The Flash has the pitch-perfect tone that the Amazing Spider-Man films should have had. While things can get pretty morose, specifically when they feature flashbacks to the days after the murder of Barry’s mom, the series so far hasn’t wallowed in bleakness -- and in this age, that’s so appreciated. There’s a pure joy to watching Grant Gustin work the character: He isn’t dark, he isn’t cynical; he’s a unapologetic superhero, and for that Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and Geoff Johns should be praised.
And does it get any more heroic than saving people from a burning building? Also, has there ever been an apartment fire in a superhero story that wasn’t accompanied by a screaming woman desperately searching for her child? Well, The Flash saved the kid and everyone else inside -- and, cliché or no, man, was that fun to watch. Immediately embracing the idea of a superhero, Cisco Ramon serves as Barry’s dispatcher and guide, a fun role for a young man who shares The Flash’s altruistic tendencies. While Cisco fills develops as a character, Caitlin Snow still talks in exposition. Sure, her angry streak is a nice little wrinkle, but she's yet to give viewers anything to latch onto.
The story proper begins with the introduction of a character known to longtime DC Comics fans, Simon Stagg. Sadly, there’s no Java the Caveman, but Stagg is his familiar seedy self as he’s honored for his philanthropic work. Veteran actor William Sadler nails the oiliness of Stagg, who's less cartoonish than comic fans are accustomed to seeing.
The show is spinning a lot of plates, with Thawne/Iris, metahumans, Barry and his powers, multiple relationships, the backgrounds of Ramon, Snow and Harrison Wells, the introduction of new villain, and Barry’s past, but it’s not getting bogged down. Everything gets its due in this issue, which is rather impressive, considering there were tons of plot points and story beats to be hit.
Let’s take a look at one of those beats: Iris and Barry. The unrequited love was forced and a bit obvious, but Gustin’s sincerity makes it sing. The scene in which Barry confesses to Iris everything about his powers and his feelings – at super-speed, so she didn’t notice -- is clever and cute, and displays more of that Gustin magic. This installment also treats viewers to a flashback of a young Iris and Barry that probably would’ve served the pilot better, as it establishes the bond between the two. Still, it’s a nice piece of background here. The Iris/Barry flashback wasn’t the only one in “The Fastest Man Alive,” but it was the most effective. Others dealing with the murder of Barry’s mom served to show why Barry needs to run, but they cover the same ground as last week’s. These could get old quick, as the lessons Barry learned as a child don’t need to be so deeply covered. They’re not the Island from Arrow; they’re beautiful in their simplicity and don’t need to be dredged up again and again to drive home Barry’s motivations.
We mentioned last week that there are many parallels to Spider-Man, which surface again when Barry weakens -- and even passes out at one point -- after using his powers, causing him to grapple with self-doubt (certainly not helped by Detective West’s admonishments that he’s not a hero). That leads to the discovery by the STAR Labs team that Barry needs to consume tons of calories in order to use his powers, an element explored to great effect by Mike Baron during his run on DC’s Flash in the late ‘80s.
So we explored Barry and his self-doubt, and Barry and Iris, so let’s take a look at the villain of the week: Danton Black, aka Multiplex, had a straightforward revenge motivation – he wanted to kill Stagg, who stole his research -- but his powers made him compelling, and a great way to continue to establish Barry’s own motivations and abilities. The way Black’s clones moved in unison provided a nice visual, and the way Black multiplied when struck by The Flash provided a true test for the neophyte speedster.
On to Detective West, who went from foil to father figure during the course of the episode. Barry doubts himself because the man who raised him questioned his ability to be a hero, leading him to falter against Multiplex and his clones. There’s a complicated, and compelling, relationship between West, who assumed the role of father, and Barry, who believes he’s ready to walk – and run – on his own, and become a new kind of hero. By episode’s end, West joins Barry in his mission to solve his mother’s murder and free his father from prison, making the detective an integral force in the life of the hero Barry will become. West now realizes that super-problems require super-solutions, and his belief in Barry helped restore the young hero’s self-confidence, resulting in an impressive set piece that saw The Flash take down multiple floors of Multiplexes.
Danton Black is a tragic figure who sought revenge against Stagg for firing him, which led to the death of his wife; props to the series for making the character more than a visual gimmick. The Flash takes down Black in classic style, running through hundreds of clones to find the prime. It was Snow who realized how to defeat Black, and it was the words of support from West that ignited Barry’s confidence. That’s fine for now, but the plots will have to stop relying on the third-act motivational speech from supporting characters.
The episode ends on a dramatic note, with the enigmatic Harrison Wells paying a visit to Stagg. I know, I know, you see Stagg you’re thinking a back-door introduction to Metamorpho, right? In grand villain tradition, Stagg lays out his plan to find and exploit The Flash (who earlier in the evening had saved his life), seemingly establishing the “philanthropist” as a recurring villain. Not so fast: To protect Barry, Wells rises from his wheelchair to shank Stagg and (seemingly) protect Barry.
Episode 2 was a well-executed love letter to superheroes as The Flash even while finding its voice.