Okay… I covered every best picture in Oscar history… ranked this year’s nominees to explain why I’m blasé about Nomadland beating Promising Young Woman… Comic TV Awards are at least two months out, longer if I stall to let the CW wrap the season… What’s left…
Well… guess I can talk about Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Okay so for anyone who doesn’t know, here is the story as best as we understand it. You probably know the part where Zack Snyder left the movie during post-production, and Warner Bros. brought in the second unit director of Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods to overhaul the movie into something quicker and more crowd-pleasing and accomplished only one of those things, but we have to go back a little.
You see, back in 2013, all of Hollywood was watching upstart Marvel Studios rake in money hand over fist after mega-hit The Avengers, and everyone wanted a piece of that Cinematic Universe pie, and nobody seemed in a better position to do it than Warner Bros., the owners of DC Comics. And man did WB need this, because after a decade and a bit of regularly-scheduled Harry Potters bringing in massive dollars, plus Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Warner no longer knew how to function as a studio without at least one massive franchise to lean on.
This leads us to the two Cardinal Sins of the DCEU.
Number one: Warner Bros. wanted to get to The Avengers as quickly as possible. I mean, compare the box office tallies of Captain America: The First Avenger and the much, much worse but post-AvengersThor: The Dark World, I see where their heads were at, but it demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of why Avengers was a hit.
Number two: they also wanted a new Dark Knight saga, and Dark Knight was the singular vision of Christopher Nolan… once he scraped some stupid off some first drafts by David S. Goyer, who clings to the comic book movie industry like a parasitic vine. So despite how divided audience and critical response was to the Nolan-produced, Snyder-directed Man of Steel, they went all in on Snyder’s pitch for a Justice League series that would sprinkle solo spin-offs in between Synder’s core Justice League story.
Again, a savage misunderstanding of how Marvel pulled off their big trick. Avengers worked because it brought all of these previously established characters (and also Hawkeye) into one movie, not because it introduced us to a bunch of heroes and spent the middle third of the movie nudging us in the ribs about their spin-off potential.
I was also going to discuss how Marvel has never locked into one director to steer the whole franchise, but that just gets into a debate on the Marvel House Style and how few directors managed to break out of it so let’s just move on from that.
So our two Cardinal Sins are a) rushing to the finish line, and b) going all-in on a divisive filmmaker’s five-film arc. And these problems went critical in a very predictable fashion in spring of 2016. Batman V Superman was a critical bomb, and may have opened huge, but had a massive, massive second-week drop-off, and was largely reviled for being dark, murdery, and joyless, and stopping midway through to set up sequels and spinoffs in very hamfisted manners*. And also it was seen as a bit of a mess, narratively speaking. The Ultimate Edition fixes that, but I dunno, maybe stop assuming you get to make all of your superhero movies Godfather length, Zack. It became very clear that Snyder’s grimdark vision was not clicking with the general audience, who much preferred Captain America: Civil War, which had more fun with its obligatory “heroes punch each other for a while” sequence but also managed higher emotional stakes.
(*If you want to tease the rest of the League through Wonder Woman clicking an email attachment, put that shit in the end credits where it belongs, did anyone pushing for Marvel-esque success actually watch a single Marvel movie**, Jesus Christ)
(**Other than Iron Man 2. Did everyone trying to start a Cinematic Universe only watch Iron Man 2? And then base all your plans off it? That is… that is nobody’s favourite Marvel movie.)
However, Justice League rolled cameras just weeks after Batman V Superman opened, so by the time they knew that Snyder’s initial plans were not going to play in Poughkeepsie,it was too late to switch horses and maybe find a director who didn’t think that Superman is only interesting if dead or evil. But it was clear that a course-change was still necessary, so studio execs pushed Snyder and writer Chris Terrio (who has a much-deserved Oscar for Argo, the dude can write) to lighten up Justice League*, pulled the plug on filming a sequel back-to-back, and also demanded David Ayer shove some jokes into Suicide Squad, eventually turning the final edit over to the people who made the “fun” trailer, but that’s a whole other thing.
(*Terrio always meant to do that, as with Batman V Superman he was desperately re-writing and trying to add character arcs to an overly dark script from… David Goyer, Jesus, someone remove him from DC Films, by force if necessary)
And then a year later, Snyder finished a three and a half hour rough cut, and shortly thereafter the Snyder family was rocked by a horrible tragedy as Zack’s daughter Autumn took her own life. As such Snyder had to step away from the edit, and was unable to deliver the shorter cut the studio required. Because not even Lawrence of Arabianeeded to be that long, Zack, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series delivered two massive, beloved hits but he still had to produce a shorter cut of Return of the King for theatrical release, Zack. And so Warner Bros. brought in Joss Whedon to overhaul the movie. Official accounts claimed Zack was fully on board, and even chose him to write/film a few additional scenes. Snyderbros view it very differently, and honestly everything we’ve learned since suggests Zack was just saying he was on board to avoid more bad publicity than this magnitude of re-shooting already attracts, just like how the cast, even Ray Fisher, claimed the reshoots were a fun and smooth experience and we know that wasn’t true.
So anyway the theatrical cut of Justice League was a weird hybrid, part super-serious Snyder action and part Avengers-style goofy banter, the villain plot was word salad, nobody had an arc, it was a major box-office disappointment. I was trying as hard as I could to like it, but the only review I was willing to write was as a subplot in a different post to highlight how much better the Arrowverse’s Crisis on Earth-X was.
And thus began the fan campaign to hashtag release the Snyder Cut, with fans believing that Zack Snyder had made a much superior version to what they called “Josstice League,” fed by Zack Snyder single-handedly keeping would-be-Twitter-replacement Vero in business by constantly sharing screenshots and behind-the-scenes photos, attempting to release his entire movie frame at a time.
Nearly three years later, in the midst of a global pandemic that had shut down the entire entertainment industry, Warner Bros was unable to release movies theatrically on the scale needed to turn profits, filming was being delayed everywhere, and they needed content for their fledgling streaming service HBO Max, so they said “Eh, screw it,” and gave Zack $70 million to finish his version of the movie to debut on streaming, something people had been expecting since HBO Max was announced. And now here it is, it’s out there, you can watch it, and I’m here to help you decide if you should.
A little over a month after that was a relevant question. Look I was busy with Art Vs Commerce at the time, Slumdog Millionaire and The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy weren’t rewatching themselves.
Given that it’s four hours of movie, there’s a lot to cover, so I asked myself what one of my favourite video essayists, Jenny Nicholson, would do, and organized my thoughts into an internet-friendly numbered list.
(Patrick Willems would have made a framing sequence in the visual style of his subject but I’m not currently equipped for that.)
Remember that time John Oliver did a deep-dive into the US bail system, and how it’s weaponized to keep lower-income people, especially African-Americans, in jail? The best way to combat that right now is The Bail Project, a charity committed to paying the bail of those who can’t afford it, so that, say, being arrested for protesting police brutality doesn’t financially cripple you. Visit them at https://bailproject.org/, spread the word, and if you can spare a donation, they can always use it.
Back to it.
Okay, here we go… 21 shows ranked! And let me say… this might have been the highest-quality season since I started doing this. Shows that would have made the top ten easily in previous years, if not the top five, are down where we used to find shows I’d make fun of. There are some very high highs, but none of the low lows that marred previous years. No Iron Fists or Inhumans, or even bland Cloak and Daggers or wildly inconsistent Gothams. The worst we have is “Okay, but not nearly their best work.”
But first, press F to show respect to the following fallen shows.
Arrow. How crazy is it that the grand mack-daddy of all superhero crossovers, Crisis on Infinite Earths, got adapted on network television all because of the success of a show about Green Arrow, of all people? Arrow wasn’t always the best Arrowverse show… actually according to these annual rankings, it wasn’t ever the best Arrowverse show from the first year there were other options… but, as the name suggests, without it, there wouldn’t be an Arrowverse. No duelling speedsters, no spaceship full of time travelling misfits, no annual crossovers putting Defenders to shame over and over… no Beebo. You did good, Arrow.
iZombie. In the general scheme of things, five seasons was pretty much just right for their overarching storyline of the zombie outbreak and subsequent conflict with humanity. In another sense, five seasons was never going to be enough time to spend with Liv, Ravi, Clive, Major, Payton, and even ne’er-do-wells Blaine and Don E. This show was a delight, and I’ll miss its core cast for a long time. You were the least faithful to your source material of any show I’ve covered, lacking even a character in common with the comics, but you were special while you lasted.
Krypton.I admire Krypton’s dedication to self-improvement. From halfway through the first season, they did their best to find more interesting takes on their story. And they delivered a decent Lobo, a solid General Zod, and by second season a really interesting Brainiac. They were just way too confident they’d have as much time as they wanted to tell the story, and that was not the case. So… are we done with shows about the pasts of famous heroes named after the place they’re from? Smallville lasted a decade, sure, and Gotham made it half that, but Krypton is over after twenty episodes and Metropolis seems to have died in development. So… we’re done?
Legion. Some shows can’t run indefinitely. Some shows need a set plan. And Legion was one of those. Noah Hawley brought us a three-act story told over twenty-seven mesmerizing episodes, with a stellar cast and visual flair like nothing else. There has never been a show like Legion. There may never be again, because you can’t be Legion if you’re trying to be like something else.
Preacher. To my chagrin, I think Preacher’s legacy will be how weirdly unbalanced the pacing was. The slow-burn first season and the final season’s race for the finish line almost feel like different shows. They spent three years really digging into key moments from the comic run, then when AMC said they had one year to wrap it up, they had to slam on the gas to get to the climax. Still… they delivered an amazing, gonzo yet character-driven adaptation, one which provided some key lessons (including not taking your time in early seasons) for the even-less-probable Garth Ennis adaptation The Boys. I wish it had run another four years, but I’m glad I had it while it lasted.
Swamp Thing. We hardly knew ye, Swamp Thing. You delivered the exact Swamp Thing series we needed, a perfect fit to the R-rated tone of every other DC Universe show they’d made (prior to Stargirl). You had great takes on a lot of DC’s magic characters, characters I’m mad I won’t get to see again. Apparently, the only people who didn’t think a dark, horror-themed Swamp Thing was the way to go were the people running your network. Idjits. Here’s hoping the CW reairing it in a desperate bid for fall programming leads to a revival.
Watchmen. Series creator Damon Lindelof brought us a collision of the dark side of America’s history and the possible future of Alan Moore’s world of masked crimefighters, twisted masterminds, and one living god with a broken view of time, mixing real-life atrocities and racial tensions with the aftermath of the Watchmen graphic novel, and it was great. He poured every idea he had into this one season… meaning he had nothing left in the tank to keep it going. Like Alan Moore before him, he never envisioned a follow-up. So for now at least, Watchmen ends again as one self-contained story, and we should be thankful we got it.
Marvel TV as we knew it. For the past half-decade, there were two sides to live-action Marvel entertainment… Marvel Studios, as run by Kevin Feige, reporting directly to Disney; and Marvel TV, run by Jeph Loeb, reporting to Feige’s former boss Ike Perlmutter. And while fanboys clung to the hope that the Marvel TV characters would appear, or at least be referenced, in any of the movies, people paying attention (such as me, hello) could tell they were very clearly separate worlds that would never mingle. But now Feige has been put in charge of the movies, TV and comics, so Marvel TV as we knew it now yields to Feige’s empire, and everything from before is cancelled. And maybe that’s for the best, because while we might lose the smaller, street-level stories like Daredevil or Runaways, frankly Jeph Loeb brought too much of Smallville’s old “No flights, no tights” aesthetic to Marvel TV, leading to an apparent fear of seeming “comic-booky” that made the whole franchise a little… bland. Basic. Routinely embarrassed of their source material. (Google, find a supercut of Marvel Netflix characters hating their costumes from the comics–no? Damn it.) The fanboys are waiting for the Defenders, Runaways, Agents of SHIELD, and Inhumans to find their way to new seasons on Disney+ or Hulu, but… I wouldn’t hold my breath on that. Expect, at best, reboots. Eventually. Probably best to say goodbye to them all now and beat the rush later. So farewell, Cloak and Dagger; bon voyage, Runaways; via con Dios, Agents of– what’s that? Still on? For how many weeks? Huh. First to arrive, last to leave, I guess.
Honourable mention: I don’t include animated series in these things because a) that feels like a hole with no bottom and there are already 21 shows on the list… again…; b) I don’t know how to find most of them; c) I’d mostly be comparing cartoon shows made for pre-teens to Preacher and how do you even do that, even Riverdale was a stretch. But all of that said, if you can find a way to watch Harley Quinn, then do it, because oh my god it’s so hilarious, and also weirdly heartfelt. Do what you have to, but check it out.
Before we get started… I’ve been sitting on these blogs for a week, because given all of the everything… this felt horribly frivolous. But as protests continue, we all need an occasional break, so I’m taking a piece of advice from someone more knowledgeable than I am in these matters (keep listening, keep learning)… release your art, but also take a moment to point people to ways they can keep helping ensure that Black Lives Matter. Today, I present this: this playlist is a way to support bail funds if you can’t afford to donate. Just throw this video on while you read, and make sure you’re not blocking ads because the ad revenue is going to a good cause.
And now, on with the show.
Another TV season comes to an end, and once again I’ve spent twelve months devouring all (well, many) forms of comic book TV, and I’m here to share with you what my exhaustive research tells us is the best of the best! Who had the best fights, elicited the biggest sobs, featured the best casts, and many more!
Specifically of shows that ended their seasons between July 1st of 2019 and June 3rd, 2020. With these specific exceptions.
Walking Dead:I don’t wanna and you can’t make me.
The Riverdale of it all: I am not the target audience of Riverdale. That’s fine. I don’t have to be. There is so much media that is geared specifically towards me that it’s fine that some of it isn’t. But it hardly seems fair to rank shows meant for a younger female audience against shows weirdly targeted right exactly at me, so I’m leaving out all of the Riverdales. That includes Riverdale Prime, Spooky Riverdale (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), and Sex And The City Riverdale (Katy Keene, which could not be less targeted to me).
With that in mind, here’s what we are covering, with links to reviews where they exist.
Agents of SHIELD, season six (not the current one)
Sadly, due to Plague Times (or lack of vision by the DC streaming service), a few of those shows didn’t get proper season finales. Which I’m trying my best not to hold against them, but maybe they had a lot of plots going on and maybe I was really eager to get to the point where they started connecting in a more clear way and I don’t know I would have liked to see how they stuck the landing.
Anyhoo, let’s get into the technical awards, starting with what I keep telling you is one of my favourites.
Okay. Here we go. But first… one piece of new business.
Every year, some show in the rankings has been in its last season, but never enough to keep the list from growing from seven to twenty-two. But we’ve hit a point where there are enough that they’re killing themselves down to a more sustainable level. Thus, some farewells.
The Tick. Oh, The Tick… like always, maybe you were just a little too cult to live. But while you lived, you were nailing it. Wait– you had one fewer episode overall than Iron Fist? No wonder God has forsaken us.
Gotham. You were never the best show, not by a wide margin, but there were flickers of greatness… well, pretty-good-ness… that meant you weren’t the worst, either. Well, okay, sometimes you were the worst, but not recently.
The Gifted.You may have been the Agents of SHIELD of Fox’s X-Men universe, the red-headed stepchild not allowed to play with the other kids, but you did your best. Still, that Disney buy-out was your death. And come on, man, you did not have the ratings to be ending on a cliffhanger.
Literally all of Marvel Netflix. In the beginning, you set a high bar for comic TV, but you never quite matched those first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Until the end you struggled with pacing issues, unnecessary side characters, inability to pick a main villain, and a refusal to do anything too “comic booky.” And yes, you bungled the big crossover. Still, the franchise had more good than bad overall. Even Iron Fist was starting to get its act together. Was Jessica Jones’ third season a fitting send-off for the entire franchise? No, and that’s irrational, it couldn’t have been, that would have required a second, hopefully better Defenders series, maybe involving the “Who can stop Luke Cage, King of Harlem” fight they kept teasing, but “proper send-off” wasn’t on Netflix’s agenda. Disney+ was your franchise’s end. Via con Dios, Defenders.
The idea that the Marvel movies and TV shows share a universe. Not even Agents of SHIELD, which is normally first in line to name-drop any event from the movies, acknowledged the events of Avengers: Infinity War. And given when season six takes place, and when Endgame takes place, it would have to. So… guess that’s over.
Now, on with the show! (I apologize if the last two posts maybe drained some suspense out of who’s taking the top spot.)
Okay! Let’s get into the best superheroes, supervillains, and other comic-related characters of the season!
Honourable Mention: Real talk… few of these characters delighted me like the one character who defies every single category I have: Doom Patrol’s Danny the Street.
Danny’s a sentient, teleporting, genderqueer street that houses a community of misfits and outcasts, and they’re delightful, and I was so happy the writers embraced the Grant Morrison weirdness of the Doom Patrol franchise enough to include Danny. Their debut episode, “Danny Patrol,” was a blast.
(I may eventually need more non-gendered categories, especially if one of these shows casts Liv Hewson or Asia Kate Dillon or another non-binary actor of their caliber… but not today.)
Anyway, on to characters a little easier to categorize. So easy they don’t even need introductory paragraphs to explain the categories.
Best Female Supporting Character!
Honourable mentions: Carrie-Anne Moss and Rachel Taylor had some good spirals into self-destruction on Jessica Jones; Yara Martinez remained fun as Miss Lint on The Tick; Julie Ann Emery had great edge as Featherstone on Preacher.
Bronze: Rachel Taylor as Trish Walker, Jessica Jones
For the first two seasons of Jessica Jones, and a bit of The Defenders, Jessica’s best friend and adoptive sister Trish pushed Jessica to be a better hero, to use her gifts to help people and fight evil. But after the events of season two, Trish finally has powers of her own. She can finally be the hero she’s always wanted Jess to be. Sure the process that gave her powers has a slight history of also causing homicidal rage, and yes, her need to feel powerful caused all sorts of bad choices in season two, but this should be easy! Right?
Trish’s journey over season three is a rollercoaster, I tell you what, and Rachel Taylor came to play.
Silver: Tala Ashe as Zari Tomaz, Legends of Tomorrow
Playing a character whose classic hero name they can’t really use anymore, Tala Ashe’s dry wit was a welcome addition to Legends last season, and it remained so this year. But we also got to watch Zari’s tough shell begin to crack, as her survival instincts from the ARGUS police state future she came from began to relax. Her gradual, mutually awkward flirtation with fellow Legend Nate Heywood (spurred by something simple: pretending to be a couple for a heist and then thinking “Huh, we’re both hot, we could just do this”) was consistently adorable, and led to both one of the year’s best musical numbers (see last entry) and an emotional finale where she has to risk having her entire history rewritten to save Nate.
Plus she cut loose on some witch hunters (emotional), impersonated a 70s DJ (funny), and got turned into both a cat and a puppet (legendary). And if all of that weren’t enough, she opened the season with a powerful monologue on how fear took over her society, ending with one small but killer line. Lots of shows tackled fear and hate this season, but few managed as simple and powerful a moment as Zari watching her hijab-wearing mother smiling and laughing with young Zari in a playground, and asking “How could anyone be afraid of her?”
This season may have had slightly too little time for all of its character arcs, but Zari always shines.
Gold: Katie McGrath as Lena Luthor, Supergirl
There is a marvellous subtlety to Katie McGrath’s performance as Lena Luthor. She went through a lot of unpleasantness this season, loss and heartbreak and betrayal and more betrayal and a global hunt for her brother, and Katie McGrath managed to convey all the pain and sorrow Lena went through without dropping the cold, hard exterior she’s had to develop as both a successful businesswoman and a Luthor. Not the most open and loving family. Katie handled Lena’s bleak year with incredible nuance.
Katie is masterful at this role. Lena’s heading to a dark place, but I’m hoping she doesn’t go full-villain, because I don’t think I can bring myself to root against her.
Best Male Supporting Character!
Honourable mention: Jay Ali’s take as the tortured Agent Nadeem on Daredevil; most if not all of the male cast of The Umbrella Academy. Unless you consider all the Hargreeves kids to be leads, in which case just Hazel and Hargreeves Sr, I guess.
Bronze: Jesse Rath as Brainiac-5, Supergirl
Last season, Jesse Rath swiftly won me and others over as Querl Dox, aka Brainiac-5, the Legion of Superheroes’ resident super genius. In season four, he takes the departed Winn Schott’s place at the DEO, working as both a DEO agent and secret superhero ally to Supergirl and her band of alien do-gooders when relations between the two groups deteriorate.
Rath’s always done a good and amusing job at portraying Brainy’s alien, calculating nature, existing somewhere between and to the left of Data and Spock, but as he began an awkward flirtation with Nia Nal, who he swiftly recognized as an ancestor of his old teammate Dream Girl, Brainy found new levels of cute.
But what really gets him on the podium came late in the season, as the alien-hating Children of Liberty accidentally unleashed Brainy’s dark side. As anyone familiar with Superman’s rogues gallery knows, the Brainiac line is not filled with pleasant people, and under torture, Brainy lost control of his ancestral memories. After an emotional moment, a darker, crueler Brainiac was unleashed, and Brainy went from cute to chilling.
I miss Winn sometimes, but damn Brainy’s fun to have around.
Silver: Robin Lord Taylor & Corey Michael Smith as Penguin & Riddler, Gotham
There were definitely a few things Gotham did well, in the sea of things they did poorly. The art design, cinematography, at least half of their villain creations. But if I were to point to one thing that kept me going through all 100 episodes, one facet of the show that made coming back worthwhile through all the Mad Hatters and Jeromes and Jim Gordon never bringing backup, it was Robin Lord Taylor’s performance as Oswald Cobblepot. There is a time and place for restraint in acting, and Taylor understood that Gotham is not it, throwing every inch of himself into every scene he had. But he worked best when part of an unexpectedly great double-act.
Because when Penguin’s plots linked up with Ed Nygma’s? Magic. As begrudging allies, best of friends, or sworn enemies, their scenes together routinely popped. As we bid farewell to Gotham, it seemed fitting to give a final tip of the hat to their two best and most consistently entertaining villains.
Gold: Pip Torrens & Joseph Gilgun as Herr Starr & Cassidy, Preacher
Last year I talked about how perfectly Pip Torrens captures the cold, vicious, and utterly captivating Herr Starr, chief enforcer for the Grail, Earth’s secret rulers. Well, I’m not going to do that this year.
Because if anything he is surpassing his comics counterpart.
The chilling calmness with which Starr goes through his bloody business is always riveting to watch, and often hilarious. It’s at the point where I’ll be sad to see his joust with Jesse come to an end. And not just because I wasn’t ready for the show to be over after next season.
Meanwhile, Cassidy had some big moments this year, from fighting his best pal Jesse (a few times) over Tulip, even taping himself back together to go an extra round; to a quiet, sad, moment of choice where he realizes there are lines he can’t cross to keep Tulip; to his discovery of Les Enfants du Sang, a group of vampire wannabes led by the first fellow vampire Cassidy’s met in decades. Gilgun found new depths to Cassidy this season, and nailed them all. And he keeps the humour of the character, if his debate with the Enfants over how to kill a Grail infiltrator proves anything.
It’s that time again! Time to look through a season’s worth of comic book TV shows, look at who did what best, and deliver a conclusive ranking, based on my highly scientific standard of “Which ones I liked more, and also you didn’t watch them all so you don’t know I’m wrong.”
So, here are this years’ competitors, with links to blog posts if posts there do be:
(Why are the two seasons of Cloak and Dagger ranked separately but not Sabrina? Because Netflix ordered twenty episodes of Sabrina then released them in two chunks and a Christmas special, while Cloak and Dagger did ten episodes then had to get renewed before they made ten more.)
TV shows are constantly being released. Krypton and Legion started up new seasons in the past couple of weeks, and The Boys is coming up fast. So I have to draw the line somewhere. As such, I’m only including shows that ended their season between July 1st 2018 and June 30th 2019. This means some personal favourites are off the list this year because their finales are still a few weeks or months out, and Game of Thrones reminds us not to build monuments to the living, for they can still disgrace the stone. Or in other words, any show can trip over its own feet at the finish line.
So this year doesn’t include the latest seasons of Agents of SHIELD or Krypton, the final seasons of iZombie and Legion, or what is apparently the only season of Swamp Thing.
Or Walking Dead because I don’t care and you can’t make me care.
Or anything I hadn’t heard of until it was already cancelled, like whatever Deadly Class was.
Things are bad out there, you guys. Really bad. The world is dangerously close to climate-based mass extinction, and instead of banding together to stop it, more and more of the world is getting sucked into alt-right, arch-conservative, anti-science, bigoted, “us first” nationalism. The American south is attempting to treat women and reproductive rights with all the care and respect that the Confederacy treated people of colour, and Canadian conservatives are watching it happen and thinking “Say, that gives me an idea.” Nobody’s willing to call a mulligan on that whole Brexit debacle. Disney owns 40% of the concept of entertainment, and the layoffs have begun.
It’s dark out there. But I don’t have a lot of answers for that, outside of STOP. VOTING. FOR. CONSERVATIVES,so today I’d just like to talk about something related to the apparent collapse of human society.
How do superheroes respond to today’s world?
The CW superhero shows, still known as the Arrowverse and not the DCW-verse because we are incapable of coming up with good names*, devoted themselves this question this season, potentially their final season as The Best Superhero Franchise on TV. (The CW shows are of higher average quality than Marvel Netflix was, fight me, but the DC Universe streaming service came to play, peeps. Titans was better than it deserved to be and Doom Patrol is so good you guys.) Each of the four Arrowverse shows (Black Lightning remains separate for at least another half-season) spent their season addressing the state of the world in some way or another, some more nakedly than others.
So instead of a typical review of the Arrowverse shows, I want to look at how each one tackled the state of the world and their home country.
*The Canadian two-dollar coin is called the “toonie,” as the dollar coin was called the loonie, but “dubloonie” was on the table. I will never forgive my country for making the wrong choice.
Five years ago, Fox greenlit a series about Gotham City in the years before Batman. Why? Out of faith in one of comicdom’s better supporting casts of flawed do-gooders and colourful villains? Maybe, but as I’ve explained in the past, there were better ways to do that. Maybe it was because Smallville lasted ten years and– ten years. Son of a bitch. I watched that show for a decade. That is not a trivial percentage of my life. I was young and married and full of hope when that started, thinking George W. Bush was as bad a president as we’d ever see… all of that sure changed…
Anyway, five years and 100 episodes later, Young Jim Gordon’s quest to redeem Gotham City but not to a point where it wouldn’t eventually need a bat-themed superhero saviour has come to an end.
Earlier this season, I did defend portions of Gotham, if only to underline all the problems I had with Cloak and Dagger’s first season, but in the end… and we have hit the end… it was unique. Not in its subject matter… “DC Prequel Show Named After a Place” is basically a genre at this point… but in its devil-may-care bonkers approach to the subject matter. Gotham’s willingness to try any idea, no matter how insane or ill-conceived, led to some truly operatic battles between order and chaos, many of them really stupid, some of them bizarrely compelling.
As we say farewell to Gotham and brace for the showrunner’s new prequeller prequel Pennyworth…
I thought it worth a look back, through the veil of this 12-episode final season.
If anything else… they made 100 episodes of a show about the origins of Batman and a large amount of his rogue’s gallery that never said “Batman,” “Joker,” or “Catwoman” out loud, and that’s… kind of an achievement?
It’s getting close to my annual post ranking the best picture nominees at the Oscars. I just need the Academy to decide what the best picture nominees actually are so I know which ones I haven’t seen yet. Other than A Star is Born, probably.
So while we’re waiting on that… and my Arrowverse Year Three rewatch is ongoing… let’s talk about the year’s superhero movies.
But not a rank ordering. I don’t see the point. There are interesting trends and symmetries this year, but the worst superhero movie I saw was fun, just a little disposable.
(I refer to Ant-Man And The Wasp, but if you thought I meant Aquaman... well, we disagree a little but that’s fine.)
I loves me some superhero shows, I loves me some DC heroes, and the CW delivers me both of those things through a series of shows that, while flawed, I find overall much more entertaining than annoying.
So I wanna talk about ’em. And I have a blog, so I’m gonna, in a series chronicling the highs and lows, successes and failures, twists, turns, and tragedies of what shouldbe called the DCW-verse, or if you prefer whimsy, the Greg Berlanti Mask-Based Action Fun Factory, but remains called the Arrowverse because the internet makes bad choices.
So let’s dig into it.
Year two remains a simple one… just one show, Arrow season two. But it began to set the stage for something bigger, grander, and glorious.
The journey from Arrowverse to Beebo-Verse begins in year two.
Arrow: Season Two
Season two is thought of as one of, if not the very best season of Arrow. It’s based on the five-year-old rivalry of friends-turned-nemeses Oliver Queen and Slade Wilson, although they spend the first nine episodes on Oliver vs Brother Blood so we won’t know what’s coming. It’s an operatic battle of revenge that forms Oliver’s first real crucible as a hero, and there’s only one season of Arrow that can compete with it.
Season seven is… ongoing at time of writing.
In the flashbacks, Oliver, Shado, and Slade are living on Lian Yu, but find themselves being targeted by a group of mercenaries working for a mad scientist named Anthony Ivo who have arrived via a freighter called the Amazo. Ivo’s seeking a Japanese super soldier serum called mirakuru, which I thought was going to be a reference to Miraclo, the drug that gave golden age hero Hourman his powers, but ultimately wasn’t. Just a similar bastardization of the word “miracle.” Mirakuru gives a person enhanced strength, speed, and resiliency, but also drives them a little crazy, and when they inject Slade with it to save his life, he soon turns on Oliver. Thanks mostly to the death of Shado, which Oliver indirectly causes by choosing to protect Sara Lance.
Oh, yeah, hey, Sara Lance isn’t dead. Not in the flashbacks and not in the modern day. They hide this from us for a couple of episodes by recasting her with Caity Lotz, who later takes the character to heights they didn’t even think possible back in year two. We’ll cover that below.
In the present, Oliver graduates from being the Hood to the Arrow, and in Tommy Merlyn’s memory, attempts to give up killing. It’s… a rocky road, as he does arrow-murder the heck out of the Count a few episodes in, but he’s mostly determined to stick to it.
Diggle begins to reunite with his ex-wife. Felicity becomes a full member of the cast, with a clear crush on Oliver that he’s trying to duck around. (They play it fairly subtly at this stage… when Oliver has a questionable hook-up, she asks “Why her?” and only subtext in her delivery makes it clear that there’s a second part to her question of “And not me?”) Comics-Roy Harper classically had issues with heroin, and as a possible reference to that, TV-Roy Harper gets injected with mirakuru, which makes him predictably unbalanced. There is no similar comics equivalent for Laurel, who becomes an Assistant District Attorney but loses the job when she gets hooked on pills. Thea has taken over Oliver’s nightclub, despite not being old enough to drink there, but when she finds out her biological father was actually Malcolm Merlyn (who, surprise, isn’t dead), begins to unravel back into whiny season one Thea. And Detective Lance, a rock we didn’t fully appreciate in season one, has faced a career setback for working with the vigilante, and is now Officer Detective Quentin Lance.
The Rough Spots
I call it “Felicity interruptus.” Every time, every single time that Oliver needs to attend a meeting to protect his company or have a quick conversation to save his personal life, Felicity or sometimes Digg will call/show up with news about whoever needs Arrow-justice that week, and he’ll have to run off. Without fail. Every time. I gave Spider-Man: Homecoming crap for the same thing… if he chooses hero stuff over personal stuff every single time an important personal matter turns up, it gets old and loses impact.
In one case Felicity actively asks him not to go, and to instead sort out his family business so that he, his mother, and his sister wouldn’t lose their home, their nightclub, and their trust funds (who gave the board of Queen Consolidated control of Oliver and Thea’s trust funds? That is eight brands of dumb). Something that could have been accomplished by saying “Call me back when you have a minute” when Oliver said “I can’t talk right now.”
That’s the one that broke me. That’s the worst one they ever did. It might also be the last one they ever did. In season three I believe he runs out of friends and loved ones who don’t know his identity. But it was still a bad, bad trope.
Also, when Thea’s being written better, Laurel develops a pill addiction that is not a flattering colour on her. As soon as Laurel gets clean, Thea starts endlessly whining about being lied to all the time. Which… she isn’t wrong, but there’s being right and there’s being… not insufferable.
Why is the worst written character always a woman? Well… except on Supergirl, but we’re still two years out from that.
The soap opera romance is better this year, though… the only major occurence being some awkwardness between Oliver and Laurel when Laurel’s sister Sara Lance turns out not to be dead and she and Oliver start banging again.
Let’s see… Felicity interruptus, Laurel’s on pills, Thea bitching about being lied to… I think that’s it.
Oliver’s quest towards being a hero begins with his attempt to stop killing people, which, yes, kind of an important step, especially when you consider how many of his season one victims were just hired security as opposed to actual villainous millionaires. So the transition to hero continues, expressed by changing his vigilante name from “the Hood” to “the Arrow,” but I really want to talk about one of the most important Arrowverse leads, who makes their first appearance this year.
Aside from Barry Allen, I mean.
So. Sara Lance. In the flashbacks, Sara’s on the Amazo working for Ivo… in the present day, she’s the Canary, who spent five years with the League of Assassins before returning to Starling City to prey on men who get violent with women. Soon she and the Arrow are crossing paths, and she joins Team Arrow.
Sara continues the trend of “the costume predates the character,” as she is called “the Canary,” but isn’t A-list comics hero Black Canary. That’s still to come. Still, Sara was such a compelling addition to the show that fans couldn’t help but fall for her. Like Oliver, she’s doing her best to put killing behind her. Like Oliver, her past isn’t exactly willing to let her go that easily. Like Oliver, she’s an impressive badass. Unlike Oliver, she manages not to get lost in brooding and self-pity all the goddamn time.
There’s nothing about Sara Lance, proto-Canary, that screams “make her the captain of a time-travelling spaceship,” not yet anyway, but she was a breath of fresh air and the franchise was and is lucky to have her.
This is the first example of an Arrowverse trend… a warm-up villain who sets the stage for the Big Bad to come. It’s also one of the few times that said warm-up villain sticks around for the whole season. It’s Sebastian Blood, played by Kevin Alejandro, formerly of the James Woods legal drama Shark (not the only Shark veteran to sign on this season), and soon to be of my beloved celestial drama/crime procedural Lucifer. Despite the fact that he’s named “Sebastian Blood,” I somehow didn’t figure out that he’d be the Arrowverse twist on Teen Titans nemesis Brother Blood until someone called him that, probably because Brother Blood has never been a Green Arrow villain per se, but there really aren’t so many iconic Green Arrow villains that they can limit themselves to that. He basically works. Kevin Alejandro is a solid performer, and the growing mystery behind Sebastian Blood is well-played.
But the primary villain of Arrow season two is, perhaps, the very best villain the Arrowverse has ever, ever done… Deathstroke.
The season two flashbacks show how Oliver and Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) began to turn from friends to enemies. At the end of the fall finale, it’s revealed that he’s alive, well, and has been in Starling City for some time, plotting some truly operatic revenge against Oliver. Called “Deathstroke” by ARGUS, the Arrowverse’s clandestine government agency of choice, Slade is a physical menace that Team Arrow combined can barely hold up against, and a tactical threat Oliver can hardly keep up with. And it’s all rooted in a compelling performance by Manu Bennett. The complex relationship between Oliver and Slade, past and present, gives the season bite and depth. Plus, flank him with Brother Blood and an ice-cold Summer Glau as Isobel Rochev, and we’ve got a highly effective cabal of villains. I like a good cabal.
Fan service in the Arrowverse comes in three varieties: the good (characters from the comics and geek-friendly guest stars), the bad (characters grossly misinterpreted), and the weird (characters named after comics characters but not even vaguely similar to them).
Two, count ’em, two Firefly vets this season. Sean Maher makes a couple of appearances as the Arrowverse version of Shrapnel (minus the meta powers and exploding body), but far more significant is Summer Glau’s season-long turn as Isobel Rochev, who on the show and in the comics makes a play to steal Oliver’s company.
Bronze Tiger isn’t traditionally a villain. Yes, I certainly know him best as a member of the Suicide Squad, but one of the “good characters who guides the squad” rather than one of the villains pressed into service. And while the episode Suicide Squad gives him a moment of redemption, it will take five years for Tiger, as the show calls him, to begin to move from villain to complicated potential hero. But he’s played by Black Dynamite himself, Michael Jai White, and that’s great.
Early in season two, Oliver and the Canary take on a serial killer named the Dollmaker. This might be the one time Arrow and Gotham both use a villain and Arrow does it better.
Robert Knepper, formerly of Prison Break and Carnivale, soon to be of iZombie, menaces Oliver as the precision-timed villain Clock King.
Can’t ask for a bigger fan service episode than the assembly of the Suicide Squad, on a mission to DC Comics’ fictional European nation of Markovia.
Nicholas Lea of The X-Files helps Moira Queen run for mayor.
The Huntress is back, and still evil. They call her episode “Birds of Prey,” because it involves the Huntress meeting the Canary, but they do not bond or become friends. Failed WB series Birds of Prey did this pairing better, and that’s nothing to be proud of.
Amanda Waller comes to the Arrowverse, with the Suicide Squad in tow… but maybe because this is the CW, they went with a young, skinny Amanda Waller. The New 52 reboot of DC tried the same thing, and it just doesn’t suit the character. Cynthia Addai-Robinson does well enough with the role, but it’s just not… well, she’s no Viola Davis.
The flashbacks… and one present-day episode set in Russia… introduce Anatoly Knyazev, known to Batman readers as the KGBeast. He isn’t called KGBeast for another five years, and he bears little resemblance to his comics counterpart (being more of a tactician than a physical menace), but I do love him.
Speaking of season two fan service that would be corrected five years later… Professor Ivo’s boat is named in honour of comics-Ivo’s most notable creation, the android Amazo, who can copy the powers of the entire Justice League and is not, canonically, a boat. In year two, it’s an Easter egg for comics fans. In year seven, they introduce Ivo Labs, and a proper Amazo android, who in deference to season two is infused with mirakuru. It was a bit of a wait, but worth it.
Slade’s first mirakuru-enhanced minion is named Cyrus Gold, a clear reference to classic comic villain Solomon Grundy, something backed up by Gold’s fascination with the Solomon Grundy poem. Once again… Gotham did this one better. I hate saying that. They keep making me say that.
Diggle’s ex-and-future-wife, Lyla Morgan, has the codename “Harbinger” in the episode “Suicide Squad.” Making her a reference to the comics character Harbinger (real name Lyla), a key player in the mack-daddy of all comics crossovers, Crisis on Infinite Earths. At the time, we had no reason to believe that they might be working towards a TV version of Crisis. Things… things have changed.
Jean Loring, the Queen family defence attorney, and Starling City DA Kate Spencer both have one thing in common with their comics counterparts, in that they have similar professions. But Kate never fights crime as the Manhunter, and Jean seems unlikely to marry Ray Palmer or… do any of the dark-ass things Jean got up to starting with Identity Crisis. A story DC is probably trying to queitly walk back.
There still isn’t a real crossover in season two, because there’s still only one show… but we have a crossover of sorts in “The Scientist” and “Three Ghosts.” After filling the first third of the season with TV reports on the impending and controversial opening of a particle accelerator at Central City’s STAR Labs, future Flash Barry Allen makes his way to Starling City in the eighth episode… which for the next few years is exactly when the crossovers happen. Barry assists Team Arrow in stopping Brother Blood’s first successful mirakuru minion, gets closer to Felicity than Oliver liked, and returns home to Central City just in time to get struck by lightning after the STAR Labs particle accelerator goes kablooey.
This is more of a proto-crossover than last year’s introduction of the Huntress, because they very much intended for Barry to spun off into his own series. He was supposed to come back for episode 19 as a backdoor pilot for a Flash series, but reaction to his first appearances was positive enough that they decided to make a proper pilot instead. Episode 19 does, however, introduce two of Barry’s future best friends: Cisco Ramon and Caitlin Snow. And name drops Harrison Wells and Iris West.
There’s always deaths in the Arrowverse, and it’s usually someone you didn’t want to go.
Needless to say, here there be spoilers.
Farewell to Oliver’s mother, Moira Queen. She was complex, rarely entirely trustworthy, but as soon as they revealed that she knew Oliver was the Arrow we had to know her time was limited. Moira Queen is a casualty in Slade’s war against Oliver.
Moira’s final episode also involves flashbacks to a fling of Oliver’s who ended up pregnant. This… this is going to be important down the line.
Isobel Rochev was on Robert Queen’s list.
Arrow season two introduces us to Nyssa Al Ghul, the lesser known daughter of Batman villain Ra’s Al Ghul. Lesser known to the point where even I’d never heard of her. Later Nyssa would be given her own DLC in the Batman: Arkham Knight game, which I have to believe Arrow is responsible for. Nyssa is a very popular character with Arrowverse fans, but sadly actress Katrina Law got busy, so we don’t see much of her lately.
Nyssa’s debut is also the first occurrence of something the Arrowverse is really good at. The Arrowverse has a strong track record with LGBT characters, and they’re great at one specific thing… normalization. People don’t strongly react to a character being gay on an Arroverse show, even one who’s just come out. Being gay or bi isn’t a scandal or a shock or a Condition, references to same-sex relationships aren’t treated differently. Which is how it should be. In “Heir to the Demon,” Nyssa’s first appearance, the entire gang learns that Sara and Nyssa were romantically involved during Sara’s five years with the League of Assassins. Everyone, from her sister to her parents to her past and future lover Oliver, responds with at most a simple “….Oh.” And then they’re fine. Hell, Quentin’s just happy that Sara had someone special for the last five years, he could not care less what gender they were.
I talked to Manu Bennett shortly after Moira’s death aired. I told him that in the moment, I almost felt bad for Slade, because it seemed like he wished he didn’t have to do this. His head popped up, a smile on his face, because this was exactly what he was going for, and he was glad to know it landed. Cool guy, Manu Bennett. Shook my hand twice.
Next time in this series, The Flash becomes the makeshift Superman to Arrow’s pseudo-Batman… something they dig even further into… and a certain British con-artist magician garners attention.
Next time on the blog in general… who knows. I have other projects demanding my time. We’ll see.