CW Years, or, Black Lightning

black-lightning

ZAP ATTACK

If the CW’s stable of DC Comics-based television shows are good for one thing (they’re good for many but bear with me) it’s gaggles of attractive young Canadians wadding through seas of dead parents and betrayal towards inevitable mac-attacks with other attractive young Canadians, undoubtedly breaking the heart of a third gaggle of attractive young Canadians.

So imagine my surprise when I saw that the protagonist in the CW’s latest superhero show, Black Lightning, is played with instant gravitas by Cress Williams, who is a 47-year-old man, which basically makes him 1,000,000 in CW years. At 47 years old, Williams’ Jefferson Pierce is the DCW’s equivalent of Frank Miller’s aging, crotchety, Dark Knight Returns Bruce Wayne. Which actually turns out to be a pretty apt comparison when considering the show’s pilot.

At the onset of Black Lightning, Pierce has hung up the titular moniker for some time, opting instead to improve his community, Freeland, as a high school principal. But a rise in gang violence perpetuated by the growing threat of The 100 Gang. It’s a problem that effects the entire community, to the chagrin of both Jefferson and his two daughters.

Kind of like how in The Dark Knight Returns Bruce Wayne isn’t Batman anymore and instead he improves Gotham by driving race cars while contemplating suicide, but a gang called the mutants is wreaking havoc on Gotham and it pisses Bruce Wayne off, much as it annoys young Cary Kelly, daughter of two local deadbeats.

The Dark Knight Returns is a worthwhile point of comparison when considering Black Lightning as the disparities between the former, a staple of 1986, and the latter, a show that is ever so 2018, reflect a changing attitude towards heroism.

Frank Miller’s Batman is a dick. Always has been, always will be. He is essentially and old, rich, white guy who disagrees with the direction the world around him is taking and in response uses his economic resources to beat the culture around him to death with his personal ideology. Cary Kelly, the kindling of a youthful, feminine power in TDKR, does not have opinions of her own in the narrative. She’s an acolyte. The culture around her is more her own to inherit than Batman’s to cling to, but despite the fact that she actually lives in Gotham, rather than in a mansion, she’s indoctrinated rather than consulted.

While Jefferson Pierce certainly wouldn’t shirk the opportunity to align his daughters’ worldviews with his own, that isn’t the cards he’s dealt. Black Lightning is less a show about deciding to engage in heroism and standing up to villainy than it is a show about deciding how to stand up to that villainy.

Enter a white guy blogging about race.

Jefferson Pierce and his family are confronted with everyday evils, little treacheries like being pulled over by the cops based on the color of their skin. In many ways, they don’t have a choice as to whether or not they react to the world’s ills because more than Barry Allen or Kara Danvers, the world’s ills seek Pierce and his family out. But how to go about reacting and combating those ills is a topic of open debate in the show. Vigilantism? Protest? Social media? Education?

Spoilers, Black Lightning becomes Black Lightning again in Black Lightning. And when he does so, he doesn’t saunter down the middle of the stage to the bowed heads of a subdued, formerly directionless youth. Black Lightning takes a trope we’ve seen before, the grizzled, retired hero called back into action, and confronts it with a youthful eye that is not worshipful, but skeptical.

He might be 1,000 CW years older than the likes of The Flash, Supergirl, or the Green Arrow (who himself is getting into his CW 80s) but make no mistake, Williams is just as charming and engaging as CW’s established superhero protagonists, and the world around him has the potential to provide a show that is just as philosophically engaging as it is ludicrously-costumed.

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The DCW Superhero Crossover Spectacular, or, Literally Legends of Tomorrow

invasioncrossover

TABLEAU ATTACK!

CW’s recent superhero crossover, an alien invasion story spanning the shows Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, is the kind of goofy, exciting, carefree storytelling that’s usually written in action figures and movie soundboard beat boxing. Creepy aliens, time travel, space travel, lasers, fire, explosions and a variable toy box of heroes and villains make the Invasion crossover a sight to behold.Despite their success (what was once just Arrow has now spun-off into four different shows airing four nights a week) it’s still remained easy for some to roll their eyes at CW’s DC lineup. It’s not held in the same esteem as the likes of Game of Thrones or even Netflix’s various Marvel series. But unlike Game of Thrones and Netflix’s various Marvel Series, the DCW isn’t tailor-made for the world weary TV-MA audience. It’s for everyone.

I couldn’t help but chuckle when the heroes of the DCW were commended by the President of the United States in full superhero attire, but there was a part of me that has rarely shown itself since I turned 12 that absolutely, unapologetically, unequivocally loved it. The DCW is everything DC’s films struggle so hard to capture. They’re everything DC Comics are aiming to recapture with their new Rebirth initiative. They’re uplifting and exciting and fun and they never wink at the audience for it. There isn’t an ounce of irony in the performances of these characters. They are absolutely going for it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen is the the Robert Downey Jr. of the DC Universe, and the performances that have followed in his wake have followed his example.

But you aren’t going to see any of these shows on year end lists. You aren’t going to hear about Stephen Amell pulling $50 million. I’ve yet to heard of any angry positions insisting the cast and crew who commit so fully and enthusiastically to these roles, ludicrous as they may be, have been robbed by the Emmys. No one’s going to reference Arrow in a think piece on prestige television.

Yet.

Watching the likes of Firestorm and The Flash stand next to the President I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was something monumental for popular culture to come.

If I were a betting man I’d wager that the DCW circa 2016 is comparable to Star Trek in 1968.

The people writing blogs and tweeting and think piecing and compiling Best of 2016 lists for major publications aren’t the vessels through which these shows’ influence will be felt. These are shows a family could watch together, think pieces are for shows with orgies. But the kids who get sent to bed at 8:45 on Sunday night just might be a different story. Maybe no one at your office is talking about the Invasion crossover, but I’m willing to bet people on the playground are.

Sure kids love Iron Man and Batman, but Green Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl are the heroes that are in their home, week to week. They’re the Adam Wests, William Shatners and Linda Carters of the day.

Watching the Invasion Crossover bob and weave through the characters and story threads of four different television shows I couldn’t shake the feeling that the event was bigger than I could appreciate, that across the country there were ten year olds in their living rooms just losing their shit like nobody’s business.

The DCW is far from obscure television, but it’s playing the long game. Despite its current popularity I’d be shocked if NPR ran a story about the Invasion crossover, but I won’t be surprised to hear the creative forces behind the genre fiction of tomorrow citing these characters and stories as a major influence.

Goobers of Today, or, Legends of Tomorrow

LegendsofTomorrow.png

PEW PEW PEW!!!

Legends of Tomorrow is goofy as hell.

CW’s newest foray into televising the DC Comics universe, which follows a potpourri of B-list DC characters on a time-traveling adventure, is a serialized Hanna-Barbera soap opera. The action and the drama are in constant competition with one another to get both feet over the top first and as a spectator that competition is an absolute delight.

I enjoy watching Legends of Tomorrow as a grown ass man, but boy oh boy what I wouldn’t give to watch Legends of Tomorrow as a ten-year-old. I imagine it would occupy the same space that Dragonball Z did in my actual youth: that first exposure to serialized storytelling, where characters are still big and bombastic and cartoonish, but suddenly their actions carry reverberating consequences.

Legends of Tomorrow is this perfect little stepping stone somewhere between Adventure Time and Game of Thrones. Sometimes it puts in a bit too much of one and not enough of the other with silly or melodramatic results, but more often than not, particularly in the back half of its first season, Legends of Tomorrow perfectly blends cartoonish fun with, you know, grown up stuff like talking and kissing.

One particularly well done episode set in 1958 features both werebird monsters from a spooky mental asylum and the directly stated sentiment that the 50’s were only really Happy Days if you were a straight, white man.

If you haven’t seen Legends of Tomorrow its greatest weakness is its premise, because on paper it sounds so, so dumb. But Legends doesn’t try to dodge its own inherent ridiculousness, it leans so far into it that it might as well be laying down on top of it. Legends of Tomorrow is so very genuine. It knows exactly what it is. It never tries to be Adventure Time and it never tries to be Game of Thrones, it just sets out to be the best time-traveling Avengers soap opera it can be. And it can be a pretty damn good one.

The DC TV Guide, or, My Patented 47-Point System Unveiled

Hey! Did you know that there was a Batman show in the 60s? And a Wonder Woman show in the 70s? And even a short-lived Flash show in the early 90s? So yeah, DC Comics is no stranger to television. But this year they’ve taken the relationship to the next level with a veritable promise ring of new TV offerings.

Three new television shows debuted this fall that are based on DC Comics source material: Gotham on FOX, The Flash on CW and Constantine on NBC. At this rate maybe people will figure out that red with a yellow lightening bolt isn’t Sheldon’s costume.

But it can be a lot to take in, three new television shows in one season, whether you’re a DC Comics fan, a vaguely interested newcomer or a crusty old fella who yells at his grandchildren to explain why TV is so much “gayer” now. But why should you have  to sit through three hour-long television pilots to figure out which, if any, of DC’s new offerings are for you? They have blogs for that shit!

Enter my Patented 47-Point System, a set of variables by which I can identify the right show for you. I put this bad boy together decades ago to help me critique the pilot of Friends for a review I absolutely wrote and that absolutely exists on this very website to this very day. And since that very day I haven’t change a single, solitary point in my Patented 47-Point System. It’s helped me pick out a lot of winners (Game of Thrones, YouTube, Sanford and Son) and avoid a lot of losers (The Olympics, The State of the Union, Mad Men) and now I hand it down to you, so that you might figure out which, if any, of DC Comic’s new TV shows are worth your time.

It’s simple. Browse the list on the left to find what you’re looking for in a TV show and make your way to the right to see which shows have what you’re looking for.

You are so welcome.

 

You're welcome.

You’re welcome.

More Like Days of Future Flash, or, Flash Party

I still remember when the original X-Men movie came out. I was like ten and I was way more interested in seeing Battlefield Earth. I saw neither and still haven’t seen the latter, because I’d like it to be the last thing I see before I die.

I saw the first X-Men movie more than a decade later and felt every year between the time it came out and the time I was watching it. Then I watched the fanatically adored X2: X-Men United for the first time last week. Hugh Jackman is pretty great, but both films felt undeniably old. I get that in their time they proved that superhero films could do things they hadn’t yet done or whatever, but I wasn’t there for that. So they just felt old. If you’ve seen The Dark Knight, or The Avengers, and you haven’t seen X2, you’re too late. They party is over.

Fourteen years from now I’m inclined to think that essentially the same thing will be said of CW’s new superhero venture, The Flash.

FLASH FACT ATTACK

FLASH FACT ATTACK

But unlike X-Men and X2, The Flash is a party I showed up to on time. I even brought my guitar.

Superheroes have sufficiently killed it in movie theaters for years now, but they’re just sort of starting to wrap their fingers around the neck of it on television with shows like Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This fall alone sees not only the debut of The Flash, but Gotham and Constantine as well. And next year is slated to get even more crowded.

So The Flash is coming in close enough to the ground floor of what could either be lightening striking twice or the tapping out of a proverbial entertainment goldmine. And yet, as something with at least a vague potential to be looked back on as culturally relevant, The Flash feels dated almost immediately.

The show is laced with special effects that do little to hide its television budget and melodrama and on the nose dialogue that all work to make The Flash feel more like a CW show than a DC show.

And yet, at two episodes in, I think I kind of sort of love it.

The cast, headlined by Grant “Who?” Gustin, Jesse “Law & Order” Martin and Tom “Ed” Cavanagh are all charming and likable, the tone strikes a Marvelous balance between laughing and brooding and the action is straight up fun.

“And the cosmic treadmill was on television! Don’t you understand the significance of that?” I shout at my jaded three year old who, a decade from now, scoffs at The Flash for the effects and melodrama that are by then doubly-dated.

Cutting. Edge.

Cutting. Edge.

Right off the bat I can tell you The Flash has its blemishes and they’ll probably only get more noticeable as the show’s pilot ages, but in a world where superhero television is probably years from reaching a Dark Knight, The Flash is pretty great.

And seriously, Days of Future Past is the best X-Men. X2? Come on.

The Flashpoint Paradox, or, FLASH FACT: The Flash is a Pretty Friendly Fellow

DC is really pushing to keep up with Marvel in the construction of their cinematic universe. Not a week after the announcement of a Batman/Superman film they also announced that season two of Arrow, the Green Arrow-centric CW series, would feature an appearance of The Flash, with the intention of the Scarlett Speedster spinning off into his own series afterwards.

ZOOM

ZOOM

How well The Flash would work on a television show, particularly a television show on the CW, is definitely up in the air. But the prospect of a project with The Flash as the lead is pretty freaking awesome. Some might argue that a guy who runs really, really, really fast isn’t a marketable lead for a television show. To them I would first point out that there is going to be a second season of Arrow.

A second season. Of Arrow.

More importantly, however, I would point naysayers to the recently released DC Animated Movie The Flashpoint Paradox, based on Geoff John’s Flashpoint.

The story follows Barry Allen, The Flash, as he tries to make sense of an insane alternate timeline he awakens in seemingly out of nowhere. The idea of comic book characters thrown into an alternate timeline isn’t exactly genre-defying, but so far as alternate realities go, Flashpoint holds its own. More importantly, the movie highlights the qualities in Barry Allen that make him a viable protagonist for a franchise of his own.

Flash boots.

Flash boots.

The Flash isn’t at his coolest when he’s running really, really, really fast. He’s coolest when he runs so fast that quantum mechanics and theoretical physics and all that voodoo mumbo jumbo come into play (accurately, I’m sure). Flash Fact: if alternate timelines and the prospect of “time booms” tickle your tank you should be pretty pimped for more of The Flash.

His physics bending x-factor aside, Flashpoint sees Barry Allen turn into quite the leading man. Though his internal motivation of “if only, as an eight-year-old, I would have run faster, my mom wouldn’t have been murdered by a home intruder,” is pretty much ridiculous, The Flash is still plenty easy to root for.

But back to his dead mom.

If dead parents are good for anything its setting up a character to be a foil to Batman, which is a driving narrative force in the Flashpoint Paradox. But the Batman of Flashpoint is something else, let me tell you. Without spoiling too much, in the Flashpoint timeline the Dark Knight is a murderous, stubble-clad alcoholic who always has on in the chamber. Flashpoint Batman alone is well worth the price of admission. He serves not only as a badass, but as something of an answer to the question “why doesn’t Batman kill?” The answer is pretty practical. While Flashpoint Batman is awesome, he is definitely not “charm generation after generation with the broken psyche of an orphaned rich boy” awesome.

Vengeance, the night, rampant alcoholism.

Vengeance, the night, rampant alcoholism.

Batman isn’t the only DC staple to get a drastic overhaul in Flashpoint. A meathead of an Aquaman is at war with a sadist of a Wonder Woman. Johns really let his imagination run wild with his often radical remodels of the Flashpoint universe characters and seeing where the various faces of the DCU end up in Flashpoint is half the fun.

But throughout the bleak and treacherous Flashpoint Paradox Barry Allen is the only constant, a lone remnant from the DCU we know. Allen is a great choice in protagonist. He’s a pretty friendly fellow, and he’s got the determination and willpower of a Batman or a Superman. But more importantly, he’s something of an everyman.

Barry Allen isn’t a billionaire or an alien or a jet pilot, he’s a forensic scientist, and God knows the only thing more boring than watching CSI is living it. But Allen’s relatability stems beyond his job to something a lot more obvious.

The Flash doesn’t look like he’s on goddamn steroids.

Try all you want to dress up like Batman or Superman, the human body does not form a perfect triangle above the waste. The Flash, on the other hand, is lean and trim, you know, like an actual human being.

Also he has super speed.

And a very cool costume.

A paradox of flashpoint proportions.

A paradox of flashpoint proportions.

The (Flash)point is, where Superman Unbound was able to highlight some aspects of the Superman mythos that weren’t all that strong in Man of Steel, The Flashpoint Paradox highlights the aspects of The Flash with the most potential. Let’s just hope the potential television series is paying attention.

Is something as massive as Flashpoint ever going to be adapted to live action for the CW? Unless there budget multiplies ten times over I hope to God not. But you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to bring a great character to life.

And if Flashpoint proves anything it’s that The Flash is a great character.

And should be played by Idris Elba.