Thursday, 3 October 2019

Superhero Show Round-Up: Legends of Tomorrow 4-B and Elseworlds

Legends of Tomorrow Season Four, Part Two

Legends, week in, week out, keeps on being the most fun of the Arrowverse series. Splitting the series in two so sharply, with episode eight airing mid-December and episode nine a the beginning of April, robbed the season of some momentum. Nonetheless, things kicked off well with “Lucha De Apuestas,” an episode that revolves around Mexican masked wrestling, one of those strange cultural artefacts that Brits only really get to see on telefantasy shows. The episode brings a lot more focus onto Ramona Young as new Legends recruit Mona Wu, whose nervousness and trouble fitting in is put into sharp relief by her new ability to turn into a hulking were-beast.

Much of Legends' appeal has been in its ability to take characters who don't fit together and turn them into workable double-acts and team-ups. Some of these have been established characters, such as Mick Rory, who gets to show new and ever-more sensitive aspects as he shows there's a lot more to him than the arsonist villain he started as on The Flash. His grudging respect for Ray Palmer, or “Haircut” as he prefers to call him, his more rough-edged buddying up with Charlie, and his surprising reveal as Mona's favourite author (after Jane Austen) all serve to make this once paper-thin character into a three-dimensional one, and a fan favourite at that. Other characters were created just for this series, such as Jes Macallan's wonderful Ava Sharpe, who went from being a jobsworth obstacle as the head of the Time Bureau to being one of the most complex and relatable characters in the series as she tries to understand her place in the world. Unlikely friendships, such as Ava, Mona and the formerly villainous Nora Darhk forming their wine-fuelled book club, bring out new sides to their characters. Legends has a big ensemble cast, and this can be tricky to pull off, yet the writers manage it with style by juggling the various relationships across the episodes.

Alongside all this is Nate's budding relationship with Zari, helped along by some very sweet chemistry between Nick Zano and Tala Ashe, juggled with his difficult, but slowly thawing, relationship with his father (just cannot get over Thomas F. Wilson being on this show). Hank's seemingly villainous turn is revealed to be nothing of the sort, although there are some dodgy undercurrents to his actions, and it turns out that he's literally made a deal with the devil (or, at least, a devil). The reveal that he wasn't planning to use the various subdued magical creatures as weapons, but as exhibits in a huge theme park/circus/magical zoo as a present for Nate, is one of the harder things to swallow in the series. Given how batty this series can be, this is saying something. It does, however, all come together rather beautifully at the end.

In amongst all the love, though, is poor old Gary, played to nebbish precision by Adam Tsekhman. Constantly overlooked, put upon and mocked by both his bosses at the Bureau and his heroes in the Legends, it was only a matter of time before Gary snapped. Thankfully, he does come good in the end, but his turn to the dark side has been, in retrospect, signposted since the beginning of the season. It also gave us the unforgettable visual of his demonically possessed severed nipple crawling back to him, which is a sight I had not expected to see on any series, let alone this one.

The decision to mix in supernatural monsters with the time travel revitalised this show during season three, and the monster-of-the-week format carried it forward nicely through the first half of season four. Wisely, though, the second half of the season phased this out in favour of more serialisation, with the character-pieces playing out against the background of the demon Neron's invasion of the living realm. Having Brandon Routh's character Ray subsumed by Neron is a bold move; Ray has been the noble heart and conscience of the group since its inception, and his gradual temptation by Nora showed that his love for others can lead him to make the wrong decisions. Having him allow Neron to take possession of him in order to save his friends is absolutely in character but almost ends up destroying the world, and gives Routh a rare chance to play a villain, something he excels at. (I cracked out Scott Pilgrim after watching the finale; he really is good at playing a charming bastard.)

The Neron storyline also brings Constantine's story to the fore, and while I still live in hope that we'll have a resolution to Matt Ryan's own series someday, this follows up on much of his backstory and brings things forward. We finally get to see Astra, the girl he lost to Hell in his greatest failure. Now played by Olivia Swann in her jaded adult form, Astra seems like an clear candidate for a recurring character in season five, albeit on an unknown agenda. Plus, we get to see Constantine at his best, playing the forces of Hell against each other in a take on some classic material from the Hellblazer comics.

The finale brings together these many disparate elements in a more-or-less coherent manner. It's all a bit syrupy, with a “love conquers all” message that they just about carry off. There are similarities between the messages of tolerance here and in Supergirl, but the use of magical creatures is a much poorer allegory than alien immigrants and it's lost amongst all the silliness. Still, it does see a whole bunch of monsters teaming up with the Legends against Neron (and Jane Carr reprising her brillaitn turn as the evil Fairy Godmother), which can only be good fun. It's good to see that the time travel element hasn't been pushed to the wayside, and the fact that Zari is from the future means that the world-changing events in the present have unforeseen effects to her timeline. Thankfully, Tala Ashe is confirmed for season five, because if she wasn't, I'd be most unhappy.

Best episode of the half-season: “Terms of Service.” Constantine faces the Triumvirate in Hell.
Best episode title: “Seance and Sensibility.” Jane Austen and a love god.
Most unexpected cameo: Caspar Crump returns as Vandal Savage, now dead and totally over himself.


It seemed sensible to look at the annual crossover event separately, since more and more they act as a multi-episode serial instead of individual episodes from each parent series. This year didn't feature Legends of Tomorrow in the line-up, instead crossing Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl.

On the whole, Elseworlds was a qualified success, and this lies in the fact that it's purpose was less to provide a coherent adventure than to introduce new elements to be followed up later. Firstly, it had to introduce Ruby Rose as the new Batwoman and bring Gotham City into the Arrowverse. Secondly, it had to plant the seeds for the next season's upcoming crossover extravaganza, Crisis on Infinite Earths.

As a multiverse-building exercise, it works. It's a lovely touch to have the nineties The Flash explicitly included in the new multiverse (as Earth-90, the 52 Earths idea having now been completely abandoned). The Monitor is about as outlandish and comic-booky a concept the franchise has brought to the screen so far, even ahead of Gorilla Grodd, and we finally get the Arrowverse version of Lois Lane. Played by Elizabeth Tulloch, Lois was a major missing element of the Superman family of characters in the CW multiverse.

Ruby Rose is pretty perfect as Kate Kane. The character is, after all, one of the LGBT icons of the DC universe, even if the comics have fluffed it in the past, and having such a real life LGBT icon in the role seems appropriate. More importantly, Rose has the tough-as-nails bravado and incredible sexiness that the role needs. We'll see how she does heading her own series in Batwoman this coming season. For now, though, the Gotham sequences are the elements of Elseworlds that work best.

The central story, though, with John Deegan manipulating reality from within Arkham, doesn't work as well as it should. Having him become evil Superman has some clout, but since Superman is a peripheral character in this franchise, it doesn't deform the story the same way it would in, say, the DCEU or Smallville. Swapping Barry and Oliver over in their superhero roles works OK, but Barry is such an angsty dick lately and Oliver seems a lot more centred, so that they don't contrast nearly as much as they would have if this had been done a few years ago. I like the hints that Batman exists on Earth-One but no one really believes in him, whereas he's a known quantity on Earth-38 and good buddies with Superman. On the other hand, meeting Earth-One versions of Alex and James Olson should be significant, but since they're part of an already altered reality they matter less to the overall story than they should.

Given the huge, anything goes crossover to come, I wouldn't be surprised if Jeremy Davies again either as John Deegan or an alternative version. He did, after all, play Ritchie Simpson on Constantine (retroactively part of the Arrowverse) as an essentially very similar character, and in Justice League Dark voiced him alongside Matt Ryan's Constantine, where Dr. Destiny took control of him. So really he's played three versions of the same character already, plus the version here seems modelled after the version of Dr. Destiny seen in The Sandman. Anyway, if he doesn't turn up again in some form alongside the Monitor I'll be surprised.

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