So I guess this is the Extra Long Capsule Review For Something Not Worth a Full Post, huh. The Jupiter’s Legacy effect.
Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s comic series DMZ took place in a near-future where a chunk of the US once again seceded and went to war with the rest of it, and the island of Manhattan became a desolate No Man’s Land between the United States of America and the upstart Free States of America. Wood was initially less concerned with a story and more with exploring an idea: how the Free States militia rose up, became a legit threat, and more than that what life in DMZ New York, cut off from the country, was like for so many. Which is why it made sense for the protagonist to be journalist Matty Roth, someone out to get that exact story, an audience surrogate primed to be an observer to the larger concept. DMZ the miniseries doesn’t care about any of that. It spends no time on the what, why, or how of the Free States, is concerned with only about seven DMZ New York residents, does not include Matty Roth, and abandons all pretense of world building to focus on one story of their own design, which plays out a little like a post-apocalyptic Hallmark movie.
Doctor Alma Ortego (Rosario Dawson), who becomes known as “Zee” in an Easter egg for comic fans and little else, lost her son Christian during the evacuation of New York eight years ago, and returns to demilitarized Manhattan to find him, but his father is one of the two competing gang lords trying to take over New York, and has turned Christian into his chief enforcer, and… I was really bored by it all. So bored. Christian barely seemed worth redeeming, Rosario Dawson yelling about needing to find/save her son got old, it was hard to invest in the election for governor of the DMZ because neither choice seemed good, the kid she hung out with and the older girl he liked didn’t grab me at all. Plus it’s a little unbelievable that Zee manages to become a full-fledged folk hero in like four days.
I haven’t seen a project so reluctant to engage with its own setting since the original Purge movie. The FSA/USA conflict doesn’t matter, the cast is small and poorly developed, the history of DMZ Manhattan is barely touched. It could have taken place anywhere, in any setting where you can do some half-assed Yojimbo-style “Play both sides against the middle” stuff. They barely used their source material, what they did use they used poorly, and what they made up on their own wasn’t interesting. All this and a criminal misuse of Mamie Gummer.
Let’s move on.
19. Y: The Last Man
I got four-ish episodes in back in the fall when I had little going on, and couldn’t be bothered to finish it. That’s basically my review.
But at least I was a little sad to hear this was all there’d be, and it seemed interested in its own premise, so… guess it still beats DMZ.
Okay let’s try to speed run the petty nerd shit… despite the fact that her origin story is heavily tied to Superman… despite the fact that her creator, Brian Michael Bendis, wants her to be a core DC Comics character so much her origin arc concluded not in her own book but in the pages of Justice League, Black Adam was there for Zod’s sake… despite the fact that this show was purchased by a network that had devoted eight years to building an unequaled interconnected superhero television franchise*… they decided to stand alone in a separate universe and not connect to anything because, I don’t know, Naomi’s home town felt more Georgia than Vancouver or something. So they built a world where Superman, Batman, and all the characters we know only exist in comics and TV shows like they do here, to the point of referencing actual comic arcs… but there’s still a STAR Labs and a planet Thanagar? And nobody thinks that’s weird? I live in a world where DC only exists in comics, TV, and movies, and we don’t even have a Big Belly Burger** chain, let alone an R&D firm calling itself “STAR Labs” as a bit, and if a local tattoo artist claimed to be from Hawkman’s home planet I would have questions.
But the real problem is that given 13 episodes for their first season, they watered down their central premise of Naomi learning her true origins, powers, and destiny way too hard with a bunch of teen drama nonsense. The show has a central, title character but a core cast of ten, arguably eleven, and needed to find things for all of them to do, and it was too much, and I cared about too little of it. Most of these people are probably from her comic (didn’t read it, can’t be sure) but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m trying to focus on what the main story is and two of Naomi’s love interests trying to save the third love interest’s comic book store isn’t a B-plot I require. (Also three love interests in 13 episodes? That would be ambitious even if they did care about all three equally, which they did not.)
This show needed to be a tight six to eight episodes with cleaner focus, and no ending season one on a cliffhanger unless you’re really, really sure you’re getting renewed.
And yes, that final shot of Naomi flying for the first time looks like it cost someone $20 and 12 minutes of effort. I know this was on the CW but yikes.
*I said what I said, Daredevil fans.
**There’s like one in West Covina, California,
brand new pals and new career but I’m not convinced Warner Bros. signed off on it.
As we discussed back in the fall, the Supergirl writers set out to make this a big send-off for the show, but they missed nearly every mark. The final season seemed to find time to give a big arc to everyone except the title character (only some of which resolved in any real way), who went from “trapped in the Phantom Zone” to “reacting to other people’s stories” until the last three episodes when they tried to speed-run a character arc and final season curtain call. Look, not every final season needs to be Arrow’s, but if you know it’s your last one, you could try to find way to make it feel like a journey’s end, or at least make it feel like a good season of the show, and a series-worst villain and waiting until the last half of the last episode to say “Hey, what’s our main character’s arc” ain’t it.
For such a short season, it sure took Batwoman a while to figure out its plot for the year. They wanted to do a Poison Ivy/Renee Montoya story (bold flex when Harley Quinn is reminding us Ivy and Harley are the OTP), but by choice or by mandate from corporate could only put actual Poison Ivy in three episodes, so… there was a lot of vamping on that plot. Although it’s a little neat that Gotham’s Victoria Cartagena got to play Montoya again eight years after being written out and forgotten by that show.
For the main plot, it seemed like our villain would be ice-cold corporate titan Jada Jet, Ryan “Batwoman 2” Wilder’s secret birth mother and a clear adaptation of Jezebel Jet from Grant Morrison’s legendary Batman run. And she even had ties to the Black Glove society, like in the comics. But no, five episodes in, Jada and her son Marquis each do a complete 180 and now, out of nowhere, Marquis is the real villain and Jada wasn’t trying to lock Ryan out of the family, she was protecting her estranged daughter from her psychotic son, who had been mostly normal for five episodes and now was a generic giggling Bat-villain out to wreak havoc on all Gotham. Which… well…
Last year I wrote about how I got over annoyance that they’d replaced the iconic Kate Kane Batwoman with their own original character, because Ryan Wilder revitalized the show in several ways, but… problem is, they apparently thought they could just do that over and over. The season is chock full of Replacement Villains, as one-offs steal Mad Hatter’s hat or get infected by Killer Croc’s tooth (Killer Croc was never contagious before), Bat-friend Mary Hamilton becomes a “new Poison Ivy” for a spell, and most egregious, Marquis Jet (and not his at least comics-inspired mother) turns out to be a store-brand Joker doing a watered down version of Joker War, in which Joker managed to take control of Wayne Enterprises and Bruce’s money.
(Honestly though the Wayne Enterprises board, which somehow still exists, letting the demonstrably crazy rich kid take over makes more sense than them twice agreeing to let an ex-con part-time bartender be CEO, maybe Wayne Enterprises shouldn’t have been part of the show post-Kate is all I’m saying)
And sure Mary was always going to be snapped sane and redeemed but they also felt they needed a redemption arc for Marquis, as a magical cure to homicidal insanity turns up, and I don’t see how I was supposed to be invested in Marquis getting “cured” because “cured” Marquis is not a character we had met. I had to marathon the back half of the season while playing Civilization 6 because the second Mary and Marquis became President’s Choice Brand Bat-villains they started losing my interest. Not that using real Bat-villains always helped… Professor Pyg was presented as a disgruntled chef, not a demented surgeon, and the Black Glove Society got done dirtiest, reduced to a book club for rich parents covering up their mentally ill children. Although Bridget Regan did well as Ivy and Alex Morf did as well as could be hoped as Victor Zsasz, given the long shadow Anthony Carrigan cast in that role. Was Carrigan busy or something? I know he’s also the Mist on Flash but they brought back Victoria Cartagena…
Alice, series MVP three years running, and Luke Fox had decent arcs, and the title character managed to be central, so it ranks above Supergirl’s final season, but between this and Legends going four years between actual DC characters joining the show, DC Entertainment either needs to stop putting its live-action properties in separate universes or start getting much, much better at sharing characters between them.
14. Locke and Key
See I really want to like this show. I like the premise, the world, the three leads (including Emilia Jones, who might have an Oscar nomination by now if any of the Academy voters had seen CODA before the best picture nods were announced), the art design, the continuing innovation in magic key powers… I just hate, hate Dodge, the primary antagonist. Something about Dodge always having a leg up on the Lockes no matter what keys they find or what advantage they learn is just exhausting. And Dodge stuff is like 75% of this season, and that is a problem.
There are only eight episodes left, so I’m-a finish it, but man this one started stronger than where it’s ended up lately.
(Also taking “When we turn 18 we lose the ability to remember magic, and thus also forget that we’re being stalked by demons and how to resist them” and turning it into “People change as they grow up, it’s natural, don’t fight it” was… an odd choice.)
Whereas with this one, sometimes the leads, the world, the art design were all losing me, but then the villain would show up and I was engaged again. Odd mirror.
Okay I could talk a long-ass time about this one but let’s try to hurry. First the bad:
- Pacing: if the heroes hit their low point in episode 10 of 13, they need to rally by the end of episode 11, not early in episode 13. I haven’t seen a third act drag this bad since Iron Fist. Okay that’s mean. Since Luke Cage.
- Ensemble: look the way to make a Titans show is to have them face Trigon or HIVE or the Fearsome Five, then despite being the one without powers, make Nightwing the cool one. You don’t spend 12 episodes finding excuses to keep Superboy, Starfire, Raven, and Wonder Girl away from the A-plot so that Nightwing can ditch the team and struggle to survive against Nightwing-level threats, that’s bad ensemble work. It’s at the point where they’re lampshade-hanging how little the Titans actually fight together when “Titans Together” is second only to “Avengers Assemble” for super-team rallying cries (I said what I said, “Long Live the Legion.”) You didn’t create a Nightwing solo series, stop trying to make it one, or at least make Dick Grayson as cool as he is in the comics.
- Redemption arcs: the farther a character falls, the more work their redemption arc takes. Don’t wait until the last episode to get started. Did Falcon and the Winter Soldier teach us nothing.
- Do the reading: we have a Dick Grayson/Nightwing lacking charisma and acrobatics; a Jason Todd/Red Hood who goes dark but because he’s mad at the prior Robin, not because Batman didn’t avenge his temporary death (he did, that’s a whole other problem); a Barbara Gordon who it seems wasn’t Batgirl before the wheelchair and isn’t Oracle after it, representation for the disabled is good* but the wheelchair alone isn’t why people miss Oracle-era Babs; a Tim Drake who, yes, deduced Batman’s identity and wants to be Robin, but not because he also deduced Batman needed a new partner after Jason Todd’s death, and who is kind of smart I guess but not that smart and not much good in a fight so he’s hard to root for… honestly… let’s pick this up in the next bullet…
- No Batman: honestly of all the Batman-adjacent shows forbidden to use Actual Batman for whatever reason**, this one feels like it suffers the most. Despite being called “Titans,” this season was obsessed with the Bat-family, but wrote out their patriarch and removed nearly everyone’s relationship to him. The Robins (and Batgirl) all have their own unique, complicated relationship to Batman and that, above all, is what connects them, and removing it just leaves a hole they couldn’t fill.
Hopefully next season, with iconic Titans nemesis Brother Blood, ducks some of these issues. Because the good?
- Villains: They’re not bad at writing compelling villains. No matter how annoyed I was at Dick Grayson (who gave real “Jim Gordon from Gotham” energy in the back half, never good), every time Jonathan Crane was on screen I was re-invested.
- The Titans themselves: most of the Titans are still fun to watch! You could make a good show about these kids if you’d stop sidelining them for The Dick Grayson Is Sad Show!
- Some inherent watchability: this show is like a twisted hybrid of Riverdale and Gotham. Trash at first glance, but it just draws you in. I can’t explain it. It is watchable in a way only slightly connected to its quality.
- Good action: when the Titans actually do get to fighting, it works. Doesn’t happen often enough, but it’s good.
I want to like you, Titans, stop getting in my way.
(*Okay look I don’t have the lived experience to say whether an actress who lost one leg but can use the other playing a paraplegic is “good disabled representation,” but I haven’t heard complaints?)
(**I once heard that Warner Bros. traded away the TV rights for Batman to Fox in exchange for DVD/merch rights to the Adam West show. I can’t verify this but what other reason could there be for live action TV being the only medium where Warner Bros. doesn’t aggressively monetize Batman himself? There are as many goddamn podcasts with Actual Batman as live-action TV shows.)
12. The Flash
I think this may be the best version of late-series Flash’s multi-story approach to their season. We had three arcs, starting with the crossover-replacement “Armageddon,” three big bads (including their best, Reverse-Flash), a lot of old familiar faces, and somehow they all combined well in the big climax– okay, fine, the Deathstorm arc didn’t add a lot, other than writing out Caitlin and Frost while Danielle Panabaker was busy being pregnant again, but the consequences of that one are ongoing, so…
It’s not always easy having multiple mostly independent arcs that combine to make a satisfying season conclusion, but somehow Armageddon and the Negative Forces (you don’t want me to explain) had a satisfying mutual payoff, one that managed to inch along during Deathstorm. Engaging stories, none of which outstayed their welcome, most of the filler worked (if you don’t mind the newbie Team Flash members), not too shabby for an eighth season. Here’s hoping they end strong.
But how dare you introduce Phantom Girl from the Legion of Super-Heroes and a) not have her be from the future, b) not have her be from planet Bgztl, and yet c) still name her “Tinya Wazzo.” Supergirl didn’t introduce the Legion into the Arrowverse for this kind of weak sauce half-adaptation, people.
11. Legends of Tomorrow (Season 6)
For its sixth season, Legends of Tomorrow was all about human connection. Some embraced it, like co-captains Sarah Lance and Ava Sharpe, hurtling through chaos and catastrophe towards matrimony; some turned on it, like John Constantine, forced to choose between love and power; some found new connections, like departing OG Legend Mick “Heat Wave” Rory, who finds an… unexpected path to being a parent again. And in the end, connection to others is the only thing that saves the team and the world, thanks in part to magic alien fungus. No you read that right. It’s still a weird show. So basically, once you get past hunting aliens through history, it’s…
But they did hit some road bumps. It lacks a solid central storyline. Everyone’s trying to be “the funny one…” no, the goofy one. This show went from okay to great when they started having fun with it, but not everyone gets to be the Howling Mad Murdock of the A-Team, you know? Someone has to be Hannibal and Faceman and BA and maybe that reporter that hung around with them in the early seasons. Spooner, the new addition, doesn’t get her backstory or powers explained until the penultimate episode. That’s a bit long of a wait to flesh out an original character with zero hype behind her. She was fun, sure, but I did miss when this DC show would add DC characters to the cast sometimes. And the villain, Bishop, a perpetually singing geneticist planning to wipe out humanity and restart it with alien/human hybrid clones of himself and Sarah, was… uninspiring. I was glad he vanished for the second act, even if it did the overall season arc no favours, because I was tired of him bursting into song all the time.
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