bestof2014-9

Every day between now and Christmas morning, we’ll share the twenty-five stories that engaged, enchanted, amused and amazed us the most in 2014. If you missed them, now’s your chance to catch up; if you’re looking for a gift for the wonk in your life, then these are our most enthusiastic recommendations!

Today, The Flash.

On paper, there are a thousand reasons that The Flash shouldn’t work. The Flash — in this case, Barry Allen — has always been one of DC’s goofier characters. Like most Golden Age heroes, he had a handwave for an origin story and a power set that expanded to encompass anything needed to resolve the story; for much of The Flash’s career, something something superfast something vibration something — or access to the mystical Speed Force — accounted for everything from a conscious control over the density of his own body to time travel. But unlike Batman, with his infinite arsenal of peculiarly specific gadgets, or Superman, who supercharged any kind of interaction with the world around him in a seemingly arbitrary way, The Flash has only ever had one answer: just run really fast.

No, but this time… really fast.

The genius of the new CW series, though, is that it strips away everything unnecessary, and turns The Flash from a world-class superhero into a street-level protector of Central City. Barry Allen is a forensic scientist struck by lightning following the explosion of a STAR Labs particle accelerator; waking from his power-up coma, he discovers that he and a number of other Central City citizens gained metahuman abilities. By tying his origins to those of his rogue’s gallery, the show leverages Barry’s sense of loyalty, heroism and civic service to fuel the episodic stories, while the underlying mystery — Harrison Wells’ Room of Future Mysteries — is also connected to that same event. By reducing his power set to a manageable, comprehensible kind of speed, the writers don’t need to invoke increasingly elaborate explanations as to why the villain of the week is a legitimate threat. Everything is smaller, more personal, more immediate. That’s some tight, efficient storytelling.

The Flash really shines, though, in its cast. With the sole exception of Candice Patton’s Iris West — who is served phenomenally poorly by the script — the entire ensemble is more diverse, complex and subtle than we have any right to expect. The CCPD side of the story is anchored by the brilliant Jesse L. Martin, who exudes gravitas and sincerity; the STAR Labs side of the story gives us Tom Cavanagh, who is a revelation in this role. I’ve loved Tom Cavanagh for years, and always found him to be an engaging, endearingly goofy presence; in The Flash, he taps a darker energy — and channels his inner Jeff Goldblum — to give a wonderfully enigmatic performance.

And at the heart of the ensemble is Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen, a humble, good-hearted beta hero with a strong sense of justice and a playful spirit. He couldn’t be more different from the tormented heroes we usually see from DC — Man of Steel, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Night trilogy, CW’s own Arrow — and he gives The Flash its motive force. We’re still early in the show’s run, and we’ve yet to get a sense of how it will handle its own larger mysteries and expanding mythology, but as long as it keeps Barry’s feet on the ground, I feel confident that it will remain compelling viewing.

Oh, and here’s some StoryWonk trivia: Lani’s first podcast, Will Write For Wine, used as its theme song “Stress” by Jim’s Big Ego. The eponymous Jim’s full name is Jim Infantino, and he’s the nephew of Carmine Infantino, the artist who first drew Barry Allen, way back in 1956.

Get it now: The Flash.