It’s time to suspend your disbelief as entertainment editor John Turnbull takes a look at two very different superheroes on the small screen, The Flash and Luke Cage.

The Flash — developed by Greg Berlanti

WHEN I was young, I thought The Flash sort of sucked. All he could do was run fast, which Superman already had covered, while his considerable scientific knowledge was often dwarfed by the brilliant mind of Batman. Aside from Aquaman (who has the superpower of talking to fish), Flash was my least favourite member of the Justice League, so I wasn’t exactly excited when I heard that the CW were spinning off a Flash series from the popular-but-wildly-inconsistent Arrow.

The first character named The Flash appeared way back in 1940, created by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert. Wearing what looked like a colander with wings on his head, Jay Garrick was a member of the Justice Society of America, bringing justice to criminals in the days where issues were black and white and America was always right. Over the years, the character evolved, with Garrick being replaced by police scientist Barry Allen who is, in turn, replaced by young hothead Wally West when Barry was killed in the inter-dimensional war called Crisis.

With 75 years of history to draw upon, there was a chance that The Flash would feel old-timey and slow, a problem that beset Westworld until they decided to throw in an orgy to keep audiences interested. Fortunately, showrunner Greg Berlanti has seems to have captured lightning in a bottle, as the series is engaging, charming and thrilling in equal measures.

While the first two seasons dealt with Barry/The Flash learning to use his powers and fighting the villain of the week, season three delves far deeper into the psychological realm. Taking the acclaimed comic book arc ‘Flashpoint’ and adapting it for TV, Berlanti and co deal with the tricky issues of time travel and alternate realities, all anchored by Grant Gustin’s note-perfect performance as Barry.

Of course, no man is an island, and the supporting cast add a huge amount to the appeal of The Flash. Candice Patten makes Iris West far more than a love interest, Jesse L. Martin is great as partner/mentor Joe West and Tom Cavanagh deserves an Emmy for playing multiple versions of genius scientist Harrison Wells. Fans of Harry Potter will appreciate the season two presence of Tom Felton as Barry’s work nemesis Julian Albert, who will more than likely turn out to be another supervillain.

With great special effects, consistently good writing and a cast of characters you genuinely care about, The Flash is a comic book bought to life.

Luke Cage — developed Cheo Hodari Coker

Originally created by Archie Goodwin, John Romita Sr and George Tuska back in 1972, Luke Cage was an ordinary man framed for a crime he didn’t commit. While incarcerated, Cage is subjected to a series of experiments that give him super strength and bulletproof skin, at which point he breaks out of jail and starts fighting crime wearing a steel tiara and bright yellow shirt.

Introduced to TV viewers via the Netflix series, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage is a man of few words, which is something of a challenge when he is the lead character in his own series. The exceptionally buff Mike Coulter plays Cage as a man with a strong moral base who has no desire to be a superhero, but keeps getting drawn into conflict as gangsters and crooked politicians do their best to destroy his beloved Harlem.

More than just a location, the city of Harlem is a character in itself, referenced frequently throughout the series as home to many of the most influential African-Americans in history. In fact, Luke Cage makes the bold choice of trying to educate viewers on the positive influence of iconic black men, from Martin Luther King to Crispus Attucks, drawing clear parallels to Cage’s own hero's journey.

On the downside, much as The Flash benefits from being an ensemble show, Luke Cage suffers from being too focused on one (not terribly exciting) character. This is not to say that the supporting cast are bad, particularly Rosario Dawson as nurse Claire Temple and Erik LaRay Harvey as chief villain Diamondback, but more that they are underwritten and underutilised.

Fortunately, Netflix has a plan and that plan is called The Defenders. Featuring Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage and the soon-to-be-introduced Iron Fist, the Defenders are like an urban version of The Avengers, fighting street level crime rather than invading aliens.

The Verdict

The Flash and Luke Cage are like night and day. The Flash is bright, shiny and fast-paced, while Luke Cage is dark, gritty and often glacially slow.

The latter observation is probably driven by the fact that Luke Cage is a Netflix show, designed to be binge-watched. This approach (that worked so well for Jessica Jones) gives the writers the opportunity to subtly reveal insights about the characters. However, it can make standard episodic viewing slightly frustrating.

If you have kids, The Flash (along with the similarly upbeat Supergirl) makes for great family viewing. Moralistic without being preachy and thrilling without being too violent, The Flash is one of the better shows on TV in 2016.

Like what you read? John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out!

You can also follow John on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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