Wednesday night’s conclusion to a two-part CW television event, as improbable as it sounds, has major ramifications for DC Comics as we know them. The Flash/Arrow crossover, heavily hyped for weeks and christened #Flarrow on Twitter, swept through superhero tropes like lightning (sorry) and cut them down with an arrow in the eye (okay, that one was unnecessary). As good as it was—and believe me, some parts of it were downright magical—there were significant missteps as well, which could easily be repeated in DC’s upcoming Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice if Warner doesn’t learn from this experience while it’s fresh. Spoilers follow.
The first crime #Flarrow commits is being super cheesy—although really, is that really unexpected from either show? The cheese factor is operating at full blast for all two hours, natch, but when you pair Barry Allen’s nutty personal life with the nonstop drama tornado that is Oliver Queen and then slap it on the CW, there’s only one outcome. Barry’s opening monologue to “Flash Vs. Arrow” says it all, complaining of “a bad case of the feels” (re: Iris Allen, who ranks among the worst romantic interests); is it any surprise that he falls prey to an emotionally manipulative metahuman who brings out all his personal problems in a rage of super-speed?
I appreciate Flash’s cheesiness, and how it plays into the series’ more lighthearted humor. Folks die in The Flash, but Cisco can still make Star Wars references and geek out about costume design. There’s room for Singh to make a comment about his health-nut boyfriend. This gives the actors from Arrow more room to play around with their characters and crack wise a little bit.
By the way, that’s the first and best success of #Flarrow: the way the series’ two tones were mixed, yet not allowed to blend. In part 1, Barry has to capture “The Rainbow Raider”—now rechristened “Prism”—but falls prey to his rage-inducing glare, resulting in an epic fight sequence between Flash, Eddie Thawne, and Arrow that drives Barry darker than he’s ever been. Grant Gustin, finally let off the emotional leash, takes advantage of the opportunity to show us a truly frightening Flash—one that might foreshadow the coming of one Professor Zoom sometime in the near future (yay time travel puns).
But while Barry goes dark, he gets better and nobody dies (this time)—he just has a whole new set of feels for Iris, since she kinda holds a grudge against the Flash for beating up her boyfriend. Meanwhile, Oliver is always in danger of going too dark on his show, but Barry shows up to demonstrate how extreme methods aren’t always necessary to do the right thing. We get a flashback to Ollie’s time in China to argue the opposite, and the three stories form a compelling study in violence. How much is too much? How much is not enough?
Of course, Arrow accomplishes its mission with a far heavier hand than The Flash. In part 2, Captain Boomerang is stalking Dig’s girl Lilah—agent of ARGUS. No emotional manipulation here—this dude sticks to his wheelhouse and throws explosive boomerangs at your head. Spoiler alert: stabbings occur regularly in this episode. Barry has a problem with Oliver’s torturous methods, which Ollie defends—before learning that in his use of force, he played right into Boomerang’s hands.
While the spinoff has displayed, somewhat surprisingly, more subtlety than its predecessor, Arrow’s star characters have always worn their hearts on their sleeves, and it’s so apparent here that it starts to get a little grating. Ollie and Lilah have a heart-to-heart about necessary evils that is basically just them finishing each other’s sentences—because they’re so in sync, guys, get it? Cisco plays audience-insert through the entire event, and has a particularly groan-inducing speech about how metahumans were sent to protect humanity from…Mirakuru soldiers? Or something? This trend toward large, blatant, tell-don’t-show moments—although punctuated with some great pithy dialogue—gums up the works in what would otherwise be a compelling story about the line between hero and monster.
That’s one thing I’ve afraid of in Dawn of Justice—that when Batman meets Superman, there’s going to be a lot of posturing, references, and big talk, but no restraint. Marvel’s shared universe has been lauded for the excellent, nuanced characterization of its stars; if DC can’t do the same with the Big Two, there’s blood in the water. At that point, even if DC manages to hold onto television, Marvel will still keep the movie crown, plus the “We Were Here First” trophy.
On the other hand, there’s a lot the Arrow and Flash crews can teach Zack Snyder and David Goyer about crafting a millennial superhero story. The most fundamental lesson that needs to be taken away is this: superheroes are friends. Some have disagreements—and since some of them can fly and blow stuff up, those can get heated—but generally, heroes grow together over time. It’s a key part of the inspiration that keeps us reading and watching these stories. It would truly be unfortunate if the DC Cinematic Universe began, only to produce “heroes” that are busier fighting each other than the bad guys. Barry and Ollie punch the living daylights out of each other in #Flarrow, and—total spoiler alert—the event ends with them squaring off in a warehouse to privately see who would win in a fight. That’s how you do friendly rivals up right.
After poring over #Flarrow, I have to admit that for all its gleeful cheese and sometimes hamfisted portrayals of emotional complexity, this is one superhero adaptation that I’m very thankful was made. If Dawn of Justice could feature a crazy Silver Age Superman opposite a dark and brooding Batman, I’d love it—but knowing that’s never going to happen, I have to simply hope that Warner Brothers will take the best lessons they can from this project and make superhero media better than the status quo.
And for those of you who couldn’t care less about what anything means for Dawn of Justice, but want to know if the televised adventures of Speedy Man-child and Gym Class Hero are worth watching: #Flarrow proves to me, beyond a doubt, that these two shows are going exactly where they need to. If you like seeing people in costumes getting in big, impractical fights (and why wouldn’t you?), you owe it to yourself to get caught up.
Sam Riedel is a freelance writer and editor from Brooklyn. He subsists on a balanced diet of noodles, Pokémon, and science fiction. Can be observed in his natural environment on twitter or tumblr. Prolonged contact may cause irritation.