Midway through “Arrow’s” first season, Oliver Queen and Malcolm Merlyn are seated at a dinner table surrounded by some of Starling City’s wealthiest and most powerful individuals, when the subject of the city’s as-yet-unmonikered comes up. The men are nemeses, although neither one yet knows it, but there’s plenty of tension when Malcolm asks Oliver what he thinks of “the vigilante.”
“Green Arrow” is, of course, the name of the DC Comics’ character on whom Oliver Queen’s Arrow is modeled, but Oliver never takes up that “lame” code name himself: In fact it took “Arrow” more than a season for him to take on any name at all. It’s a microcosm of the fine line comic book adaptations walk, trying to tap into their iconic power without causing on-the-fence viewers to come down with a case of the giggles.
On “The Flash,” Barry Allen has shown no such reluctance: Where Oliver is a tortured soul out to avenge his father’s death and redress his guilt, Barry is an eager kid whose only goal is to help people. He not only came up with his own name, but sly suggested it to a blogger who’d been referring to Central City’s lighting-fast crimefighter as “The Blur” and “The Streak.” (Evidently she’s not a Ray Stevens fan.)
So it was telling that when The Flash and The Arrow crossed paths last night, as part of a two-episode crossover between the two series, the issue of names came to the fore. Oliver, who sees Barry as goofy and green (no pun intended), suggested they needed to talk about Barry’s penchant for giving his opponents “corny” nicknames, to which Barry shot back, “You mean, like, over coffee with Deathstroke and Huntress?” (Point: Flash.) And later, Barry’s tech-nerd co-conspirator (and audience stand-in) Cisco and his brainy comrade, Caitlin, squabbled over whether to call his newest foe Prism or The Rainbow Raider, eventually agreeing the former sounded way cooler. (As with Green Arrow, the latter, “lame,” nickname is the one from the comics.)
On the whole, “The Flash” is less cagey about its four-color origins: “Flash Vs. Arrow’s” villain may not have been nicknamed the Rainbow Raider, but his civilian name was still Roy G. Bivolo; one of the episode’s many small pleasures was watching Stephen Amell spit that out while keeping a straight face. (Considering his nemesis’ last name is “Merlyn,” he doesn’t have much call to flinch.) And though we don’t need more crossovers beyond tonight’s “Arrow” any time soon — especially given that “The Flash” is, and there is no way not to say this, off to a running start — merely knowing that they inhabit the same universe makes both series stronger. “The Flash’s” half of the crossover didn’t just bring Oliver Queen to Central City, but some of his show’s gritty sobriety:
The Rainbow Raider Prism’s metahuman powers brought out Barry’s repressed anger, his dark side, showing that Grant Gustin can play more than a red-suited Boy Scout. And it gave Amell, and especially David Ramsey, who plays his brawny comrade-in-arms, John Diggle, the chance to lighten up just a tad.
It wasn’t just a matter of combining characters but tones. It showed how quickly “The Flash” has established a style of its own, and that “Arrow” is secure enough to be able to flex the mold without breaking it. Drama needs stakes, but comic-book dramas also need to keep in touch with the fundamental ridiculousness at their core — and realize that, rather than a weakness to be lampshaded, it is part of their strength. Way back when a DC superhero made his first successful transition to the big screen, we were told, “You will believe a man can fly.” It’s that belief, and the joy we get from sustaining it, that makes us keep watching.