'The Flash' And 'Gotham' Succeed By Taking Comic Book Stories Seriously As The CW's new superhero series The Flash debuts tonight, NPR TV critic Eric Deggans notes the best new broadcast dramas of the fall season are based on comic book stories.
NPR logo

'The Flash' And 'Gotham' Succeed By Taking Comic Book Stories Seriously

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/354349491/354371774" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'The Flash' And 'Gotham' Succeed By Taking Comic Book Stories Seriously

'The Flash' And 'Gotham' Succeed By Taking Comic Book Stories Seriously

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/354349491/354371774" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The new superhero series "The Flash" debuts tonight. It joins a primetime TV schedule that is filled with more shows than ever based on comic books. And NPR TV critic Eric Deggans likes what he's seeing. He says two of the best new network dramas this fall take very different approaches to telling superhero stories with wonderful results.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: It's tough to find a more traditional superhero story than the CW's take on "The Flash."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FLASH")

GRANT GUSTIN: (As Barry Allen) You see that red blur? That's me. My name is Barry Allen. I am the fastest man alive.

DEGGANS: In the comics, Barry Allen is a scientist who gets zapped by a lightning bolt and knocked into shelf full of chemicals. And that's pretty much how the CW's TV version goes, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FLASH")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: What the hell happened to him?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: He was hit by lightning.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: How is he still alive?

DEGGANS: When he wakes up nine months later with the gift of super speed, a couple of scientist sidekicks explain what happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FLASH")

GUSTIN: (As Barry Allen) What is going on?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: Your muscles should be atrophied, but instead they're in a chronic and unexplained state of cellular regenerating.

DEGGANS: And help him understand his new powers.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FLASH")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: See, you thought the world was slowing down. It wasn't. You were moving so fast it only looked like everyone else was standing still.

DEGGANS: Star Grant Gustin has boy band-ready good looks and an earnest energy, just what we expect from a hero like Barry Allen.

There are no clumsy attempts to make the story more sophisticated. "The Flash" is just a good guy hero chasing bad guys in a story that's half police procedural and half superhero fantasy. What's amazing here is that "The Flash" is completely different from fall TV's other great comic book series, Fox's "Gotham."

(MUSIC)

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOTHAM")

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOTHAM")

DEGGANS: Fox's show is a Batman series without the superhero. It starts with the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents when he's 12 years old. A principled rookie detective named James Gordon takes the case and tries to comfort him.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOTHAM")

BENJAMIN MCKENZIE: (As Detective James Gordon) When I was about your age, a drunk driver hit our car - killed my dad. And I promise you, however dark and scary the world might be right now, there will be light.

DEGGANS: "Gotham" is many things - a noirish police drama about the rise of a good cop in a bad town, the story of a little kid who pushes himself to become a super hero and an origin tale for bad guys from Batman lore, including an early version of The Penguin. There's also a new villain, a crime boss played by Jada Pinkett Smith named Fish Mooney who can't stand Gordon.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOTHAM")

MCKENZIE: (As Detective James Gordon) Was that screaming we heard back there?

JADA PINKETT SMITH: (As Fish Mooney) Yes, my boys are watching a scary movie.

MCKENZIE: (As Detective James Gordon) Really?

SMITH: (As Fish Mooney) No, actually one of my staff has been stealing money from me. So we're beating his punk-ass.

DEGGANS: "Gotham" stitches together pieces of past Batman versions into a new story. It has the gritty feel of Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" movies, but a touch of the timeless goofiness from Tim Burton's "Batman." A drama like this is heaven for comic book geeks, especially when you consider that the first Batman many fans saw on TV sounded like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BATMAN")

BURT WARD: (As Robin) Holy cliffhangers, Batman, aren't you even going to try to get loose?

ADAM WEST: (As Batman) What's the cubed root of pi, Robin?

WARD: (As Robin) The cubed root of pi at a time like this?

WEST: (As Batman) Never mind, I just remembered it.

DEGGANS: Back in the 1960s, superheroes were mostly a campy joke, leaping around in tights and launching cartoon graphics with every punch. And it didn't get much better a decade later when the Incredible Hulk's alter ego David Banner chased off a nosy reporter with the classic line.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE INCREDIBLE HULK")

BILL BIXBY: (As David Banner) Mr. McGee, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

DEGGANS: Thirty years later, comic book series like "The Flash" and "Gotham" succeed because they take comic book storytelling seriously. Classic comic stories are refined over many decades with characters that have evolved over changing times. These new series treat that history as important building blocks with extra nods to the comic book storylines for fans who are paying attention.

That's why I don't worry when others complain about the growing number of superhero-themed TV shows. Because if every series turns out as well as "The Flash" and "Gotham," this comic book geek is ready to see a lot more. I'm Eric Deggans.

(MUSIC)

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.