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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

A FLASH OF DISAPPOINTMENT

We haven't reached peak Superhero yet, where people just get tired of the genre like they finally did westerns.  There's definitely a danger of oversaturation, where there are so many shows, movies, and games that the concept loses its charm and fascination.  This next season at least 4 new superhero TV shows are coming out, along with at least 3 major superhero releases (plus several superhero-feeling ones like Kingsmen and Ex Machina).
The Flash is one of the currently active superhero TV shows, on "the CW" and its set in the same world as Arrow. The show takes superheroes seriously instead of a joke or trying to tone them down and ignore their primary themes (like the Avengers did, stripping down most of the costumes, avoiding superhero names, secret identities, and so on).
It has some decent effects, and they've tried to keep to the ideas in the Flash comics pretty closely while "updating them" to modern viewers.  But it ultimately fails and its unfortunate, because they're trying really hard.
I'll give you one example of how the show fails.  In a show that introduced "Captain Cold" the Flash is running so fast everyone around him is standing still.  He's able to disarm the bad guys so fast they don't even know what happened, and basically beats them all (but the main bad guy gets away).  Later big bad guy shows up with an experimental cold ray gun that he gives Flash troubles with.
Here's the problem: The Flash has already just in the same episode disarmed everyone and showed he was hundreds of times faster than them, including the main bad guy.
But it gets worse.  When Captain Cold returns, he has a partner with a flamethrower called Heat Wave.  So this episode just brings up a host of problems and bad writing.  To make up for their super cold gun being stolen and used by a villain, the big scientific firm creates special shields the cops can use.  Now, where the company is getting its money, since it was basically shut down after a huge particle accelerator disaster and would have been sued 91,791,826,510,256 times is not clear, and it doesn't have to be, but I'll get back to that in a moment.
So Captain Cold appears, trying to get the Flash to fight them so they can kill him, and the cops show up.  The shields work fine, Captain Cold can't freeze them.  But wait, Heat Wave is there, and he fries cops with a flame thrower!  The cops fall back in fear and disarray, they're helpless before the two supervillains!
Now when I'm watching this, I'm confused.  Because these guys are using lethal force against a good dozen police officers, and are wearing no body armor.  They aren't trying to hide behind cover, they aren't protected in any way.  Not only that, but the cops are all bunched up holding shields up as if they're in Thermopylae and think they're Spartans.
Nobody just plugs these guys.  The cops have no guns, apparently.  They are incapable of thinking about maybe spreading out so the guy with one gun can't shoot them all easily.  They can't pull out their weapon and shoot back.  All they can do is yell and hold shields up.
So the cops are hurt and the Flash has to try to fight them, something he was avoiding because he's got bigger issues to deal with.  It just didn't make any sense at all.
And the Flash finally fights Captain Cold and Heat Wave in the streets of the city.  His tactic?  Run at them and hit them.  And why not, it worked the first time he met Captain Cold.  Remember that, up above, where he was so fast the guy was standing still, frozen in time?
Not this time.  Once again, because he has a special gun, he suddenly isn't so much slower than The Flash.  Now Flashie has to hide behind cars and dash forward between shots.  But there's two guys with special guns now, so he's just not able to get close to them!  He keeps getting hit!  Thankfully as the flash, he heals fast so it doesn't keep him down long.
In one particularly "what the---" moment, the Flash gets hit by a freeze ray, is down a moment and looks up.  Captain Cold has him in his sights.  His finger tightens on the trigger.  Is this the end of the Flash??  No!  Because before he can move an ordinary cop dude dives in from off camera with a shield and blocks the shot.  That's right, the cop can run up to the Flash and interpose his shield before the fastest man alive who can run at the speed of sound is able to react.
All through this scene, the Flash is unable to disarm them.  He can't even get close.  They keep hitting him.  This is a guy so fast he's able to easily dodge the arrows shot at him by another superhero but not ray guns.
Finally he beats them by... moving slowly so both of them shoot him.  They are basting him with both guns at the same time - the same guns that were wounding and stunning him before, knocking him flying for some reason - and jogs slowly between them, then ducks so they shoot each other.  Cold and heat counter each other out!  They're beaten!  And for some reason this time the Flash is not frozen into a popsicle, he doesn't burst into flames.  
Why, its sciencey, the absolute cold and "absolute heat" (I'm serious, they used that to describe flame earlier in the show) counter each other out!  He's not frozen on one side and roasted on the other, he's just not hurt badly at all.
It was just... awful.  I'm just not interested in the show ever again.
Now, part of the problem is that The Flash always had lousy bad guys.  His "rogues gallery" was filled with a bunch of one-trick specialists that, written reasonably well, the Flash would beat without putting his coffee cup down.  Even a powered down Flash could easily trash most of them easily.  So the writers don't have a lot to work with here.  But this was even more egregious than usual: apparently their power level wildly varies based on situation and dramatic needs.
Its not that none of the show works.  I like how they're slowly building up Flash's powers; he doesn't start out running at light speed and vibrating through objects.  Yes, when he was "evil" under the influence of a drug he mysteriously became more powerful and could use a bunch of powers he never showed or had a clue he could use before, but generally speaking he's just starting out and not very good at what he does.  Its that the entire concept fails, the show is a confused mess.
And every superhero show that goes on television seems to follow this same pattern: attempt to update it avoiding many of the basic themes that makes up a comic book superhero (costumes, secret identities, code names, etc), and distort the character to try to appeal to modern audiences.
The problem with both of these shows is the same basic flaw: they won't go all in.  They need to pick what world setting and concept they're in and dive in face first.  Instead they try to have it two ways: the modern, realistic, sciencey setting, and the romanticized superhero fantasy setting.
For example, in The Flash, after a horrendous disaster that irradiated a huge city with unknown energy and shutting off power in the entire city, the company still exists, still has money, still is open, still can develop products at will even though it seems to consist of the owner and two technicians.  I'm serious, the entire company is 3 people in a huge building.
Now, in a comic book world, this works because you just shrug and wink at the consequences of events and don't need to show all the ins and outs.  But they are trying to portray this as the real world, so there are consequences, and they do get into problems.  Sometimes, when the plot calls for it.  Other times, there's no significance whatsoever to the events and actions the company takes.
Giving the cops shields against the bad guy isn't a bad idea, and its presented as all sciency and technological and stuff.  The cops act like real cops in a real police station, not fond of the company because its basically been nothing but trouble, and that freeze ray was their invention to begin with.  Then suddenly we're in comic book land again - and poorly written comic book land, where the cops are helpless before some dude with a raygun.
The problem for the Flash is that they're trying to write it so that comic book fans will embrace it.  Unlike Arrow, which they stripped down so far the only similarity to Green Arrow is that he wears green color and has a bow (and has the same secret identity), The Flash actually has a costume, villains with colorful names, etc.  They're not going the Avengers route where Hawkeye is never ever called by his code name, and none of them have secret ids.  They are actually trying to go with comic book themes.
But then they also try to avoid the comic booky stuff to appeal to other viewers.  And between the two you end up with a show that has too much comic book geek stuff for casual viewers, and the comic book fans are offended by how they can't seem to understand how speed would work or write it reasonably.
And in the end its an inconsistent, contrived, confused, and idiotic mess.

1 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

Nice write up.

I watched a few episodes of the first season of "Arrow". It wasn't too bad, but I lost interest. About fifty to seventy percent of any given episode was clearly aimed at a much more youthful demographic.

7:36 PM, February 03, 2015  

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