Sunday, December 3, 2017

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

And here we are, Part IV of my four-part review of the four-part DC/CW epic crossover event, CRISIS ON EARTH-X, and we've come down to the big two developments — one of endings (the death of Martin Stein) and one of beginnings (the marriages of Biris and Ollicity).

Continuing the likes and dislikes, then, and mixed feelings. . .

The decision to give the Nazis a Waverider ship of their own was ill-advised. After all, if the Waverider exists on Earth-X, that must also mean that Rip Hunter and the Time Masters do, as well. So, is their job in that universe to help ensure the Nazis always win World War II? Because that's how time is supposed to play out there?? Also, with a time ship at their disposal, the bad guys should have been able to use it in any number of ways to plague our heroes in more bedeviling ways than the brief aerial dogfight we get. The only reason to have the ship at all seems to have been to provide a place from which Cisco rescues some of the team. But, as noted in previous parts of this review, Cisco should have been more incapacitated than he was. No, the idea to have a Nazi Waverider might have seemed cool in the writer's room, but it's something that should have been excised from the script during the editing process.

I'm not super crazy about losing Victor Garber from DC'S LEGENDS OF TOMORROW. He's a great actor, and while I do think his Martin Stein was woefully underused on the show, there was still a ton of potential there. Yet, I get that Garber wanted to move on to his first love, Broadway, with a leading role in an upcoming production there. That would necessarily conflict with the filming of DCLOT. Still, I expected Martin Stein to simply retire back to civilian life, possibly forced to do so by an injury, with the promise of guest appearances in future seasons. Time travel and the multiverse being what they are, Garber can still come back from time to time. Still, I was shocked that TPTB at The CW chose to kill off the Earth-1 Martin Stein. Interestingly, with Ronnie Raymond also presumably still dead, that means both halves of the original Firestorm matrix are gone, wile the entity itself lives on.

And, yes, I believe Firestorm will be back. They've signaled pretty clearly that Jax still wants super-powers, and I'm sure he'll be secretly relieved when his "cure" fails to take in some future episode, forcing him to merge with someone else, or die, thereby recreating Firestorm. The question is, who will that be? I've seen much online speculation that Jax will merge with a grown-up version of Stein's infant grandson, Ronnie (surname as yet unknown). Maybe. Eventually. But I doubt it. That's too easy, I think. Instead, I've also read online that Heat Wave actor Dominic Purcell is likewise interested in finding some kind of graceful exit from the show. Should that happen, DCLOT will need some other character who makes Caity Lotz' White Canary gnash her teeth. My bet is that Jax will end up sharing the Firestorm matrix with bumbling time cop Gary. This would allow Jax actor Franz Drameh to evolve into a more mature role as the senior partner of the shared entity, while having the side-benefit of allowing Brandon Rouch's Ray Palmer also mature somewhat, with Gary on hand to handle some of the requisite comic relief duties.

So, anyway, there's that. Now, about the death itself.

I admit it — I cried.

Seriously. Real tears!

The actual shooting wasn't terribly convincing, but I thought the death scene, the notification of Stein's wife and daughter, and the funeral, were all done extremely well. Props to all. And props especially to Drameh. When he first showed up as Jefferson Jackson, my reaction was mostly, "Meh. This guy." After all, if Robbie Amell was no longer available, why not pair off Stein with Jason Rusch? Why invent a totally new character? Maybe it was because they'd already introduced Rusch in the form of actor Luc Roderique, and maybe he was either unavailable, or else failed to impress producers and show runners during his outing on the show. I don't know. Still, when Drameh first appeared, I thought his acting was weak and one-note, and admit now that probably has as much to do with to my being prejudiced against the new character as for any other reason. Then, I balked again when car mechanic Jax suddenly became chief engineer on the Waverider. Yes, I know they developed it over a few episodes and intimated Jax put in a lot of off-screen study time. Still, my reaction was, "No way this character, as established, has the educational foundation to jump from grease monkey to tinkering with time ships!"

However, Drameh slowly won me over, and I think his acting has actually improved, to the point where he is now one of my favorite Legends, possibly as irreplaceable to the show as anyone this side of Lotz.

And I thought he did a fine job with the Stein death scene, and even better with the funeral follow-up. I completely bought it and was never once, "Oh, sure, here's this guy, acting sad." I was mesmerized. Also, belated props: His Victor Garber impression from the previous DCLOT episode was killer — the absolute BEST.

It was interesting to me that there seemed so little urgency surrounding Stein's injuries once he was aboard the Waverider. But why would anyone freak? After all Gideon has been depicted as a medical miracle worker on any number of occasions. That's why, even though they established quite well that Stein would've been dead already if not for his connection to Jax, and that this connection was slowly dragging Jax down with Stein, I still expected right up until the end that Gideon would pull a magic rabbit out of her virtual hat. Maybe that was the intent, but I think something more was needed.

As I've said, I think Cisco needed to be more grievously injured at the wedding, with some others also hurt to lesser degrees, so that it was not so obvious he was being moved off the board to facilitate the plot. And then, when he came back for the final battle, it needed to be in some fashion other than, "Hey, look at me, I'm all better now. Let's fight!" He should have still be injured, yet determined to help even at great peril to his own health. He might have said something like:
CISCO: I've tried to Vibe Gypsy and her dad. I don't know what's going on with them on their Earth right now, but I can't reach them. So, you need me. Don't you try to sit me out. I have to be a part of this.
And so he fights while in obvious pain, and ends up exacerbating his injuries, whereupon he's taken to the Waverider. Then, when Martin is brought it, everyone has a decision to make — Gideon probably can save Stein, but to do so she must divert resources from keeping Cisco alive, essentially letting one go to save the other. Thus, everyone is faced with the same decision as Jax — while he's me-or-Martin, they're all, depending on their allegiances, also Jax-or-Martin, or Martin-or-Cisco. So, everybody has a stake in, and small responsibility for, Martin's death.

I think that would have punched up the emotion for everyone, characters and viewers alike, that much more, while also making Gideon's inability to save Martin that much more convincing.

So, yeah, that happened. I was glad to see Barry and Iris get married. It's a natural evolution for the characters and it's nice to see it come off without a hitch, despite the obvious hitches. I was sort of expecting the powers to be to rule against the marriage in favor of a break up and new love interests for both, before eventually bringing our couple back together again. But Barry and Iris really were meant for each other, and it'd be nice to see a healthy, strong, positive relationship. (even if it is weird that Iris now acts like it was always Barry for her, and Eddie never existed).

I think most FLASH fans feel the same, especially given that Candice Patton has time and again proven herself more than capable — when the writers give her something to work with — of being more than just "the girlfriend." It's been nice to see her evolve into the sort of de facto leader of Team Flash, and to have done so before the marriage, so it's not just, "Well, she's the wife now. So, she's in charge."

But I think fans are having more of an issue with the Oliver/Felicity marriage. There, it seems as if, as is often the case, the spark goes out as soon as the characters cross the Dave and Maddie Moonlighting line of, "Will they, or won't they?" And that seems to be what is driving most of the online protesting I have seen. That and the fact that the entire development seemed kind of unnaturally shoehorned into the COEX plot. Plus, it was just rude. As one YouTube reviewer I saw put it, "If I had been Iris, I would have been SO pissed." Yeah, I can see that.

But I think the real problem with Mr. & Mrs. Ollicity is that Felicity Smoak actress Emily Bett Rickards became something of a surprise sensation on ARROW due to her absolute adorkableness. Her character's obvious infatuation with Oliver and utter inability to get out of her own way in acting upon that interest was what made her character so much fun. But take away that factor by placing her confidently in a relationship with Oliver, and everything interesting about Felicity seems to fade away, and she becomes more annoying then endearing.

And, so, the temptation is to try and recapture the magic my spitting Ollicity up, to make them once again attracted to, and yet uncomfortable around one another. Online, fans are already taking bets on when this marriage blows up. But I don't think it needs to. To the contrary, it would be refreshing to have, as we do in Barry and Iris, a committed, crime-fighting couple who are secure and deeply in love, whose conflict is largely with situations and events, not ultimately with each other.

But the key is to evolve Felicity beyond the one-trick innuendo pony she was at the start. The writers need to realize that, whereas Melissa Benoist's Supergirl is sweetly adorkable, and Danielle Panabaker's Caitlin Snow is meekly adorkable, Felicity is geekly adorkable. The trick, I think, is to realize that Felicity is the viewer's entry point into ARROW. She is the person most every viewer might most easily identify with if they were somehow transported into this world. That means she needs to become a bit more Cisco-like, being the one to always spring with the pop-culture reference, or to make the Cinema Sins-like side commentary on what's going on around her. Her reactions need to be what the average viewer might think and do, if they were to find themselves inside her form-fitting dress.

If the writers can do that — make Felicity not so much Oliver's fawning fangirl, but a kind of crime-fighting, snark-weilding everygirl who is fully his equal — I think ARROW can survive this marriage.

So, I like the Barry/Iris marriage and, depending on how they handle it from here, don't completely hate the Oliver/Felicity knot.

And that's that. Now, we turn, as we must, to next year's crossover event. Surely, The CW will do this again, since it's been such a hit and, this year at least, so well executed. But how will they draw the heroes together once more?

First off, I think they need to follow this year's model, and make the crossover a standalone event. Yes, the plot and character beats should spin out of and have future impacts on the four individual shows, but if they don't worry so much about, "This is the SUPERGIRL episode. This is the FLASH episode," it frees them up creatively. For example, maybe we don't use Supergirl at all, but instead feature Melissa Benoist as Power Girl, from some other universe. Of course, she might need some . . . enhancements to play the part, um . . . convincingly. But that can be managed easily enough, I'd imagine.

For example, here's a scene I can see:
(Jay and Barry turn a corner in the JSA brownstone, Barry nearly bumps into Power Girl, then quickly steps back to take it in)

BARRY: (not quite realizing he's said it out loud) Oh . . . wow.
KARA: (gives a look with an arch of the brow, as if to say, "Drool much?")
BARRY: Oh, I mean, no —  I mean . . . (weak smile) I'm sorry. It's just, um, you look, (intake of breath) exactly, like someone I know.
KARA: Exactly?
BARRY: Well . . . (eyes drift down to the infamous boob window) There are . . . (eyes dart back up, then meekly, almost as a question) Differences.
KARA: (As if addressing Howard Walowitz) Really?
BARRY: Ah, no — I mean, yes. I mean . . . ahhh, It's just, um, HERE, (waves his fingers in front of her face, inadvertently invading Kara's personal space enough for her to snap her head back a bit and give one of those specially-patented Melissa Benoist brow crinkles, as he continues without pause) In the face. You look just alike. It's just she has bigger, ah, LONGER . . . hair. But other than that, like . . . that one thing, which, you know, I just noticed, yeah, pretty much, um, exactly. Alike.
BARRY: (aside to Jay) She as strong as Supergirl, you think?
JAY: (matter-of-factly) She can hurt you.
(Jay continues into the meeting hall. Barry follows, sidestepping around Kara, who has planted herself firmly in place, fists on hips, in the classic pose of her older cousin, almost daring Barry to bump into her a second time.)
Anyway, here are my predictions and preferences for how the producers might go: 

This, of course, will be the temptation. With this year's crossover being so successful, the clear creative dictate will be to try and top it, somehow. The obvious choice will be to pull out all the stops and do a CW version of Crisis. But I think that's a mistake. The actual Crisis has been teased on THE FLASH from the beginning, and it takes place in, if I recall correctly, 2024. We can't predict if all, or indeed, any, of these DC shows will still be around then, so there may be a feeling of, "Screw it, let's just go ahead and do it now." But I think tale that needs to be held in reserve as that one is really all about the anticipation for it. Maybe we never get to it. And that's okay. Still, a promo poster that apes CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, No. 7 would be pretty faboo, don't you think?

Since SUPERGIRL is introducing the Legion of Super-Heroes this season, assuming they remain in play next season, and are not as totally screwed-up as it appears they are going to be, it might do to have the Legends, Team Flash and Team Arrow, along with Supergirl and the LSH, re-enact this classic storyline from JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, Nos. 147-148. And, hey, who doesn't what to see some actor tromping around in Mordru's nellie vaudeville cap? My only hope is that they get real actors to play the demons Abnegazar, Rath, and Ghast, and that they don't resort to making them CGI phantasims.

One of the issues with the DC/CW crossover events, apparently, is the cost of giving the leads, Melissa Benoist, Stephen Amell, and Grant Gustin so much screen time. But the event doesn't always have to feature the leads. It can be an excuse to spotlight some of the supporting players, allowing them to work together in new and interesting ways not generally available to the writers and actors on four distinct shows. This storyline is often much-maligned by fans, but how better to inch the non-leads to the foreground, and to tease a second Stein-like exit, by playing out the apparent murder of Mr. Terrific?

It now seems clear that, if we ever do get a second Justice League movie, it will pit the heroes against some cinematic form of the Legion of Doom. We will probably never get the New Gods, as originally planned. That being the case, why can't Darkseid show up to plague the Arrowverse? There might be budget constraints in depicting Apokolypse and New Genesis, as well as in casting an entire pantheon of New Gods, but the appearance of Darkseid & Co. would certainly by sufficient to draw the attention of ALL the fan press, and maybe even some of the mainstream press. Plus, Darkseid is unquestionably a big bad all-powerful enough to threaten multiple earths, which gives us a built in excuse to draw in Supergirl, Gypsy, and maybe even the entire Council of Wells.

Alternately, if we want to use both Darkseid AND the Legion of Super-Heroes, and still guarantee notice from at least the fan press, it might do to go with a version of this all-time classic story. In this case, the abducted twin might not  be Garridan Ranzz, but either Don or Dawn Allen, with the crossover serving to showcase the birth of the Tornado Twins. Having one of the newborn Allen twins lost to Apokolypse would certainly play on an emotional level equal to Stein's death, and would also necessarily drive future developments on THE FLASH, at least, if not all the shows.

The crossover event can also be used as a sweeps-week stunt to boost ratings for the under-performing DC/CW shows, and conventional wisdom holds that LEGENDS OF TOMORROW needs that help the most. The showrunners made a good decision this season, I think, to forego the traditional season-long big bad in favor of chasing after anachronism MacGuffins. But will that formula work over multiple seasons? If the show decides it needs a Big Bad once more, perhaps Per Degaton might fit the bill, with Vixen's JSA teammates forming part of the roster of heroes for the crossover? Of course, this does pose the question of how to draw in Supergirl.

Again, the problem with always trying to top last year's event is that things tend to get bigger and bigger until the supposed-danger escalates to ridiculous, unbelievable propositions. Not every cross-over needs to have the volume set to 11. It can be a nice change of pace to have a simpler mystery to solve. And, in that regard, perhaps helping to find the lost heroes of another Earth might be just the ticket. An added bonus, which would help limit lead actor screen time and boost the profiles of the supporting players, might be to follow the Gardner Fox model, and have the heroes split into smaller teams, only really coming together at the beginning and end of the event. But here's what I'd do — instead of using the actual Seven Soldiers, I'd throw red meat to the fans by having the lost heroes be seven characters from the SMALLVILLE universe: Superman, Supergirl, Lois, Chloe, Oliver, Lana, and Lex Luthor.

There is some concern I think, about whether we could get Allison Mack back onscreen, even if we could convince all of the other SMALLVILLE actors to come and play in the ol' sandbox one more time. According to the internet, she's busy being a crazed madam in some bizarre sex cult. So, if the internet says so, it must be true. But what if we could get Tom Welling, at least? There seemed to be a lot of online speculation that Welling might show up as a Nazi version of himself during CRISIS ON EARTH-X. Certainly, there is a pent-up demand to show that the SMALLVILLE universe is indeed one of the 53 realities of the DC/CW Mutiverse. But, again, if we can't have that, we could at least get a story where Kal-El's rocket landed in the Soviet Union instead of Kansas, with Tom Welling in the titular role as the communist Kryptonian.

And finally, here is my preference — as I said above, not every year has to be all about the end of the universe. We can sometimes have, and as fans would be perfectly happy with, a simpler, more traditional heroes v. villains storyline. What I'd most like to see is a bunch of villains in colorful costumes taking on all the heroes I know and love. The basic framework of this particular tale would work, I think, because the DC/CW shows have demonstrated great facility with their gorilla CGI tech. So, if we can do Grodd, why not the Ultra-Humanite? What I would do here is pair up Team Arrow, Team Flash, and the Legends with the Justice Society of America from Earth-3 — not the evil Earth-3 of the comics, mind you, but the CW Earth-3, home to Jay Garrick. And I'd make all of those JSA members older and/or second-generation heroes, with our SUPERGIRL actors playing characters from that world. My fantasy casting:

THE FLASH: John Wesley Shipp
POWER GIRL: Melissa Benoist
STARMAN I & II: Jeff Goldblum and Jeremy Jordan
WONDER WOMAN: Lynda Carter
HOURMAN II: Mehcad Brooks
BLACK CANARY I & II: Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson
MR. TERRIFIC II: David Harewood (probably still a martian in disguise)
HUNTRESS: Katie McGrath
THE ATOM: Peter Dinklage
HAWKWOMAN: Christina Hendricks
WILDCAT: Jimmy Smits
SANDMAN: John Slattery
DR. FATE: Laurence Fishburne
DOCTOR MID-NITE: Robert Picardo
STARGIRL: Lili Reinhart

SUPERMAN: CGI George Reeves
BATMAN: Adam West (via photos/video)

So, that's it, friends! What did you think of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS? What would you like to see for next year's DC/CW crossover event? And how would you cast an Earth-3 JSA?

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