Saturday, February 20, 2010

It's "After School Special" Time!

The Flash

Episode 2: "Out of Control"

Plot: Someone is killing homeless people in Central City but before the men die they undergo strange and horrific transformations. Barry investigates as a favor to a friend and wonders if it is a coincidence that an old flame of Tina McGee's arrived in town just about the time the deaths began...

My Take: First episode of the regular season and already viewers can see a few cast changes. The actress playing Iris West is quickly and effortlessly written out and Barry's new supervisor -- Lt. Garfield -- is written in equally effortlessly.

The overall story is quite the mess here. The pacing is terribly off -- the story moves to slowly in some places and too quickly in others making the whole thing feel jerky. There is a lot of heavy-handed moralizing of the type one used to see in those "After School Specials" and the villain is less than a cardboard cut-out. There is little explanation of his motivation and little reason for most of the things he does. When they do decide to give him a quasi-motivation he pulls an Inspector Javert out of nowhere (in the musical version of Les Miserables Inspector Javert reveals to Jean Valjean towards the end of the musical that he was born inside a prison -- a child of one of the prisoners there -- and this is one of the reasons why he dislikes convicts) and here there isn't the benefit of some pretty good musical numbers and a background of the Paris Uprising of 1832.

Many of the scenes are just plain bad. Badly written, the tone of the actors off, and leaving huge plotholes or else requiring the that viewers accept that the characters are simply stupid. There are also several moments -- mostly the transformation scenes -- which are 100% Velveeta cheese.

Some of the transformation scenes, however, look pretty good from a technical standpoint. The "monster" makeup for the villain of the piece though looks like something from a 'C-Grade' horror movie. A few of the scenes of the Flash using his powers are also a bit lacking -- showing their age and some obvious green screen work.

From a comic book fan standpoint... Removing Iris from the series is about the equivalent of removing Lois Lane from a series about a grown up Superman (and no, Smallville doesn't count). Among DC's superheroes Barry was one of the earliest to actually marry his love interest and stay married to her (except for a brief period when she was believed dead and then a long stretch when he actually was dead. Comic book death... might as well put a revolving door on the coffin) so the complete removal of her character so that the writers could use Dr. Tina McGee for romantic tension in the series is a bit irritating.

Another disappointing surprise is the revelation that Howard Chaykin was one of two script supervisors on the series. Chaykin is, and has been for some time, a well known comic book writer and artist. He is probably best known for his satirical, adult tribute to sex, drugs, jazz, and pulp stories in the comic book series American Flagg! finding him attached to this mess seems a bit incomprehensible... but I'm willing to chalk it up to either editorial interference, the story getting chopped up in post-production, studio influence or any combination thereof.

In the end, this is one story which could easily be skipped. Or else watched MST3K style with jokes and riffs.

Flash Facts:
At one point two patrol officers call in from the corner of Gardner and Fox streets. Gardner Fox was a longtime writer for DC and several other comic book companies but most of his comic book output was through DC. Not only did he write the first stories featuring the Golden Age Flash (1939), he also wrote the first several years of stories featuring the Silver Age Flash (1956). He was credited with creating DC's first "multiverse" and by the time he left DC there was probably very few characters he had not written in either solo stories or as a part of team books. There were and remain very few writers out there as prolific as Fox nor writers who have had such a profound effect on the face of comic books. He passed away in 1986 but his legacy lives on.

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