Saturday, December 2, 2017

TUBE REVIEW: Crisis on Earth-X (Part I)

Yes, I've been away from the bloggy thing for a bit, but I wanted to drop in with a few quick thoughts on the four-part CW cross-over event, CRISIS ON EARTH-X.

Now unlike how I style my comic book reviews, this Tube Review will be a simple bullet-pointing of likes and dislikes. But please keep in mind, while there will naturally be more dislikes that likes — I am the archetypal know-it-all fanboy, after all, and do so live to nitpick — this should not be taken to mean I did not like the story that ran November 27 and 28 across the CW shows SUPERGIRL, ARROW, THE FLASH, and DC'S LEGENDS OF TOMORROW. I did like it. Not only that — and this is important because I have been hyper-critical of, and have at times actively disliked, three of the four shows — I loved it. In fact, if I had to sum up the event in just two words I would say:


As viewers we got a good plot, some very good acting, plenty of witty and well-delivered dialogue, some practically perfect character interactions, genuine tear-jerking moments (yes, I cried when Martin died — what of it!), incredibly choreographed battle scenes, and some authentic fanboy service that, thankfully, stopped just short of being the because-we-have-to type of reach-around that always spoils the mood.

So, hey — or, "Say you," as Johnny Thunder might put it — let's not waste any more time. Let's get right to it.

Getting Phil Jimenez to ape the George Perez' covers to JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, Nos. 207-209, was completely unnecessary but oh, SO, wonderful. I mean it was unnecessary in the sense that every comic book fan who'd be interested in these shows is probably watching them already, so this sort of print ad seems nonconducive to teasing out a ratings bump. Plus, those comics are 35 years old now. Who but me even remembers them. Heck, they came out before most of the actors in this show were even born. But the poster was, nonetheless, All. The. Awesome. Maybe it's because I was 14 when those JLA issues came out, but the poster really spoke to me, as if The CW meant to speak directly to me with it, and I said back, paraphrasing Sally Field, "Oh, you get me. You really GET me."

Also speaking to me was the concept behind the event. I mean, why wouldn't it, given that it was my idea. Hey, no worries, Messrs Kreisberg & Guggenheim. And no need for a royalty check. I'm just happy you wanted so obviously to make me happy. Now, for those of you not around to witness my genius at the time, it was about four eps prior to last year's season finales that I posted what I hoped to see as the season-ending cliffhangers for each DC/CW show. As it went, here's what I called for:
  • ARROW: At some point during the show Lyla gets faux-mad at Diggle and playfully refers to him by his full name: John Stuart Diggle. Hmmmm. Later, Ollie is on a plane that crashes into a mountaintop whereupon he is pulled free from the wreckage by a dude-quartet, the leader of which announces, "Oliver Queen, I am Professor Walter Haley. These are my compatriots. And YOU are living on borrowed time." Meanwhile, Diggle is in a train crash and, working toward a green glow in the wreckage discovers an old train lantern, which announces, "John Stuart Diggle, three times shall I flame — once for life, once for death, and once for POWER!" Boom. Giant green explosion. End scene.
  • THE FLASH: The final battle with Savatar sends Barry not into the Speed Force, as we saw, but to Earth-3, where he hooks up with Jay Garrick, who takes him to a certain brownstone and introduces him to that world's Justice Society — all mostly older heroes like himself. I even gave my fantasy casting call. But there's only one name that matters for this summary. See, Barry asks for the JSA's help in defeating the still-undefeated Savitar, but Jay says that'd be up to the team's chairman. Barry asks who that might be and we hear from offscreen, "Hello, Barry." He turns around and we see what he sees: Lynda Carter in full costume. Cue eye twinkle, explody sound effect, and '70s theme — "daa, daa, daa, daa, DAA, daa, wonder WO-maaaaaaaan!" End scene.
  • LEGENDS OF TOMORROW: Some epic final battle timestream explosion aboard the Waverider sends the ship crashing into Central Park, circa, Gideon informs the team, 1952. Okay, 1952. No bigs. Just cloak on, effect repairs, and on our way. But as the team steps out of the ship they see a New York City skyline festooned with swastikas and dotted with zeppelins. Oh, no. It's the mother of all anachronims! (Although I don't think we were using that term at the time). Anyway, the team is quickly jumped by a fellow dressed up like Uncle Sam, along with a few other masked mystery men. They demand to know who the Legends are, and the Legends are, as we might expect, stingy with the deets, and, just as Mick drops a fella in hazmat outfit — "Nice suit. It'd look good on me." POW! — and a free-for-all is about to break out, we realize everybody is on the same side. Because from the treeline on corners emerges . . . nazis. Oh, nos! We're surrounded! BY NAZIS! End scene.
  • SUPERGIRL: Some season-ending cataclysmic event sends Supergirl, Alex, and Winn, hurtling through time, whereupon they pop out in the middle of Weisinger Plaze at the foot of a certain super-hero clubhouse, with costumed characters on all sides. A girl with an emblem of saturn on her chest, who is seated with two others at a dais with Yes/No buzzers (in interlac) before each, says, "You're welcome to join the try-outs, put you'll have get in line." A boy seated next to her, with lightning bolts on his chest, stage whispers, "Dressed like Supergirl. Man, that's just disrespectful." Kara is about to answer when a green-skinned boy walks up and announces that Kara isn't just dressed like Supergirl, she IS Supergirl. Kara demands, "Where are we?" The boy answers, as he scans our three heroes with an omnicom, "No, Supergirl. Not where are you. WHEN are you. You have arrived in the year 3017." Looking at his omnicom, the boy pauses, then continues, "And I'm afraid I have a bit of bad news . . . you three are stranded here . . . forever." Cue shocked looks. End scene.
So, I guess I didn't do too badly. I appear to have hit plot points for this season on two of the shows that are, if not squarely in the bullseye, at least in the general direction of the target. Both Earth-X and the Legion of Super-Heroes are figuring prominently. Of course, the Saturn Girl we got is both a brunette and married to Mon-El. So, Messrs. Kreisberg & Guggenheim have only proven that, while they get me, they also hate me.

Last year's first (annual, I hope) crossover kicked off with an episode of SUPERGIRL that was a real CINO (Crossover In Name Only) and, frankly, it left me feeling a little cheated as it fell far short of what had been advertised in terms of lead-in episodes to a major event.  I have no way of knowing this, but I suspect that SUPERGIRL, while having made the move to Vancouver, was not yet fully ensconced in the CW, administratively. Some suit somewhere probably made the very suit-like decision that the eventual SUPERGIRL, SEASON TWO dvd should not — maybe legally, could not — include the crossover eps of ARROW, FLASH, and DCLOT. And that leaving any cross-over episode of SUPERGIRL off the episode would not do. Thus, like all bastard children, "half improvised and half-compromised," Ben Franklin would say, came the SUPERGIRL CINO episode into the world.

This year, however, the cross-over featured all four series in a proper way. And, I find this interesting, while my DVR identified each chapter as an episode of, in order, SUPERGIRL, ARROW, FLASH, and DCLOT, all on screen identification only referred to them as episodes of CRISIS ON EARTH-X, as if the entire thing was a standalone four-hour mini-series. So, yeah, thanks suit, for getting with the program. Or getting a new job and being replaced by someone with a better sense for what the fans want.

I also don't know this, but I strongly suspect that when the full season dvds of these four shows come out sometime next year, they will each include all four chapters of the crossover sandwiched in between the regular run time of that dvd's titular show — or, more likely, the crossover shows will be absent from the individual show dvds and CRISIS ON EARTH-X will be released as its own thing, with boucoup bonus scenes to boot.

The opening montages worked well to open the Earth-X storyline, and I especially liked Supergirl's encounter with a random Dominator. She notes in an offhand way that Dominators seemed like a bigger deal last year, and it's like the show's producers read my mind. The Dominators were clearly meant to be a truly menacing Big Bad to fuel several seasons of prime antagonism on all four DC/CW shows. And yet, I can well imagine everyone involved sitting around a table afterward, feeling very much like Gene Roddenberry after the first Ferengi episode of TNG aired, thinking, "Okay, clearly, we're going to have to give that one a re-think." Because the Dominators ended up being kind of a joke, really.

For, me, as is often the case, the problem was that they strayed too far from the source material. I would have preferred if the Dominators had been less snarling xenomorphs and more the caste-crazy, scheming eugenicists. Also, just to continue the Star Trek analogy, rather than pale, naked, CGI monsters, I would have MUCH preferred for the Dominators to have been dudes in robes and yellow make-up, with big, rubber foreheads.

Not so much in WONDER WOMAN, I grant you, but in FARGO, David Thewlis was about 20 times scarier that any CW Dominator. Now imagine him in Star Trek prosthetics slowly explaining what he intends to do with you once he activates, at the cost of great and everlasting pain to you, your metagene. Oooooh, ska-wee!

I have seen reviews which claim the reason Overgirl and Ollie-Fuhrer wore masks most of the time was because of budget constraints, that it would have cost too much to have Melissa Benoist and Stephen Amell on set that often. I guess I'm sort of surprised they get paid by the hour. I mean, back when I had a salaried job, I worked however many hours it took to get the job done. But one reason I balked at ever becoming a professional actor is because you can't get any kind of paying gig unless you join the union. And I don't like bullies, not even altruistic ones. I imagine even if Benoist and Amell had been willing to log the extra time for this event, the union has rules that don't much care what they want to do. Kinda like Nazis that way. Or fascists. But even given, Benoist and or Amell could have pulled a prima donna and balked at letting masked stunt doubles do most of their acting, killing the whole enterprise from the outset. But, good on them, I never heard a whiff of any such tantrum in the fan press. It seems they were willing to go along with whatever was needed to make the show happen, even if that meant stunt doubles playing their roles most of the time because the union wouldn't allow them to put in a few hours more than the CW could afford.

For what it's worth, had I not read about the Crisis on Earth-Budget issue online, I would not have had any idea this was a problem. I probably could have guessed it was not actually Benoist and Amell under the masks (although it clearly was them in a sound booth, at least), but I would have just chalked up the masks to a "this-is-how-we-roll-on-Earth-X" creative decision. And, in truth, because the color palettes of the Supergirl/Overgirl and Green Arrow/Ollie-Fuhrer costumes were so similar, the masks helped poor, addled me tell 'em apart. So, I was good with it. 

So, why did we not get a stunt double pretending to be Grant Gustin as Der Blitz? Why the decision to use the Reverse-Flash? I mean, don't get me wrong, seeing more of Thawne is always a plus, and allowing Tom Cavanagh chew scenery as same once more — SUPER plus. But it does raise questions. To wit, was the equally-sinister Matt Letscher not available? Does Cavanagh make that much less than Benoist and Amell that he was able to put in the extra hours needed to play a duel role without straining the budget. Did he get at all pissy about having to log all those hours on set while Steve and Melissa sipped mimosas on the veranda? I sure would have been.

But the problem is that using Thawne instead of a Barry doppleganger introduces the BIG question in viewers' minds: Where is hell is Earth-X Barry?!? But not only that, because the writers made the inexplicable decision to have the Flash analog of this tale be the Earth-1 Eboard, we now are made to wonder where Earth-X Eobard is, as well.

Now, I imagine the thought process was that it would add to Barry's pathos — or Bathos (however inadvertently), as the case may be — for him to be all, "OMG, this is not just an Eobard I'm fighting, it's MY Eobard!" Da-DA-Daaaaaaa.

But that's weak. Here's why. Now, the reason there is no Flash on Earth-X is easy enough to explain away. That the writers didn't explain it may mean the answer is so simple they actually trusted viewers to figure it out for themselves. But here it is: Because the Nazi's won World War II, that set in motion a series of dominoes such that, by the 22nd century, leaves Thawne with no reason to go back in time to kill Nora Allen to hurt his greatest enemy-cum-hero, thereby (oopsie!) causing the events that require him to actually create his arch-nemesis in the first place, in order to get back home. Thus, no Flash, means no Reverse-Flash, means no Flash — its the circle of super-heroic life, Simba.

But substituting Earth-1 Eobard, and dressing him up in Tom-Face, just to keep from having to come up with a set of circumstances that still result in an Earth-X Flash, creates its own set of problems. Recall, Thawne only looks like Harrison Wells because the world's greatest scientist just happened to be driving nearby soon after Nora Allen was killed, allowing Thowne to be all, "Haiii, guy! Guess what? I'm you now."And he only got his Matt-Face back by dying, and only kept that face in subsequent appearances, even though those are time excursions from before he died, because reasons.

But the writers obviously realized they needed to throw out a reason for Thawne to once again look like Wells. And, so, they decide he's also J'Onn J'Onzz now, and can just change his appearance whenever he wants. "Whose face will I be wearing next time?" he asks Barry. Ooh, evil foreboding, right? No. Stupid.

Dominator-level stupid.

Maybe they went with Earth-1 Not-Matt Reverse-Flash because Tom Cavanagh needed the extra work, as evidenced by the fact the Screen Actors Guild can't swing him the same shovel-leaning bennies as Amell and Benoist. Or maybe he asked for the part. That's possible. It seems to me Cavanagh's greatest joy in sticking with the THE FLASH after Season 1 was the promise of playing alternate-reality versions of himself, and all the delicious acting choices that brings. Or maybe they did it thinking the fans wanted to see Cavanagh's version Eobard again — and I'll admit, that's both true enough, and reason enough.

But still, it would have been so, SO much simpler to say, Earth-X Barry was, let's be honest here, a crappy Nazi. Maybe he was so bad at it he actually imperiled the cause. After all, Earth-2 Barry is kind of a doofus. So, it's not a stretch. Or, maybe Earth-X Barry was a Freedom Fighter, and that job he was good at. Either way, 22nd century Fuhrer-fanboy Eobard Thawn decided to give himself Flash powers, come back in time and kill The Flash, and take his place as Der Blitz, all in order to further the cause. But that also required killing Earth-X Wells and taking his place for a time in order to accomplish. Easy-peasy. It's all explained in seven seconds of dialogue, wraps all the loose ends, satisfies any lingering viewer questions, and keeps from having to give Thawn new chameleon powers.

My quick-and-dirty way of getting a Tom-Faced Thawne on the Earth-X chessboard also resolves one of my biggest peeves about this crossover — that Thawne seemed unnaturally deferential to Ollie-Fuhrer. Yes, we see that Thawne backs down from killing the Fuhrer because it's easier than getting into the pissies with Overgirl, but that one scene did not fully explain several others, in which Thawne seems just a little too uber-supportive of the Nazi cause, at least to my mind. But maybe he was just advancing his Fuhrer's goals in a sycophantic way, hoping to gain some advantage along the way. But it doesn't come across like that. Apart from the one vibra-chop standoff, Thawne seemed ALL about the Nazis, which just seemed off and out of character. Apart from the fact we were never given any explanation I caught for why Thawne is now jumping dimensions as well as times, he's never been show to be that deferential to any cause other than his own. Even teamed with Merlin and Darhk, he always came off as overtly pulling their strings, or at least thinking he was. And, it has always been traditional in fiction for American bad guys to hate Nazis. Mick Rory says as much explicitly at least once in this event special. And why not? American super-villains don't generally hate super-heroes. It's authority they hate, and Nazis are the SUPER-authorities.

So, as much as I feel it was a mistake to use Thawne instead of an Earth-X Flash, and mistakier still to have him be the Earth-1 Thawne, it was mistakiest off all to have Earth-1 Thawne be suddenly so into Nazism.

So, one of the scenes everyone is talking about from Part I was the weirdly incongruous conversation between Barry Allen and some unnamed catering waitress. She was, to use a term we're not supposed to use anymore, mulatto enough to be Barry and Iris' daughter, and there is much online speculation that she is meant to be Dawn Allen, the female half of Flash-kid crime-fighting team, the Tornado Twins. As an aside, I've never liked the retcon that make Dawn and Don Allen the actual children of Barry and Iris. Originally, they were just 30th century descendants of The Flash. But in order to pump up the pathos when Barry Allen bought it during CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, someone had the bright idea to boot him into the 30th century long enough to knock up Iris before running himself to death saving all reality.

But speaking of the Legion of Super-Heroes (which we were, because the Tornado Twins first showed up as LSH supporting players), my money is on mystery girl actually being The Flash's granddaughter, Jenni Ognats — better known by her Legion code name, XS.

I base this on the braid (although when XS first appeared it was the early '90s, so what she actually sported was a rat tail), and the fact that, as written and performed, she came off almost exactly as I'd expect a live-action XS to act. Only if she had become excited and suddenly started talking like John Moschitta could she have seemed more XS-like.

As an aside, when XS first appeared, I recall there was a fair bit of shock and awe on the Usenet message boards — Usenet, for those of you not old enough to remember, was basically Cro-Magnon Facebook — because she was black. You see, Dawn Allon had married a black guy from the planet Aarok, and, so, The Flash had a black granddaughter. :::gasp::: But these days Barry has a black wife, a black step-father, and a black brother-in-law and it's all cool (as it should be). Well, except for his black nephew in the comics, because that one doesn't make any real sense and reads like a total diversity shoehorn. And because black Wally West was introduced as a some kind of punk-ass Jason Todd-lite. Sorry, but comics creators who think they're emulating Stan Lee forget that heroes with human problems ≠ heroes who act like dicks. End of aside.

Anyway, to support my XS theory, keep in mind that COEX Part I was nominally the SUPERGIRL episode, and that series has been teasing the Legion of late. Well, something like the Legion, anyway. I don't know of any reality in all the mutliverse where Saturn Girl is a brunette married to Mon-El, so this sure ain't MY Legion, lads and lasses. But the actress who played "XS" — Jessica Parker Kennedy —is, while not exactly a household name (yet) kind of a big enough whoop for the whole water serving-arm touch-swoon to have been so much time-filling randomness. In an otherwise tightly plotted four-part epic, this scene was clearly meant to serve some purpose. But my guess is that it was meant to serve a SUPERGIRL purpose, not necessarily one for COEX, or THE FLASH.

So, likely, XS is in one of the still full pods on Mon and Imra-El's space ship. Although, those Legion members are still in stasis, if indeed they contain Legionnaires at all. I think it would make better story sense for XS to be part of a team that's come back in time to find their teammates, now that their ship had come back online, and has since likely been emitting an S.O.S. through the time stream. Of course, for my theory to be true, we have to explain how XS got on Earth-1, when she (or this version of she, anyway) belongs on Supergirl's Earth-38.

Okay, so this is all fine and well, but I still haven;y told you why I disliked the waitress scene. Well, in truth, I did not dislike the scene itself. In fact, I actually found both the moment, and the actress, quite charming. What I did not like is that the scene never had a pay off. I think it was Chekhov who said, "You can't put a catering waitress on the mantle in Act I unless you fire her in Act III." Any yet, after this brief scene, said waitress is never seen or referred to ever again.

Now, I didn't necessarily need a payoff within that one episode. But certainly Waitress Girl should have re-appeared by the end of Part IV. And yet, nada.

Now, if it had been me in charge, my XS theory would have been correct. So, what I would have done would have been to show a bit of extra blue lighting zipping around along with Flash's yellow and Thawne's red during the final fight scene under the bridge, with the blue clearly knocking down bad guys. Then, I'd have scripted in this brief bit if dialogue:
ALEX: How many Flashes (ugh) are there here?
SARAH: (ugh) Just the two (ugh), ours an Thawne. (ugh) Why?
ALEX: Nothing. (ugh) It just seems like (ugh) more.
SARAH: Well (ugh), they move pretty fast. Makes 'em seem like (ugh) they're in a bunch of places at once.
The "ughs," by the way, are where the girls are punching/taking punches from nazis. It's not the two girls macking on each other.

Anyway, then I'd have XS zip to a stop at the end of some alley, look back as the last few nazis drop, them smile and zip off. Aaaand, boom, payoff. We now have some clue who the waitress was and what her import will be, and the wedding scene suddenly comes off a lot less like a meaningless non-sequitur.

One thing I like in fiction is when characters seem to act on their own, without the appearance of editorial strings moving them from one plot point to the next. The hook-up of Sara Lance, the White Canary, and DEO Agent Alex Danvers, seemed perfectly natural, almost exactly what one might expect of these two characters at this point in their lives. I mean, it's been established that Sara is almost as much of a horn-dog as Heat Wave, and Alex was in desperate need or a rebound fling. So, it would've seemed odd somehow if these two characters had not connected. And more to the plus side, actresses Caity Lotz (Sara) and Chyler Leigh (Alex) handled their interactions almost pitch perfect. Had this part of the show be written or acted less well, it could have easily devolved pretty quickly into an annoying B plot. But, as presented, I found myself on a few occasions actually thinking, "Okay, less punching nazis — back to Salex!"

Of course, Salex probably isn't a great couple name. It kinda sounds more like a member of the Yellow Lantern Corps, doesn't it?

The question now is whether this was truly a one-off thing, or if Salex will ever get a return engagement. I'd like to see the relationship at least referenced on the individual shows at some point, if only in a brief throwaway scene. I'd script it like this:
(Alex is at the DEO center console, staring off wistfully into space. Supergirl walks up)
SUPERGIRL: What's with you?
ALEX: (coming to reality) Hmm? Oh, nothing. Just . . . Nothing.
SUPERGIRL: (knows it's something, and she'll pry it out, as sister's do) Nothiiiing?
ALEX: No. It's just . . . (sigh) I was thinking . . . (leans in toward Supergirl in a 'this-is-just-between-us-as-sisters' fashion) Just . . . What time period do you suppose Sara is in right now.
SUPERGIRL: (snapping away in mock surprise) Sara? Sara Who? Sara Lance — you're one night stand?
WINN: (sitting at a nearby working, but paying no apparent attention until now) Wait, WHAT?! One night stand? You? (gets up) With who? Who did YOU . . .

(begin rapid crosstalk)
ALEX: Winn, no.
WINN: Aw, c'mon. I mean . . . YOU? Who with?
ALEX: Winn, this is not . . .
SUPERGIRL: Winn, she really doesn't . . .
WINN: Seriously, WHO?
ALEX: I'm not going to . . .
SUPERGIRL: She's doesn't want to . . .
WINN: Was it someone here? Do we have an Agent Sara?
ALEX: No, Winn. No.
SUPERGIRL: Really, Winn. Boundaries.
WINN: Aw, c'mon. Make with the deets, man.
ALEX: Winn, I will break your . . .
SUPERGIRL: She WILL hurt you.
WINN: No-no-no-no, you can't just leave something like this . . . 
J'ONN: (off screen) MISTER SCHOTT! (everyone stops talking)

J'ONN: Mr. Schott, professional agents of the DEO do NOT pester one another about their personal lives.
WINN: But. She.
J'ONN: I believe you were in the middle of [reference to that week's McGuffin].
WINN: (long pause. relents) Fine. (returns to desk, defeated)
J'ONN: (watches Winn retreat) Okay . . .  (turns to Alex with a conspiratorial, almost schoolgirl look) Tell me EVERY-thing.
 Anyway, that's how I'd do it.

And it looks like this like/dislike tube review is running a little long. Guess I'll have to break it up into four parts, just like the show itself.

More next time. 

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