Tag Archives: DC Comics

Requiem for a Devil: Comic TV With Dan

Comic book TV is everywhere these days, and it’s happening all year. So I’ll hand out awards and rankings in June, but in the meantime, we’ll be reviewing shows one by one as they wrap up.

This instalment: I come not to praise Lucifer, but to bury it.

Short version: Now that the show has ended its third, and as of this writing, final season (fingers crossed for the #SaveLucifer movement), let’s talk about how it took a silly premise (the Devil helps the LAPD solve murders) and made it into the best procedural on TV.

I lied about not praising it. Deep down I think you knew that.

(Also, they renewed Lethal Weapon without Riggs instead of renewing Lucifer? I know the actor was impossible to work with but Riggs is the Lethal Weapon, that’s why it’s called that. Don’t introduce a new guy, just recast, Murtaugh and some guy is not Lethal Weapon, it’s a garbage show for a garbage network. Whichever Fox exec made that call, know that I hate you and whoever hired you.)

Book One: Genesis

Things were– that “book one” thing was a mistake, I’m not going to be able to keep that going, why do I post these live

In the Beginning

Saved it. Go me.

They started simple, using only slight pieces from the Sandman-spinoff comic that inspired the show. Mostly the idea of Lucifer Morningstar abandoning Hell to live in Los Angeles and run a nightclub called Lux with help from his ally/sometimes lover, the demon Mazikeen (Maze to her friends). But to sell a show to a major broadcast network, it helps to have a safe, familiar hook. Say… solving murders. So that’s what they went with.

Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis), fallen angel, king of Hell, and poster child for daddy issues and rebellion has abandoned his post to live and have fun among the humans instead of punishing them with eternal damnations and tortures. The one thing about his old life, or at least his former reputation, that he’s hung onto is making deals: he helps out the glamorous citizens of LA in exchange for favours down the line. No interest in souls, just favours.

His brother, the angel Amenadiel (DB Woodside), wants him back in Hell, where their father placed him. Maze, who I mentioned above (Lesley-Ann Brandt), has her own questions about why they’re hanging around LA instead of going home. But when a singer Lucifer had done a favour for is killed outside of his club, he’s outraged that the persons responsible might not be punished. Lucifer joins LAPD detective and former actress Chloe Decker (Lauren German) in hunting down the killer, and finds he has a taste for punishing murderers. And for Detective Decker. Much to the chagrin of Chloe and her estranged husband Detective Dan Espinosa (Kevin Alejandro). Helping out with their investigations is a little trick of Lucifer’s: he can look into anyone’s eyes and compel them to reveal their greatest desire.

“That’s it?” I said. watching the trailer for the pilot. “That’s their hook? The Devil is solving murders and his big advantage is he can make people say what they want? This is a terrible idea. There is no way I’m watching this show.”

Anyway I started watching the show.

And within half a dozen episodes it was clear that I wasn’t going to be stopping any time soon.

First of all, Tom Ellis crushes it as Lucifer. Long-time readers may recall I’ve mentioned this a couple of times. His Lucifer Morningstar has charm and menace, he can make you laugh and cry in equal measure, to quote Community I can see why women find Tom Ellis attractive to the point where I might just as well be attracted to him myself, he is riveting. And so many of his relationships proved reliably fun. His sibling rivalry with Amenadiel, his more traditional rivalry with Dan (or as Lucifer knows him, Detective Douche), the constant sniping with Maze, his newly-found therapist Dr. Linda Martin (Rachael Harris) and her frequently futile attempts to advise Lucifer on dealing with human emotions and relationships, and as mismatched duos of straight-laced cops and unusual consultants go, Lucifer and Chloe were one of the better pairs. Lucifer even makes a fun pairing with Chloe and Dan’s daughter Trixie. And as for my doubts about Lucifer’s desire-powers, his ability to draw out a suspect’s motive for killing (or more often than not, their lack of motive) works just as well, if not better, than consultants aiding the police through OCDhypnotism, math, or being an agoraphobic who’s good at chess. The show was so much fun to watch it didn’t really matter that it started out as, essentially, Castle but with the King of Hell in place of a mystery novelist.

The main plot for season one was pretty simple. Lucifer and Chloe solve crimes, while Amenadiel’s attempts to return Lucifer to Hell collide with Chloe’s recent past: a shootout at a place called the Palmetto that left a cop Chloe insists was dirty in a coma, alienating her from the rest of her precinct. The cop (Kevin Rankin) makes a miraculous recovery, not unrelated to Lucifer’s presence in Chloe’s life, and turns out to have been an even worse cop than Chloe thought, and he’s about to make life difficult for Chloe and Lucifer…

But that’s not what made Lucifer such an addiction. Season two would bring the show to new heights, thanks to one cast addition that changed everything, and one that merely brightened the room.

Behind the Procedures

“Someone escaped from Hell,” Lucifer tells his brother in the closing moments of season one.

“Who escaped?” asked Amenadiel.

“…Mum.”

It is a daring move for a show this rooted in Judeo-Christian icons to abandon the concept of monotheism, but Lucifer went for it in a big way. In Lucifer’s origin of the universe, the “Big Bang” takes on a whole new meaning, as Heaven and the universe were created by two beings, not just one. But God’s wife… Goddess, I suppose… grew annoyed with his fixation on Earth, and plotted against it so much that Her Husband had Amenadiel lock her away in Hell, where she didn’t exactly enjoy quality time with her son Lucifer. I’m pretty sure they blame all of the Old Testament wrath stuff, floods and plagues and whatnot, on Mrs. God acting out. It was an unexpected take, to be sure, and one that worked much better than Supernaturals choice to give God a sister… mostly because Supernatural never quite got around to coming up with a better name than “The Darkness.” Honestly. I know you were bound to run low on ideas in season 11, but damn, dudes. Sorry, where was I, right, Lucifer. Having escaped from Hell, she comes to Earth, taking over the body of the recently murdered high-powered defense attorney Charlotte Richards.

Tricia Helfer joined the cast as Mrs. God, known as “Mum/Mom” to her sons, “Charlotte” to the humans, and various unkind terms by Maze. Also joining the cast was Aimee Garcia as the precinct’s new CSI, Ella Lopez, a devout Christian (but the nice “God loves you and so do I” kind, not the “God loves me specifically so I’m-a judge the crap out of you” kind) with a mild history of car theft.

I mostly want to talk about Charlotte and what she did for the show here but attention must be paid to what a delightful addition Ella was. A constant beam of sunshine and support, a source of humour (not that the show lacked those), a giver of hugs… there isn’t a bad scene with Ella in it, and Aimee Garcia made her absolutely adorable. She might not have been the thematic game-changer that Charlotte was, but damn was I glad to have her around.

Anyway, Charlotte.

They pulled a trick on Lucifer that I’ve seen once before, on the last show I watched to evolve from casual viewing to something I would clear my schedule to watch live: Person of Interest.   With Person of Interest, a post-Dark Knight, pre-Westworld Jonathan Nolan pulled a con on CBS. He pitched a simple crime-of-the-week show, in which a reclusive billionaire calling himself Harold Finch recruits a lethal ex-soldier calling himself John Reese to help him prevent violent crimes, with the help of a computer Finch built that can predict crimes and feed him the identity of either the victim or perpetrator.

Simple, CBS-friendly procedural stuff. And then once the show was established, Nolan started writing the real show, and subtly grew it into an amazingly compelling paranoid techno-thriller about emergent AI, privacy in the digital age, government overreach, and what the wrong people might do with total access to our digital footprint. (I’ve spoken to co-star Amy Acker, who’s delightful, and she basically confirmed that’s exactly what Nolan did.)

So, too, did Lucifer use the format of a crime-of-the-week cop & wacky consultant show to lure in viewers before turning into a look at the complex relationships of divine beings, the residual anger Lucifer Morningstar feels for his father, and this new idea of God’s angry ex-wife trying to find a way back into Heaven… and what that might mean for her ex. And everything else.

And it worked like gangbusters. The Goddess Charlotte was fascinating: loving to her sons, indifferent to humanity, scheming with and against anyone in her orbit, and played to perfection by Tricia Helfer, who nailed Charlotte’s scathing indictments of humanity such as “All they do is eat! And later the food comes back changed, and not for the better.” And the show hit new heights when Lucifer and Amenadiel’s little brother Uriel came to town, and the stakes of their mother’s plans became clear. It put Lucifer in impossible positions, gave Tom Ellis incredible material to work through, and along the way gave every single cast member better material as well.

And yes, the weekly murder cases also continued, even if they were overshadowed by the divine melodrama. They are, however, less vulnerable to the trope that affects a lot of procedurals, in which the most recognizable guest star is always, always the killer (looking at you, Elementary). But for the most part, the cases-of-the-week exist to act as a reflection of whatever emotional journey Lucifer is on that week. Often because Lucifer forces them to act as a reflection of his emotional journey, because he can be extremely self-centred and finding a murderer is often just a means to working out whatever’s annoying him that week.

Look, Dr. Linda tries her best, but Lucifer is not great at processing emotions or managing human behaviour.

And, well, if I had one note for the show, it’s that Chloe is relegated to the murder-of-the-week plot, because while she does have a role to play in the celestial melodrama… season one reveals that Lucifer loses his invulnerability when Chloe is around, which proves tricky for him, and season two begins to hint why… since she doesn’t believe Lucifer is who he says he is, she is always at arms’ length from the non-Palmetto central plotlines. Which… isn’t great, as I explained… in…

I haven’t written up Doctor Who series seven yet. Dang. I would have such a good explanation to link to if I had. Well, short version, when a character is not allowed to engage with a storyline, even when it’s about them, it’s not ideal.

But this doesn’t mean Lauren German doesn’t make a meal out of the material she’s given. She absolutely does.

Cain Leaves a Mark

The Goddess Charlotte arc was, simply put, exceptional. Amenadiel questioned his faith in his father, Dan turned to improv to process his feelings over his ending marriage (and ended up sleeping with a literal goddess without knowing it), Linda was first to learn that Lucifer isn’t speaking in metaphors and that her new best pal Maze is a literal demon, Maze found a purpose outside of Lucifer, Aimee Garcia was adorable, and Tricia Helfer owned every scene she was in, it was great. So how would season three follow it? They found a new biblical figure to hang a season on.

Lucifer, having had a couple of key parts of his identity messed with, found himself at odds with a mysterious gangster calling himself “the Sinnerman,” who had taken over Lucifer’s habit of granting favours, only with more murders on the side. In the quest to find the Sinnerman and find out if he’s behind Lucifer’s recent changes, Lucifer stumbles across another person of interest: Cain, the first murderer, doomed to wander the Earth forever, who has been studying Lucifer and his associates and thinks Chloe might be his key to finally dying.

If I had one additional note for season three. After the Cain revelation, the show forgets that there ever was a killer gang lord called the Sinnerman until the last few episodes. Although it’s hard to blame them, even the characters know that “the Sinnerman” is kind of a dumb name, and everyone’s reactions to Lucifer casually mentioning that he ID’d the Sinnerman months ago and forgot to mention it was kind of priceless.

Plus Tricia Helfer was still around, as Charlotte Richards returned to her no longer dead body after spending a year in Hell, and found herself searching for redemption out of fear of going back. Helfer made Charlotte just as fun as Lucifer’s mother in her own way.

Much like his mother, Lucifer‘s relationship with Cain went from frosty to friendly to adversarial, they were allies and enemies and rivals. And along the way, there was a great flashback episode in which Linda’s ex-husband spent years trying to figure out how to bring Lucifer down (“Off the Record,” a season highlight*), Lucifer and Ella went on a road trip to Vegas (“Vegas With Some Radish”), Lucifer and Cain pretend to be married suburbanites (“Til Death Do Us Part”), and everyone was just so much fun… then the last two episodes cut our hearts out right in front of us.

And in the last moments of the season finale, they opened the door to a whole new Lucifer, and it kills me that we might not get it.

*One of the better moments in “Off the Record?” Lucifer reveals the chilling secret of Hell… “You humans… You send yourselves, driven down by your own guilt. Forcing yourselves to relive your sins over and over. And the best part: The doors aren’t locked. You can leave any time.” The damned imprison themselves.

Left Unfinished

While every season arc ended satisfactorily, from the Palmetto to Mother to Cain, there was so much more for them to do. I wanted to see Ella learn that one of her new besties was, in fact, the very Devil she was raised to fear. How would that affect her faith, already challenged by the end of season three? I wanted to see more of Lucifer’s siblings, especially his sister Azrael, the angel of death, who must have had some thoughts about what her brothers did with her flaming sword.

Neil Gaiman, listed as the creator, because he wrote the Sandman story in which Lucifer quit Hell, inspiring his spinoff comic, was apparently set to play the voice of God. Which might not have been quite as fun as Psych’s Timothy Omundon’s take on someone who seemed to be God in season two’s “God Johnson,” but damn I wanted to see that.

But more than that I just wanted more time with these people. With snarky, clueless-about-humanity Lucifer Morningstar, so perfectly played by Tom Ellis. With no-nonsense Chloe Decker, who never got to learn the secret about her own past. With stern Amenadiel, who showed that even angels can have doubts about their Heavenly Father. With Dr. Linda and Maze and Charlotte and “Detective Douche” and perfect, adorable Ella and even little Trixie.

Even with a few unanswered questions, I have to recommend this show. It was a great ride, and I don’t regret a second of it.

…Right, just a bit of housekeeping for the rankings…

Overall Grade: A-

That Lucifer forgot all about the whole Sinnerman thing for like 11 episodes kinda bugged me, and it wasn’t hard to spot the five episodes that were meant to be part of season two, but this was a damn good season of television, and the finale might be one of their best episodes.

I miss this show already. Someone bring it back to me.

#SaveLucifer

Images: Fox

Lightning and Thunder: Comic TV With Dan

Comic book TV is everywhere these days, and it’s happening all year. So I’ll hand out awards and rankings in June, but in the meantime, we’ll be reviewing shows one by one as they wrap up.

Last instalment: C-list X-Men characters gathered for a tale of family, bigotry, and what it might be like if America’s law enforcement agencies were openly and dangerously racist.

This instalment: DC characters gather for all of that exact same stuff only it’s actually good this time.

Short version: With Black Lightning, the Greg Berlanti Mask-Based Action Fun Factory tries something different, and boy howdy it works out.

Premise

As a teen, Jefferson Pierce developed lightning-based powers, which he would learn to use to protect his home of Freeland from local gang the 100. Nine years ago, Black Lightning and the 100’s leader, the super-strong albino and City Councillor-turned-criminal Tobias Whale had a vicious supposedly-final battle which both men limped away from thinking the other was dead. Badly wounded, Jefferson put Black Lightning away for the sake of his young daughters and in hopes of repairing his relationship with his soon-to-be-ex-wife Lynn… against the advice of his mentor and surrogate father figure, tailor/hacker/designer of superhero costumes/possessor of some suspicious skill sets Peter Gambi.

Today, Jefferson serves Freeland by shaping the minds of the black community’s youth as principal of Garfield High School, believing he can do more good steering kids away from gang life. His daughters are flourishing (Anissa is pre-med, Jennifer is still in high school and the more rebellious one), he’s inching towards reconciliation with Lynn, he hopes… but the 100 is stronger than ever, with such control over Freeland the good people of the city are forced into protest marches against the local crime lords. Which is risky business. I mean, think about how the cops respond to protest marches… Anyway, Gambi pleads with Jefferson that the city needs Black Lightning, but Lynn has him refusing to return to action… until the 100 come for his daughters. Jefferson comes out of retirement to save Jennifer and Anissa, but when he’s asked (and rightly so) why only his children were saved, Jefferson makes a choice…

“It is time that people know that Black Lightning is back.”

From there, he’s taking on the 100, their chief pimp/dealer Lala, a still-vicious Tobias Whale, and the sinister cabal that they’ve been reporting to… a cabal with which Gambi has an uncomfortable familiarity.

Also… habitual protester Anissa is developing powers of her own, and has some thoughts about how to use them.

And they’d better get their heroic ducks in a row, because there’s a new drug circulating called Green Light that’s highly addictive, and is giving people powers. Powers mixed with PCP-like rageouts.

Sidebar: Is it part of the Arrowverse or not? Who knows at this point. Black Lightning is its own thing for the first season, but I feel that they’ve left the door open for crossovers with the Flash, Green Arrow, and company should the desire strike them later. They establish that other superheroes exist in other cities, but don’t mention Central or Star City in particular. They name drop Vixen, who exists on Earth-1 with everyone else, but also Supergirl, who merely visits Earth-1 on special occasions.

And those name drops aren’t definitive, since they also established that superhero comics exist in this world, in an amusing Easter egg where Anissa and love interest Grace discuss comic characters the Outsiders, the superteam where their comic incarnations met. So is Vixen a legit hero, or a comic book character? Do the people of Earth-1 know Supergirl from the 2016 alien invasion and the 2017 alt-Earth-Nazi invasion, or are we somewhere else, somewhere with a Supergirl and a Vixen? It’s unclear, and will remain unclear until someone in the Berlanti group says “Screw it, put Black Lightning in the crossover this year,” or Team Flash makes it clear that Black Lightning is on Earth-47 or whatever. Until then, Black Lightning stands alone, but luckily, it’s more than capable of doing so.

Strengths

What we have here is the bulk of Luke Cage’s debut season polished up and done better.

Cast: There are some strong performers in this cast, most notably Cress Williams as Jefferson and Nafessa Williams as Anissa. China Anne McClain does well as the younger, brattier sister, though I do not comprehend why she’s second-billed instead of Nafessa Williams. Better agent? Anyway, by and large, the Pierce family kills it on a weekly basis, as does Damon Gumpton as the closest thing Black Lightning has to a friend on the police force. He’s neither racist nor on the take, so that’s a big advantage over most of the cops we meet in early episodes.

The 100: How fortunate for the series that Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III exists. Black albino actors who look capable of hoisting a grown man in the air and killing him with one hand cannot be that easy to come by, but Krondon is basically perfect for this role. Tobias Whale is a destructive force, a black man who hates other black men… well not exactly. As he explains to a henchman that’s been screwing things up, “No, I love black people. I hate incompetent, thick-lipped, scratch-where-it-don’t-itch Negroes like you.” If not on network television he might have used a different word than “Negroes.” He’s got a lethal assistant calling herself Syonide (who’s kind of fun to watch in a fight, if I’m being honest); gets his hooks into Jennifer’s boyfriend, a track star named Khalil; and later on has links to a difficult-to-kill gangster he calls the Tattooed Man, who has himself an interesting arc. Tobias Whale builds himself a small legion of super-goons, and they’re all pretty great, save for Khalil, who for the most part is just… eh.

Tobias is also well-developed beyond “evil drug dealer.” His childhood begins to explain how he came to be how he is, and he does have some moral lines. In one memorable scene, he executes a henchman for overstepping. “You killed someone’s mama?” he asks. “Any man that’d do that has no morals, no principles to live by, which means there’s nothing you’re not capable of, including becoming a rat.” And now he’s growing tired of being treated like a henchman by cabal leader/creepy mortician Lady Eve, and has thoughts about climbing the ladder.

Rise of Thunder: Before she even knows her father’s secret, Anissa sets out to become Freeland’s latest hero. There are some stumbles along the way. There’s a regrettable wig, a fun trip to a fetish store for costume pieces when it becomes clear that tights are not good fighting wear for her figure, and guilt over taking on a low-level drug dealer a touch over-zealously. But Thunder becomes every bit the hero Black Lightning is, strong, brave, clever, and she’s a gay hero of colour on top of it all.

Racial tensions: Having showrunners of colour means that Black Lightning joins Luke Cage in having the best examinations of the far-from-perfect race relations in the US. Twice in the pilot, Jefferson finds himself targeted by white cops who take an aggressive approach with black suspects. A government agency was using black youths as test subjects. And they touch on black people hating on other black people for not being, in their eyes, black enough. It’s a stark and honest take on American race relations, which is a nice change from having black people be the bigots. Looking at you, Gifted and Jessica Jones.

Vox Populi: The local Freeland news channel (which seems to be blissfully free of the Sinclair media propaganda machine) does person-on-the-street interviews at several major plot points, giving we the viewers a look at what the average people of Freeland think of Black Lightning and his crusade. It’s a fairly effective technique for conveying public opinion. My only beef is that the text crawl on the bottom of the screen never changes. Which… I guess it means you never have to pay attention to it, so that’s okay. Just saying, if one were to try to slip in a subtle reference to The Flash or Arrow that doesn’t get in the way of their own story, that would have been the place to do it.

Pacing: The multiple acts of Black Lightning’s first season help provide a steady clip for the show’s pacing. The season doesn’t lag the way Marvel Netflix shows tend to. Streaming shows are great for bingeing, but for strong episodic narrative it’s hard to beat broadcast.

Despite the fact that we’re not starting at the origin, but are in fact meeting Black Lightning nine years after he retired, the world of the show feels remarkably natural and lived-in. The history of the characters makes sense, and we understand the key relationships quickly. The people’s love for Black Lightning is crystal clear when he goes to storm Lala’s penthouse apartment, and the doorman not only sells out Lala without hesitation, he opens the door for him with a “Black Lightning! My man!” Someone else offers to hold the elevator, but Jefferson feels like taking the stairs, in order to stomp a few more gangsta asses on the way. 

I like how in addition to disguising his voice, Jefferson changes all of his vocal mannerisms, speaking more “street” as Black Lightning. He could teach Barry “reveal my identity to anyone who asks, except my girlfriend” Allen some tricks about keeping a secret identity.

There’s also solid action. Fight scenes have Arrow-level fight choreo (not quite Preacher but miles ahead of, say, Iron Fist), with occasional lightning-based effects thrown in.

Weaknesses

The Bigger Bad? Is this show a case of Villain Swap? At first, it’s all about Tobias Whale and the 100, but after Tobias and Black Lightning are briefly reunited, Tobias takes a few weeks off while the show’s attention moves to the ASA (American Security Agency). The ASA is the covert group that created Black Lightning when their attempt at a “vaccine” to make the black residents of Freemont “more docile” (openly and dangerously racist, remember?) accidentally gave people powers instead. Now ASA agent Martin Proctor is back in Freemont and restarting the experiment.

Eventually the show was going to come here. The ASA is a key player in Jefferson’s origin tale. Tobias Whale only became his nemesis because of ASA involvement. Gambi’s ties to the ASA, and through them Lady Eve and Tobias, were going to need explanation. It just… well, for the first few episodes it felt like this was going to be a season two thing. Season one would be Black Lightning taking on the 100, and in future seasons he could move up the ladder to the cartel pulling the 100’s strings. Instead, the 100 stepped aside and Proctor took over as the main villain.

It’s a more natural transition of primary villain than we saw on Luke Cage in its first season, or on Iron Fist every third episode, but it is still a swap of villain, and I did once identify that as a troublesome trend. In this case, though, I choose to defend it: the ASA made for a decent one-arc villain, tying the present say to Black Lightning’s hinted-at past. That’s good for one season. Tobias Whale, on the other hand, is the Nemesis. Black Lightning’s archest enemy.

And you shouldn’t write out the arch enemy in season one. You keep them around so they can go more rounds with the hero(es). And sure, death hasn’t exactly slowed down Reverse-Flash or Damien Darhk (yet), but it’s better to just keep the good villains around.

Other quibbles…

We get it. Thunder’s powers are linked to her breathing. Maybe you can trust us to remember that for a while? Because her big, echoey, “deep inhalation” sound effect is getting on my last nerve.

The Warriors’ James Remar does what he can with Gambi, but as an actor he is not quite on Cress Williams’ level.

Jefferson’s ex-wife Lynn spends a lot of the season being opposed to Jefferson being Black Lightning. As I’ve said in the past, this is rarely an interesting character choice.

I’m all for exposing conservatives as prone to being awful people, but maaaaaayyyyybe having sinister racist government agent Martin Proctor shout “Make America great again” twice in one episode was gilding the lily just a bit? Trust me, the first one landed.

High Point

Either “The Book of Little Black Lies,” in which Thunder suits up for the first time and Jennifer grapples with new knowledge, or “Shadow of Death: The Book of War,” (they’re all the Book of something) in which the ASA finds itself under siege from both the 100’s growing band of meta-villains and the entire Pierce family.

Also worth mentioning: “Black Jesus: The Book of Crucifixion” is less fun to watch than the ones I named, but its examination of the all-too-real threats faced by all African-Americans when confronted by white cops makes it one of the most necessary episodes.

Low Point

“Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder” is our obligatory ride on the “no, Main Hero, killing is wrong!” merry-go-round. Given that later on, they’ll go the same route as Daredevil season two and decide that “killing is wrong, but if you’re working with someone who happens to kill your enemies, hey, that’s okay,” it’s an awkward moral to push. And Khalil proves himself to be a jackass in Jennifer’s plotline, which is some go-nowhere filler stuff involving a mean girl nemesis whose attempts at cyber-bullying aren’t more effective or more interesting than her failed attempts at physically bullying Jennifer the previous week.

Anissa did use her powers to obliterate a Confederate statue, though, and that pissed off some easily-offended conservatives. So that was fun.

MVP

Nafessa Williams as Anissa Pierce. There are times when they’re simply using Black Lightning to tell Thunder’s origin story, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Tips For Next Season

So Arrow has had at least half a dozen archers. Flash has had nine speedsters so far. Black Lightning uses electricity, and a new generation of Freeland youths are being given powers… so how long until Static makes an appearance? And why stop there? Why not bring in more of the Milestone Comics crowd? The 100 could find themselves at odd with the Blood Syndicate, Thunder could track down Icon and Rocket, Gambi could go head to hacker-head with Hardware... if Black Lightning intends to remain separate from the larger Arrowverse (we’ll see), there’s plenty of options for when you’re ready to expand beyond the Pierce family.

Overall Grade: B+

It’s honour, duty, family, and the shoddy state of US race relations with solid action and decent pacing. Not every piece fits together perfectly, but as first seasons go it’s solid and shows a lot of promise.

Might be the last full write-up for a bit. Most of the veteran shows don’t call for one and I’m not convinced Krypton deserves one. Guess we’ll have to find something else to talk about for a few weeks.

Image: CW

Praise Beebo and Pass the Cold Gun: Comic TV With Dan

Comic book TV is everywhere these days, and it’s happening all year. So I’ll hand out awards and rankings in June, but in the meantime, we’ll be reviewing shows one by one as they wrap up.

This installment: the Arrowverse’s Island of Misfit Toys continues to be its best offering.

Short version: Take two parts Doctor Who, two parts A-Team, one part Flash, and a dash of Brooklyn 99, and you get the most fun superhero show on TV.

Premise

The Legends are former assassin and team leader Sara Lance (White Canary); inventor and size-changing superhero Ray Palmer (the Atom); Justice Society of America member and protector of Zambesi Village Amaya Jiwe (Vixen); genius physicist Martin Stein and mechanic Jefferson “Jax” Jackson, who combine to become the nuclear powered Firestorm; forensic historian and metallic metahuman Nate Heywood (Steel, on the few occasions they bother to give him a codename); and pyromaniac former thief Mick Rory (Heat Wave).

They’re a band of misfits, outsiders, and one covert war hero (that’d be Amaya) who’ve made a life on the time ship Waverider protecting all of history, ever since they wiped out the last group in charge of that. (In fairness, they did have it coming.) At the end of last season, the Legends managed to prevent the assembly of villains they called the Legion of Doom from re-writing all of reality, but in doing so employed big enough paradoxes that they shattered all of time, causing countless anachronisms: people, animals, and the occasional building displaced in history. As the third season opens, the Legends are still wrapping their heads around the damage they’ve caused, when team founder/former captain Rip Hunter pops up. Seems that in the few minutes since he left the team, he’s spent five years (time travel) building a new agency to protect time and fix all of these anachronisms: the Time Bureau. And they’re quite adamant that they no longer require the Legends’ help, especially Rip’s protege, Ava Sharpe.

Six months of unsatisfying civilian life later (mostly, Nate tries to stay in the crime-fighting game, but tends to get upstaged by Kid Flash), the Legends decide they disagree with this assessment and steal the Waverider back in order to repair the damage they’ve caused.

But it turns out there’s a greater danger behind the anachronisms. Amaya’s people once imprisoned a demon named Mallus inside of the timestream itself, and the anachronisms are loosening his cage. Mallus recruits a new legion of villains to cause further damage to history in order to free him: returning villain Damien Darhk, his now-grown and similarly magically powered daughter Nora Darhk, Amaya’s least noble grandchild Kuasa, and on special occasions (ie. when the budget allows for it), Gorilla Grodd.

The Legends must occasionally avoid, sometimes work with the Time Bureau to find a way to shut down Mallus and what they tragically never called the Darhk Legion before Mallus conquers all of time. Conquers? Destroys? You know what I’m sure they explained but I kinda forget. Evil demon, needs to be stopped, after that I get fuzzy.

Along the way they pick up a cynical, magic totem-bearing hacker from their future named Zari Tomaz, who’s based on a DC-adjacent character whose superhero name they can’t really use anymore, lose a couple of team members to the annual Arrowverse crossover, and eventually bring Kid Flash on board as the Flash writers found it hard to come up with reasons why any threat they wrote couldn’t be stopped by two full-time speedsters by the second commercial break.

Strengths

Having trouble deciding where to start. So many to choose from.

Fun With History: Legends of Tomorrow has stuck with the one thing that propelled them from the weakest Arrowverse show in their debut season (and this was the same year as Arrow’s least popular season, so ouch) to their best last year: embracing a spirit of zany, time-travel fun. There is very little brooding on the Waverider, just high-energy shenanigans as they blunder through history, hoping that they’re breaking things for the better. (They basically make that their motto.) And they also have even more fun with their historical guest stars.

Back in season one, what few historical figures appeared were just drop-ins. The child that Martin Stein risks history to save from illness turns out to be HG Wells, which means I guess Stein didn’t need to bother? A student in a science class Ray Palmer teaches in the 50s turns out to be Bill Gates’ father. That’s it. That’s literally the whole thing. There was no payoff. No point. In season two, they started actually having fun with their historical figures, and in season three, they doubled down on it. With historical figures scattered through time, they find all new hijinks to get into.

In season three, Julius Caesar tries to recruit a fraternity’s spring break toga party; PT Barnum gets his hands on a sabre-tooth tiger; Helen of Troy sparks a literal war between studios when she turns up in the Golden Age of Hollywood, accidentally damaging decades of technological advancement by stealing a breakout role from actress/inventor Hedy Lamarr; Napoleon Bonaparte must be prevented from getting his hands on a copy of Abba’s “Waterloo”; Viking explorer Leif Erikson decides against bailing on his new discovery North America when his sister embraces a time-displaced, fuzzy, blue, Tickle-Me-Elmo-esque doll named Beebo as their new god of war, I swear I am not making any of this up. Those are all real episodes* and it is glorious.

(*Fine, the Napoleon thing was a background gag they came up with as an excuse to put most of the cast is disco clothes for a week, but still.)

(This isn’t to say that it’s always fun and games. Legends gets sad too. They cut me a couple of times this season, cut me deep.)

#Avalance: The relationship between Sara Lance and rival-turned-ally Ava Sharpe was well developed, and Ava made a fun addition to the show. She won over the audience for a reason. Also I kind of love that if social media can be believed, actresses Caity Lotz (Sara) and Jes Macallan (Ava) are pals now, and ‘ship their characters as much as their fans do. Also nice to be watching a CW show where a romance plot doesn’t incite riots from a portion of the fanbase.

Keeping Up With the Darhks: Neal McDonough’s Damien Darhk was a delight back when he was trying to kill Green Arrow, but he’s flourished as a nemesis for the Legends. The faster-paced and goofier atmosphere of Legends fits his style of gleeful villainy better than the dour, grounded aesthetic of Arrow. The sheer joy he takes in villainy makes him too fun a villain to ever want to see defeated forever, and Courtney Ford brings the same level of campy fun to Nora Darhk that Neal does to Damien. Throw in John Noble as the voice of Mallus and it’s a stacked deck of evil. Also, and this is important, Damien celebrates being resurrected with both his powers from Arrow season four and his memories from Legends season two restored by having a fight scene choreographed to 90s jam “Return of the Mack,” and it makes sense in context of the episode. Not so much in this clip but here it is anyway.

But other than being delightful menaces played by top notch actors, the villains are also deeper characters than you’d expect. Damien is driven above all else by love for his daughter, compromising his commitment to the plan now and again, and making him more three-dimensional than he’s ever been. Nora is trying to raise an ancient demon and build a relationship with her father, who she hasn’t seen since he was killed when she was a kid. Kuasa, also back from the dead (apparently?) after the events of the Vixen animated series (which I should try to watch sometime), just wants to undo the destruction of her village… and keep her grandmother from continuing to hook up with that nerdy super-powered historian from the future, which could erase Kuasa’s existence. Mallus… Mallus is a literal demon whose unprisoned existence would be bad, I guess? Look, they can’t all be winners.

Zari and Ray: Zari is a fun addition. Actress Tala Ashe has a great dry wit that worked well for the character. She also played wonderfully off of Brandon Routh’s more upbeat Ray Palmer, who this season was tweaked into a perpetually cheerful, unbreakably positive Ray of sunshine (sorry) with a love of musicals and a faith in people that gets him into a little trouble here and there. Together they’re a fun double act, and this has been Brandon Routh’s most entertaining season as Ray Palmer… which is saying something.

Also Zari was rightly praised as a positive, non-stereotypical Muslim superhero, especially for the episode where she tries to explain to perpetual glutton Mick why she’s fasting until sundown. There isn’t another comic TV show with a hero who observes Ramadan.

New Friends: Matt Ryan’s back as John Constantine! Delightful. I wanted this for two years and now it’s happening. Also Kid Flash moving here from Flash is a decent fit.

Weaknesses

WHAT DID I SAY ABOUT WRITING OUT RIP HUNTER. WHAT DID I SPECIFICALLY ASK YOU TO STOP DOING.

Fine, I guess this season they used him similarly to Flynn Rider on The Librarians. He turned up at the beginning, the middle, and the end, and in between was off doing more big-picture stuff while the team chased anachronisms, but I don’t like the way they seemed to be weaning the show off of him. I don’t like it at all.

Okay, fine, sure, with Sara captaining the Waverider and his protege Ava Sharp gradually taking over the Time Bureau, there isn’t a clear need for Rip, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing to… no, no, you cannot make me approve of this.

Moving past that… I love the fun tone, I definitely do, but maaaayyyyybe it undercut the stakes a little? All of time and space was theoretically under threat from Mallus, but I just didn’t feel it, you know? Last season they showed us what a Legion of Doom victory would look like, with Mallus they asked us to take their word for it. (We needn’t discuss Vandal Savage from season one. Ever again.)

High Point

…Man, this one is not easy. Which to pick? “Here I Go Again,” where Zari gets stuck in a time loop? They earned name-dropping Groundhog Day on that one. “No Country For Old Dads,” in which Ray, Nora, and Damien have to team up against Younger Damien? Real-life spouses Brandon Routh and Courtney Ford had amazing comic chemistry and it began the road to possible redemption for both Darhks. “Guest Starring John Noble,” (yes that’s what it was called, yes this is real life, apparently) in which the Legends notice that Mallus happens to sound exactly like Denethor from Lord of the Rings, and recruit actor John Noble to con Nora? That’s a lot of highlights and I haven’t even mentioned Rip Hunter and Kid Flash going to 90s Japan for drunk karaoke.

Forget the goddamned “Snyder Cut,” give me an extended edition of that.

But ultimately it has to come down to one of two episodes. I don’t know for sure that they had Leonard “Captain Cold” Snart’s Earth-X doppelganger Leo “Citizen Cold” Snart stick around for two episodes post-“Crisis on Earth-X” to ease the pain of the crossover’s conclusion, but if they did, it worked, and since Wentworth Miller’s take on the various Snarts has always been one of the highlights of the Arrowverse, the season’s high point can only be one of those two.

(“Crisis on Earth-X” doesn’t count, that really played as its own four-hour event, not episodes of each individual series)

But which to pick? “Beebo the God of War” introduces the cuddly giggling toy Beebo that the fans embraced as their new god, has a great planning montage, and involves Leo providing grief counselling via puppet. That’s a tough line-up to beat. But “Daddy Darhkest” has Leo and John Constantine, and one of the better Ray and Zari team ups.

Tough call. But I’m going with “Beebo.” They were on that week.

Low Point

Also hard. They really brought their A-game this year. I guess… maybe… you know what, I’ll admit it, “Amazing Grace,” in which pre-fame Elvis Presley gains dominion over the dead, ran out of steam partway through. And the white male preacher from 1950s Tennessee being convinced that rock’n’roll music isn’t evil by a black man and a Muslim woman after one speech rang kinda false. That combo would have trouble getting through to white southern preachers now.

MVP

There are so many people doing such good work on this show, and everybody except maybe Kid Flash gets a great spotlight episode (Kid Flash comes closest in his recruitment episode, but drunk Rip Hunter overshadows him. Poor Wally. Always the sidekick), but the heart and soul of this show (plus all of the best fight scenes… save for the final duel against Mallus that cannot simply be described…) remains Caity Lotz as Sara Lance. Oh captain my captain, long may she reign.

Tips For Next Season

You know, Constantine was such a fun addition for his two episodes (and two cameos) that you should consider making him a regular– oh, that’s happening? Huh. Okay.

I’ll just have a Coke, then.

(Also there’s a couple of things in the finale I’d like you to walk back, if that’s okay, thanks much)

Overall Grade: A-

My only concern is that they might go a little too far with the wacky irreverence. Like how Happy Endings started overdoing the rapid banter just a smidge in their third season.

Also...

Also, you can’t kill two of my absolute favourite characters AND my favourite villain in the same season and get a full A, you just can’t, that’s the way it is. I hold that nonsense against Game of Thrones, and I’m holding it against you. That’s three of my original five absolute favourite characters gone, with only three new absolute favourites added. Yes that evens out to the same number, shut up.

[collapse]

Next time in this feature… either I’ll finally get around to finishing The Gifted, or I won’t and it’ll be time to cover Black Lightning. Only a week left on that one. Maybe hop on Netflix and try it out.

Next time in general: my subconscious is a jerk.

The Arrowverse in Review: Year One

Not everyone agrees with me on today’s topic, but I can’t help it. 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. And while they have their own sets of recurring flaws, they lack Marvel Netflix’s habitual pacing problems, failure to understand episodic narrative, disastrous third act twists (goddamn Diamondback), and all things Iron Fist, and their annual crossovers have managed to improve year by year, setting a high bar for what superhero TV can be that The Defenders (and a certain movie) just did not manage to reach. The franchise has grown from one show trying to escape the shadow of the teen-drama-with-occasional-superheroes that preceded it to a five-show empire slightly too big for its network.

So I wanna talk about ’em. And I have a blog, so I’m gonna, in a five-part series chronicling the first half-decade, the highs and lows, successes and failures, twists, turns, and tragedies of what should be 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.

Except for naming new road gritters in Doncaster, UK, David Plowie and The Gritsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Anti-Slip Machiney. That’s brilliant.

(Don’t worry, still gonna alternate TV and non-TV blogs, I haven’t forgotten that.)

Arrow: Year One

Hard to believe it started so simply. One show, trying to bring Batman Begins to television via a different DC character that the parent company was less protective of. Yes, let’s cover that right away… Arrow is very much a Batman show, with Green Arrow (or rather a crime-fighter who grows into being the Green Arrow) replacing Batman. The switch isn’t a difficult one to make… Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne are both billionaires who use their seemingly endless fortunes to wage war on crime, sometimes with a lair and a young sidekick. There are a few key differences, though. Oliver Queen, unlike Bruce Wayne, has a tendency to go broke from time to time to change up the character. And most significant to Year One… you can have Green Arrow kill people without all of the controversies that happen when Batman does it. I mean, seriously now, Oliver… or “The Hood,” as he’s known throughout season one… racks up more of a body count in a handful of episodes than Ben Affleck did throughout Batman V Superman, even by the most liberal of estimates.

Why the body count? Well, and this is just for starters, he does use a bow and arrow. Not the easiest weapon for non-lethal combat. Not impossible, but not natural. And second, if you’ll permit some wild speculation on my part, I feel like Arrow had a large priority in its first season: don’t be Smallville. Now I could be wrong about this: Smallville was a big enough hit for the CW and its predecessor, the WB, that it ran for a decade. And it’s doubtful that anyone would have greenlit a TV show about Green Arrow of all people if Justin Hartley hadn’t made him a highlight of Smallville’s back half*. That said… if they wanted more of that, it was probably an option. They could have just spun Smallville’s Green Arrow (and probably Chloe) off instead of starting over from the beginning with Stephen Amell in a world with no Superman.

So they kept the things that made Smallville work: a blend of season arcs and villains-of-the-week, and plenty of fan service, in the form of nerd-friendly guest stars and appearances by other comic characters, which we’ll be looking at below. They abandoned almost everything else, especially Smallville’s mission statement of “No flights, no tights.” Well– he doesn’t fly. Green Arrow can’t fly. That’s not a thing he does. But instead of spending four years in high school foiling random monsters while refusing to wear a costume, Oliver’s in a green hood seeking arrow-justice against his city’s worst millionaires in episode one.

Sure it takes him three more years to start using the name “Green Arrow.” I’m not saying Arrow isn’t an origin story, it’s just a different kind of origin story. A five-year flashback story recounts Oliver’s journey from a spoiled, arrogant trust-fund kid marooned on a hostile island to the hood-wearing, justice-seeking, archery-based-vigilante we meet in the pilot, and in the first four(ish?) seasons he grows from a killer fixated on a list of names his father left behind to the true hero of Star City.

*Because Smallville wasn’t allowed to use Bruce Wayne. When Batman’s unavailable, Green Arrow is close enough.™

The Rough Spots

Now, Arrow didn’t shake off all of Smallville’s flaws, and in them, we see the biggest flaws of the Arrowverse. First off, and I feel this is a network mandate of some sort because this flaw just screams “CW,” there is a definite over-reliance on pretty people having teen-soap-style romantic drama. Now I’m not against romance in my superhero shows. I prefer the characters in my entertainments to be decent facsimiles of three-dimensional people, with hopes and objectives, rather than simply bundles of personality quirks and sunglass manoeuvres that solve murders with science. Which means that yes, sometimes they’re going to hook up and fall in love. So that’s not the issue. The issue is that the romance arcs tend to be overwrought and kinda cheesy.

In season one, that’s the triangle between Oliver, his ex-girlfriend Laurel, and his best friend and fellow trust-fund billionaire Tommy. Irresponsible Tommy and lawyer-for-the-common-folk Laurel were having an affair before Oliver came back from the dead, and former womanizer Tommy is hoping to make that a more official, ongoing thing, but he worries how his resurrected best pal will react. Oliver is still very much in love with Laurel, but there are a couple of problems. First, she is still pretty angry about Oliver a) cheating on her with her sister Sara; b) bringing Sara along with him on his doomed yacht trip to China; and thanks to that c) getting her killed* when his yacht sunk, marooning him on the mercenary-infested island of Lian Yu. Second, he is launching a plan of arrow-infested justice-vengeance, and doesn’t think he can do that and make things right with his high school sweetheart. Who, again, he betrayed pretty epically before his five years away from home**. He tries to push her away, but Oliver’s about as good at staying away from Laurel as I am at staying away from extra cheese on a pizza, so he keeps popping up in her life. It’s very Dawson’s Creek.

I assume. I have seen precisely zero episodes of Dawson’s Creek but I’m led to believe overwrought romantic drama was a thing they did, yes?

The second major flaw… there is almost always one character per series who gets savagely underwritten, and what stories they do get are cringe-worthy. This year, it’s Oliver’s sister, Thea Queen, who for the first half of the season just complains about how closed-off Oliver is, does ecstasy and the new designer drug Vertigo, and is generally a brat. She begins to improve a little as the season progresses, but overall she keeps soaking my Green Arrow show in Gossip Girl nonsense.

I also have never seen Gossip Girl but that feels apt.

*The presumed-late Sara Lance comes up a lot in season one, including a mini-arc where Laurel’s mother thinks she might be alive. Given that Mother Lance’s lead turned out to be false, I don’t think they’d decided that Sara wasn’t actually dead yet, let alone that she was coming back as a badass assassin. They definitely didn’t know she’d end up the leader of a time-ship filled with misfit superheroes. But that’s later.

**They must have known he didn’t stay on Lian Yu the whole five years. They established he was somehow a captain in the Russian mafia within three episodes, and they can’t have thought that would happen on a remote island in the North China Sea.

The Name Quirk

Not technically a flaw of the series, unless you’re a longtime fan easily disturbed by small differences. Like me. I mean, change the races, genders, or sexualities of whoever you want, but tell me Metropolis is in Kansas, like Smallville did, and I will freak out. In the Arrowverse, the little details that keep annoying me are changes to the names. Character names get changed for reasons I have never understood. Dinah Lance is the classic alter ego of the Black Canary, but on Arrow she went by her newly invented middle name, Laurel. (“Dinah Laurel Lance,” Tommy says, in a promise to fans, “Always trying to save the world.”) Star City is Starling City… although that’s a shorter leap than in the Rebirth era, where the recently renamed Star City was formerly known by the even stranger name of “Seattle.” At least when Arrow finally fixed the city name, they didn’t have to blow up a famous landmark to do it.

In three more years, they’ll introduce Curtis Holt, clearly modelled after the comics character Michael Holt. I don’t understand. There might be multiple Dinahs (her mother is also named Dinah) but no Michaels, and even if there were, there are two Rays and two Rorys…  Why do they do this. I don’t get it, I don’t get it at all.

The Heroes

Oliver Queen is not good at heroing when we begin. Sure, he wins some victories early on. He successfully steals from the rich and gives to the poor, stops assassins, foils some bank robbers, does some minor hero stuff pretty well. Known by the press and police as “The Hood” (a name even Oliver thinks is awful, though around Christmas he rejects “Green Arrow”), he’s got a list of names of corrupt millionaires his father left him, a quiver full of arrows, and a thirst for justice, but doesn’t know the first thing about how to protect a city. He merely takes vengeance on those who betray it, never asking where the List came from and what it might mean. And by Christmas, this gets his ass kicked, as his first encounter with the Dark Archer goes brutally bad, and he learns that the List isn’t what he thought. It’s concealing a darker purpose than he ever imagined.

All of this means that the best thing Arrow did in its early days was introduce John Diggle. First he’s Oliver’s would-be bodyguard, an annoyance to be ditched at the earliest opportunity, but by episode four he’s being asked to join Oliver’s crusade. This accomplished two things: it let them drop that godawful voiceover they had Stephen Amell do in the first few episodes because they didn’t trust us to follow what was happening, and it gave Oliver a conscience. Diggle pushed Oliver to be a better hero and a better man. He is the first and still greatest of Oliver’s allies, although year one introduces a few of the others: Felicity Smoak is gradually worked into the cast, a genius computer hacker from Queen Consolidated’s IT department who fans either love or hate*. Laurel’s father Detective Quentin Lance is there from the start, who wants to put the Hood behind bars, but gradually gets drawn into helping him out. He and Oliver will have a complicated relationship for the next few years, hood or no hood. And last but not lea… actually, since he’s the only one not still on the show, I guess he technically is least… late in the season Thea meets a surprisingly nimble street thug with a heart of tarnished gold named Roy Harper, who comics fans know as Green Arrow’s original sidekick.

The boldest part of Oliver’s journey in season one, and the final example of how The Hood isn’t enough of a hero for his city? Oliver loses. He got in a fight he didn’t understand, underestimated his adversary, let rage and vengeance take the wheel, and it costs him and the city in the end. Your five year journey from castaway to vigilante may have ended when you came home, but you still gots some learning to do, son.

(Meanwhile, Flashback Oliver is just trying to stay alive and deal with the mercenary army led by Edward Fyers, with the help of an Australian soldier named Slade Wilson, a mentor named Yao Fei who betrays him constantly, but not for no reason, and Fei’s daughter Shado.)

*The so-called “fans” who hate Felicity are the second most odious and obnoxious faction of Arrowverse fandom, so side with them if you like, but know that I’m judging you for it.

The Villains

The Arrowverse tends to do surprise twists with its villains, and thus far most of them have been far more successful than when Marvel Netflix tries a third-act villain-swap (the replacement villains have never been improvement, Netflix). As such, this section will be reliably packed with spoilers. Y’all been told. Anyway.

Does it get better than John Barrowman? Maybe. But not often.

Doctor Who veteran and living treasure John Barrowman plays the List’s architect, Malcolm Merlyn, yes he does have the same last name as Oliver’s best friend Tommy, no that isn’t a coincidence. They roll Malcolm out pretty gradually… first he’s just the sinister figure who created the List, and is aggravated that the newly arrived vigilante is targeting his cabal’s members. Only after establishing this did they reveal that he was, indeed, Tommy’s father and a long-time friend to the Queen family. And once we knew that… in the fall finale (last episode before the Christmas hiatus) he’s revealed to secretly be the cabal’s enforcer, the Dark Archer, the man who earlier that episode beat Oliver like a pinata.

Malcolm Merlyn is one of the better villains the Arrowverse has come up with, based on comics villain Merlyn, an archer assassin. (They leave out his ridiculous mustache, not only because covering any part of John Barrowman’s face is a crime.) His season one motivation is simple, understandable, if twisted. This is a trademark of the better Arrowverse villains. Plus menace and great performances. John Barrowman brings the performance, his mask-wearing stuntman brings the menace when the Dark Archer goes to work, and motive-wise, he’s fittingly Oliver’s polar opposite. Oliver fights a crusade against corrupt one-percenters for failing his city; Merlyn recruits corrupt one-percenters in a crusade against the city for failing him. His wife was murdered in the Glades, the poorest and most crime-riddled neighbourhood of Starling City. His solution? Reduce the Glades and everyone in them to rubble. 

A monstrous overreaction, sure, no question, but in season three we do learn that his wife’s killer was a total dick. An atrocity born from grief is much easier to relate to than an atrocity born from “I just love killing.”

Merlyn’s backstory is also part of a long game the producers were playing, slipping in less and less subtle references to DC A-lister Ra’s Al Ghul, to see if they’d get in trouble. They did not. Whether it was worth it… well, that’s a year three thing. Merlyn is an ex-member of the League of Assassins, which is why he’s so good at fighting and uses arrows instead of, like, guns or something.

Fan Service

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). Examples? You got it, ’cause we have all three this year.

The Good: 

  • Slade Wilson, known to comics fans as Deathstroke the Terminator, is one of Arrow’s best comic imports.
  • Deadshot makes his debut three episodes in, and Arrow Deadshot is probably, no, definitely a better take on the character than Will Smith in Suicide Squad. Hm. Flash, Superman, Deadshot… is the only character the DC movies do better than the Arrowverse Captain goddamn Boomerang? Maybe Amanda Waller.
  • The bank robbers Diggle uses to teach Oliver that heroism extends beyond the List are the Royal Flush Gang, DC’s go-to expendable robber villains. In the comics, the Royal Flush Gang have been taken down by so many heroes in so many cities, they eventually revealed the name had been franchised.
  • Farscape’s Ben Browder plays Diggle’s ex-CO, who may or may not be someone the Hood needs to cross off the List.
  • Seth Gabel, best known at the time for Fringe, makes a couple of appearances as The Count, designer of the drug Vertigo. This is a clear reference to DC villain Count Vertigo, and based (probably) on this, Count Vertigo was brought into Green Arrow’s comic. So it goes. The Count is almost certainly the most ridiculously over-the-top campy villain this series… no, this franchise has ever had. And I say this knowing that the Flash has fought both a giant, hyperintelligent, telepathic gorilla and a similarly giant man-shark. Really, only Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff is giving him a run for his money, and that’s five years later.
  • Our first Batman villain to be borrowed by Arrow is Firefly, here a fireman out for revenge against the old boss who left him to die. I almost never say this, but… Gotham did this one better. Ugh. That did not feel good.
  • Dinah Lance the Elder is played by Dr. River Song herself, Alex Kingston.
  • Battlestar Galactica’s James Callis and Tahmoh Penikett make appearances, because BSG actors tend to hang around Vancouver (where all Arrowverse shows, if not the entire CW network, film) and are easy to cast in nerd-friendly projects.
  • And one of my favourite TV villain actors, David Anders (who I became a fan of in Alias and now peddles brains on iZombie) drops by as well, as the would-be kingpin of Starling City.

The Bad:

Helena Bertinelli, The Huntress, was almost in “The Good.” Based on her first episode and a half, she seems to be a decent take on the post-Crisis Huntress (please don’t make me explain “post-Crisis” right now). Then in the end of her two-part debut, she turns on Oliver, and eventually goes full villain. Same thing with the Blackhawks: heroes of World War II in the books, a corrupt security firm on Arrow. They keep doing this, taking lower-tier heroes and using them as villains. I don’t get it. Expect everyone in “the Bad” to match this description.

In her third appearance, Huntress gets a comics-accurate costume… but only when she’s pretending to be a stripper. Says a lot about female superhero costumes in the 90s, doesn’t it. Yeah. Not… not great.

The Weird:

Edward Fyers and Shado are both key characters in a classic (if controversial) Green Arrow story called The Longbow Hunters, which was apparently influential enough that John Diggle gets his last name from the story’s author, Andy Diggle (John’s brother gets the full name, which turns out not to be the best tribute). They both became long-term recurring characters in Green Arrow lore, and other than Fyers’ mercenary background and Shado’s fondness for archery, neither of them are what you’d call similar to their comics counterparts. Fyers was ultimately his friend, for Zod’s sake, whereas he and Shado (lovers on the show) do not get along at all.

One-off villains Dodger and Drakon are also pretty dissimilar from their pre-Flashpoint (Google it if you’re so damn curious) comic incarnations.

Also worth noting here that there was, back in the 80s, a comics character named Felicity Smoak. She was a nemesis and later stepmother of Ronnie Raymond, one half of the hero Firestorm. It’s pretty obvious they just borrowed the name and nothing else. But in their defense, they didn’t know they were creating one of the series’ central characters. It just kind of went that way.

The Crossover!

There isn’t really a crossover this year. I mean, how can there be, there’s only one show. Now, the episode when the crossovers typically happen, episode eight, is the episode where Helena Bertinelli puts on a mask and costume for the first time. But it’s also the episode where she and Oliver have their falling out and she begins her fall to full-on villainy, soooo…. wouldn’t really call it a crossover, per se.

RIP

There’s always deaths in the Arrowverse, and it’s usually someone you didn’t want to go. I’ll be putting this section in spoiler text for best practice.

Year one casualties

Oh, Tommy Merlyn. In actor Colin Donnell’s hands you had wit, charm, and were the second best friend Oliver could have had (after Diggle). The show tried to pull you to the dark side over the season, giving you more and more reasons to lash out at Oliver and side with your maniacal, poor-person-murdering father, but you never went bad. It’s a shame your storyline just got grimmer as the year went on, ’cause Donnell has a way with a one-liner that was delightful in the early episodes. See, for instance, “Have you noticed how hot your sister’s gotten? [very brief glare from Oliver] Because I haven’t.” On rewatching, Oliver being forced to watch his best friend die in the rubble of an attack Oliver failed to stop is pretty crushing. Donnell acted the hell out of his last moments.

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Parting thoughts

Two of the names on Oliver’s list are Isabel Rochev and Hannibal Bates. Shoulda… shoulda tried to cross them off sooner, Oliver. Could have saved yourself and the good people of Central City some grief down the line.

Season one sets a trend that lasts into season two: the costume tends to appear before the iconic character. Yao Fei was first to wear Oliver’s green hood (from which he gets his first nickname), Slade Wilson’s mask first appears on a thug we learn is his old partner Wintergreen (another departure, he’s basically Slade’s Alfred in the comics), and down the road Dinah Laurel Lance will not be the first person to use the codename “Canary.”

Another trend: names of key writers and artists from the comics are everywhere in this franchise. John Ostrander, Dan Didio, Gail Simone, that’s just off the top of my head. Suffice to say, if an address has names instead of numbers, they’re the names of comic creators.

Next time… Arrow opens the door to a larger, stranger world, multiple presumed-dead characters prove hard to kill, and no fewer than three cast members of The Flash make their debuts in what many considered to be Arrow’s best season.

Comic TV With Dan: We Gots us a CRISIS!

Okay, nerds, nerdesses, and innocent bystanders just stopping by, it’s time for the big game. The epic battle between good and evil, the superhero team-up I’ve been waiting months to see play out in all of its four-colour glory.

These guys?

No. I said “superhero,” “colour,” and “glory.” Not four people trying their very hardest not to be superheroes in a show about a ninja cult harvesting dragon marrow that somehow still manages to drain both of those concepts of fun or interest. No. Think brighter. Think DC.

THESE guys?

What? No. No no no. Not that one. This one. The good one.

The only Justice League we need.

Crisis on Earth-X, the biggest, most ambitious, and best of the annual Arrowverse (sadly I am still not influential enough to make “DCW-verse” catch on) crossovers has arrived, and did it ever–

Look, what do you want me to say about Justice League, exactly? We all must know the general consensus by now. It’s… fine. Fun but shallow. Enjoyable but occasionally forgettable. Forty minutes’ worth of footage was cut and it kind of shows, and not entirely from the fact that every trailer has a moment that got cut from the movie. The action scenes are often gorgeously shot, including an acrobatic duel between Batman and a burglar that might be one of the best-shot Batman action scenes ever… fine, not counting anything Lego-related… and it certainly tries to be more fun, but while many of the jokes land, sometimes it’s trying too hard to be “quippy.”

I wanted it to be Wonder Woman good, and instead it’s somewhere between Ant-Man and Age of Ultron. It’s a B- superhero movie that had the misfortune of coming out in a year when the genre was averaging A-. Logan, Wonder Woman, even Thor Ragnarok of all goddamn things, these were all home runs, improbable ones given the lower success rate of X-Men movies, the DCEU, and movies about Thor. And Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming weren’t entirely knockouts but had more than enough charm to smooth out their flaws. 

But enough about that. Not here to talk Justice League. Just Crisis on Earth-X. Just that. Probably just that. Almost definitely maybe probably just Crisis.

Evolution of an Event

The annual CW crossovers have been a tradition as long as there have been multiple DC shows on the network. Longer, really, since Barry Allen made his debut on Arrow the season before The Flash debuted, around the same time of year the crossovers normally happen.

First they were simple. A handful of Arrow characters went to Central City for Flash Vs. Arrow, so that the two CW leads could go two rounds against each other before bringing down meta-human bank robber Roy G. Bivolo, known to comics fans as either “Prism,” “Rainbow Raider,” or “the guy once deemed too lame for a crossover that introduced amped-up versions of Major Disaster and Killer goddamn Moth.” A day or two later (real time), a handful of Flash characters headed to Starling City so that Flash and the Arrow could team up against Rogues’ Gallery Also-ran Captain Boomerang. Simple, self-contained, fits easily into a marathon binge of either show, but had the fun of seeing the different casts and show styles bounce off each other.

That was the fun of Avengers, wasn’t it? Seeing Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and whatnot all flow into one team. Which is what Justice League could have been, except they’ve been trying to reinvent their tone so much that it’s hard to actually see it as a continuation of the previous four movies. Sure, it has references to Wonder Woman and continues stories from Man of Steel and Batman V Superman but it doesn’t have that Avengers-style-the-franchise-comes-together special feel, you know? Not like Crisis on Earth-X. Which is what this blog is about. Crisis on Earth-X. Not Justice League.

Ahem.

They amplified the crossover the following year, with Legends of Yesterday and Legends of Today, which set up the centuries-long Hawks Vs. Vandal Savage relationship that was central to the coming third DCW show, Legends of Tomorrow. Sure that one was held back by the same problems that plagued all the CW shows that season: too much narrative capital devoted to setting up the new spin-off, and an unsatisfying take on Vandal Savage, but it was still a fun two-parter. And the year after that, things got epic, as Flash, Arrow, and Legends came together (with special guest star Supergirl, whose own show wasn’t really involved) for the three-night, super fun, heroes vs. aliens extravaganza of Invasion! Watching Kara get to know Oliver Queen and the Waverider crew, and seeing everyone have a big post-victory party was just as much fun as seeing the combined heroes take down the Dominators. Plus each chapter still felt like an episode of that particular show. Flash addressed Barry’s Flashpoint screw-up, Arrow served as a perfect 100th episode celebration of the show’s past, and Legends brought time travel into the mix.

So the question seemed clear… how the Hell would they top that? Well, they found a way, readers, they found a way.

Barry and Iris’ wedding brings characters from all four shows to Central City, and it looks to be a happy day for all, but when the wedding is crashed by Nazi soldiers led by evil versions of Green Arrow and Supergirl, Team Arrow, Team Flash, the Legends, and the Danvers sisters have to square off with strange visitors from an evil planet.

The Faces of Evil

If one were to claim that the CW crossovers have flaws, one could argue that they have, in the past, let us down villain-wise. Vandal Savage, as discussed, was underwhelming, and a cameo by Neal McDonough’s Damien Darhk really drove that home. Prism was… well, Prism was a half-assed take on Rainbow Raider who existed to give Flash and Arrow an excuse to fight. And the Dominators provided some effective global menace, but they were a horde of CG aliens.

Fortunately their machinations meant that the plot never hinged on largely interchangeable CG aliens, and they had some concrete motives. Like in the event book that inspired it, they felt Earth’s high rate of meta-human development was problematic. Could be worse. They could have been an entirely CG villain with a horde of faceless minions, a magic space rock, and a vague-at-best motivation to take over/destroy the world.

Which is the shade I used to throw at the weaker Marvel villains, at least the ones not out to kill Tony Stark and sell weapons. But man alive no one lived up to that terrible archetype like Steppenwolf. Making him all CG was awkward any time they showed his face, and if you haven’t grown up on DC comics like me, who exactly this mook is and why he’s doing anything he’s doing might feel obscure at best.

Right, yes, Crisis on Earth-X. Earth-X, as any longtime DC fans knows, is the Earth where the Nazis won World War II, and are opposed by a small band of heroes known as Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters. Which essentially makes this a crossover between five shows, as Earth-X, the Freedom Fighters (possibly minus Uncle Sam), and the Reich’s top warriors were introduced in the CW Seed show Freedom Fighters: The Ray.

Having Nazis as your villains, and depicting them as absolutely, irredeemably evil shouldn’t be a big political statement, but it’s 2017, the New York Times is running sympathetic stories on actual Nazis, and here we fucking are. So watching the heroes of four shows and an online animated series tear into some Nazi stormtroopers is incredibly satisfying.

But what’s impressive is that they set out to create fully developed characters out of their main villains, making the Nazi Oliver Queen/Dark Arrow and his general Overgirl flesh-and-blood people without justifying their abhorrent beliefs. They’re monsters, but they’re still driven by love. Dark Oliver isn’t just out to conquer a new world, he’s out to save the love of his life. He and his followers believe that strength is virtue, that compassion is weakness, and that they’re doing the world a favour by ruling it. They’re wrong, and we know they’re wrong, and the back half makes a very clear statement of “This is what Nazis do and it’s terrible, are you listening, Republicans” but giving them human motives and emotions buried under the hate and intolerance makes them more interesting than, say, some rat-faced vet who lets vague talk about “real Americans” turn him into a mad bomber. Or a horn-headed CG alien named after a late 60s-70s rock band for reasons no rookie viewer will ever, ever know.

Back on topic… Also on team Nazi is an Earth-X Prometheus, who is not the Prometheus from last season of Arrow. He’s got a surprising identity that gives Oliver a meaty scene when they come face to face.

Plus, the Reverse-Flash is back! Not some Nazi version from an alternate Earth, but the one we know from Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, who admits that he probably should be dead by now, but never seems to recognize the Legends, so maybe this is from before his Legion of Doom days? Anyway, he’s back to looking like Tom Cavanaugh’s Harrison Wells, which I suspect is a cost-saving measure. The crossover was already hell of expensive, and having Tom Cavanaugh do double-duty saves them paying for Matt Letscher. Also it’s fun. Good as Tom is/has been as the Harrisons Wells of Earths 2 and 19, it’s been too long since he’s gotten to properly chew the scenery as the Reverse Flash. So as long as Stephen Amell and Melissa Benoist are pulling double duty, why not let Tom “Playing just one character on a show is for lazy people” Cavanaugh join in?

Our Heroes

Now these shows have big casts. Green Arrow leads a team of four other vigilantes, five if you count Felicity “Overwatch” Smoak. Flash has two part-time sidekicks and two superpowered assistants. Supergirl rolls with the Martian Manhunter and has Superman on speed dial, and the Legion of Superheroes just came to town. And the Legends are a full team of time-travelling would-be heroes. That’s way too many people. So obviously not everyone gets to play all the time. Some characters get sidelined for one to three episodes, some get restricted to quick cameos. J’onn J’onz, for instance, gets maybe three lines in the first five minutes of part one.

It’s like how Justice League tries to slip in cameos by various supporting characters of the heroes, to varying success. Connie Britton’s return as Hippolyta makes for an impressive sequence; JK Simmons makes a great Commissioner Gordon in his two scenes; Billy Crudup does his best impression of John Wesley Shipp’s Henry “Flash’s Dad” Allen in a scene that does okay setting up Barry’s character, but seriously feels lifted out of the first season of the TV show; Amber Heard gets handed much more ham-fisted exposition as Mera, but I’m still interested to see what she does with a proper role in Aquaman. I mean her scene was only a little more character-driven than Anthony Hopkins’ voice-over narration at the start of the bad Thor movies. Meryl Streep couldn’t have made “Here’s who Aquaman is in twenty words or less” work much better.

And we’re back… so while most of the shows’ casts get at least a little screen time*, if not necessarily on their own show, Crisis on Earth-X focuses on a smaller team. Specifically, Kara and Alex from Supergirl, each nursing a heartache; Oliver and Felicity from Arrow; Barry and Iris from Flash (and to a lesser extent Caitlin… Tom Cavanaugh is there all the time, but mostly as Thawne, not Harry Wells); and Sara Lance, Jax, and Martin Stein from Legends (and to a lesser extent Heat Wave), as Sara’s essentially the lead of Legends and the crossover helps wrap up a Firestorm arc that’s been running through the season. And in the back half, The Ray turns up, alongside his cohort, the Earth-X Leonard Snart. Good to have you back, Wentworth Miller, if only temporarily.

Oliver’s team and the rest of the Legends are mostly there to make the final heroes vs. Nazis showdown sufficiently epic. And sure, some arbitrary lines got drawn here. Sure, a solid entrance by Mr. Terrific, Wild Dog, and Black Canary was undercut by what happened afterwards. Sure, I wondered why Ray Palmer didn’t get an invite to the wedding if Barry’s former nemesis Heat Wave did. But that’s okay, and I forgive all, because when The Atom finally makes his entrance, it is a stand-and-cheer moment, and the rest of the late-to-arrive Legends keep that momentum going. Plus then Team Arrow, Vibe, Killer Frost, and the Legends get to kick the stuffing out of Metallo and it is niiiiiice…

The finale of Justice League works that well too, especially one Superman joins the fray. Partially because Superman is finally the Superman we’ve been waiting for. And also the League refusing to let Batman make a sacrifice play is a nice moment as well. And yes, that one has more production value and is more spectacular, but while seeing the League come together to kick Parademon ass is fun, seeing a dozen or so heroes beating the tar out of Nazis is a pretty great finale as well.

*Regular characters getting the week off are Lena Luthor, Samantha “Reign” Arias, Black Siren, The Thinker, and Thea Queen. Sorry, my brain needs to list them, and here we are.

Emotional Impact

Past crossovers have just been fun adventures with no lasting consequences. Not negative ones, anyway. In fact, Invasion! is when Barry finally found forgiveness for all that Flashpointing, and the musical crossover fixed Barry and Iris and Kara and Mon-El’s relationships… man, given how much work the seemingly all-powerful Music Meister put into getting Barry and Iris engaged, he surely was blasé about extra-dimensional Nazis crashing the wedding… no. No, leave it there, do not get into the weeds about Music Meister again.

But this… this isn’t just a crossover. They invoked the name “Crisis.” And that is not a word DC just throws around. When it’s a Crisis, Earths are in peril and people die. Permanently, for decades, or just for a little while, controversial or forgettable, a Crisis has a body count. This one is no different.

Some crossovers try for this, but don’t nail it. Think of Superman’s death in Batman V Superman, and how it had no emotional impact at all. Maybe because you didn’t like the movie at all so nothing did, or maybe because you know that come Justice League he’ll be back. See also Defenders. 

Spoiler

Matt Murdock sacrificing himself for the others meant basically nothing because Daredevil season three had already been announced. Daredevil’s “death” was just a way to get him off the board for a while so we wouldn’t ask where he was during Punisher.

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But Crisis on Earth-X was playing for keeps. And it…

It hurt.

A lot.

I went from cheering to crying several times over the course of the final hour, and actually yelled “Don’t do this to me” at the screen. A hero’s death, dying so others can live, it might be noble… but it doesn’t hurt much less in the moment.

Sorry. I thought I was ready to talk abut this. I was wrong.

This wasn’t an issue in Justice League. They were going for hopeful, inspiring, and a sense of wanting to see these characters in their own solo movies. Guess we’ll have to wait 13 months for Aquaman to see how well they managed that last one.

The Little Moments

Half the fun of these crossovers is watching characters from different series interact, and Crisis on Earth-X does not let us down. First and above all others, Sara Lance finally meets Supergirl’s sister Alex, and it is everything I wanted and more, given that in a satisfyingly roundabout way, meeting Sara helps Alex move past her breakup with Maggie. They also make a fun duo kicking Nazi ass together.

Heat Wave meets Killer Frost, which is fun. I’d love to see those two get into trouble for an episode or two. Barry, Oliver, and Kara work together so well (Nazi or otherwise) that it’s a shame they only get to do this once a year, twice at most. Eobard Thawne claims that at some point in his past/everyone else’s future, he fought Superman. A tease, or a promise?

Of course there are missed opportunities as well. Just like how we never really spend a lot of time with Aquaman, Flash, or Cyborg outside of the group context in Justice League because of all that cut footage. For instance, we’ve never gotten to see how Sara “White Canary” Lance feels about her late sister’s codename, Black Canary, going to newcomer Dinah Drake. They never interact at all, in fact. Also I haven’t gotten a proper Detective Joe West/Detective Officer Captain Deputy Mayor Quentin Lance* team-up in over two years.

And there are questions. Lingering things that I require answers to, and in one case won’t get them. The fact that the main Earth calls itself “Earth-1” and nobody calls them on it… when did the numbering of the Earths become a multiversal standard? What representative came to the Nazi world and said “You’re not Earth-1, that’s Earth-1, and you’re Earth-X, and we’re all going to pretend you don’t exist when we’re counting the total number of Earths if that’s okay,” and which super-Nazi said “Sure, that’s fair, Earth-X it is?”

But more importantly, and in this case I do need an answer… are we just ignoring the fact that the overeager server who was offering Barry a sparkling water and gushing about being at the wedding… that was clearly Barry and Iris’ daughter or granddaughter from the future, right? I mean it must be, she was way too excited about being at the wedding of a CSI and a reporter, but they just, but they just, they just moved on and she vanished and they never came back to it but I’m right, aren’t I? I must be right. Just tell me I’m right. Explain that. Explain yourselves, Flash writers not fired for sexual harassment.

*Dude has worn a lot of hats in six seasons.

To Sum Up

The one catch about Crisis on Earth-X is that for anyone watching, say, only The Flash, you’re going to be a little lost. Unlike Flash Vs. Arrow/Brave and the BoldCrisis on Earth-X doesn’t work as individual episodes. And unlike Invasion!, each show doesn’t maintain its own feel. That is, the Arrow chapter doesn’t feel more Arrow-ish. In fact, they cut the usual title cards and replace them with a unified Crisis on Earth-X title sequence combining images and themes from all four shows. And to those upset that they can’t just watch Supergirl this week because it’s full of other characters and plotlines from other shows, I say…

Nuts to you.

Because this was awesome and the only way to do it is to blend all four shows into one four-hour event, and I’m sorry that makes your Netflix binging harder, but watch all four, you numpty.

Once again narrowing down to Oliver and Barry in the end remains charming, but unlike following Invasion’s celebration with Oliver and Barry having a quiet drink, we needed something a little more celebratory to shake off the preceding, well, funeral. 

Gonna get into spoilers.

Some people complain that when Barry and Iris have their sudden, improvised, “finish what we started” wedding ceremony in front of no one but Oliver, Felicity, and Diggle, Felicity shoehorned herself and Oliver into it, making it a double ceremony without asking. Well, frankly, it’s not like she did this in the church. Barry ran to Star City to get Felicity and Oliver’s best friend just so they could do a three minute exchange of vows. It’s not that big a deal, and now Arrow doesn’t have to spend seven episodes on Oliver and Felicity’s wedding. It’s done. No mess, no drama, no derailing season six with Olicity wedding stuff.

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In the end, Crisis on Earth-X was amazing in the ways Justice League was just okay, and is a pinnacle example of why the Arrowverse hosts the best superhero shows on TV.

Watch and learn, Defenders.

And seriously. Was that Barry and Iris’ daughter? Was it!?

 

Breaking Down the DCEU News

So when you devour geek entertainment news the way I do (ie. not dissimilar to Augustus Gloop set loose in the Wonka Factory), San Diego Comic-Con is like being at a lavish Vegas buffet. There’s almost too much, and I want up on most of it, so I guess I’m going to be bloated and uncomfortable later.

That’s the worst metaphor I’ve ever opened with but it is not inaccurate.

So I can’t possibly cover everything that was announced about everything I love that week, be it Arrow (Slade’s back! Yay!), Flash (Tom Felton isn’t back. Boo.), Westworld (Already filming, I guess?), or what have you. But DC made some announcements on the Warner Bros. panel, in addition to releasing a decent and more colourful new trailer for Justice League…

…that admittedly is still hiding how and when Superman shows up… they’ve also begun to clear up a point of contention with the franchise’s future.

Back in 2014, Warner Bros. made as low-key an announcement about their planned slate of DC films as it was possible to make, addressing shareholders rather than Comic-Con attendees. It laid out about nine films over the course of five years, including two Justice Leagues and a far-off Green Lantern reboot. But then 2016 happened. After the negative critical reception and mixed fan reactions to Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad, everything seemed to be in doubt. New potential projects were being announced as in development left and right, whereas their previously announced films, looked shaky, with Flash in particular going into a tailspin of quitting directors and rewrites. So the question became, what exactly is going on over there?

Well, at Comic-Con, they announced… not a firm slate, but certainly their next wave. Their primary to-do list after Aquaman, the only post-League movie they’ve managed to get camera ready thus far. So let’s take a look at what they announced: what we know; what, based on the comics we might expect; and if I resist the urge to believe that everything’s going to be Wonder Woman-good from here (I’d love that but have no hard reason to assume it), how excited should we be?

We’ll skip over Justice League and Aquaman and go right to 2019.

Shazam!

Even before the big panel, news hit that the next DC film to go into active production will be Shazam, which… interesting. That’s interesting in a couple of ways. First, it’s an open declaration that they haven’t completely abandoned their original plan, since Shazam is still aiming for a spring 2019 release. That said, there is a lingering question mark.

Prior to Wonder Woman, the big “stay excited for DC movies” banner was the eventual arrival of proven franchise-saver Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Shazam’s classic nemesis, Black Adam. But the story began shifting… instead of Black Adam being the villain in the Shazam movie, he’d instead be introduced in a solo film, which given how interesting an anti-hero Black Adam has become in the last two decades, honestly seems like a better idea than doing both origins at once. This, naturally, led to some questions about whether Shazam was still on the table.

Well, now Shazam has a rough filming date, a release date, and a director, while all Black Adam has is Dwayne Johnson’s determination to make the movie once his busy schedule opens up. You know, assuming that 2020 presidential bid doesn’t happen.

What do we know?

Shazam has a director, David F. Sandberg. Not a big name, but a promising up-and comer. It starts filming in January/February of 2018, with a projected release date of April 5th, 2019.

With all of that in mind, you’d think we’d know more. Casting rumours about which Stranger Things kid is playing Billy or what Channing Tatum-type is playing his adult self or something. But all we know on that front is that Black Adam won’t be appearing.

What can we expect?

Shazam is about as far as it’s possible to get from the dark, brooding atmosphere that has clung to DC films from Batman Begins all the way to Suicide Squad. It’s the ultimate in wish fulfillment.

Classic origin story: ten-year-old Billy Batson encounters the wizard Shazam, who makes Billy his champion. By saying the wizard’s name, Batson gains the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus (that one’s kinda vague), invulnerability of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. In short, he transforms into a big, muscular, adult superhero who’s basically Superman with no vision powers. For seven decades and change, he went by Captain Marvel, but since Marvel Comics has at least three of their own characters with that name, DC recently laid down arms and just started calling him “Shazam,” since that’s the name everyone knows him by anyway.

So it’s a little weird that this kid-friendly superhero wish fulfillment movie is being handed off to a director best known for horror films, but I guess he’s got a decent eye. If Jordan Peele can jump from sketch comedy to horror and knock it out of the park, maybe Sandberg has more bullets in his gun than making light switches scarier than they need to be. And hey, given that Shazam’s rogues’ gallery is called “The Monster Society of Evil,” maybe a touch of horror background isn’t the worst. Like Monster Squad.

There’s no word yet about what villains we can expect, with Black Adam off the table, but there’s three strong candidates: for brain vs. brawn, there’s Shazam’s own Lex Luthor, Dr. Sivana. For the creep factor: Mr. Mind, a Venusian caterpillar with mind-control capabilities. But I’m placing my money on Ibac.

Ibac brings all of the “like the hero but evil” that origin movies have been using for their villains ever since Iron Man, but without the complexity of Black Adam. Like Shazam, his name’s an acronym of his abilities: the terror of Ivan the Terrible, the Cunning of Cesare Borgia, the fierceness of Atilla the Hun, and the cruelty of Caligula. That gives us more promising action set pieces than Sivana, and builds the acronym-based mythology up, readying us to meet Dwayne Johnson as the wizard’s less noble champion from the ancient mid-East, Teth-Adam.

How excited should we be?

Hard to say. There’s so little to go on here. But the one thing that most gives me hope for this movie is that all the details, from script to overall vision to company approach, are coming in the wake of the bright, hopeful, inspiring Wonder Woman, which means they’re moving in the right direction to tackle Billy Batson. And hey, there’s this rough concept art for the costume.

Wonder Woman 2

I mean, duh. This is a gimme. The most financially successful DC film since 2012, and most beloved since at least 2008. Of course they want to stay in the Wonder Woman business.

What do we know?

It’s said to be set in the 1980s, at the end of the Cold War. The first film’s director, Patty Jenkins, and the co-writer/DC mastermind Geoff Johns are working on the story right now. Gal Gadot will be back as Diana, and to the surprise of no one who witnessed their chemistry, they’re trying to bring back Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor. Wonder Woman 2, or whatever they call it, will arrive in December of 2019: 30 months after the last movie, one year after Aquaman, and way too damn long from now.

What confuses people is that they still haven’t officially confirmed that Jenkins will be directing. I mean come on. Whatever she’s asking must be worth it.

What can we expect?

Wonder Woman was a triumph for Warner Bros., so I have to assume they’ll try to keep the same inspirational tone that made it a hit. For villains? I don’t know. Diana hasn’t fought a lot of Russians. I, personally, would love to see devious corporate tycoon Veronica Cale turn up, but for reasons I don’t have time to go into. In short, she and Dr. Sivana could open the door for the sovereign nation of mad scientists I used to enjoy in the comics. Or they could have Diana fight personified misogyny in the form of woman-hating telepath Dr. Psycho. Yes, that’s his name. Not odder than Dr. Poison.

Should we be excited?

If they sign Jenkins, yes, absolutely. If they somehow don’t… less so. Because what we really want is “more of that,” and replacing their best director since Nolan would not be the right first step.

And now things get more vague.

The Batman

The 2014 movie slate didn’t include any Batman solo movie, but come on. It was always coming.

What do we know?

We know that director Matt Reeves (the man behind the excellent Dawn of and War For the Planet of the Apes) has taken over from departing director Ben Affleck, and has also started over from scratch on the script. It would be easy to see this as a slam against Affleck and Geoff Johns, who had been writing The Batman up until that point, but it seems to just be how Reeves works as a director.

Reeves approached The Batman the same way he approached the Apes franchise. He went to the studio and said “This is the movie I want to make. This is what an Apes movie I’d want to direct would be,” and then held to his guns against any studio notes pointing in another direction. So it makes sense that he’s starting over on the script. He didn’t sign on to direct Affleck’s Batman idea, he wants to make his Batman idea.

We also know that rumours aside, Ben Affleck will absolutely be playing Bruce Wayne. Affleck has said that he’d be a background chimp in an Apes movie if Reeves asked him to. But Joe Manganiello might be out as Deathstroke. And if that’s why Deathstroke’s back on Arrow, I’m fine with that.

What can we expect?

Reeves promises a noir-esque Batman movie, with more focus on Batman the detective. Which I’m good with. It’s a new take. Big-screen Batman’s just been about the villain punching since 1989. His best big-screen detective work should not be Adam West figuring out that when the solution to the Riddler’s riddle is “an egg,” he means they’re attacking the UN. Other than that? No idea. It’s early days. Whatever story or characters Reeves is considering, he isn’t sharing.

Should we be excited?

I would say yes. Affleck does a good Batman, and Matt Reeves makes good movies. I think we have a good shot of being more Nolan than Schumacher here.

Justice League Dark

No, this would not be the new title of Justice League Part 2, which is absent from WB’s plans. Perhaps they’re waiting until the first one comes out and reassessing, or maybe they don’t want to discuss it openly while the issue of “So is Zack Snyder being replaced, and by whom?” is dealt with.

Justice League Dark is a now-ended title in which the magic-based heroes of the DC Universe unite to tackle magical problems that the Justice League can’t handle. The cast rotated frequently, but typically revolved around wizard con artist John Constantine, sorceress Zatanna, and acrobatic ghost Deadman. Their book might not be running, but they did just get an animated movie on Blu-ray with Matt Ryan reprising Constantine.

What do we know?

That the original treatment for this movie was written by Guillermo del Toro, and every report about the ongoing development has said they’re sticking to it. Probably because they want to keep del Toro’s name on the project as long as they possibly can, because that gives it value. Sadly, the director of Hellboy making a magic-themed DC movie was a dream too beautiful to live.

Other than that, very little. Honestly I’m surprised this got announced as being in the next wave and not Black Adam, all things considered.

What can we expect?

Ideally? A magical Guardians of the Galaxy. A group of misfits who are thrown together to save the world from something no one else can handle. Worst case scenario is Suicide Squad with more spells and less boomerangs. I would prefer the first thing.

Should we be excited?

…I don’t know. I’d like to say yes, but other than the well-done animated movie, I don’t have much to go on. Maybe if they nail down a director, and said director says “We’re going to show the world why Zatanna belongs on the A-list,” I’ll have a better idea.

Batgirl

This right here might be the money movie.

What do we know?

That it’s written and directed by Joss Whedon. What we don’t know is whether signing on to make this movie is what led to Whedon being asked to work on Justice League, or if making a Batgirl movie was part of Whedon’s asking price to write and ultimately direct additional Justice League scenes. Doesn’t matter, it’s happening. Barbara Gordon, Gotham’s premiere lady crime fighter, is coming to the screen in a non-Lego context.

There is neither a name nor a short list attached to the lead role, but if Joss is anything approaching clever, he’ll get JK Simmons to keep playing Batgirl’s father, Commissioner Gordon. I don’t need Batman to show up. I wouldn’t complain, but I don’t need it.

Release date hasn’t been set, but Whedon is expected to start work on it in early 2018, once he’s rested up from reshooting Justice League.

What can we expect?

If he’s focusing on The Killing Joke and Barbara’s recovery from being paralyzed, expect a lot of complaints about a male writer tackling a sexual assault survivor’s story. With luck, he either skips that or only briefly touches on it. With extra luck, maybe he incorporates some of the more recent Batgirl stories, as the defender of Burnside, Gotham’s Brooklyn. Barbara juggles school, work, and fighting upscale crime alongside DC’s most diverse supporting cast. And it’s more targeted to women than men, which would be great for a studio trying to keep the interest of all the women inspired by Wonder Woman.

Keeping Batgirl in Burnside might also help with the fact that I don’t anticipate a lot of overlap between this and The Batman. Reeves and Whedon will probably do their own things. If they want to prove me wrong, and sync their films up, hooray, but Reeves has been clear about sticking to his vision, and after Age of Ultron Whedon is probably wary of having to jam a bunch of awkward franchise-building scenes into his movie.

Should we be excited?

Yes. Yes we should. Though maybe play it cool until filming starts, so the gods don’t try to take it from us like they did Guillermo del Toro’s Justice League Dark.

Flashpoint

And here we hit the controversy.

What do we know?

That the Flash movie is still happening, and is now called Flashpoint. And that one fact has raised a lot of eyebrows and a few alarms.

What can we expect?

The thing about Flashpoint is that it’s less famous for what it was, and more for what it did. Flashpoint was about Barry waking up in a world where his mother wasn’t killed when he was young, but the ripples of this change have made a dark and terrible world, one with no Flash or Superman, one where Thomas Wayne became a more brutal Batman when his son was killed (and Martha went crazy and became the Joker), one on the brink of destruction as Atlantis and Themyscira are fighting a devastating war. Wonder Woman conquered England, Aquaman flooded western Europe, and things are only getting worse.

But what Flashpoint is famous for is DC using it to reboot nearly their entire product line into the New 52, with fresh starts for basically everyone but Batman and Green Lantern. So like Captain America: Civil War, naming it Flashpoint kind of points in a direction.

Some question whether Warner Bros. will use this movie to similarly reboot their film universe. Others, like me, realize that’s probably not the best idea. Whatever you think about the DCEU this far, rebooting it once they finally find their stride is going to look ridiculous. And if Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Ezra Miller’s Flash break out the way Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman did last year, they’re not going to want to change much. By the time we reach Flashpoint, either their product will be better and won’t need rebooting, or things will have gone wrong and a reboot isn’t going to save them.

Others have asked whether Flashpoint would be used to replace Ben Affleck or Jared Leto, as rumours had claimed Warner Bros. was interested in doing. They must have written all of those articles or videos in the narrow window between Flashpoint being announced and Ben Affleck soundly denying the rumours he was leaving. But hey, you went ahead and posted them anyway, because what’s a little debunking between friends.

Now… there is potential here. There must be, since there’s already an animated movie based on this story, and the third season premiere of The Flash TV show is named after it. Seeing Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa go to war as twisted versions of Wonder Woman and Aquaman could be fun, albeit everything the DCEU is trying to move away from. Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Thomas Wayne Batman? That I’d pay to see. But there is that one little nagging problem… if this is your first Flash movie, you don’t have an established Reverse-Flash to be the main villain. The one Barry assumes is responsible for all of this. And I’m not positive there’s a great workaround.

Of course they could be doing the Marvel thing and using the name without using much at all of the story. But if that’s true, man, you could have picked a less notorious name.

Should we be excited?

…Too soon to tell on that one, but so far I’m more concerned. It doesn’t help that instead of finding a Matt Reeves with a Flash story they really want to do, you need to find people willing to make that specific Flash story.

Suicide Squad 2

Time for something simpler.

What do we know?

That Suicide Squad made enough money that they want to make another one. Jaume Collet-Serra, another horror director, is rumoured to be close to signing on, and Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flagg) once expected to film in 2018, but any of that could prove wrong at any moment.

What can we expect?

That Warner Bros. will do their best to keep Will Smith and Margot Robbie involved, because they were seen as the highlights, and Warner Bros. wants very badly to stay in the Harley Quinn business.

Should we be excited?

Finding a less accomplished, easier to control director isn’t a great first step, seeing as Suicide Squad’s problems had “studio interference” written all over them.

Green Lantern Corps

And to wrap up, the last of the 2014 slate still on the table, with Justice League Part 2 and Cyborg absent from the announcement.

What do we know?

That they’re aiming for a cosmic-themed buddy cop movie, with a veteran Hal Jordan training a rookie John Stewart. Who’s going to write, direct, or act in it is up in the air.

What should we expect?

Getting pieces in play for all of the other Lantern Corps would be my guess. The Emotional Spectrum, and the associated ring slingers, are one of the biggest parts of Lantern lore to be added in decades, so I think it’s safe to say we’d see some set up for Sinestro, Larfleeze, the Star Sapphires, ect.

No I’m not explaining who they are. You’re on the internet. Google them if you’re that curious.

We’re at 3300 words? Wow. I do ramble on about this stuff. Okay… um… bye, then.

Best of Comic TV 2017 Part 5: The Top Four

Okay, let’s wrap this thing up already. Hey, I’m as eager as you are, I started writing these in March.

Ladies and gentlemen, Danny G’s Top Four Comic Book TV Series of 2017. Brace yourself for some surprising comeback stories.

4. Arrow

Arrow had a couple of rough seasons there. After the operatic battle of Oliver vs. Slade in season two, they floundered through the mopey Ra’s Al Ghul story of season three and pushed magic and relationship drama too hard in season four, but in season five they found their groove again in a big way.

Strengths: Stephen Amell may have given his best performance this year, and Oliver Queen has clearly evolved as a person… even if he backslid on the whole “no killing” thing.

Oliver/Felicity drama was, as requested, kept to a minimum.

After two years of decreasing relevance, the flashbacks actually felt important this year. Past-Oliver’s journey towards being season one’s “The Hood” completed, and his return to the island of Lian Yu put a perfect capstone on his “five years in Hell.”

The flashbacks also featured the return of David Nykl as Oliver’s wacky Bratva buddy from his island days, Anatoly Knyazev. He’s always fun. Shame they’re not getting along in the present.

The new team worked out well. Wild Dog took some warming up to but he got there, Ragman was great (while he lasted), Curtis became Mr. Terrific, T-spheres and all, and the new Black Canary is nicely badass.

Speaking of the new Black Canary… I thought they were going to go the Jefferson Jackson route and invent a new character, but when her name turned out to be “Dinah Drake?” That’s the Golden Age and current Black Canary’s maiden name. They introduced a new Black Canary without creating a new Black Canary. Respect.

Episodes that not only featured but were named after obscure characters Vigilante and Human Target? Nice treat for me. Not “Third season of the Human Target TV show” nice but I’ll still take it.

Tobias Church was a great warm-up villain for the new team. Casting Wire veteran Chad L. Coleman certainly helped.

Prometheus might not have made the podium, but he may well be the most chilling comic TV villain this side of Kilgrave. And they found a great way to fool us as to who he was… 

Spoilery spoilers

Adrian Chase may have been an obvious answer in retrospect, but I was too busy thinking he was Vigilante. That is, after all, Vigilante’s name in the comics.

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Oliver forming his own Legion of Doom to face down Prometheus was pretty cool, and involved the return of Slade Wilson. That’s always worth celebrating.

Quentin and Thea made a better duo than I’d have guessed four years back.

Dolph Lundgren. Nice get, Arrow.

Weaknesses: Prometheus was so good at his job that it began to get oppressively dark at times.

…Did they just kill [REDACTED] in the finale? The actor certainly thinks so. Aw. I do not love that.

Why’d you guys write out Ragman? I liked Ragman. He was the best of the new gang. That was a dick move, you guys. I mean I’ll forgive it if Constantine helps him get his powers back next year, but until then…

Four years without a major cliffhanger and you pull that. Thanks, jerks.

High Point: “Invasion!” Now, naming the crossover episode seems as damning to the rest of the season as naming the premiere, but hear me out… “Invasion!” wasn’t just Arrow’s chapter of the big crossover, it was also their 100th episode. And in the middle of this time-travelling, space-faring battle between alien invaders and heroes from two alternate Earths, they managed a perfect, emotional, alumni-filled tribute to the previous 99 episodes. It gave Oliver just the right sense of contentment with his life for Prometheus to stroll in and destroy almost immediately after.

Low Point: “Spectre of the Gun.” Arrow tries to take on gun control, but spends so much time trying to play both sides of the issue that the best answer they come up with is “Gosh, that is a stumper.” After which Mayor Queen proposes “common sense gun laws both sides can agree on” with no, I say no elaboration as to what those might be.

MVP: Stephen Amell. He brought his A-game this year and it rooted the season.

Tips for next season: The end of this year and the end of the origin flashbacks screams “New beginning.” Let’s chase that. (Also how about that thing I said about Ragman and Constantine?)

3. Lucifer

…What. How. How. How did this happen. How did Lucifer go from last season’s guilty pleasure to this season’s appointment viewing? Three words: The Goddess Charlotte. The arrival of Lucifer’s Mother brought the show’s mythology to a whole new level, making it so much more than just a crime procedural about Lucifer helping a straight-laced police detective solve murders. Although it is still that.

Strengths: Nearly every member of the cast was given better material this year. Dan went from “Detective Douche” to a more relatable, likable, rounded out character; Amenadiel went from stubbornly trying to drag his brother back to his post in Hell to struggling with a loss of faith in his Father in the face of his Mother’s arrival; Maze began to define herself outside of “Lucifer’s flunky;” Dr. Linda became the first of the human characters to realize Lucifer isn’t just pretending to be the ex-King of Hell, and had to wrap her head around having clients/friends that include angels, a demon, and the co-creator of the universe; Aimee Garcia is a delightful addition as the perpetually upbeat CSI Ella Lopez; even Trixie, Chloe and Dan’s daughter, was a more fun character this year. And Lucifer himself got a lot more to play with, as his family dynamics expanded beyond “I hate my Dad” and “Screw you, Amenadiel.” Basically, nearly every part of this show was working on a whole new level.

Nearly.

Weaknesses: Two problems.

First, while the new mythology is unquestionably a value add, it did sometimes mean that the murders-of-the-week didn’t get the attention they needed. And given that they took up a chunk of the screen time and were the focus of at least three characters each week, that’s not ideal.

Second… Detective Chloe Decker, in theory the second of two leads, was stuck in a difficult place this year, narratively speaking. While they did give actress Lauren German some fun or meaty material to play with, she was kept at arms’ length from the central plotline, and for an awkward reason. At the mid-season break, Charlotte learns a major secret about Chloe, one she herself doesn’t know and isn’t in a position to understand. So it’s Clara Oswald’s Impossible Girl story all over again… the story is about Chloe, but Chloe herself can’t participate in it, which ultimately weakens her as a character.

High point: “Weaponizer/Monster.” Lucifer and Amenadiel’s little brother Uriel comes to town, on a mission to bring down their Mother. For Lucifer the show and Lucifer the character, everything hits a new level from here.

Low point: …Honestly hard to think of one. My first guess would be “Lady Parts,” for Lucifer’s weirdly newfound obsession with distraction as a lifestyle, but no episode with such a memorable “girl’s night,” drunk Amenadiel joining undercover work with Lucifer and Dan, or less-drunk Amenadiel sulkily defending his choice in drinks (“But cosmos are yummy,”) could be a low point. And hedonistic, carefree Lucifer needed a last ride before Uriel’s arrival. Hmmm… I guess “Homewrecker,” maybe? I mean I don’t remember disliking it but it seems largely forgettable compared to the others.

MVP: Totes Tom Ellis. He was already the best part of this show last season, but he reached new levels this year.

2. Legends of Tomorrow

Does the Berlanti Cape-based Action Fun Factory only have so much fun to go around? Because while The Flash lost a step this year, Legends of Tomorrow found it. They went from the Joey Bishop of the DCW Rat Pack to the Frank Sinatra. They– was that enough metaphors? Too many?

Cutting loose the boat anchor (never enough metaphors) that was the Vandal/Hawkgirl plot certainly helped. Freed of their weakest characters (and, sadly, two of their best for parts of the year), Legends season two took on a more classic story structure: a race to collect the various parts of the magical MacGuffin before the bad guys get it and do something bad with it. It’s a classic for a reason, and it allows for more give and take, successes and failures, making for a more dynamic arc than last year’s “The Gang Continues to Fail at Killing Vandal Savage,” or indeed “Will Flash beat Savitar this week? LOL, no, it’s only April.”

Plus they made better use of time travel as a central plotline, meaning more fun time travel adventures and less brooding around the Waverider about how they haven’t made any progress. Legends of Tomorrow became the most fun and most clever show in the DCW-verse’s line-up.

Strengths: The Legion of Doom. A great showcase for three of their best villains. John Barrowman and Neal McDonough brought just the right amount of evil camp, and played well off of Matt Letscher’s Eobard Thawne. And they all had concrete and clear motives, unlike some of the year’s villains.

The Legends themselves were pretty great this season. Amaya/Vixen was a far better character than the departed Hawkgirl. Just far better. Nick Zano’s Nate Heywood strutted into the cast like Dwayne Johnson in Fast Five: the missing ingredient we didn’t even know we needed. The nerd-fun of the show got cranked way up as historian Nate and scientist Ray Palmer geeked out over time travel and movies together. Ray stopped finding new ways to screw up every week, bringing an end to the Ray Palmer Screw-up Counter. A more sedate Mick Rory/Heat Wave became a more interesting character. Arthur Darville got to flex a little more this year. And Amy Pemberton, after over a season and a half as the voice of the Waverider’s computer Gideon, actually got to be on screen. And it worked out to be delightful.

More, better, and better used time periods.

The finale found a fun and interesting way to raise the stakes and make the Legion as dangerous as they deserved to be.

Weaknesses: Thanks to Arthur Darville filming the third season of Broadchurch back in England, Rip Hunter went missing for sevenish episodes. That’s a lot of episodes without one of my absolute favourite characters. And with Captain Cold not back full-time from season one, that was two absolute favourite characters gone. That only left me, like, three absolute favourite characters! Four with Damien, I guess…

I guess there’s no keeping love and romance drama off the Waverider, huh. Well, it was better this year, at least.

They rushed “Doomworld.” Rushed it and didn’t commit to it.

Can’t say I’m super happy with how they used Rex Tyler and the Justice Society. Or more to the point, how they didn’t.

High point: Either “Raiders of the Lost Art,” in which Rip returns, stopping the Legion means convincing a young George Lucas to stay in film school, and the action beats get Star Wars-y… or “Fellowship of the Spear,” in which Captain Cold returns, stopping the Legion requires help from a young J.R.R. Tolkien, and the plot becomes Lord of the Rings-y. Sure, the bit wasn’t subtle either time, but it was charming enough to work.

Low point: “Shogun,” which is best summed up by the “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” meme Reddit gave it…

No one was their best self that week.

MVP: A tough call with Victor Garber and Brandon Routh in the cast, but it’s Caity Lotz as Sara Lance. Taking over as captain in Rip’s absence, she became a great leader, and worth hanging the finale on. Also, with the man who killed her sister in the Legion, she had the highest stakes without going full “Vandal kills my family.”

Tips for next season: More like that, please. And stop writing out Rip Hunter he has to be on this show forever I can’t take any more time travel shows writing out Arthur Darville.

1. Legion

…Where the Hell did this show come from?

[checks IMDB] Oh. The creator of the Fargo TV show. Gotcha.

The thing about Fox’s X-Men cinematic universe is that they do not super care about how all of their properties link together. While this could prove frustrating to anyone trying to figure out how the timeline of the X-Men films works (spoiler: it doesn’t), it means that creators are free to pitch something like Logan, which doesn’t fit neatly with the rest of the franchise, but also doesn’t care. They’re just doing their own thing and trying to do it well. Marvel Studios is selling themselves on “Everything is connected, trust us,” so it sticks out when something obviously doesn’t fit (looking at you, Defenders). X-Men? Their projects have an atmosphere of “Don’t worry about it, just relax and enjoy.”

And thus did Noah Hawley sell the FX network on an X-Men show that features several mutants, but never explicitly admits the existence of the X-Men*. And thanks to the loosey-goosey nature of the X-Men franchise, its self-contained nature doesn’t irritate the viewer like, say, Claire Temple deciding to fly to China to fight ninjas rather than call Daredevil. In fact, the whole show works like gangbusters.

*They hint at Professor Xavier kinda strongly toward the end, though.

Strengths: Legion is more visually daring and inventive than any show on TV, superhero or otherwise, this side of American Gods. (And there is no shame in coming in second to American Gods.)

The costumes, the sets, the angles, every single aesthetic choice is a little fascinating.

Jemaine Clements of Flight of the Concords turns up around the half-way point, and pushes the show to a whole new level of surreally cool.

I mentioned the thing about Aubrey Plaza killing it on this show as Lenny, right? Well it bears repeating. She’s the highlight of a cast that’s already above average across the board.

At a tight eight episodes, it’s all thriller, no filler. Marvel Netflix could learn a thing or two about Legion’s pacing.

You don’t need to have seen a single X-Men movie or have read a single comic to follow the story.

David and Syd, the slightly star-crossed lovers who can only touch each other in the astral plane, are competitive with Alex Danvers and Maggie Sawyer as my favourite couple in comic TV.

The supporting cast is really solid too. Maybe they didn’t make the “supporting cast” podium, but there’s not really a weak link.

Not many TV shows could write a soundtrack better than what Blake Neely does for the DCW shows… but Jeff Russo pulls it off.

I’m personally fascinated by how timeless the show makes itself. The characters have a modern feel, but the costumes and sets are out of the 60s/70s, and they’re packing 30s-style tommy guns. It really frees the more continuity-obsessed mind from trying to place it in X-Men continuity when you can’t even be sure what decade it takes place in.

The eeriest rendition of “Rainbow Connection” you’ve ever heard.

At the very end, they managed something with the sinister mutant-hunting Division Three that Supergirl and Agents of SHIELD couldn’t with Cadmus or the Watchdogs: they gave the group based around hunting a minority (mutants, in this case) depth and levels. They dared us to sympathize with someone they’d set us up to hate.

Weaknesses: The season finale could have contained more closure. But hey, at least we already know season two is on the way. Eventually.

High Point: I wanted to say Chapter Four, which opens with Jemaine Clements talking directly to the audience about the two types of stories we tell children, but then Chapter Seven blew the doors off the place. The chalkboard, David’s “rational self,” Bolero… it’s hard to think of a scene from this episode that wouldn’t have been the single best scene from any other show.

Low Point: The worst thing I can say about any episode is that Chapter Six, from a narrative viewpoint, isn’t really my bag. But without it, you couldn’t do Chapter Seven the way they did. 

Spoiler

Of the three shows that did “Heroes wake up in an artificial reality created by the villain,” Legion did it best. Legends of Tomorrow rushed it and under-sold the Doomworld dystopia, whereas Agents of SHIELD spent nearly their entire third act in the Framework. SHIELD was too hot, Legends too cold, Legion was juuuust right.

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And it gave us this scene, which (trust me) does make perfect sense in context. I’m really not selling this as a “low point,” am I…

MVP: Dana Gonzales and Craig Wrobleski, the cinematographers. The visuals alone would have pushed this show into the top five. Best shot show I’m watching.

Tips for next season: Look… you don’t need to do it, but Patrick Stewart has apparently said he’ll reprise Charles Xavier one last time to be on this show, and I simply do not see how it could possibly hurt. Or get James McAvoy. Or have meeting Stewart-Xavier trigger a psychically implanted memory of McAvoy-Xavier. You never need to say “X-Men,” and we certainly do not, Lord but we do not need Wolverine to show up, but maybe just this one thing?

And that’s the end. The highlights of the best 13 of 15 comic book shows. Well, the best 12 and Iron Fist. Was it only two years ago that I only ranked seven shows? Man. Well, at least next season this process won’t get even more comp–

…Oh no.

SON…

…OF…

…A…

…BITCH.

*Sigh.*

Okay. Meet back here next summer. Until then, Other Things.

Best of Comic TV Part 4: Middle of the Pack

And we continue.

8. Supergirl

Supergirl vs. Riverdale was a tougher call than I could have expected a few months back.

The shift from CBS to the CW had an impact in ways I wouldn’t have expected, resulting in a different show than last season. But the important elements remained. And what ultimately pushed it above its teen soap competition is that the writers looked at Trump’s America and said “Hell no.” Witness ex-Wonder Woman Lynda Carter as the President and the title of their finale, “Nevertheless She Persisted.”

They never settled on a primary villain, no. Lillian Luthor and Cadmus took the lead for the first act, but then in the end the villain plot shifted to “Mon-El’s Mother Has a Savage Overreaction.” But I’m not calling that a weakness, like I did elsewhere, because in this case? The villain doesn’t define the season’s arc. Supergirl’s season isn’t “Supergirl Vs. So-and-So.” It’s “Supergirl and Mon-El: a Star-Crossed Romance.” Now whether the central plot of the season being Kara’s challenging relationship with newcomer Mon-El is a strength or weakness depends entirely on your own perspective.

Strengths: In season one, National City’s alien population was limited to Supergirl, Martian Manhunter, and the escapees of Kryptonian prison Fort Rozz. All of a sudden there’s a large population of non-criminal aliens, enough that they have their own bar. Many of them are refugees, and now the DEO is as dedicated to protecting aliens as tracking them down. At a time when the ruling party of their country is trying to build border walls and ban Syrian immigrants, when Marvel Comics has turned Captain America into a full-on Nazi, Supergirl came out as proudly, vocally, passionately pro-refugee and pro-immigrant. This is what Supergirl (and SupermanDC films) should be, the hero standing firmly beside what’s right, even when the mob is trying to back what’s wrong.

They really spent the summer looking at the previous season and asking “What works, what doesn’t, how can we simplify.” Winn left CatCo to work for the DEO, centralizing all of Kara’s superheroing there. Kara and James Olsen had no chemistry, so their romance came to a screeching halt, and her romance with Mon-El felt more earned.

Alex realizing her sexuality, coming out, and finding love with Maggie Sawyer wasn’t just one of the best done romances on TV this year, it also did real good in the world.

While he has nothing, and I mean nothing in common with his comic book namesake, Snapper Carr worked out well. Curmudgeonly? Sure, but every time he clashed with Kara he not only had a reason, he was usually right. He opposed Kara’s hiring because she had no experience. He wouldn’t let her print an opinion piece as news. Later he wouldn’t print her story on aliens being abducted only because she lacked verifiable sources. When he fired her, he had cause, and when she understood that and made it right, she was welcomed back. Snapper was a curmudgeon, yes, but he was a curmudgeon because he cares about responsible journalism. Snapper Carr never would have let Karen Page publish her stupid grade school essay about “what makes a hero” and call it “news.”

Also, props to the writers for allowing Kara not to be brilliant at her new reporter job right away.

Lena Luthor. She’s complex, she’s interesting, her friendship with Kara is well-done, and the seeds of its destruction are well-planted.

Not all of the fandom agrees with me, but I found Chris Wood effortlessly funny and charismatic as Mon-El.

I’m glad they didn’t have Winn become consumed with bitterness over being rejected by Kara and turn to the dark side, because Jeremy Jordan is delightful in that role and I prefer him as he is.

Weaknesses: A sad consequence of moving production to Vancouver was losing Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant for most of the season. Her triumphant return for the last two episodes instantly reminded us how much she’d added.

Also gone? Maxwell Lord and Lucy Lane. After being major players in season one, they not only vanish, no one even says their names.

The writers had no idea what to do with James Olsen this year. As interim CEO of CatCo he did virtually nothing, partially because CatCo stopped being a hub for the story and partially because having Kara run to James when Snapper was mean to her would have been an awful character choice. So they turned him into a masked vigilante, but still could only barely fit him into the story.

On that note. “You can’t be a superhero, James, you don’t have powers!” says Kara, weeks after calling Green Arrow one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. I guess she has higher standards for heroes on her own Earth?

Cadmus were fairly one-dimensional as villains (“We hate aliens! Grr!”) and Rhea, Queen of Daxam, wasn’t much better (“My son has a girlfriend? I’ll conquer her planet!”). I dig that they represent the worst parts of the current US administration (xenophobia and elitism, respectively), but it doesn’t make them interesting. Plus they’re still pushing Livewire as Supergirl’s “nemesis.” No, man, just no.

High point: I don’t love what calling the season premiere the high point implies about the season to come, but it is legitimately hard to top “The Adventures of Supergirl” and “Last Children of Krypton.” Tyler Hoechlin made his debut as Superman, and not only was he a great Man of Steel, he and Kara made a wonderful double act.

Low point: “The Darkest Place.” Supergirl falls into one of my least favourite tropes from last year, and Hank Henshaw returns, declaring himself “The Cyborg Superman.” Which wouldn’t be a bad thing, only in the context of the show, it makes basically no sense.

MVP: Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers. There is no emotional beat this woman can’t sell.

Advice for next season: That portal thing that happened at the end of the finale? That’s a time portal, right? To the 31st century? Opening the door for the Legion of Superheroes? It had better be.

7. Agents of SHIELD

I will give Agents of SHIELD this… no show on this list has been so devoted to self-improvement and course correction. Each season has managed to improve on the one before it, meaning season four is their best work. Splitting the season into mini-arcs (Ghost Rider, LMD, and Agents of Hydra) made for a season that rarely felt drawn out. When the show moved from Ghost Rider to LMD after the winter hiatus, we had a sense of closure on Ghost Rider and its main villain before things began to transition to Dr. Radcliffe, his poor choices regarding robots, and the Framework. That said… trying to address all three arcs with one finale proved a leettle tricky.

Strengths: All of the main cast did great work this year. Fitz and Simmons in particular excelled as the heart and soul of the team (even if sometimes the heart was supposed to be Daisy).

Diego Luna as Ghost Rider was better than I ever expected the third, least popular, and objectively least cool (He doesn’t. Even. Have. A motorcyle.) Ghost Rider to be. His arc got the season off to a good start.

John Hannah’s well-meaning but ethically flexible mad scientist, Dr. Holden Radcliffe, was a great addition to the year’s blend of magic and sci-fi. He flipped from ally to enemy and back again in ways that made sense. His melancholy last scene was pretty much perfect.

As indicated earlier, Mallory Jansen did an amazing job as Aida, Holden Radcliffe’s prototype Live Model Decoy.

I’ve liked Jason O’Mara since the US remake of Life on Mars, so having him as Jeffrey Mace, the new Director of SHIELD, was a bonus. One day he’ll be on a show for more than one season. One day.

The artificial world of the Framework allowed for the return of the late Agent Triplett and for a satisfying coda to Grant Ward, truly heroic for the first time, even if he was just computer code.

Weaknesses: The Watchdogs were bad. They were just bad. Okay, sure, I am on board with demonizing hate groups, especially now. So maybe humanizing a group of people based around hating people different than them wouldn’t have been a great idea. The problem is, they were the main villain for most of the LMD arc and frequent villains throughout Ghost Rider, and they just weren’t interesting. Also, even with everything that is happening in the government now, I find it hard to believe that a Senator could go on TV and say “I don’t care if a known hate group was proved to be behind the attack, I still think it was [metaphor for real-world minority],” and not get called out more.

The Senator and Watchdog stooge in question, Senator Nadir, was played by Parminder Nagra. I normally like Parminder Nagra. But Senator Nadir was so devoid of interest that I rolled my eyes when I saw her in the credits. They ruined Parminder Nagra.

The head of the Watchdogs is so one-dimensional that even the other characters don’t care about him or his motivations. And yet of all the villains this season, he’s the only one still alive. Great. More of his nonsense to come. (It doesn’t help that he’s played by Zach McGowan from Shameless. Once you’ve seen a close up of someone singing “Kiss From a Rose” while orgasming it’s a little hard to take them seriously as a figure of menace.) Ghost Rider and Agents of Hydra could have propelled this show into the top five, but man, the Watchdogs just dragged it down.

I wasn’t thrilled with how they ended poor Jeffrey Mace. It felt hollow.

Having Mack refuse to leave the Framework because he couldn’t leave behind his artificial daughter just added weaker drama to a finale that wasn’t exactly struggling to fill the time. “Mack, this world isn’t real” might not have been persuasive, but “Mack, this world isn’t real and is in the process of being turned off” should have been.

High point: “Self Control.” LMD may not have been their best arc, but it ended strong, as four of the core team is replaced with LMDs. But which? Things get tense as the robots begin to take over and the humans desperately try to figure who they can trust.

Low point: “Wake Up.” Senator Nadeer begins to overstay her welcome as it becomes clear that May ain’t escaping the Framework any time soon.

MVP: Mallory Jansen came close, but it has to be Iain De Caestecker. Fitz and Simmons finally a couple was adorable. Fitz working with Radcliffe on Aida made it seem like maybe this whole LMD thing might be a good idea. Fitz in the Framework was chilling. Fitz trying to come to terms with what he did in the Framework was heartbreaking.

Advice for next season: …Wait up. Is it happening? Are you doing it? Is SWORD showing up? Oh do say yes. But besides that… you hit a wall at the end of this season, where your ambition eclipsed your budget. What could have been an epic showdown between Ghost Rider an ex-robot with a body made of dark matter and filled with Inhuman powers became as brief and anti-climactic as the worst fights from Smallville because you ran out of money. Budget better.

5. iZombie

If there’s one thing that marathoning the first two seasons of iZombie while waiting for the third to wrap up taught me, it’s how good this show has been at discarding plot elements that don’t work. Liv’s family hasn’t been seen since the premiere of season two, and nobody missed them. Major’s addiction to utopium was mercifully brief. Would-be crime lord Blaine is way more fun as a loveable rascal than the teen-murdering pure-villain of season one.

That said… previous seasons balanced murders-of-the-week with a season-long villain arc that has historically built to a satisfying and (often literally) explosive finale. This season… we had zombie-run military organisation Fillmore Graves trying to build a home for the zombie nation, a group of paranoid gun nuts hoping to wipe out the zombie nation, and like a half dozen various mysteries and conspiracies, only some of which paid off in the end.

Still good… just a little more scattered.

Strengths: The cast is fantastic. Rose McIver always makes the many minds of Liv Moore a fun ride, but the supporting cast all had great material this year and none of them let it down. Major got to be more fun (seriously, Robert Buckley is too good at comedy to keep getting the grimmest plots every year), Rahul Kohli got the flex his dramatic muscles more as Ravi (though his dry wit remains a highlight), Clive got to be in on the secret at long last (technically that happened last season, but here’s where it kicked in, plotwise), Blaine had himself a roller coaster, and Payton is a regular now. There’s no weak links in that gang.

My rewatch also taught me that they established the District Attorney of Seattle’s name is “Floyd Baracus” early season two. Given this show’s established love of gag names, how did it take me a year to spot “DA Baracus?” I pity the fool who doesn’t get that one.

Another veteran of creator Rob Thomas’ cult favourite series, Veronica Mars, showed up in the back half of the season, as Jason Dohring plays Fillmore Graves’ stern commander Chase Graves. That was a fun addition.

Rolling on D&D geek brain, Liv gathers the gang for Dungeons and Dragons to trigger a vision. One of the gang’s reaction is… priceless.

A Clive-centric episode did a great job explaining two facts we learned about him in season two: his hatred of abusive fathers, and his obsession with Game of Thrones.

The side effects of the zombie cure opened the door to a new twist on the brain business. Let’s just say that a bunch of zombies on enhanced choreographer brain was the best thing ever.

There are plenty of zombie stories out there, but zombies and humans trying to find a way to live in harmony as discovery looms close? That’s new.

Weaknesses: Season one had the cohesive plot of Meat Cute: Blaine’s brain-supply front stocked with murdered teenage runaways, and Major’s quest to bring it down. Season two was all about Max Rager, and CEO Vaughn du Clark’s attempt to clean up the zombie problem while using them to perfect his new drink, SuperMax. Both ended with big bang climaxes at the central business in question. This year… it’s just this mishmash. The climax does less to pay off the season’s stories than it does to set up next year. Some of those stories don’t really get paid off at all. To wit…
-Fillmore Graves CEO Vivian Stoll had a vendetta against the zombie who turned her husband in order to extort him for brain money, ie. Blaine. But having set that plot up, it vanished into the ether mid-season, never to be paid off.
-So… did the people behind the zombie family murder in the premiere also steal Ravi’s zombie cure doses? How did they know about them? They never came back to that. The cure was simply wished to the corn field so that Liv couldn’t have it.
-And were they also behind the murder of the dominatrix from Spanking the Zombie, and the subsequent murder of the guy who did it? I guess, but I’m not positive why. That one also just fizzled out and really added nothing.

The problem with making the surprise murderer/conspirator the character you least suspect is that it also might be the character you least care about. Everything hinged on that reveal and it was kind of… meh.

Payton tells apparently amnesiac Blaine, who she knows to have been a murderer, drug peddler, and scoundrel of the first order, “We can only hook up if you don’t get your memories back,” and expects him to come clean if they do. Come on, Payton, you are smarter than that. Feigning amnesia to get with you wouldn’t even make Blaine’s top ten sins. I know he’s easy on the eyes but come on.

Perpetual henchman Don E. is sometimes fun, but… he’s the most annoying kind of side-villain. The one who assumes that because he works for a guy with a plan, he can be the guy with the plan, yet his every attempt fails catastrophically. Eventually I get tired of Don E. screwing over Blaine and causing catastrophes in his solo work and just want to see him get stomped on.

Major is still getting the grimmest storylines. They’re better than his one-man crusade against Meat Cute and his fling with utopium, but “shunned by society” Major is still a bummer. No, I’m not making a “major bummer” joke. I am above that (right at this moment), and it would only lead me into ranting about how great that comic book was.

High point: “Spanking the Zombie” provided one of the more fun brains for Liv; fun return appearances for Ken Marino’s slimy defence attorney and Daran Norris as Johnny Frost, the weatherman (and eventual anchorman) who manages to be a person of interest in Seattle’s most scandalous murders; and a heartbreaking choice for Major. So it’s definitely either that or “20 Sided, Die,” featuring Team Liv’s D&D session.

Low point: I think “Some Like it Hot Mess” is what knocked Liv out of contention for best female lead. The first of too many “train wreck brains,” brains that barely help with the murder-of-the-week but do wonders to screw up Liv’s life. Last year’s low point was also a train wreck brain episode, and for a reason. On Smallville I’d call such occurrences “Red Kryptonite episodes,” in which Clark’s personality is changed just long enough to break any progress his relationship arcs had made in the last fifteen episodes, and they are never something you want to be compared to. That said… after Liv sloppily dances her way across the morgue, Ravi’s reaction of “Hot mess club girl brain, you say,” was priceless. Also, if you enjoyed Blaine and Payton as a couple, you’re wrong and I don’t like you. Okay, that was too mean, you’re alright, let’s get a beer sometime.

MVP: Still Rose McIver. Everyone crushed it at points of the season, but like or hate her current brain, no one crushes it like Rose. (I also love that Liv in human-passing wig and makeup is Rose McIvor with her natural hair and skin tone. If Liv had had to disguise herself as a human from Rose’s home country, New Zealand, that would have been even better.)

Advice for next season: …I got nothing. Pretty sure you just blew up the whole premise in that finale, so I don’t know what to tell you. Except maybe give Major a freaking break.

5. Preacher

Preacher is based on a cult but beloved graphic novel from the 90s, but managed to find a way to be satisfying to fans of the comic while still charting their own path. They provided what would have been easily the most gonzo show of the year, had the trippy Legion not come along.

Strengths: The cast is superb. All of them. I could spend another 500 words praising them individually but it’s just all of them. Okay I’ll mention one in particular… Jackie Earle Haley. He’s amazing in basically everything and it’s not different here.

The direction is really solid. A lot of the CW shows get flashy in the action scenes then go more basic in the dialogue, but Preacher has a consistent visual flare that puts it a cut above.

The characters are, on the whole, all pretty fascinating.

It looks like they’re moving Arseface from his role as running gag in the books to replacing the spectral John Wayne as Jesse’s spirit guide. I dig it. That makes sense if you read the comics. I don’t have room to explain it here.

It feels like I’m underselling this one but this got so damn long, you guys…

Weaknesses: Sometimes it felt like they spent the first five episodes throwing crazy shit at the screen before they finally got around to telling a story with it. It’s primo crazy, but it takes a while to form a narrative, and that doesn’t help the pacing. That said… the plot became more cohesive as the show went on, which gives Preacher the edge over iZombie, which went the other way.

Also, if you don’t follow the comics, some of it won’t make much sense. They get around to explaining why every second episode has some sinister cowboy, but the guy in the white suit with the alarming taste in movies? Sure, I know who that is, but Johnny or Jenny First-timer won’t, and they won’t find out until season.

And I didn’t love how disconnected Tulip was from the main story. She’s just off on her own, in the slowest-moving plot, trying to talk Jesse into joining her for some vengeance. It’s a plot that by necessity spins its wheels, since there aren’t many places it can go, and meanwhile there are freaking angels getting in fights with a vampire.

High point: “Sundowner.” Jesse learns the truth about Genesis, there’s an incredible and hilarious fight scene, and we’re not even at the credits yet. The plot kicks into high gear and still finds time for some great character moments.

Low point: “The Possibilities.” Jesse has this new power he’s finally noticing, but Tulip wants him to go get revenge on a former associate of theirs, and nobody knows Cassidy’s a vampire, and this is the one where you start to wonder if all of these elements are going to come together in some sort of satisfactory fashion. And I’m telling you, newcomers might not remember that “Grail Industries” is a thing by the time you get back to that.

MVP: Joe Gilgun as Cassidy. Any scene he’s in pops.

Advice for next season: You have our attention. Stop trying to get our attention with wave after wave of unconnected gonzo craziness and just tell the story. (Which, two episodes into the second season, it seems like they are.) Oh, if we’re doing Jesse’s childhood, could you make it less grim than the comics did? Five months that story ran and four of them were just oppressive. (Fifth was damn satisfying, though.)

Okay. Next time, we finish this.

Best of Comic TV 2017 Part 3: The Rankings Begin

Let’s get down to it. Time for the rankings.

13. Iron Fist

Oh lawdy, did they bollocks up this one.

Strengths: …um… David Wenham seemed to be having fun? And Ward Meachum somehow went from “irredeemable asshole” to “most fascinating character.” Not positive how that happened.

Weaknesses: I believe I have spoken on this in no small detail. But to recap… it’s a bland, scattered, cautionary tale about corporate edict steering the creative side. Iron Fist wasn’t made because someone was passionate about bringing Iron Fist to the screen. At least I assume not, because it’s impossible to guess what their dream Iron Fist story might have been from this mishmash of conflicting story threads. No, they needed an Iron Fist show to finish setting up The Defenders, so they hired people to film one. And given the amount of time we waste on Rand Enterprises corporate drama, and how little kung fu superheroing takes place, it doesn’t seem like any of the writers actually wanted to be doing Iron Fist. The entire season has the feel of everyone involved saying “Eh, it’ll do.”

And you only gave the lead 15 minutes to learn his fights? No wonder they look like you filmed a rehearsal. Jesus, people.

High point: Episode 12, “Bar the Big Boss,” could have been the most satisfying Marvel Netflix season finale since Jessica Jones, save for two things. 1) The plotlines it wrapped up (in decent fashion) had only started two episodes ago; 2) It was not, in fact, the season finale. It’s like they wrapped the show, put a nice bow on it, and suddenly remembered they needed to do one more. But, you know… everything before that moment was as good as Iron Fist got.

Low Point: The joke would be “With the entire season this bland, it’s hard to pick,” but it’s episode two, “Shadow Hawk Takes Flight.” Nothing of merit happens in this episode that couldn’t have happened in episode one. Two episodes in, and the show was already spinning its wheels.

MVP: Tom Pelphrey as Ward Meachum. In my 10,000 or so words tearing Iron Fist apart back in March, I took many a shot at Ward, and how cartoonishly dickish he was from word one. What I didn’t find time to get into is how well Tom Pelphrey nailed it. In a show that didn’t so much have “character arcs” as “a bunch of largely random and often self-contradictory so-called ‘character beats,'” Tom Pelphrey made Ward’s journey from “utter tool” to “drug addict on the verge of a nervous breakdown” to “legit friend and ally to Danny” actually feel like a somewhat natural progression. Sure I’ve complained that the Meachum plots were often dead air, and will continue to do so, but still, props to Tom for managing that much with a character I was ready to write off by the end of the first hour.

Advice for next season: You did everything badly. Everything. Every single thing about your show was on the spectrum from “flawed” to “terrible.” And until you grasp that, maybe a second season isn’t the best idea. But since it seems inevitable, start here: Danny Rand is a superhero with magical kung fu powers. Anything that is not serving that concept, drop it. If that’s not what you want to write for, quit.

And schedule time to rehearse some decent fight scenes, damn your eyes.

12. Luke Cage

After two years of Marvel Netflix topping the list, we have arrived, readers, at The Year When Marvel Netflix Got Its Ass Kicked by the CW.

And it’s not because everyone on the CW was trying their best.

Strengths: The soundtrack is pretty killer. The “battle for the soul of Harlem” between Luke and Cottonmouth had promise. As did Detective Misty Knight. And not enough good things can be said about Mahershala Ali (who doesn’t seem to know how to give less than a great performance) and Alfre Woodard as Cottonmouth and Black Mariah. Mariah and her henchman /mentor Shades have a fascinating relationship in the back half. Also, given how gleamingly white most superhero properties are (13 shows covered here, 11 with white protagonists), it’s refreshing to have a show so unapologetically black, and invested in the history of Harlem.

Weaknesses: Hoo boy.

Maybe Marvel Netflix should try shorter seasons. They are having real trouble filling 13 episodes. Luke Cage starts slow, gets interesting in the middle, then falls apart at the end. And it’s not just 

the death of Cottonmouth,

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it’s the fact that it’s followed by absolute garbage. They had two strong villains, but they throw them both aside in favour of Diamondback, who is just dull and empty. And he comes out of nowhere! Not Diamondback the gun dealer, no, but how did they spend an entire hour on Luke Cage’s origin and they still couldn’t set up this supposed childhood best friend of Luke’s until he bursts out of the shadows, with zero context, screaming “It was me all along!” I get, I get that if they introduced him earlier we’d have guessed he was a villain, but just because the twist is obvious doesn’t mean you get to just skip the build-up and go straight to the reveal. The twists on The Flash aren’t exactly hard to spot, but they make them work. Moving on.

No, I’m not. Because the other thing that sucks about Diamondback is that the whole “battle for the soul of Harlem” goes right out the window. Diamondback ain’t give a fuck about the soul of Harlem, he just wants to destroy Luke for reasons we didn’t even know were a thing ten minutes ago.

Remember back when I wrote about hard truths for geek media, and listed a bunch of plot holes between all of the Marvel Netflix shows? Well, all of them were from Luke Cage. (Iron Fist not having dropped yet.) Again, I get not wanting to have all the Defenders meet before the big show, but in this case? The absence of Daredevil and Jessica Jones only makes sense if you assume Manhattan is the size of greater metropolitan Los Angeles. If Luke were in Compton, and Jessica in Burbank, and Daredevil broodily guarding Anaheim, then sure they wouldn’t cross paths much. But as it stands, they’re all a ten dollar cab ride away from each other, so a highly publicised hostage situation involving Luke should have drawn everyone else’s attention.

And Misty Knight would have been a contender for female lead, except for this… she’s set up as this master detective, able to rebuild a crime in her mind just by examining the scene. But a) she can’t tell her partner’s on the take, b) she can’t tell Luke’s a good guy, and c) she falls for the laziest frame-up I’ve ever seen. Diamondback throws on a hoodie, kills a cop, and runs off shouting “Luke Cage! I’m Luke CAAAAAAGE! Argle bargle bargle Luke CAAAAAAAGE!” and everyone falls for it! If it’s that easy to frame a guy, then I’m off to New York to shoot at bankers while shouting “MITCH MCCONNELL, MOTHERFUCKERS!”

High point: Probably “Manifest,” where shit gets serious and Mariah makes her big play.

Low Point: “You Know My Steez” provides a perfunctory-at-best final battle between Luke and Diamondback while they desperately try to pretend that the “battle for the soul of Harlem” didn’t end six episodes earlier. And then they end on a cliffhanger that will have to resolve, and be resolved quickly, on The Defenders. Because if Luke spends more than an episode in a different city than the other three, that will suck. Iron Fist’s cliffhanger wasn’t great, but at least they can put a pin in it for a while.

MVP: Mahershala Ali as Cottonmouth. Was a time I wanted to give this to Claire Temple, who usually ends up a highlight of each Marvel Netflix show, but every highlight of this show you could name revolves around Cottonmouth somehow. Could’ve been Mariah if Diamondback hadn’t sucked the air out of her plot the second it got its sails up.

Advice for next season: Look, I’m not saying don’t have a third act plot twist. I’m just saying don’t throw out your only interesting plotline for something lame and hackneyed. Actually avoid “lame and hackneyed” altogether if you could. Just… just do better. Do significantly better.

And try to make The Defenders a little bit fun? “Invasion!” set the bar pretty high.

11. Powerless

Powerless put a lot of work into being as funny as it was, from binning their original concept as an insurance company to firing the showrunner who pitched it being about an insurance company to spending a few episodes experimenting on the best way to write this new idea. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed their approach of being Better Off Ted with DC references, but the problem with being similar to Better Off Ted is that that is a damned hard show to live up to.

Look, you should probably just go watch Better Off Ted and come back. I can’t promise I’m done referencing it and it’ll just get confusing if you haven’t seen it, and it was so good you guys.

Strengths: When they really steered into the “Life in the DC Universe” angle, it worked well. When lead character Emily accidentally started dating a henchman of the Riddler (played by iZombie’s Robert Buckley, whose comedy skills are sorely underrated), for instance. That episode was hilarious. Danny Pudi and Alan Tudyk were reliably funny, and I came to enjoy Ron Funches (even if he’s no Donald Glover, Danny Pudi’s former partner in crime from Community). Natalie Morales made a good Green Fury, which is not a character I expected to see a live action version of any time soon.

Weaknesses: Sure the show is set in the DC Universe, but it also weirdly avoided it, or misinterpreted it. Charm City? DC comics doesn’t have enough made up cities? Do we need to keep inventing new ones? Couldn’t this have just taken place in, like, Sacramento or something? Also, their depiction of Crimson Fox and Jack-o-Lantern were way, way off.

Beyond that… Emily never really found her stride as a lead. I get what they were going for, but it never fully clicked. And I never fully warmed to Wendy, the annoying co-worker. She didn’t turn me completely off the show like Mimi from Drew Carrey, but I didn’t love her like Danny Pudi’s Teddy or Alan Tudyk’s boastful yet insecure Van Wayne.

High point: Either “Sinking Day,” where the staff has to host a delegation from Atlantis to win their business, or “Emily Dates a Henchman,” in… which… well, you can probably guess.

Low point: The pilot, “Wayne or Lose.” While undoubtedly an improvement over the original pilot, they had not fully found the fun yet. Might explain why they didn’t really find an audience.

MVP: Gonna go with Danny Pudi as Teddy. Reliably funny with a more likeable character than Alan Tudyk’s Van Wayne.

Advice for next season: Sadly this won’t be necessary. I guess it’s too much to hope that Emily and her team could find work in Star City at… whatever Queen Consolidated is these days. Palmer Technologies? They’re still around, right? Yeah. Yeah, that’s too much to hope.

10. The Flash

Okay, so, remember when I said not everyone at the CW was trying super hard?

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy The Flash, and would rewatch all 23 episodes of season three in one sitting before reliving the back third of Luke Cage or episode two of Iron Fist, but… From tied for first two years ago to tenth. That certainly looks like an alarming slide. How did it happen? The same reason Ocean’s 11 is one of my absolute favourite movies but I would break from shackles to avoid Ocean’s 12: they lost the fun. At first Arrow was the brooding one and Flash was the fun one, but then last year Supergirl was the fun one, and this year it’s Legends of Tomorrow, and each time The Flash gets sulkier, but you know what? You’re allowed to have more than one fun one, CW.

Strengths: Still the most unapologetically comic-booky show on the air, and after Iron Fist, I am officially calling “refusal to be comic booky” a weakness, not an equally valid choice. The cast is still quite solid, even if their characters were on the sulky side this year. And while the season arc wasn’t particularly well paced, they stuck the landing better than last year with a more satisfying finale. The long-awaited Killer Frost arc worked out to be everything we’d hoped.

Tom Felton turned out to be a great addition to the cast. His Julien Albert was a reliably well-done character, his arc from Barry/Flash’s rival/enemy to genuine friend was well done, and I’m glad he appears to be sticking around for another year. I do wonder… did he officially request no “Harry Potter” jokes? Because Julien name-dropped Planet of the Apes but Cisco made zero Potter references.

Two words… Jesse Quick. More of her next year? (Fine, seven words.)

There was never much doubt who Alchemy was going to be, but they went somewhere interesting with it. The Alchemy reveal was so much more than “Well of course it was that guy.”

The reveal of Savitar’s true identity wasn’t a surprise, as they drew it out long enough for the internet to have guessed it months earlier, but it did have one interesting twist. And the best part is?

Giving away the ending, if you care.

After “Barry messing with time” was the metaphorical big bad of half of the season, the literal Big Bad actually was “Barry messing with time.” If this is the end of Barry messing with time (and please let it be), that’s a good way to end it.

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Weaknesses: After threatening to destroy the entire multiverse last season (if there is such a thing as “too comic booky,” it is the line “You’re using the magnetar to destroy the multiverse”), they went far more personal this year… the big threat turned out to be “Iris is going to be killed and then Barry will be sad.” A more personal arc isn’t the bad part, but devoting over half the season to Iris being refrigerated isn’t great.

The best villains have understandable, even relatable motivations. Savitar wanted “to be a god.” To what end, exactly? I mean… does he want to remake the world, or… what’s the end game here, guy? And why was killing Iris at one exact moment, no earlier or, it turns out, no later so important to that?

Brooding Barry and sulky Cisco got old.

The time travel mechanics on The Flash don’t make tons of sense and clash with how time travel works on Legends of Tomorrow and there’s never going to be an explanation besides “speedforce, bitches,” and if that bothers you I can’t help you.

After a season of anticipation, the Flash/Supergirl musical was kind of a let down. The songs didn’t drive the story like they should in a musical, and… who exactly is the Music Meister and why did he do all of this? I don’t know. I don’t think they know.

The filler villains-of-the-week are just getting thin.

High point: “Infantino Street” is a close second for having Barry and Captain Cold work together on a heist that involves King Shark, and if you don’t love every part of that you don’t get me. But I’ll say it’s “Attack on Gorilla City/Attack on Central City.” Could they afford a two-part episode involving Barry fighting an army of gorillas? Not entirely. Was it great? Yes. Certainly the best Grodd episodes yet. Plus two Harrison Wellses, Jesse Quick working with Kid Flash, Julien excited for a field trip to Earth 2, and a great Wells mentor moment, as “Harry” Wells of Earth 2 helps Barry turn away from killing. That’s how that’s done, Iron Fist.

Low point: “Untouchable.” A half-assed meta-of-the-week, “How could you keep this secret from me,” Iris in danger as plot point, and “I wasn’t fast enough!” It’s all of Flash’s worst or most tired narrative devices in one big slurry.

Advice for next season: You’ve leaked that next year’s big bad won’t be a speedster. That’s good. Evil speedsters were getting played out. Some other things you could move on from… 1) Villains from the future who know everything about Barry and the team because from his perspective they’ve been fighting for years. 2) The Big Bad being Barry’s fault. Maybe the opening monologue could not involve “I did a thing and exposed our world to new threats” next year. 3) “We have to keep this secret from the team.” Come on, guys, that has worked out zero times.

And above all… your filler villains are getting weak. I know the Big Bad can’t carry every episode, because the pacing can’t handle it, and I know you can only afford so much Gorilla Grodd, but this is what the Rogues should be for. You need better filler villains, you need the Rogues to unite… short version? You need Captain Cold back. In just the worst way.

9. Riverdale

I mean what the hell. What the hell. I started watching this as a lark, expecting to hate-watch it for a month, have a good laugh, and move on, and now I’m legit hooked on it. Sure, it’s soapy trash with a familiar brand slapped on top of it, but it’s the best kind of soapy trash with a weirdly appropriate brand slapped on top of it. The teen characters are decently complex, to the point where even uber-mean girl Cheryl Blossom has her moments of humanity. The parents can be a bit more straight-up-evil, especially the gothic horror parents that are Cliff and Penelope Blossom and the vicious, judgmental, often cruel Alice Cooper.

Alice Cooper as in Betty’s mother, not the heavily made-up 70s rocker of the same name. Though what a show that would be…

Strengths: I kind of love the Betty/Veronica friendship that springs up in the opening episodes. And by episode two, they steer away from the Archie/Betty/Veronica triangle as hard as they can. Okay, there’s a hint still there, and probably always will be, but Betty and Veronica refuse to allow it to come between them, nor allow Archie to define them. They’re too clever, too strong, too independent to allow some redheaded wannabe-singer’s affection to rule their lives. (One of them gets with Archie eventually, but it’s earned.)

“Emo crime novelist/narrator” doesn’t sound like Jughead, but it works better than you’d think.

Luke Perry is surprisingly good as Archie’s dad, well-meaning construction company owner Fred Andrews. He’s the only good parent on this show, but not so glowingly good that he becomes some sort of saint.

For a show based around a grimmer, darker version of Riverdale and its denizens, Archie is still unflinchingly good. Sure, he makes mistakes and hurts people now and again, but not because he’s malicious, because he’s a 16-year-old boy and thus is statistically likely to be an idiot. He’s no boy scout, but Archie Andrews always wants to do right by his friends. And even his enemies.

There are some interesting and twisted turns on the road to finding out the who and why of Jason Blossom’s murder.

The producers really take “But does this character need to be white” to heart. Josie and the Pussycats went from one-third to entirely black, Reggie’s Asian, Veronica Lodge and her mother (and, based on the recently announced casting, her father) are Hispanic, and it all works. If characters with the aggressively white names “Hiram and Hermione Lodge” work as Hispanics, ain’t nobody got an excuse to keep whitewashing everything.

As hinted earlier, there is a scene in the finale with Archie and a frozen river that might be in the top three but is still one of the most moving scenes of any show on this list. Way better than anything in Iron Fist.

Weaknesses: For the supposed main character, Archie surely spends a lot of the season in the least interesting stories. Everyone else has murder, intrigue, an evil father figure manipulating the town from prison, a secret asylum, teen homelessness, a brewing clash between the rich and poor sides of town… and while all of that is happening, Archie just wants to sing and play football! Truly, nobody suffers like Archie Andrews.

Perhaps this happened because while all of the other stuff was being established, Archie was busy in their one real misstep: young, sexy Miss Grundy having an affair with Archie. It was gross and weird. Thankfully it didn’t last long.

Sometimes the dialogue, especially Veronica’s, can be a little too hip and self aware. From trying to decide which Truman Capote book Riverdale reminds her of in the pilot to saying “At the risk of failing the Bechdel Test” before asking Betty a question about Archie in the finale, it’s sometimes a little much.

I get why people think that Jughead liking girls is a step backward for asexual representation, since that just recently officially became comic canon. I don’t mind it, but I do mind his blasé attitude towards hamburgers.

Colour-blind casting is good, but a point was raised to me not long ago… with the exception of one scene in which Josie informs Archie that he can’t possibly understand the realities of life as a black woman, there’s not really any insight into race. The fact that the Lodges are Hispanic and Reggie is Asian is never brought up, so what their racial experiences would be like is unexamined. Look, guys, I’m very, very white, so I don’t know what to tell you here. I honestly don’t know which outweighs which, colourblind casting or having something to say about what challenges football star Reggie would have being Asian in a small town. A topic for people with more experience than I have.

High Point: Chapter Six: Faster, Pussycats, Kill! Kill! has a few major revelations in the Jason Blossom case, a good showcase for the most underrated character, Val (my favourite of Josie’s Pussycats), and really shows us exactly why Josie is the way she is. And some decent songs.

Low Point: Chapter Ten: The Lost Weekend. Betty ignores Jughead’s negative views towards birthday parties, Archie is a dick about Val, Cheryl Blossom loses what humanity she’d gained, and a revelation about Alice Cooper’s past doesn’t go anywhere. There is a key moment between Archie and Veronica, though.

MVP: Lili Reinhart and Camilla Mendes as Betty and Veronica. This is not a show about Archie and his Pals and Gals. This is Betty and Veronica’s show, which they graciously allow Archie and Jughead to be in. Betty and Veronica are forces of nature when challenged, and Lili and Camilla are crushing it.

Advice for next season: I’d hoped for an exciting casting announcement for next season’s probable main villain, Hiram Lodge, but they went ahead and cast someone I’d never heard of and have never seen in anything. Damn shame. Grabbing a Lou Diamond Phillips or even a Richard Grieco would have been fun and on-brand given how many 80s/90s icons are playing parents on this show. So you let me down there, but you do have a way to make it up to me. Four words… Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Do it. Make it happen. I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense, I want this more than anything.

And as to how the finale ended? Undo it. Undo it. UN. DO. IT.

I thought I could fit all 13 rankings into two posts. How naive I was. Turns out I had a lot to say about Riverdale.

I’ll try to speed this up and spend less time slamming Iron Fist. It’s just, it’s just, it’s a cautionary tale for nearly every instance.

Best of Comic TV 2017 Part 2: Best Characters!

Doing characters second this year because there are a lot of categories and summing up 13 shows took up a lot of space. New faces, a few surprises, and a few obvious answers await. Here goes.

Best Male Lead

Honourable Mentions: Preacher’s Jesse Custer is an interesting character played well by Dominic Cooper, but this being a ten episode origin story, and him spending the second act kind of mad with power, means he doesn’t quite make the podium as a protagonist.

Bronze: Dan Stevens as David Haller, Legion

Dan Stevens, an actor I was largely unfamiliar with due to not having watched much Downton Abbey, does impressive work as David Haller, a man struggling for sanity only to learn the depth of his true powers. Sure, it takes him a while to accept who he truly is, but it’s a journey worth taking.

Silver: Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, Arrow

Arrow’s fifth season put past and future Oliver through three kinds of ringers, and Stephen Amell upped his game to meet the challenge. Oliver’s struggles against his past, and his fight to earn his future, led to Amell doing his best work.

Gold: Tom Ellis as Lucifer Morningstar, Lucifer

Stephen Amell wasn’t the only one bringing his work to a new level. Tom Ellis’ work on Lucifer was already excellent in season one, enough to keep me watching a show I’d considered ridiculous in premise, but this year? Gone was his over-reliance on “amused surprise and lustiness.” His reaction to the events of his brother Uriel’s visit are heart-rending. His attempts to deal with his mother go from intense to hilarious. When Lucifer’s on top, he’s a delight. When he’s broken, you break with him, and Tom Ellis is charismatic and captivating throughout.

Best Female Lead

Honourable mentions: Ruth Negga did great work as a largely re-imagined Tulip O’Hare on Preacher, but the first season kept her on the sidelines in a go-nowhere plot too long; Rose McIvor always does great work as Liv on iZombie, but this wasn’t her character’s best year; Riverdale haters probably don’t want to know how close Betty and Veronica came to the podium.

Bronze: Rachel Keller as Syd Barrett, Legion

Syd Barrett did not exactly win the mutant power lottery. If she touches someone, they instantly switch bodies. (The weird part is that when it wears off, their bodies switch places, not their minds.) This led to an uncomfortably tragic moment in her youth that may have helped her end up in the same mental hospital as David, where despite being unable to touch, they fall in love.

But make no mistake, Syd is no one’s damsel or passive love interest. If anyone’s saving anyone, Syd is saving David. Their allies and enemies may be fixated on his power levels, but Syd just sees the sweet, sensitive, scared man she fell in love with. And if any conspiracy, mutant-hunting black ops group, or sinister [REDACTED] want to threaten him, they have to go through her.

And she does not make that easy to do.

Silver: Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers/Zor-El, Supergirl

The training wheels are off in Supergirl’s second season. Kara spent season one learning the ropes, but she opens season two working alongside Superman as an equal, and closes it taking his place as Earth’s champion (his words, not mine). Along the way she becomes an advocate and defender to refugees, immigrants, and the downtrodden. And above most characters this season (save for David Haller and, weirdly, Archie Andrews), it’s her innate goodness that shone through. Punching is rarely Supergirl’s opening move.

And Melissa Benoist is just delightful.

Gold: Caity Lotz as Sarah Lance, Legends of Tomorrow

Sara “White Canary” Lance has been many things since being introduced back in Arrow’s second season: island survivor, reformed assassin, Starling City vigilante, corpse, feral ex-corpse, and time travelling renegade. But when the Waverider’s captain, Rip Hunter, went missing at the start of season two, Sara had to take on a new role: leader. After a brief, fumbling attempt by Martin Stein to take command, it became clear that only Sara could captain the Waverider in Rip’s absence. And by the time he came back, it was equally clear that she was better at it than he ever was.

And it’s not just the writers trying to force this despite nothing in the writing backing it up, Sara stepped up. She rose above her desire to alter time by killing Damien Darhk (not that he’s easy to kill), led the team through multiple successes, and held the line against the Legion of Doom. When it falls to Sara to put things right in the end, it’s earned.

And let’s admit, Caity Lotz is pretty badass when she wants to be. No wonder even Camelot’s Queen Guinevere has a crush on Sara.

Best Supporting Male

Honourable mentions: Freed of his unrequited crush on Kara, Supergirl’s Winn Schott was pretty delightful this year; the iZombie writers finally learned how to exploit Robert Buckley’s gift for comedy, meaning Major finally got some fun material this season; Danny Pudi and Alan Tudyk were often funnier than their material on Powerless; and despite some poor choices his character made, I’ll always enjoy iZombie’s Rahul Kohli’s take on Ravi Chakrabarti.

Bronze: Tom Cavanagh as the Harrisons Wells, The Flash

Tom Cavanagh’s had an odd journey on The Flash. First he was Barry’s secretly sinister mentor, Harrison Wells, but when that character wrapped up at the end of season one, the producers rightfully couldn’t let Tom go. And so we were introduced to Harrison Wells’ Earth-2 doppelganger, known as “Harry” for simplicity. And this season, Earth-19’s “HR” Wells took his place for most of the season.

HR isn’t the scientific genius that the others were; he’s a novelist with a talent for helping actual geniuses (like his partner in founding Earth-19’s STAR Labs) find their big ideas. More important to the season, he doesn’t have any of Harry’s stern and abrasive nature. HR’s peppy, coffee-addicted (Earth-19 lost its coffee crops to a blight), drumstick-twirling cheerleader provided comic relief in The Flash’s mopiest season to date. And when the season wrapped, he broke our hearts.

Cavanagh isn’t the only Flash actor to pull double duty (or even triple), but he is the only one to make fans forget that they were both the same actor.

Silver: Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz, Agents of SHIELD

One half of Agents of SHIELD’s most adorkable duo, Fitz had a hell of a ride this year. At first all was well as he was finally together with his longtime love Jemma Simmons, although new SHIELD policies kept them apart at the office. But as Holden Radcliffe became a surrogate father figure, Fitz found himself getting deeper involved in Radcliffe’s off-the-books robot research, especially Aida, the AI that’s slowly becoming sentient and making her own plans. Which brings us to where he became truly impressive this season.

When Aida creates her own Hydra-controlled world in Radcliffe’s Framework, she arranges for Fitz to be her right hand. Fitz transforms from the sweet, lovable gadgeteer we’ve known for the past 3+ years to the cruel, cold-hearted, Inhuman-butchering second-in-command of Hydra, led to the dark side by a functional relationship with his father. Hydra-Fitz is chilling, which would be an impressive enough turn for the character, but there’s more. When Simmons practically drags him out of the Framework, real-world Fitz is shattered by what he did. Every line he crossed, every evil act he authorised, and the two real lives ended by his actions in the Framework crush him. It’s heartbreaking to watch, and it’s anyone’s guess how he comes back from this.

Gold: Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy, Preacher

“I am a 119 year-old vampire from Dublin City. And I’m currently on the run from a group of vampire-hunting religious vigilantes who keep tracking me down somehow. What else? I’m a right-handed Sagittarius. I love Chinese food. I’ve never seen the Pacific Ocean. And I think that The Big Lebowski’s overrated.” It’s that last part that sticks in Jesse Custer’s head at first and leads to a great running gag.

You wouldn’t think a hard-drinking, drug-abusing vampire would become Preacher’s moral center. And while that title sometimes falls to Eugene/Arseface, when Jesse’s crossed a line, it’s Cassidy who’s there to call him out. When angels are out to vivisect Jesse, Cassidy’s got his back. And Joseph Gilgun was the most reliably entertaining member of a particularly strong cast.

Also, the sequence in which Cassidy casually explains how vampirism works by answering a series of short questions from Tulip is one of my favourite “explain the magic” moments.

Best Supporting Female

Honorouble mentions: Dr. Linda, Maze, and Ella are all super fun on Lucifer. Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple might have made the podium for Luke Cage if Iron Fist hadn’t worked so hard to ruin her as a character.

Bronze: Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons, Agents of SHIELD

The other half of Agents of SHIELD’s most adorkable couple also had a great year. The difference being that Simmons didn’t wait until after the Framework to break our hearts.

That Elizabeth Henstridge is an asset to the cast of SHIELD shouldn’t surprise. She anchored what might be the show’s best episode last season, and starting with a riveting performance in the paranoid “Self Control,” she was the heart of the show’s best arc. She fights to prove that the Fitz she loves is still somewhere inside Hydra’s cruel Doctor throughout Agents of Hydra, and is almost as crushed as Fitz himself when he comes out broken by his virtual misdeeds. Daisy’s in theory the lead of Agents of Hydra, but Simmons is doing the emotional heavy lifting, and doing it well.

Silver: Danielle Panabaker as Caitlin Snow/Killer Frost, The Flash

It happened. The moment comic fans have been expecting since Caitlin Snow first appeared on Arrow’s second season (or, if you surf entertainment sites like I do, since they announced her casting). We got a tease of it last year, thanks to Caitlin’s evil Earth-2 doppelganger. But after Barry’s Flashpoint meddling with time, in season three STAR Labs’ resident biologist began her transformation into cold-powered and cold-hearted Killer Frost. She spent months trying to hold her powers and the accompanying shift to her personality at bay, but when her would-be love interest Julian Albert unleashes her powers to save her life, Caitlin Snow dies and Killer Frost takes her place.

But this new Killer Frost is better and more interesting than her pure-evil Earth-2 doppelganger. Sure she’s quick to turn on her former friends and side with Savitar, but Caitlin isn’t all gone yet. There’s an ember of her past self still fighting against Killer Frost’s vicious instincts, and Panabaker’s doing a great job of playing it. It’ll be fun to see where that leads next season.

Gold: Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers, Supergirl

Chyler Leigh has acting superpowers. When Alex Danvers cries, you cry. When Alex is happy, you get a contact high. When she straps on a Kryptonite-powered battle suit to help her sister go round and round with Metallo, you cheer.

And Alex also got to be part of one of the season’s best love stories, as working cases alongside police detective Maggie Sawyer leads to Alex coming out and finding love for the first time in her life. It’s a moving story that Leigh absolutely crushes.

Best Villain

Honourable mentions: There was some great villainy happening out there this year. From Jackie Earle Haley’s disturbingly calm but vicious Odin Quincannon on Preacher, to [REDACTED]’s fantastic heel turn as the near-unbeatable Prometheus on Arrow, to Teri Hatcher’s legacy casting as Queen Rhea of Daxam on Supergirl, to Mahershala Ali’s too-brief performance as Cottomouth on Luke Cage, to the overbearing Alice Cooper and the Gothic horror of the Blossom family on Riverdale. And the only thing holding back Lucifer’s Goddess, aka “Charlotte,” is that I’m not always 100% convinced she’s really a “villain,” per se. Okay, sure, the plagues and the floods turned out to be on her, but still.

There are, however, still three standouts.

Bronze: The Legion of Doom, Legends of Tomorrow

Not entirely indicative of the team.

There’s a moment in season two of Legends of Tomorrow when Rip Hunter, thinking he’s a film student, complains that his film about rogue time agent Rip Hunter is failing because his villain (clearly meant to be season one’s Vandal Savage) has no menace, and was possibly miscast. Damning but accurate shade thrown at their own first season. Moments later, Malcolm Merlyn and Damien Darhk stroll up to him. “See?” he says, “That’s better.” A little self-congratulatory, but again, accurate.

Legends of Tomorrow was born out of making a team from the DCW-verse’s best supporting characters, and they took the same approach to building the Legion of Doom: a collection of their best villains (save for Deathstroke). Matt Lestcher’s Eobard Thawne/Reverse-Flash, Neal McDonough’s Damien Darhk, John Barrowman’s Malcolm Merlyn, and some surprise bonus members provide the perfect blend of menace and camp for the Waverider crew’s second season. They’re up to all kinds of bad, to be sure, but they’re almost too fun to watch to root against.

Silver: Mallory Jansen as Aida, Agents of SHIELD

Aida wasn’t the villain for a lot of the season, but only because they gave her time to grow into the role. She began as Holden Radcliffe’s Life Model Decoy prototype, a computer in a human-looking body, programmed to assist Radcliffe and preserve life. Exposure to evil spellbook the Darkhold grants her sentience, but not free will. She can’t break her programming, but she can bend it just enough to launch a plan… trap key SHIELD personnel in Radcliffe’s artificial world, the Framework, then use it and the Darkhold to build herself a human body loaded up with Inhuman powers. But also with human emotions she isn’t prepared to process. While positive emotions give her a sense of incomparable bliss, despair and rage send her over the edge.

It’s not just the best character arc of any villain this season. Most protagonists should have been so lucky to have an arc that good. And Mallory Jansen is great in it, nailing the transition from Siri with a body to an all-powerful mega-Inhuman driven crazy by her first taste of heartache. And as a bonus, the ex-girlfriend Holden modelled Aida after, which let her use her natural Australian accent. Always a plus.

Really, only one thing could beat an arc like that…

Gold: Aubrey Plaza as “Lenny,” Legion

There weren’t many performances, comic book TV or otherwise, than can compare with Aubrey Plaza’s unhinged tour de force as Lenny, the voice in the back of David Haller’s head, the bad influence in every low moment of his recent life. I can’t say much about Lenny without giving away chunks of the story, which I’m loath to do, but I can say that Aubrey Plaza is nothing short of magnetic every time she’s on screen. She’s the voice of reason. She’s an enabling fellow addict. She’s doubt made flesh. She’s Tim Burton as a silent film monster. As a friend put it, she ranges from calm to chaotic to malevolent to sensual to violent to vulnerable to playful to sympathetic to sinister, sometimes in the course of a single episode. Sometimes in the course of a single scene. She is, simply put, impossible to top.

And that’s not even telling you what she’s doing.

Rookie of the Year

New category this year! See, sometimes a new character comes along who breathes whole new life into a show. This category is for new characters in established shows who really added something.

Honourable mentions: Many, because it’s harder to find a new character not worthy of a mention. Chris Wood and Floriana Lima were both great as the Danvers sisters’ new love interests on Supergirl, Mon-El and Maggie Sawyer; Aimee Garcia as the LAPD’s delightful new CSI Ella on LuciferJason O’Mara as SHIELD’s new director, Jeffrey Mace; and just barely off the podium is Nick Zano as the Waverider’s new steel-skinned forensic historian Nate Heywood on Legends of Tomorrow.

Bronze: Tom Felton as Julien Albert, The Flash

I basically created this category to give a shout-out to Tom Felton’s CSI/meta-human expert Julien Albert, even if he didn’t make it to the top. Felton was a great addition, gradually and naturally evolving from Barry’s rival/nemesis to a truly valuable member of Team Flash. He had the edge and the know-how of earlier variations of Harrison Wells (the season three edition lacking both), with enough heart under his crusty exterior that you root for him just the same.

Silver: Katie McGrath as Lena Luthor, Supergirl

Lena Luthor arrives in National City looking to redeem both Lexcorp and the Luthor name following her brother’s arrest in Metropolis for, I don’t know, something related to trying to kill Superman, I assume. Can she be trusted? Is she truly out for redemption, or will she eventually follow in her brother’s footsteps? Who knows. McGarth perfectly walks the line between earnestness and darkness. What we do know is that her friendship with Kara feels real and heartfelt. Kara truly believes in Lena, and Lena’s gratitude for that blooms into one of the show’s closest friendships. Maybe it’s doomed to turn sour, like Clark and Lex, maybe not… I mean, Lena’s more sinister mother Lillian has a point, Lena might not react well to being literally the only major character who doesn’t know Kara’s secret identity. But if it does go bad, it’ll be heartbreaking. Smallville wishes they’d done Clark and Lex’s doomed friendship this well.

(There are those in the fandom who feel Kara and Lena make a better couple than Kara and Mon-El. But since neither of them has indicated being attracted to women… it just feels like seeing two women bonding and yelling “Now make out!” Which is just a gross thing to do.)

Gold: Tricia Helfer as “Charlotte,” Lucifer

Well why even do this category if gold isn’t going to the Goddess Charlotte? No new addition, or returning player for that matter, did as much for their show as the tumultuous arrival of Lucifer’s mother, trapped in the slightly murdered body of adulterous lawyer Charlotte Richards. Her very presence brought the series’ mythology to a whole new level, and Helfer nailed it. “Charlotte’s” love for her angelic children, disdain for humanity, and confusion about how to function on Earth are all spot-on. And even if none of that were true, she’d nearly have this category locked down just from her hilarious delivery of Charlotte’s views of humanity: “All they do is eat. Then later the food comes out changed. And not for the better!” or “They breathe through their mouths and will NOT. SHUT. UP about something called ‘gluten.'”

Best Guest Star

Second new category! Sometimes a guest star makes enough of a splash that you wish their appearance weren’t so temporary. I’m defining this as guest stars outside the main ensemble, which includes both credited principals (eg. Buffy, Willow, or Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and major recurring characters (eg. Tara, again from Buffy, who was only a credited principal for one episode but was consistently around for three years). Which sadly means no love for Arrow’s Anatoly, ’cause he was around all the time, or Jemaine Clement’s Oliver Bird on Legion, because he’s basically part of the ensemble.

Honourable mentions: Michael Imperioli’s game-changing guest spot as Uriel on Lucifer; Natalie Morales’ dry wit as the only live-action Green Fury I’m ever likely to see on Powerless; Gabriel Luna as a surprisingly effective Ghost Rider on Agents of SHIELD; Timothy Omundson as a mental patient who might be Lucifer’s Father.

Bronze: Dolph Lundgren as Konstantin Kovar, Arrow

Oliver Queen has been through some dark and scary things over the last five years of Green Arrowing and the previous five years of flashbacks. Shipwreck, torture, arrow wounds, having his life force magically drained… but very little of it seemed as scary as getting worked over by Dolph Lundgren. As Russian gangster Konstantin Kovar, Lundgren was perfectly cast as the final boss of Oliver’s flashback journey from playboy to The Hood. And their final confrontation made for a surprisingly good capstone to the flashback saga, even with the way they meandered in seasons three and four.

Silver: Tyler Hoechlin as Superman, Supergirl

Supergirl’s more famous cousin finally came to visit at the top of Supergirl’s new season, and he was basically perfect. Hoechlin’s Superman had the folksy charm, positivity, and innate goodness that some people feel is missing from Henry Cavill’s version. He played well against basically everyone. Obviously he can’t come by super often, because nobody wants Supergirl to be overshadowed on her own show, but when he can swing by, it’s special.

Gold: Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold, Flash/Legends of Tomorrow

The DCW-verse has made its share of mistakes. Laurel’s pill addiction, mixing up Earths 2 and 3 (although pretty much only I care about that one), introducing Jason Rusch before they knew they were going to need a replacement Firestorm, uninspired versions of Ra’s Al Ghul and Vandal Savage… but nothing was quite as big a mistake as killing off Captain Cold at the end of Legends of Tomorrow’s first season.

Yes, it was a good scene, yes, he had a killer final line, yes it was a fitting end to his season arc. But every time Leonard Snart swaggers onto the screen, we’re reminded of what a perfect addition to the Flash world and crewman of the Waverider he was. This year he haunted his ex-partner, was present for the origin of Mirror Master (who is not filling his shoes), and helped Flash steal an alien power source that was guarded by a giant man-shark, and all of it was great, and it all me sad he’s not around more.

Okay. Next up, the rankings. Brace yourself, there’s a lot to cover.