Grant Gustin/The CW

We’re still more than a year away from Batman v Superman, but this undercard fight could well turn out to be more entertaining than the main event. Although the CW has been promoting “Flash Vs. Arrow” as the first part of a two-night crossover with tomorrow’s Arrow episode “The Brave And The Bold,” it actually stands on its own as a mostly self-contained hour of The Flash (give or take a few stray bits of Arrow business that won’t make much sense to those who are far behind on that show, present company included).

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The fun begins with the appearance of another Central City metahuman, Roy G. Bivolo (cringeworthy, yes, but blame DC Comics for that one). With a glimmer of red in his eyes, Bivolo has the power to turn ordinary citizens into rampaging maniacs. It’s only a matter of time before he turns his gaze on Barry, and although it at first seems to have no effect, Barry’s powers end up amplifying the “Whammy,” transforming our friendly neighborhood Flash into a rage-fueled menace.

Oliver Queen and his team happen to be in town on another mission, hoping to enlist the assistance of STAR Labs in analyzing a new villain’s boomerang (and setting us up for tomorrow night’s Arrow, in which Captain Boomerang will make his first appearance). Barry is at first his eager-to-please self, enlisting a reluctant Arrow in his fight against Bivolo and agreeing to training sessions from the vigilante. Once Barry is infected with the Whammy, the gloves come off for a showdown in the streets of Central City.

It doesn’t seem like a fair fight, what with the Flash being super-powered and all, but just as Batman was often able to get the drop on Superman through cunning and gadgetry, Oliver has enough tricks up his sleeve to keep Barry off-balance. It’s a well-choreographed battle, with each hero appearing to have the upper hand at various points and clever bits of one-upmanship (Oliver shoots Barry with a tranquilizer arrow, Barry vibrates the tranquilizer out of his bloodstream). In the end, Cisco declares it a draw, but that’s not really the case as Oliver is able to contain Barry long enough for Joe and Wells to cure him with an array of flashing lights. Still, ”it was tie” is a nice callback to those old Flash/Superman races that always seemed to end in a photo finish.

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One potential pitfall in crossing the Arrow and Flash streams is the clashing tones of the two shows. Arrow, while not without its lighter moments, is very much in the realm of the self-serious grim avenger. Barry Allen, while not without his demons, is the kind of superhero who saves a guy a whole day of painting walls just for the fun of it. Credit writers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg and director Glen Winter for tackling this dichotomy head-on and weaving it into the fabric of the episode. When Barry is infected with the Whammy, he gives us a glimpse of the Dark Flash that could have been had the show creators completely screwed it up. It’s fun for a few scenes, seeing angry Barry tell off his boss or drag Eddie around the streets for kicks, but the contrast between this Flash and the one we’re used to seeing is all the proof we need that Geoff Johns and company made the right choices in bringing the superhero to the small screen.

Dark Flash also serves to scuttle the crush Iris had started to develop on our hero (with his encouragement), which is a welcome development. A love triangle between Barry, Iris, and the Flash, leading up to Barry’s eventual revelation of his true identity, would have been an obvious way to go. That may still happen, of course, but the show still has some work to do on the character of Iris before such a development would resonate. This week she’s saddled with yet another crush, this one on Oliver Queen, who is on her “three list.” She really needs to be more than just the cute girl who falls for buff, heroic guys. (And once again, the presence of Felicity doesn’t do Iris any favors.)

Enjoyable as “Flash Vs. Arrow” was, here’s hoping that after tomorrow night, the Flash gets some room to breathe for a while without his fellow superhero and his pals dropping in. It’s easy to understand why the CW front-loaded the series with Arrow cameos; they had no way of knowing it would debut with the highest ratings in the network’s history and they were looking for every edge they could give it. By now, they must have gotten the message: The Flash doesn’t need any help.

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Stray observations:

  • Cisco dubs Bivolo “Prism,” which is actually an entirely different DC character. Caitlin gets it right with Rainbow Raider, although we also would have accepted Chroma.
  • Ronnie is name-checked a couple times tonight, and the tag scene reveals that Firestorm is on the loose.
  • Regarding Oliver’s encounter with the woman in Jitters and her subsequent phone call at the end of the episode, I have nary a clue. If you’re as Arrow-impaired as I am, I suggest tuning in tomorrow night for Alasdair Wilkins’ review of the second half of this crossover for further information.

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