Hard-Traveling Fanboys: Off the Page (Flash vs. Arrow/The Brave and the Bold)

Mild-mannered reporters by day, Greg Phillips and Nick Duke share an intense love of comic books that has made them the Hard-Traveling Fanboys. But with that love of comics and the characters they feature comes an intense interest in the various adaptations that have been made of comic characters. Each month, in Off the Page, the Fanboys will take a look at a piece of comic-inspired media, whether that be a movie, television show, live performance or even a radio drama.

Greg: What’s that? Why, none of your business, that’s where Off the Page has been since September!

Nick: Oh, you say we promised you a “Spawn” review? Yeah, that’s not gonna happen either!

Greg: Look. It’s the holiday season — a time of love, peace and happiness. Not a time for John Leguizamo dressed up as a clown. We may have sat through Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, but we just couldn’t stomach something as bad as “Spawn” during this time of year. Instead, we’re going to talk about some television shows we actually like.

Nick: Yes, two in fact. Those two being “The Flash” and “Arrow,” a pair of superhero dramas on the CW. Arrow is in the midst of its third season and has established its own universe to play in. The Flash is in its first season and exists in the same CWverse as Arrow after Barry Allen was first introduced in season 2 of Arrow. So, this week, it was time for the first full-fledged crossover between the two, in the form of a Flash episode titled “Flash vs. Arrow” and an Arrow episode titled “The Brave and the Bold.”

HA0QEXFGreg: We’ve both been fans of Arrow since the show’s inception. It had a good pilot, an up-and-down next few episodes, then hit its stride five or six episodes into season one and never looked back.

The third season has focused on a few different themes — Oliver Queen’s struggle to balance his two distinct personas, a seeming love triangle involving Felicity Smoak and Ray Palmer, and a lingering murder mystery.

The Flash has hit the ground running, pun very much intended. The writers have made an effort to establish a unique and appropriate tone to Barry Allen’s adventures that allows the show to coexist with the dark tone of its sister show while highlighting just how different Barry and his crew are. What do you make of how the shows have developed prior to these crossover episodes? Do the differing tones work for shows within the same universe?

Nick: Arrow is, for my money anyway, the best live-action comic book show of all time at this point. Sure, “The Walking Dead” has dominated ratings and is a damn fine show in its own right, but Arrow has given us a serialized story about a fairly dark and gritty vigilante going on superhero adventures that are rooted in a sense of realism. If you’ve paid attention to our columns in the past, you’d see how that could be right in my wheelhouse, so to speak. The show certainly isn’t without its issues, though, as there hasn’t been a perfect live action comic show yet. The romance subplots can be a little cheesy and soap operaesque for my tastes at times, and the dialogue can take a misstep every now and then. But, for the most part, what we’re getting is a damn fine Green Arrow show that has paid homage to the character’s different eras by showing how Oliver Queen is evolving both as a person and as a hero.

The Flash, on the other hand, is a bit more lighthearted and fun loving. You won’t find Barry Allen brooding like Oliver, but that’s appropriate for the character. I prefer Arrow, to be honest, but The Flash has developed as a great alternative to the grimness of its sister show. But, as Greg said, the two shows have been able to stand apart in terms of tone and characterizations, while also sharing a common look and feel that didn’t feel jarring when it came time for the characters to appear in each other’s episodes.

Greg: I definitely echo your thoughts on Arrow, amigo. It is the one show I look forward to more than any other each week. The cast is strong, the chemistry between the three lead characters — Oliver, Felicity and John Diggle — is off the charts, and the fight scenes are the best on network television. Heck, they’re better than a lot of modern action films.

"Arrow" also stars one of the coolest celebrities you'll find: Stephen Amell. Find him. And like his page.
“Arrow” also stars one of the coolest celebrities you’ll find: Stephen Amell.

Flash has really impressed me thanks to fully embracing its comic book roots. You won’t find this show shying away from concepts like telepathic gorillas or time-traveling supervillains with code names.

But with that bit of background out of the way, let’s get into the heart of the column. We’ll start with Tuesday night’s Flash episode, “Flash vs. Arrow.” The basic premise of this one finds Team Arrow traveling to Central City to track a killer who murders his victims with boomerangs (if you guessed Captain Boomerang, you’d be right). Meanwhile, Flash is having his own troubles with a villain (Rainbow Raider in the comics, thankfully called Prism on the show) who can manipulate people into feeling intense, uncontrollable rage. With their own trail going cold, Team Arrow decides to help Barry in his pursuit of Prism. Along the way, Ollie tries to teach Barry a few lessons.

One of the hallmarks of both shows is their clever usage of humor. Appropriately, this first crossover episode featured more of it, as little things like Diggle’s awestruck reaction to seeing The Flash for the first time brought plenty of smiles to my face.

Nick: One thing I was pleased with is that both episodes were technically crossovers, yet felt enough like their parent shows that it didn’t feel wrong or off in any way. So, “Flash vs. Arrow” felt more like a Flash episode than an Arrow episode, as it should have. The main thing that helped it to maintain that Flash feel was, as you said, the humor. Diggle’s reactions were great, as was Barry’s response when Ollie tells him not to give his villains cheesy nicknames.

Greg: “Yeah, maybe we can discuss it over coffee with Deathstroke and the Huntress.” A classic line, and both actors Grant Gustin (Flash) and Stephen Amell (Arrow) have natural comedic timing that made the exchange work.

The episode continued some of the story elements Flash has been developing — the enigmatic Dr. Harrison Wells’ increasingly off-putting demeanor, Barry’s ongoing quest for the love of Iris West, and especially officer Eddie Thawne’s mistrust of Central City’s newest hero. The show is playing fast and loose with DC canon, throwing out characters and references that even I don’t always get. To the show’s credit, Ollie and his team actually serve to progress the stories that have been building since the pilot. It would’ve been easy just to have Arrow pop in as a “special guest star,” but instead he serves a valuable storyline purpose. Plus, you know, we get a pretty great fight scene out of it.

"It looked like THIS?!"
“It looked like THIS?!”

Nick: Yeah, while Prism served a necessary role in the story, he definitely had to take a backseat to the show’s real highlight — the titular Flash and Arrow battle.

Now, it may seem like a bit of a stretch to think that Ollie could take down a guy with superpowers who could move faster than the speed of sound, but the show’s writers handled it appropriately. They showed that Ollie’s determination and intelligence is his true superpower and it can be enough to hold his own with even someone as powerful as The Flash.

Greg: Absolutely, and even their brief training sequence was a show-stealer for me. As for Prism, I actually found it amusing how the writers dealt with him at the end of the episode.

But while “Flash vs. Arrow” was primarily a Flash-based episode, the showrunners threw a pretty major bone to fans of the Emerald Archer who might have tuned into Tuesday night’s broadcast. Near the end of the episode, we are treated to a major reveal that ties back to a subplot from Arrow’s second season — one that seemingly opens the door for the introduction of another major player from the comic adventures of Oliver Queen. That was a nice move, as it showed the crossover would have long-term effects on both the superheroes involved.

Nick: Yeah, no spoilers here, but it was a much appreciated nod to a previous Arrow storyline that may have seemed minor at the time. A full-fledged introduction of the character in question may not be likely, but at least the door is cracked, which is a nice touch.

Greg: Overall, it was another great outing from “The Flash,” a show that has yet to lose its footing.

"A-hyuck, hyuck, hyuck!"
“A-hyuck, hyuck, hyuck!”

But not to be outdone, Arrow countered with “The Brave and the Bold” on Wednesday night, a team-up episode named after one of the greatest team-up comics of them all. Team Arrow is back in Starling City, still looking for Digger Harkness (the aforementioned Captain Boomerang). As it turns out, they aren’t the only ones: Amanda Waller’s A.R.G.U.S. squad is seeking him out as well, and we soon learn that Digger has a history with Waller’s Suicide Squad (introduced last season in Arrow). In an inverse of the previous night’s encounter, Team Flash (scientists Cisco Ramon and Caitlin Snow) drop by the Arrow Cave (nicknamed by Cisco in another funny nod to the comics) to present some of their findings on the Harkness case as well as the ongoing Arrow murder mystery Felicity involved them in during “Flash vs. Arrow.”

When Boomerang goes after Diggle’s girlfriend, Barry and Ollie team up to try to take him down and explore their budding partnership a bit more.

Nick: Yep, and as much as “Flash vs. Arrow” felt like a Flash episode, “The Brave and the Bold” had the trademark feel and tone of a great Arrow episode. Humor was still there, but it was there to add to the drama and character development. We get to see Barry’s shocked reaction to Oliver’s torture techniques when he’s interrogating a suspect and we see Caitlin and Cisco’s reaction to how seriously Team Arrow takes their job and just how much deadlier the threats in Starling City are.

Greg: Yes, the interrogation scene in particular — and its fallout — did a perfect job of illustrating the overlying differences that will always separate Barry from Oliver. Both are heroes, but both view heroism in a different light. Gustin’s facial reaction to Oliver’s nonchalant reaction to the torture of one of Boomerang’s henchmen was a fantastic piece of acting. It gave us more insight into Barry’s character than any line of dialogue could have.

Their exchange back in the cave, in which Oliver recounts his personal loss and Barry counters with his own, only further illustrated the divide between the two. Luckily, by the end of the episode, we’re also reminded of what unites them — their hearts. Barry even helps Ollie see a bit more of the humanity inside himself along the way, as Ollie hasn’t yet abandoned the best parts of his civilian identity.

Nick: But again, it was the action that was the true showstealer. This time, getting to see Ollie and Barry team up to take down Captain Boomerang was a real treat. Boomerang could easily have been very cheesy, but he really came off as a true threat and badass. So, when it came time for the big blowoff, we got a great Arrow vs. Boomerang bit of fisticuffs against the backdrop of the Flash racing to save innocent lives threatened by bombs Boomerang had placed. It all worked very well, and it was a great use of the strengths of both characters.

Flash on saving Arrow from Captain Boomerang: "Everybody gets one."
Flash on saving Arrow from Captain Boomerang: “Everybody gets one.”

Greg: Oh man, that was one of my biggest concerns heading into this one — could they pull off Captain Boomerang? They most assuredly did. Somehow, the show made me accept that a guy would use technologically modified boomerangs to assassinate people. And, oh my, the fight scenes! They’ve become one of this series’ calling cards, but we got some of the best yet in this one. The first encounter, at A.R.G.U.S. headquarters, would’ve been good enough. Luckily, we got to see the Arrow-Boomerang throwdown take things to new heights.

As Nick mentioned earlier, Arrow is known for using humor in a timely manner. This episode was no different, as we got laugh-out-loud moments from Cisco, Barry, Diggle, Roy Harper (“Hey, I’m starting to like this guy.”), the always-reliable Felicity, and even Ollie himself. And getting to see Ollie have some genuine fun at the end with Barry (in an homage to “Rocky III”) was really satisfying.

Nick: If only the frame had gone to pastels as the credits rolled.

Greg: Probably the only minor quibble I had with “The Brave and the Bold” was that Captain Boomerang didn’t sound at all like Crocodile Dundee.

Nick: Or the Crocodile Hunter.

Greg: Or Outback Jack.

Crikey! It's a cultural stereotype!
Crikey! It’s a cultural stereotype!

Nick: Or the Bushwhackers.

Greg: Hey, they’re from New Zealand. I think.

In any event, this crossover certainly set the stage for both shows going forward. Caitlin and Cisco appear on the verge of finding a break in the Arrow murder mystery, Barry is at odds with the Central City Police Department, the truth behind A.R.G.U.S. is beginning to appear, and Ollie and Felicity still aren’t together.

Yeah, we're hopeless 'shippers when it comes to these two. In our defense, they have ridiculous chemistry and are JUST SO PERFECT FOR EACH OTHER OMG!
Yeah, we’re hopeless ‘shippers when it comes to these two. In our defense, they have ridiculous chemistry and are JUST SO PERFECT FOR EACH OTHER OMG!

How would you grade this crossover overall? And which of the two did you prefer? Should people head to Hulu or the CW’s website to check them out?

Nick: I’d give the crossover as a whole a resounding “A.” If I have to choose one, I’d go with the Arrow installment just for the way Boomerang was handled so well. I highly recommend both to anyone out there who’s a fan of superhero television. But, as we said off the top, go ahead and catch up on both shows if you haven’t already. You won’t regret it. Both seasons of Arrow are on Netflix and both shows’ current seasons should be up on Hulu.

Greg: I couldn’t agree more. These are my two favorite TV shows at the moment, and it’s precisely because of episodes like these. The crossover was done even better than I expected. While I, too, slightly preferred the Arrow episode, both were spectacular examples of how to do superhero TV right. “The Brave and the Bold,” in fact, was about as flawless an episode as I’ve seen of either show.

But we can’t end this column without throwing in our own fan theories about the two big mysteries in these shows. We will try to keep this brief discussion as spoiler-free as possible, but just in case, you should probably avoid the next few paragraphs if you haven’t been watching “Arrow” and “The Flash.”

SPOILERS AHOY!
SPOILERS AHOY!

So, Nick, who killed REDACTED on “Arrow,” and who, exactly, is Dr. Harrison Wells?

Nick: Well, in both cases, I think there are two pretty popular, “safe” theories. Those would be that Thea Queen killed REDACTED and Harrison Wells is the Reverse-Flash.

I think those are the most likely answers, but I’ll present my own alternatives. I think Harrison Wells is actually the character Pariah, who is known for being doomed to witness universe after universe be destroyed by the Anti-Monitor during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which Flash has been directly teasing through Wells’ future newspapers claiming the Flash has disappeared amid red skies.

Over on Arrow, here’s my highly unlikely, but nonetheless interesting theory: Tommy Merlyn killed REDACTED. This theory is that Tommy’s body was picked up by the League of Assassins following the events of season 1 and was then placed into a Lazarus pit. Upon being resurrected, his psyche was a bit unstable. He knows he has been brought back as something different from his normal self, causing him to hate Oliver and Malcolm Merlyn for causing his death in the first place and the League for resurrecting him. He then sets in motion a plan to set all three against one another, knowing the league has a vendetta against Malcolm and only needs a reason to return to Starling. That reason is the death of REDACTED, which he knows will also set the League against Oliver and also cause Oliver to suspect Malcolm. Again, it’s unlikely, but I’ve said all along I fully expect a resurrected Tommy to be the main antagonist of a season at some point. Under this scenario, the League would serve as the main antagonist of the rest of this season before Oliver discovers Tommy’s return heading into Season 4.

Have we really seen the last of this guy?
Have we really seen the last of this guy?

Greg: Boom. Now THAT’S a theory.

I think both your alternative theories are quite interesting, as are the “safe” theories. However, I do take some exception to Thea being an easy choice — remember, I went out on quite a limb by predicting her when the death first happened. Still, I’ll present my own current “alternate” theories I consider the most plausible right now, outside the Zoom/Thea ideas.

Harrison Wells is The Monitor, a member of an ancient race destined to oppose the Anti-Monitor, the greatest source of destruction in the multiverse. The Monitor is focused on helping Barry increase his speed and test his limits so that the Anti-Monitor can be truly defeated, Barry can be saved and the “red skies” of the Crisis can be averted … by any means necessary. In truth, this isn’t likely … I think Wells is either Eobard Thawne or Hunter Zolomon.

Over on “Arrow,” Lyla Michaels, a.k.a. Harbinger, killed REDACTED. It would fit with some of the clues we’ve been given — the killer was shorter than an average man, covered his/her tracks well, and Lyla has spoken cryptically about the things she’s had to do for Amanda Waller. Lyla was also conspicuously absent in a few episodes, going on mysterious missions for A.R.G.U.S. Her conversation with Oliver this episode, about the extreme measures one must be willing to take, only furthered my suspicions.

Nick: I think your Arrow theory is far more likely than mine, and could also set up an amazing ARGUS vs. Arrow storyline. Good call.

Greg: Yeah, admittedly my Flash idea was more of a shot in the dark than anything. It’s no more likely than Vandal Savage or any of the other ideas that have been floated, whereas yours is quite plausible.

And on that note, we bring another column to a close. We hope you enjoyed our discussion of the first crossover between two of our favorite shows, and we hope you join us next week when we come back with another edition of Countdown.

Nick: As always, we welcome your feedback on Facebook, Twitter (@gphillips8652 and @nickduke87) and on our PTB email accounts (GregP@placetobenation.com and NickD@placetobenation.com). What did you think of the crossover? Responses could be used in a future column!

Author: Greg Phillips and Nick Duke

Greg and Nick share two passions above all others, both of which involve people in spandex punching each other. Reporters by day, they also insist on being called "Two Dudes with Attitude" but can't decide who is Kevin Nash and who is Shawn Michaels.