Tag Archives: Arrowverse

Crisis in the Arrowverse: Mid-Season reviews

If you follow this blog, you know I’m a huge fan of DC Comics’ superheroes, and of the Arrowverse. So as we’ve now reached the mid-season break point partway through the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, I thought I’d review the first half-seasons. Every show but Black Lightning was shaped by the looming crossover and predictions Flash and Green Arrow would both die.

I gave up on the CW’s initial superhero show ARROW after its flat S6 and the uninteresting opening of S7 (Ollie in prison and a B-plot with his kids trying to save Star City in the future). However, with the Crisis looming and this season announced as the finish, I figured I’d give it a try — and I’m glad I did. With nothing left to hold back, the season has Ollie working for the Monitor to try and stave off the looming apocalypse. In the process he gets to see most of the show’s long-gone cast including Thea, Roy Harper, Nyssa al Ghul, Katana and Tommy and Malcolm Merlyn (parallel world versions who die in the first episode when their world is devoured by anti-matter). Plus the show brought the future kids William and Mia and their teammate Connor into the present, and interacting with the regular cast they became much more interesting.

FLASH‘s previous season was so-so (though as I love the character, I rated it better than perhaps it deserved) and the main plot this season was disappointing. The villain, Bloodwork, tried using dark matter to cure his lethal illness and instead became a freak who can create zombie armies by his control of blood. He’s not interesting, nor is he tragic (they try) and the big zombie battle that wrapped up was uninspired. On the plus side, Barry and Team Flash trying to deal with the Crisis and Barry’s inevitable death (spoiler: not so inevitable after all. You’ll see) was a lot more interesting. Unfortunately we’ll be back to Bloodwork next year.

SUPERGIRL also had a mixed previous season, ranging from the high of Jon Cryer’s Lex Luthor to the low of wasting Manchester Black. This season she’s been dealing with J’Onn’s evil brother M’alefic; Lena seeking revenge for what she feels is Kara’s betrayal; and Leviathan, a cabal of aliens out to preserve the Earth by mass-culling of the human population (plus the corporate takeover of CatCo). Some of this worked well, like M’alefic’s redemption, some of it not so much: while I can understand Lena having trust issues given her murderous family, it’s hard to have that much sympathy for her. Katie McGrath does her best, but as Alex points out, Lena kept her own secrets last season. But I’m more hopeful for the second half than I am with Flash.

BATWOMAN started its first season awfully slow as Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) discovers her cousin Bruce’s identity and deals with her longstanding trauma, the death of her mother and twin sister Beth in an accident that Kate survived. However things picked up fast as Kate stepped into the absent Bruce’s crimefighting shoes: Rose is good in the lead, supported by Lucius Fox’s son Luke (Camrus Johnson) and opposed by Alice (Rachel Skarsten) whom Kate becomes convinced is her missing sister, though dad (Dougray Scott) doesn’t believe it.

Skarsten’s Alice is a Joker-class lunatic and the actor nails it. I also like the sibling rivalry aspect: Kate’s stepsister Mary and Alice’s surrogate brother and partner-in-crime Mouse both resent that the twins still have a bond that rivals theirs. The pre-Crisis season ends with everything falling apart, so I look forward to what follows in 2020.

BLACK LIGHTNING ended S2 with the American Security Agency locking up the entire Pierce family. Things haven’t improved this season as the ASA places Freeland on lockdown, nominally to protect from the Markovian terrorists but just as much to control them. By the mid-season point, Jeff has given up on trying to be moderate, Blackbird’s a revolutionary, Jennifer’s doing wetwork for the ASA and the agency’s scheming Odell has Lynn addicted to the greenlight drug. It’s grim stuff, but I’m enjoying it. This show continues staying apart from the rest of the Arrowverse: Jeff appears briefly in the crossover (I’ll review that in a subsequent post) and the show’s final pre-crisis episode involves Jennifer encountering her parallel-world selves from out in the multiverse, before Black Lightning’s earth dies (don’t worry, I’m confident they’ll be back).

#SFWApro. Cover by George Perez, all rights to images remain with current holders

 

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The enemy is hate: Flash and Supergirl season reviews

Both FLASH and SUPERGIRL made hate a major part of their storylines this past season though in different ways.

At the end of S4, Flash smashed the Thinker’s doomsday satellite with the help of a mysterious female speedster — Nora West-Allen (Jessica Parker Kennedy), his and Iris’ daughter from the future. He died while she was very young, so she’s come back to meet him — and speed alongside him fighting the usual metahumans plus Cicada, a psycho meta-hater who cancels out powers and kills with a mysterious knife. It turns out Cicada has appeared on many Earths of the multiverse, always the same person — except Nora’s changed events by helping destroy the satellite so it’s someone different. Can they find him? Stop him? And what will Barry do when he realizes Nora’s secret mentor for her time trip is his mother’s killer, the Reverse flash (Tom Cavanaugh)?

I enjoyed the season (though as a Flash fan since childhood, I’m biased), Kennedy was good as Nora and Cavanaugh remains an outstanding villain. And Cicada didn’t annoy me as much as most mutie-hater types do, probably because everyone treats him like a psycho instead of declaring he’s the hero. However it had its problems too:

The big twist on the villains is supposed to be that the satellite crash created meta-tech rather than metahumans. They never do anything with this, though — the tech doesn’t get passed around from hand to hand, so what difference does it make (Cicada’s dagger does change hands, but it’s a special case)? And the time-changing plot at the center of Thawne’s secret agenda doesn’t make a lot of sense (I’ll avoid spoilers); there’s a point where Ralph figures out Team Flash is being played, but the points he raised might as well have been ancient Akkadian — I couldn’t follow it. Not up to S4, but fun enough for me.

Supergirl’s S4 does have a movement: Ben Lockwood, who blames his family tragedies on all the ETs now living in the US, organizes the Children of Liberty, an anti-immigrant group dismissing the aliens as “roaches.” While I can sympathize with the reflection of current politics, this is the kind of plot that X-Men made me heartily sick of.

Fortunately there’s a lot more going on. Manchester Black appears after his alien girlfriend is murdered by the bigots. He has no patience with Supergirl and J’Onn’s commitment to peace and hope — he wants revenge. Over the course of the season he gathers a copy of his comic-book team, the Elite, and takes the fight to the Children of Liberty and anyone who supports them. His militancy plays off perfectly against the Maid of Might — but instead the creators decide to play him off against J’Onn, who’s trying to walk a path of nonviolence. That didn’t work for me; J’Onn just isn’t a symbol the way Supergirl is and his commitment to peace is a new (and short-lived thing). Manchester’s arc had one great episode, but after that it just petered out.

The show did much better with Lex Luthor. Jon Cryer was an odd choice but he works, partly because they went full comics with Luthor. In his first appearance, in flashback, he’s turned the sun red just to neutralize Superman’s powers, never mind the cost in human life. After so many screen Lexes who are just crooked businessmen (or Jesse Eisenberg’s caffeinated annoyance) an old-school super-genius with murder in his heart was refreshing. He turns out to be the big bad behind everything that’s going on, including a quasi-clone of Supergirl, Red Daughter (a riff on Mark Millar’s Red Son). Melissa Benoist does a good job playing them both, and the story makes Red Daughter sympathetic, though naive (for which Lex mocks her at the climax). As a result, this got better as it went along. The assumption the power of the press could break Lockwood’s movement and Lex’s schemes is awfully optimistic — but hey, if Superman’s cousin can’t be a beacon of optimism, who can?

#SFWApro. Cover by Carmine Infantino, Supergirl by Al Plastino.

 

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Superheroes and a rain of food: TV and movies

Like Manifest, the second season of BLACK LIGHTNING only ran sixteen episodes, but they were better episodes. In the aftermath of S1, Jeff gets demoted to a teacher at Freeland High while a possibly bigoted white takes over the principal’s office; Tobias Whale launches a scheme involving the Green Light metas introduced last season; and Jennifer and Anissa begin grappling with their roles as superheroes.

The family and racial dynamics are the strongest part of the series (besides the acting, which is consistently solid). Rather than treat meta-hating as a thing itself, it’s interwoven with race issues: the Green Light kids are black, so as one preacher puts it, their powers are just another excuse to gun down blacks. Jeff and Lynn’s efforts to deal with Jennifer’s powers run headlong into her teenage rebellion. While Tobias remains the running foe throughout the season, they break things up with shorter arcs, such as Jennifer and Painkiller going on the run, or Jeff and Anissa battling the white supremacist meta Looker (named for a former teammate of Jeff’s in The Outsiders — they use a lot of Outsider elements this season, probably because there’s a lot more to work with than the short run of Black Lightning).

The ending, while satisfying felt a little rushed. We wrap up way too many things too fast (the supposedly terrifying Masters of Disasters go down too quickly), clearing the board for what’s coming next season. Jeff’s clash with the new principal isn’t resolved well and Anissa’s pursuit of her girlfriend Grace seems to build to something but doesn’t. Of course there’s S3, but still. Overall, though, an excellent season. “I’ll say one thing for those child-snatching bastards, they got great taste in watches.”

As I’m giving a presentation on the 1960s Batman TV show (I’ll talk about that next week), I rewatched the film sibling BATMAN (1966), in which Adam West’s Caped Crusader takes on the United Underworld of Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman (Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith and Lee Meriwether, stepping because series Catwoman Julie Newmar couldn’t fit it into her schedule). The film had been planned as a lead in to the series but as The Batman Filmography says, that changed when ABC decided to launch the series as a mid-season January ’66 replacement rather than wait until fall (I think they may have rewritten the film because of that — the opening clearly assumes we’ll know who Batman is). While the camp approach hasn’t worked for me since I was sixteen, the villain casting is excellent (Meriwether makes a tougher Catwoman than I remembered) and despite the camp the show does capture some of the Silver Age comic-book feel. And as the Filmography noted, the Bruce/Selina relationship gets a lot closer to horizontal here than it could in the show. At times, though, the writing falls short: the Dynamic Duo deduce which villains they’re facing, then make the same deduction in a later scene, and they defeat two villainous attacks with the same trick (it felt canned the second time). And even by camp standards, the ending’s always struck me as dumb. Still, this rewatched better than I expected. “I’ve rarely met a girl with such a potent argument in favor of — international relations.”

Like Into the Spider-Verse, the Lonely Nerd opening of CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (2009) felt cliched to me. Happily the film picked up as it went along, as the nerd grows into a well-meaning mad scientist whose new invention turning rain into food may save his dying little fishery town … until overuse threatens to drown the world in a food-pocalypse of giant edibles. Visually cool and some good voice casting including Anna Faris as a closeted nerd, Mr. T as a cop and Bruce Campbell as the town’s weaselly mayor. “There’s a Venus de Milo that has your face, next to a Michelangelo’s David that also has your face!”

#SFWApro. Cover by Rich Buckler, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Three heroic TV seasons: one great, one middling, one disappointing.

FLASH‘s fourth season was the good one. Rather than go with another evil speedster, this season the show-runners had the sense to try something new — Clifford DeVoe, AKA the Thinker (a Golden-Age Flash villain). With his brain energized by dark matter, DeVoe is actually closer to Marvel’s Mad Thinker, able to calculate potential outcomes to the point he’s always ten steps ahead of Team Flash. And he has a plan to save the world, but what is “Enlightenment” and how bad will it really be? I thoroughly enjoyed this season, including the introduction of Flash’s comics buddy Ralph Dibney, the Elongated Man, and the willingness to kill off likeable guest stars such as Izzy Bowen, the Fiddler. I hope next season can keep it up. “You will not defeat the big bad this year, Mr. Allen.

BLINDSPOT‘s third season was good until, like S2, it fell short at the end. Two years after Jane and Kurt tie the knot, the FBI team has to reunite when Roman gives Jane a new set of tattoos. He has an elaborate revenge scheme of his own, which goes awry when he falls in love. David Morse has a good turn as Crawford, another mastermind out to save the world against its will, and I was looking forward to the season ender. But much like S2, it couldn’t pull off the finish. Last year it seemed like they rushed to finish for fear of cancellation, this year they were clearly confident about renewal, yet they still didn’t satisfy. The trouble was, it felt like everything wrapped up fast so they could lay the groundwork for what’s coming in S4. Still, I’ll be back. “I got the gun, he got the bullets — one last transaction.”

ARROW‘s S6 made me appreciate why Screen Rant lists keep mentioning it as a Show That Needs to End. The season pits Mayor Queen and Green Arrow (Diggle’s now in the suit) against Caden James (Michael Emerson, playing an evil version of his Person of Interest superhacker) who blames Green Arrow for the death of his son. Can Ollie cope with such a cunning adversary while also being a father to the young son he didn’t know he had? And fighting off an investigation into whether the mayor is also Green Arrows? Part of the problem was that Diaz, the bad guy who replaces James midway through, is a lot less interesting, like a third-rate version of Black Lightning‘s Whale; part of it was that a lot of the character conflicts (can Diggle stay as GA despite a serious injury? Will René’s talking to the FBI tear the team apart?) felt very tired. If I have to drop a show next season, this will be the one. “Perhaps you did this to show which of you truly has a sense of honor.”

#SFWApro. Cover art by Gil Kane, all rights remain with current holder.

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