
5. BETTER ACTION
Green Arrow isn’t just a skilled archer, he’s also adept in hand to hand combat. Over the past several seasons, he’s fought ninjas, assassins, soldiers and of course, more-than-average street thugs. The show has combined this over the years in a flurry of skillful archery shots, stylized martial arts displays and car chases. While some of the choreography could be off, it still showed quite a variety.
The Flash however, has much of its action revolving around metahuman damage and oddly CGI fights between Barry and the rogues. The speedster doesn’t fight in the traditional sense like his emerald archer friend, so many of his duels are relegated to zoomed shots of Allen running or slow-motion trades of blows. It works for the character, but mostly lacks the excitement factor, especially during showdowns with the season’s main villain.
4. OLIVER THINKS THINGS THROUGH
One of Oliver’s shining qualities (although some may argue otherwise), is that he’s very much aware of the effect his decisions may have on the future. One such example was when he embedded himself within the League of Shadows, shunning his friends to gain the trust of Ra’s al Ghul. Oliver knew that his comrades would be hard up to trust him again, but knew that stopping the villain was worth it.
Despite being a scientist, Barry Allen doesn’t really have a care about general cause and effect to his actions. The most pointed example of this is undoubtedly when he decided to save his mother and created Flashpoint, not once considering the widespread aftershocks such an act could bring. Barry has very little consideration for his antics, which leads to him making a lot of frustratingly stupid decisions that he attempts to haphazardly rectify each season.
3. DEATH HAS MORE IMPACT
When Oliver’s mother was killed by Deathstroke, her death shook Oliver and his sister for quite awhile. Laurel’s death similarly smacked viewers in the face with harsh reality, her absence a reminder of the losses Team Arrow has accrued. Granted they have brought Sara Lance back from the dead, but she at least remained dead for more than a handful of episodes.
Barry has lost folks too such as his father, but due to his time-traveling abilities and interactions with Earth-2 doppelgangers every five minutes, it’s like they were never dead at all. One egregious example of this was when Reverse Flash killed Cisco, only to have the timeline reset and his death averted in the next episode. Characters on The Flash never expire, but simply reemerge through one loophole or another.
2. ARROW HAS A BETTER HERO/LAW DYNAMIC
Both heroes go the vigilante route because they feel there are some things their respective police departments won’t or simply can’t handle. They usually employ illegal means to capture a lot of bad guys on behalf of the department, but they differ on their views regarding their heroism.
While Oliver completely embraces working outside of the law to bring folks to justice, Barry still wrongly thinks he’s working within it. While unlawfully imprisoning metas in the pipeline (Iron Heights has been shown to have cells capable of holding superhumans) and contemplating about busting his father out of prison since he’s innocent, Allen still feels like he’s acting lawfully. Green Arrow truly embraces the role of vigilante protector while the Flash toes the line of justified oppressor.
1. NO POWERS WORKS BETTER
While it is cool to see Barry Allen zoom off into the distance with a wink and a smile, the overabundance of metahuman powers makes a lot of his plights seem fruitless. With everyone having abilities, previously important stakes of people’s lives come less and less into play.
With Arrow however, most of the heroes involved don’t have any powers. They have to rely on their own physical abilities, strategies and wits to get them through whatever obstacle they face. Oliver can be fatally wounded by the most inane things, which heightens the sense of risk and drama with every street thug he faces. Barry and many of his team have abilities that bail them out of bad situations, so any major situation they face feels far less dire in comparison. What’s the point in worrying about something going south if Barry is just going to reset the timeline again?
What are your thoughts? Do you think Arrow is the stronger show or does The Flash run circles around it? Sound off in the comments!