Tuesday, September 8, 2015

White Male Comic Heroes Coming To A Screen Near You!

So a while back I started watching Arrow. I enjoyed it at first, but by about the eighth episode I stopped. Recently my friend suggested I watch Flash. I wasn't expecting much, but I gave it a shot.

Now I love the Flash in the comics and even the Justice League cartoons; he's easily one of my favourite superheros, but I've always believed that he's a hard character to persistently write good stories for since super speed (at least at his level) pretty much trumps most things that aren't super speed. Now that's a problem that Superman has since he's so powerful, but in some ways it's worse with the Flash since he can solve most problems in the blink of an eye, so you have to come up with some contrived crap to regular create drama or even just to keep things moving for a whole comic book / TV episode.

Another problem that I expected a TV show to face was that super speed is not cheap. Drawing super speed is easier than filming it, meaning that typically a movie or TV show would either need a huge budget or have the Flash spend most of his time moving at regular speed.

Overall what I expected was a show with overly-contrived story lines, manufactured drama (as I like to call it, that is most of the problems are caused by the main characters being stupid), and the Flash spending most of his time moving at normal speeds. Well, I've finished the fourth episode and so far it's had all those problems, though none were as bad as I had feared. However, it had another problem that I hadn't considered; in retrospect I probably should have.

Lets talk about the Arrow for a moment. In early episodes that I have seen, Arrow - a white male - dispensed justice aided by his black male sidekick. As Oliver Queen he had feelings for a woman that he couldn't be with, but he tried to maintain his long-standing friendship with her without revealing that he was the Arrow, which resulted in him continually making promises to her then letting her down, meaning he had to keep awkwardly apologizing to her all the time. Her father, by the way, is a police detective who has a special interest in Oliver. Also, as practically every episode takes pains to point out, someone very close to him is harboring a dark secret, a secret that ties into how he became a superhero in the first place.

Now let's get back to the Flash. In the early episodes that I have seen, Flash - a white male - dispensed justice aided by his black male sidekick. As Barry Allen he had feelings for a woman that he couldn't be with, but he tried to maintain his long-standing friendship with her without revealing that he was the Flash, which resulted in him continually making promises to her then letting her down, meaning he had to keep awkwardly apologizing to her all the time. Her father, by the way, is a police detective who has a special interest in Barry. Also, as practically every episode takes pains to point out, someone very close to him is harboring a dark secret, a secret that ties into how he became a superhero in the first place.

Hmm, where have I heard that before? I guess if it ain't broke don't fix it? Now I'm not saying that it's "exactly the same show", but it does feel very familiar - more so than can be attributed to it just being another superhero TV show. And that's just disappointing, even more so since they are both being made by the same company. Give us some variety DC!

Speaking about variety, how about some superheroes that aren't white males? So far you've given us movies or shows about Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and the Flash. I mean, unless you count Superman (and I don't), all of those characters are American! You couldn't even give us a non-American white male superhero? Hell, the actors playing those characters are more ethnically diverse than the characters themselves!

Yes, I know that these are some of DC's oldest - and therefore most established and loved - characters, dating back many decades to less enlightened times. I just think that we need to grow beyond that. Hell, these days the market is so multicultural and the superhero genre (on-screen at least) so full of white males that it's just good business to have a more varied product line.

But you know, what bothered me even more about the Flash than the fact that it was so unoriginal, was the way the female characters were written. There are two recurring female characters so far: Iris West and Caitlin Snow.

Caitlin is one of the three former STAR labs staff members who are the first to know what Barry is capable of. Harrison Wells was the head of STAR labs; he's responsible for everything that has happened, and is also possibly a time-traveller who has a mysterious connection with Flash. Cisco is an inventor/engineer, who made Flash his suit and designs all the gadgets that they use for, well, everything. Caitlin is a bio-engineer; I'm not sure why you need a "bio-engineer" to build a particle accelerator, but hey, what do I know? Anyway, she's basically the medic. She's also the blandest and least likable character in the series so far. Plus by episode three she already needs Barry's help with her emotional problems.

Iris is Barry's oldest friend. He has a really obvious crush on her which she (so far) has not returned or acknowledged. Her father is a police detective, Barry's foster father and boss. She's currently dating her father's younger parter. What the hell is this, a soap opera? Geez. Anyway, so far she's been robbed in the middle of a huge crowd in a secure location; a pre-Flash Barry got beat up chasing after the thief and then missed the historic event that he had been looking forwards to for ages as a result. Whenever he tries to talk to her about his interests, she just stares at him until he apologizes, at which point she tells him in a condescending voice that he's an adorable nerd (seriously DC?). Barry's had to keep the secret of her boyfriend from his boss/foster father/confidant, as well as his own secret from her. She's constantly making out with her boyfriend right in front of him, which needless to say is painful for him (she has even gone to visit Barry in his lab just so that she can meet her boyfriend there out of her father's sight). Because of his feelings for her he couldn't form a relationship with Felicity - an attractive woman who really likes him, knows his secret identity, is equally intelligent, shares all his interests and even enjoys his nerdy jokes that no-one else gets.

In other words, her only purpose is to make his life harder and more complicated. Hell, it gets worse. Because she's dating her father's partner, apart from how awkward that makes it for him, her father now feels uncomfortable exposing his partner to risk knowing how badly it would hurt her if anything happened to him. As a result he very nearly gets himself killed when he tries to tackle a dangerous villain on his own. So yeah, basically every single thing this woman does makes life harder, more complicated, and even more dangerous for the menfolk. I'm actually surprised that she's only needed to be rescued once so far (twice if you count the laptop robbery).

This, it seems, is what DC thinks of women. I'm not a woman, and I know that DC is a large company and certainly not all people who work there think like that, but still I kinda have to say: screw you DC.


And now, just for my personal satisfaction, I'm going to randomly complain about a bunch of other crap from the show.

So some guy grabs Iris' laptop when they are right in the middle of a crowd, halfway through STAR labs presentation for the start of the completed particle accelerator. Who the hell picks someone IN THE MIDDLE OF A PACKED CROWD IN A SECURE LOCATION SURROUNDED BY VIDEO CAMERAS RECORDING THE HISTORIC EVENT TAKING PLACE to try to snatch a bag from? Like, if you had to try to stage a robbery in the worst possible location, wouldn't you at least pick someone on the fringes of the crowd, not right in the middle? And then after pulling this huge risk to try to steal a laptop, rather than just run away, he rounds a corner then waits for the guy chasing him so he can assault him... WITH THE LAPTOP HE'S TRYING TO STEAL? Seriously? Aren't you planning on selling the damn thing? How are you going to do that after you've broken the damned thing? Oh, then he climbs over a chain fence and walks right into a police offer; the dad's partner in fact. Look, I don't know where they were in relation to the building and everything, but it didn't look like a place where people are that likely to be walking around - it was completely empty apart from them after all - so I find it quite unlikely that the partner just happened to be there at that exact moment. Ugh, something tells me that somewhere down the line it's going to be revealed that Harrison Wells set the whole thing up to make sure that Barry would be in his lab instead of at STAR when the accident happened.

He needed to run over 700mph to stop the twister? Don't most twisters have winds moving at like 200mph tops? And those are massive ones that destroy whole cities, not something 5 meters across. Plus we only ever see him running under 300 on the treadmill, and that's in a straight line - he was running in a tight circle around the twister, so... dunno, seemed to me like they just threw a big number in to sound dramatic.

Every single one of the first three episodes ends with Harrison Wells doing something suspicious. OK guys, it was surprising the first time, but every episode? It had seriously lost it's impact by the third time.

Felicity hacked the whole city's communication network in like 5 seconds with probably less than 20 keystrokes. Apart from the fact that she wasn't actually typing very fast, I'm fairly certain you need to type more than two words in order to hack into an entire communication system.

So their plan is to lock super-villains in tiny boxes and just forget about them? Really? That's inhumane, illegal even in prisons (fairly certain there are laws determining how long you can put someone in solitary), and just stupid; are you going to let them out some day? If not, I would argue that it's actually more humane to kill them. I suppose that they aren't thinking that far ahead, but right now I find the idea disturbing. Eh, considering that these people are supposed to be geniuses I would have liked a bit more discussion about the details and long term solutions, but maybe they'll build on that later, so I guess it's too soon to get too annoyed.

So his Mom was killed by someone with superpowers? Someone who no-doubt has some stronger connection with him (it probably involves time travel). I dunno, I'm just really sick of "chosen ones". I mean, lately everyone is a chosen one and it's never just a coincidence anymore. Maybe all the script writers are parents who thing their children owe them everything and should be more grateful for it? I just don't know.

I was not impressed with Flash for being angry with Cisco for building a freeze gun to use against him just in case (quite why a freeze gun sounded like the perfect weapon is beyond me, surely a laser or something would at least be too fast for him to dodge. Hell, if you made it emit light outside of the visual spectrum he wouldn't even be able to see it to dodge it!); after all they made such a big deal about working together to stop other people who were given superpowers without even discussing the idea that said other super-powered-individuals might not be villains, so clearly being prepared to deal with super-powered opponents is the name of the game here. Besides, what if you ran into someone with mind-control and he told you to kill everyone? Or just someone else with super-speed? What makes you think you're the only one with that particular power set? Hell, it looked like the guy who killed your mom was pretty fast, so... besides, you don't get to be angry at someone you just met recently because they don't completely trust you yet. Trust isn't something you're owed.

Speaking of the freeze gun, they said it receives regular firmware updates? From Cisco? Then why the hell doesn't he just pass it a firmware update that renders it inoperable, rather than some mumbo jumbo about boosting signals in order to track it? And how the hell did "Captain Cold" block the signal later? There was no indication that he was tech-savvy enough to modify this extremely advanced and non-standardized piece of equipment, EVEN IF he was able to figure out that they were tracking him through it (I mean, they caught up to him after he was in a shootout with the police in a museum that they already knew he was going to try to rob, so I'm not sure what the tracking thing was about anyway).

Also, they said the freeze gun runs on fuel; what kind of fuel? Is it something that will run out anytime soon? Is it something Captain Cold can figure out how to replace? Less of a complaint I suppose, I just think that this is a rather important detail that they should have thrown in a few lines of dialogue to explain, it would have fleshed it out a bit more.

Ugh, that nonsense with Cold and the train was so bad. So Barry runs of from Star labs to where they have determined Cold is. Cisco, Caitlin and Felicity decide to follow. Captain Cold gets on a train just before the Flash arrives, so he jumps on as it's leaving the station. So now he's on a train, which is super narrow; he's going to have an extremely hard time dodging Cold's fairly wide freeze beam. So what does he do? Stand there and talk to Cold instead of knocking him out before he can do anything. Cold then basically foreshadows his plan; we see Flash stop smiling as he starts to realise that something is wrong. Then Cold points the gun at the floor. So what does Flash do? Knock the gun out of his hand before he can pull the trigger right? Nope, he just stands there and waits for Cold to shoot the floor with his freeze beam. Then Cold opens a door and drops a one-liner before jumping out (of a moving train, did he really think this was a good plan? Did he even really know he would have time to jump out before the train wrecked? Or that he would be able to keep his footing as it started shaking? This is a terrible plan!). So naturally Flash hops over and knocks him out before he can jump, right? Nope, he just stands there and stares at him. He may be the fastest man alive, but it seems he has the slowest reflexes in history.

Anyway, so Cold jumps out of the train - we see him land to the right of the tracks btw. The wheels lock due to the ice, which apparently causes the whole train to derail spectacularly, with cars flipping over and bursting into flame (not sure what's burning, it's not like they store fuel on those things). It travels a good, I don't know, fifty meters? More? I can't tell, but it's a fair distance. During this time Flash jumps on and off several times carrying passengers. The final time that he jumps off, we see a car fall perpendicular to the track, effectively blocking sight from where Cold should be, farther back. Flash lands on the ground to the right of the tracks and collapses, then is instantly hit by a freeze beam that comes from where Cold is standing further along the tracks rather than further back! Even if I'm wrong about the directions and positions - and if I am it's the cinematographer's fault for not communicating everything properly - then Cold is still FAR too close to Flash's final position.

They talk for about twenty seconds, then suddenly the Cisco, Caitlin and Felicity are right behind Captain Cold. In the middle of a train wreck. That doesn't seem to be close to any roads. How the hell did they get there? And they're holding a vacuum cleaner that Cisco says he stuck "a lot of LEDs" on it. So let me get this straight: Flash leaves STAR labs traveling at over 200 mph, jumps straight onto a train, then withing one minute he's frozen to the ground with Cold standing over him. In this time those three normal-speed human beings found the (fairly huge and heavy looking) vacuum cleaner, stuck working LEDs on to it, carried it out of the fairly massive STAR labs complex into the parking lot, hopped into a car (I'm assuming they used a car?), drove to town at, what, 70 mph? Let's say 100 mph max (but we're talking about inner city driving here so realistically it would be far slower than that), stopping for traffic lights and so on, drove along or parallel to the train tracks (?) until they reached the site of the crash, bundled the vacuum cleaner out of the car, and wondered around until they found those two in the middle of the burning wreckage? OK, I'm starting to understand: turns out the Flash is actually a hell of a lot slower than advertised! Either that or the writing on this show is garbage.