If you were a kid--and unless you are in some sort of Benjamin Button situation, I would say you have been--there's a pretty good chance that you dressed up as a superhero at some point. You tied a blanket around your neck and sprinted through your backyard saving the world. Or at Halloween, you dressed up as Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, or some other costumed do-gooder...
The point is: Kids love the idea of being superheroes. You can fly. Or have super strength. Or you can run really fast. Or if you don't have powers then you have tons of cool gadgets or rocket boots or a really sweet car. Your job is to rescue people and stop bad guys. Kids dress up and play superheroes all the time because being a superhero is awesome.
You wouldn't necessarily know that from watching movies about superheroes lately. In an effort to make the adventures of superhuman folks in bright costumes more grounded, filmmakers have ramped up the conflict and the pathos. They often make being a superhero look like some kind of curse.
Take Batman for example, who most people today would consider the world's greatest superhero (they're wrong: it's Superman, but we'll deal with that some other time). I think Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy was excellent, but does anyone come away from that movie wanting to be Batman? Would you want to live in a cesspool of corruption like Gotham City? It seems like the sun never shines there. Would you want to spend your nights dealing with petty criminals, crooked cops, and bands of raging psychopaths hellbent on your destruction? Would you want to live in a way in which people that grow up with you say your true self is when you wear a bat mask? And you don't even get full appreciation from the people of Gotham because of that whole "hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs" bit.
I'm exaggerating somewhat but the point is our superheroes have tended towards the brooding and conflicted of late. They rescue people and they save the day, but man oh man, it's a burden. They do it because they have to and not necessarily because they want to. Some will argue that the Marvel movies have a better handle on their heroes being optimistic than the DC movies. There is some truth in that, but remember that even in Avengers-world being a hero is something that could potentially kill you (Iron Man), destroy your life (Hulk), or rob you of a lifetime with loved ones (Captain America). Marvel flicks just have a brighter color palette and a better sense of humor.
Which brings us to The Flash, which premiered on the CW this week (the fact that I am writing something positive about a CW show is mind-boggling). The adventures of the Scarlet Speedster still have pathos. Because being the guardian of a would-be superhero is the most dangerous thing for a parent figure this side of a Disney cartoon, Barry Allen's mom was murdered when he was a child and his innocent father was locked up in jail. He has an unrequited love interest and is considered a bit of a nerd by those around him.
But once he gets over the initial freakiness of suddenly developing super speed, Barry is excited. You could even say that he's joyful. He smiles. He hoots and hollers. And when he realizes that there are other metahumans out there who are using their powers for ill, Barry wants to go out and be the hero even when others tell him that he cannot be that guy.
Whereas the other big superhero TV show this fall Gotham is defined by its bleakness, The Flash is defined by the hope that is possible in a world where the seemingly impossible can happen. When the show begins and ends with "My name is Barry Allen and I'm the fastest man alive" the tone is one of "How cool is this?"
Because here's the thing: whether you are a superhero or a normal person, there should be joy in doing good. Don't get me wrong, there's a great deal of heartache involved because this is a broken and messed up world. But if you have the means to help other people and you bring goodness into their lives? How cool is it that you get to do that?
I'm not saying that there should not be dark superhero tales. There is room for stories all across the spectrum. But it is nice to see one that is hitting a different note: a bright major chord in a world of dissonant minor ones.
Now there will be conflict and bleakness in The Flash and there should be. If it were all sunshine and rainbows, it would be a terrible story. Yet I would argue that a great story is one that keeps a hope and a joy about it even when things get dark.
We're just an episode in, but I like The Flash an awful lot. It's the kind of superhero show that I would have loved when I was a kid.