Friday, December 2, 2016

Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow Four-Night Crossover Event (DC Comics, Berlanti Productions, Warner Bros., 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I watched a surprisingly good episode of Supergirl that the CW network is billing as the first night in a four-night superhero “crossover” event which will continue on tonight’s episode of The Flash, though this also worked as a self-contained story as part of the Supergirl sequence (even though we won’t be getting a new episode of Supergirl until January 16!). The episode title was “Medusa,” and Medusa turns out to be a bioengineered virus created back on Krypton by Supergirl’s natural father (who appears in the episode as a sort of dream vision, much the way Marlon Brando as Superman’s father Jor-El kept turning up as a ghostly vision in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies and, via unused footage from Superman II, kept playing that part even after Brando himself died!) as a sort of defensive bioweapon. The gimmick is it would kill anyone who wasn’t Kryptonian (though writers Jessica Queller and Derek Simon never explain why it’s harmless to Earth people) and could therefore be loosed in case of an interplanetary invasion, since it would kill the invaders and leave the home population alone. Medusa gets released as a sort of test-marketing campaign in a bar frequented by aliens (one can’t help but be reminded of the Cantina scene in the original Star Wars — or, as it’s called these days to fit it into the mega-cycle, Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope) and all of them die; Mon-El from Daxom (Chris Wood) survives because he was outside the bar fighting Cyborg Superman (David Harewood) when the virus was released, though he got exposed by going into the bar later and trying to rescue the patrons and he comes close to death.

It turns out that, since Daxom was a sister planet of Krypton and therefore Kryptonians and Daxomites are genetically similar, that Mon-El gets sick from Medusa but survives, and his immune reaction to it is strong enough that Eliza Danvers (Helen Slater), biomedical researcher and mother of Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) and foster mother of Kara Danvers, a.k.a. Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), is able to use it to synthesize an antidote. Meanwhile the people behind the Medusa release are the secret society Cadmus, headed by Lillian Luthor (Brenda Strong), who’s determined to exterminate all aliens from Earth because she’s still pissed at Superman for having branded her genius son Lex as a super-criminal and got him a life prison sentence. She asks her daughter Lena (Katie McGrath) — who until this episode we’ve been led to believe was a good Luthor to make up for her bad-Luthor mom and brother — for “Isotope 454,” the only medium through which Medusa can be released, and after Cadmus agents stage a break-in at Lena’s corporate headquarters but fail to steal the isotope, Lena merely gives it to her mom … only there’s a beautiful final scene in which the red flakes of isotope that are carrying Medusa slowly shrivel up and disappear in mid-air, and it turns out Lena rendered the isotope inert before she handed it over and thus the big rocket that was supposed to disperse Medusa worldwide and kill all the aliens spread a useless item. There are also the usual subplots, including a turn in the relationship between Alex Danvers and her friend Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima), with whom Alex fell in love, realized that she was a Lesbian and then got jilted by Maggie because she doesn’t do Lesbian newbies; this time around they share a pizza at home and it turns out they may be relationship-bound after all. (I’m still pretty amazed that a superhero show in 2016 can prominently feature two Lesbian characters and at least hint at a relationship between them; how pre-Trump!) The only part of the show relevant to the much-hyped “crossover event” takes place at the end, when a hole in the space-time continuum (that first appeared early on during the Danvers’ Thanksgiving dinner) opens and reveals Barry Allen, a.k.a. The Flash (Grant Guskin), and his long-haired and considerably better-hung (at least from the size of their on-screen baskets) sidekick Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), though what they’re doing in Supergirl’s home town of National City and how the plot is going to continue are mysteries that aren’t going to resolve until tonight’s episode of The Flash and the other two shows in the sequence. — 11/29/16


I watched the CW Network’s episode of The Flash that was the second installment in the four-night “crossover event” that united the Legends of Tomorrow, as DC Comics is calling its younger superheroes when they work together. The series had started with Monday night’s Supergirl episode — though that had also been a self-contained advancement of the Supergirl story arc and had benefited from that — at the end of which The Flash, a.k.a. Barry Alden (Grant Gustin, personable and handsome without being drop-dead gorgeous), and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) crashed through a hole in the space-time continuum to reach Supergirl on a parallel Earth. Yes, this is one of those science-fiction stories in which they can do alternative histories by positing that there are a series of universes, each of which contains an Earth where the overall arc of history has been the same as the one on the Earth we know but the details can be strikingly different. As if that isn’t enough plot for you, The Flash episode also included time travel and the so-called “butterfly effect” — it seems that 40 years later than the events we were watching, Barry Alden did a time-travel run back into the past and did something that disrupted the space-time continuum and led to the death of Cisco’s brother (so Cisco is really pissed at Barry!) and the sex-change of one of the other characters’ kids from a son to a daughter. So the young superheroes spend as much time fighting each other as they do fighting the menace from outer space they’re supposed to be taking on: the Dominators, a race from another planet (their makeup and CGI look a lot like the White Martians on Supergirl, enough that it’s possible we’re supposed to read them as the same species) who in 1951 sent an advance guard to gather intelligence on Earth and see if we had any way to resist them. We didn’t, but after a while the Dominators gave up, got back in their spaceship and left. Now, 65 years later, they’re ba-a-a-a-ack, and Barry sets up a training to see if their heroes can fight super-powered aliens by using Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) as their sparring partner. It doesn’t go well for Our (Other) Heroes, and after kidnapping the President of the United States (Jerry Wasserman) — if this happened after January 20, 2017 I’d be tempted to tell the aliens, “Keep him!” — to lure the Legends of Tomorrow, the Dominators use a Star Trek-style transporter beam to beam them into their own spacecraft, to do heaven knows what with them — that’s the cliffhanger. There are some interesting characters in this one, including Stephen Arnell as the Green Arrow, a.k.a. Oliver Queen (he’s sort of a male version of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, though the Green Arrow was apparently a minor character in the DC universe well before Suzanne Collins started her trilogy); Willa Holland as Speedy, a.k.a. Thea Queen; Franz Drameh as Firestorm, a.k.a. Jefferson Jackson; Caity Lotz as White Canary, a.k.a. Sara Lance; failed Superman (he starred in the flop Superman Returns from 2006 that almost killed the whole franchise) Brandon Routh as The Atom, a.k.a. Ray Palmer; Keiynan Lonsdale as Black superhero wanna-be Wally West (he insists that he can run faster than The Flash and only needs training to don his superhero mantle); Candice Patton as his sister Iris and Jesse L. Martin from the final cast of Law and Order as their father. But the story seems pretty by-the-numbers and I can only hope it gets better over the next two nights! — 11/30/16


I watched the latest episode of Arrow, the third out of the four “crossover nights” on the CW channel and a show that was virtually incomprehensible because I’ve never watched the series before and therefore it was impossible for me to tell what was supposed to be “real” in the series’ universe and what was being altered for this episode. At the end of The Flash episode seen the night before, three of the superheroes who more or less united to fight the Dominators — the super-powerful, high-tech-equipped beings from outer space who first came to Earth in 1951 and decided we were a species on such a low level of technology they could easily defeat and slaughter us and take over our planet — were beamed onto the Dominators’ spaceship. One might have expected a show filled with spectacular action scenes as the three heroes on the ship — including Oliver Queen, a.k.a. Arrow (in the comic books he was the Green Arrow but I suspect they dropped the color to avoid him being confused with the Green Lantern!) — fought their way off the vessel, but that didn’t happen until the last 15 minutes of the show. Instead they did a surprisingly Ray Bradbury-ish “memory” episode in which the outer-space intelligence creates a dream world for them out of the memories in their own psyches and gives them a bucolic middle-class existence at variance with the ruling assumptions of the overall series. I had a hard time figuring out who was who, what was what and how the plotline of this episode deviated from the series until I looked up the page for both the series as a whole and this particular show. The synopsis of the series read, “Spoiled billionaire playboy Oliver Queen [Stephen Arnell] is missing and presumed dead when his yacht is lost at sea. He returns five years later a changed man, determined to clean up the city as a hooded vigilante armed with a bow.” The synopsis for this episode reads, “Oliver wakes up to a life in which his parents are alive and he is about to marry Laurel; Felicity [Smoak, played by Emily Bett Rickards] faces a new threat with the help of The Flash (Grant Gustin) and Supergirl (Melissa Benoist).” The show is actually considerably more interesting when it’s following Oliver and his doomed relationship with Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) than when the dream sequence ends (courtesy of yet another break in the space-time continuum that allows the three humans caught up in it to revert to their normal existences, though being trapped inside a Dominators’ ship hardly counts, even by the standards of superhero fiction, as “normal”) and they leap back, are still captives of the Dominators, and have to hijack a shuttlecraft to get back to Earth — and they find hundreds of other Dominator shuttlecraft chasing them, the “cliffhanger” on which this episode ends. Had I been following The Arrow all along I probably would have liked this one better, and had it actually featured Oliver Queen as the sort of male Katniss Everdeen I would have expected from the title and the central premise instead of portraying him through most of the action as a normal, non-super human being, that might have helped too — but at least I give writers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg credit for ambition. Ripping off people at the level of Ray Bradbury and Stanislaw Lem is obviously at least aiming for a higher level than just cranking out another superhero tale inspired by old comic books! — 12/1/16


I put on the last of the four episodes of the CW Network’s big “four-night crossover” event between their superhero shows Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow dealing with a threatened interplanetary invasion from the Dominators. The Dominators are an outer-space race who first came to Earth in 1951 for a reconnaissance mission and are now back, though just who they are and what they want remains ambiguous until the very end of this show. At first I thought this was going to be a simple Independence Day-style tale of a super-race from another planet who zeroed in on Earth as a technologically backward planet whose inhabitants they could simply wipe out so they could take over our world as a colony. The final resolution suggests that the writers, Phil Klemmer and Marc Guggenheim, couldn’t make up their minds whether they wanted the Dominators to be nasty, genocidal aliens à la Independence Day (and The War of the Worlds before it!) or aliens genuinely concerned about saving the universe from out-of-control Earthlings à la The Day the Earth Stood Still and Plan Nine from Outer Space. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow are a rag-bag collection of superheroes and superhero wanna-bes including The Atom, a.k.a. Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh, who seems to have got this role as a consolation prize after his Superman movie, Superman Returns, bombed and nearly killed the Superman franchise on film), who aside from what you might think is not a superhero whose power is to turn himself invisibly small; White Canary a.k.a. Sara Lance (Caity Palmer); Firestorm a.k.a. Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh), who not only can spit fire from his hands but can use them to transmute elements into other elements; Reverse-Flash a.k.a. Eobard Thawne (Matt Letscher); Vixen a.k.a. Amaya Jiwe (Maisie Richardson-Sellers); Steel a.k.a. Nate Heywood (Nick Zeno); and Heat Wave a.k.a. Mick Rory (Dominic Purcell), who’s the most interesting character of the bunch: an ex-con with a strongly anti-social attitude who doesn’t have flame-throwing powers himself like Firestorm but wields two heat weapons, one in each hand, and his overall anti-social bias and moral unpredictability reminded me of Rorschach in another D.C. property, Watchmen.

The plot deals with the Legends going back in time to capture one of the Dominators who invaded in 1951 and interrogate him to find out what the Dominators want from Earth — only the Legends themselves get captured by a group of sinister government bureaucrats dressed in Men in Black uniforms and the Dominator gets tortured — oops, given “enhanced interrogation.” With all the fooforaw in previous episodes about the changes in the timeline Barry Alden, a.k.a. The Flash (Grant Gustin) made — among other things, eliminating Cisco Ramon’s (Carlos Valdes) brother and giving the non-super head of the Legends, Dr. Martin Stein (Victor Garber — it’s nice to see this actor again but, aside from him being older than I remember him, he’s not particularly well-used here), a daughter, Lily (Christina Brucato), who’s a scientific genius in her own right and has the key to vanquishing the Dominators: a weapon which, when shot into their skin and then electrically activated, will cause them excruciating pain. It also turns out that what the Dominators were afraid of and why they invaded Earth was that they were fearful of the existence of super-powered “metahumans,” which include most of the superhero dramatis personae of this story (actually all of them except Supergirl, who like her cousin Superman got her powers by coming to earth from another planet, Krypton), and in particular what might happen if a person with an evil character was also meta-human. (Yipes! Donald Trump with a superpower! Maybe the Dominators have reason to fear us … ) Anyway, during the last two acts or so we finally get some kick-ass superhero action as the Dominators (who speak English in this episode even though it’s previously been established that their own language is a variant of Hebrew — I explained that to Charles and his eyebrows went up, and then I said that the explanation was that the Old Testament God had created everything and therefore His language, Hebrew, was the baseline for languages throughout the universe) attack the Earthlings and the Earthlings counter-attack with Lily Stein’s weapon until the Dominators, who had surrounded the earth with their ships in the best War of the Worlds and Independence Day traditions, call a general retreat and leave until the writers of these shows decide they need them again for a menace. As pretentious as this “four-night crossover” was, as difficult as some of it was to understand unless you’ve been following these shows all along (which, aside from Supergirl, I haven’t been), and as shaky as the transitions were between episodes, the whole event was actually good fun and I’m glad I stuck it out until the end. — 12/2/16