'The Flash' catches a comic book geek's eye

The speedy DC hero is on TV for a second sprint, er, stint. Comic book junkie and Crave contributor Jeff Sparkman explains his exposure to The Flash, checks out the CW pilot and restrains his urge to make cheesy puns.

Jeff Sparkman Senior Copy Editor / Reviews
Jeff Sparkman is a copy editor at CNET who also writes about goofy and retro gadgets and contributes lame jokes where needed.
Jeff Sparkman
3 min read

Little did 7-year-old me know how relevant this issue would be over three decades later. DC Comics

Even before I bought my first issue of his comic (The Flash Vol. 1, No. 297), I'd seen him on "Challenge of the Superfriends." He even made his way to the third spot in my Underoos pantheon, after Superman and Green Lantern.

I choked up seeing him run his final lap in 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, and years later, I dutifully watched his first TV show, doing my best to follow it from week to week as it changed time slots to try to avoid getting slaughtered by "The Simpsons" and other challengers.

Inevitably, since there's a new "The Flash" TV show, I checked out the pilot. Disclosure: CNET is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS. "The Flash" airs on The CW, a joint venture between CBS and Warner Bros. Entertainment. However, I swear on my copy of The Flash No. 139 that I'm writing purely as a longtime fan and a bit of a comic book nerd. No one's even offered me a T-shirt.

Now, I try not to judge a show based solely on the first episode, for good or bad. I will therefore base my observations on the first episode AND the preview for the second episode. See, there's a science to this.

I'll try to avoid being spoilery as much as I can, but my biggest takeaway from the first episode is that just having read The Flash comics is almost a spoiler for the show in itself. Just knowing the secret identities of various heroes and villains tends to kill the suspense.

We'll have to see if the show's writers use this to their advantage and tweak things to avoid just replicating the big plot points from the series over the years. I noticed there was one tweak in the pilot already, so that's a good sign.

The CW

As I'd suspected when fellow CNET copy editor and pop-culture geek Caitlin Petrakovitz wrote about seeing the pilot at Comic-Con in San Diego (and no, I don't hold it against her that she went and I didn't), this Flash has a similar origin to the one currently in the comics. Yeah, I know that seems like an obvious move, but you'd be surprised how often that doesn't happen in TV and movies. Heck, when the first show was on the air, Barry Allen wasn't even alive. Um, it's a long story.

In the new show, Grant Gustin is a very young-looking Barry Allen, but thankfully for old folks like me, he doesn't seem SO young that I'm constantly thinking about it the whole time -- even after I saw who plays his dad. (John Wesley Shipp...the original TV Flash from 1990.) Truth be told, though, I kinda wish I hadn't found out from IMDb that Gustin was born the year the first show's pilot was shot. Something sure went by fast.

There are a lot of tips of the hat to Flash comics old and new, whether it's a slightly-too-lingering shot of a broken cage with a sign that says "Grodd" or the inclusion of characters like Cisco Ramon and Detective West's partner, Eddie Thawne. And from reading about casting for upcoming episodes and then seeing the aforementioned second-episode preview, it's clear that this incarnation of "The Flash" won't be lonely for long.

Amusingly enough, the mysterious fellow in the preview, Danton Black, also appeared in that first issue of The Flash I bought eons ago. Not in the Flash story, but in the backup story in that issue, which was also my introduction to the character of Firestorm. Had Underoos included Firestorm in its lineup, I'm pretty sure he'd have made the fourth spot in my collection.

I guess what I'm stumbling toward here is that I'm kind of impressed how much stuff they've already managed to cram into the show. And as there are likely more heroes that will be cropping up, I'm hoping the show won't have the same problem that a lot of superhero movie sequels had, where the villains outshadow the hero. In short, I am cautiously optimistic.

I just wish I could tell the 7-year-old me, "Dude, you're gonna get to see a live-action Flash and Firestorm on TV when you're a little bit older." And if it keeps up the pace it might have a decent run this time.

Have you checked out the show yet? What do you think so far?

"The Flash" is on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. PT/ET on the CW.