I’ve just finished watching a series of superhero TV – DC, naturally – and the course of it has reignited my increasing doubts about the modern predeliction for superhero TV series that I’ve been watching, with decreasing avidity, throughout this decade.
Although I did watch Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD for a number of seasons, until I abruptly lost all interest in it at the very start of season 5, my long heritage as a DC Comics fans attuned me to their TV shows from the beginning of Arrow.
But it’s a long time since I’ve watched Arrow itself (except for its contributions to the annual crossover), and that’s now been put under notice of cancellation. And The Flash was wonderful fun when it first appeared, full of excitement and the sense of joy attendant upon the power of speed, though it’s been losing itself in angst for ages now.
Supergirl looked well worth it just on the strength of Melissa Benoist in a micro-skirt and thigh-length boots, but I struggled to survive to the end of season 2 because, well, you know, the stories were crap and when you start claiming that Supergirl is stronger than Superman, my suspension of disbelief vanishes in a puff of smoke.
On the other hand, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow was great fun, with an appealing sense of its own clunkiness, a refreshing willingness to not take itself seriously, and the freedom with which it would continually throw a constant variety of minor characters I would never ever have expected to have seen in live action. But season 4 has been an utter disaster.
Black Lightning? Never watched it. It was just one too many, literally: making time to write is far more important.
A couple of months ago, I watched the first couple of episodes of Doom Patrol, DC’s second Netflix original series. I was very impressed: being off mainstrean TV allowed (a) full(er) reign to be given to the inherent weirdness in all versions of that team (well, maybe not John Byrne’s version. Or Paul Kupperberg’s before him). I mentioned it to a mate at work who watches the same kind of series I do. Hearing that I’d never watched the first DC Netflix series, Titans, he loaded it all up for on an external hard drive.
This is the series I’ve finished this morning. It’s been a struggle.
The TV Titans is based heavily in the early issues of the New Teen Titans series from Marv Wolfman and George Perez that started in 1980 and which became a landmark series. Over the course of its eleven episodes, five of the original Teen Titans have appeared, all except Kid Flash, plus Hawk and Dove, the Jason Todd Robin and the afore-mentioned Doom Patrol. It’s dark, on all levels, from the language upwards, which gave me my first problem: the Teen Titans series I was most familiar with, that the season-long storyline has echoed at every step, was the opposite of dark. It was light, upbeat, fresh, fast-paced, drawn with delight and openness. It was dynamic, and it was a light in the post-Implosion darkness at DC that changed the company’s future.
Titans is nothing of the sort. In fact, it’s completely cynical, which is largely why it’s taken me so long to complete it, because, especially since episode 7, I’ve had to force myself to watch.
What was so bad about episode 7? Up to that point, the episodes had been slow. Not merely deliberate of pace, or in a manner that ratcheted up tension. Just slow, funereally so, as if adopting a pace opposite to the speed and directness of a Marvel Film conferred seriousness on the show by that fact alone. Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites) was moody and brooding and violent, Kori’ander (Anna Diop) was flambuoyant in dress and appearance but wholly plastic, Rachel – Raven – Roth (Teagan Croft) was a boring little Goth girl and lord knows they’re only of interest to other Goths, and Garfield Logan (Ryan Potter) was supposed to be light-hearted and a counterbalance but didn’t stand an earthly against the prevailing angst even before they started dumping on him too.
But episode 7 managed to combine not merely a deathly slow pace, dragging twenty minutes of decent story out over forty-five minutes, but also cliched stupidity and dumb plotting. Essentially, Rachel has just discovered that her birth mother Angela (Rachel Nichols, still looking surprisingly attractive) is alive and held in a psychiatric hospital. She’s desperate to see her. Hold on, says Dick, we need to check this out first, make sure it’s not a trap (I mean, there’s only been sinister forces after Rachel since minute one, ok?).
So Rachel sneaks out, with Gar, and guess what? It’s a trap! OF COURSE IT WAS A FUCKING TRAP, IT WAS ALWAYS GOING TO BE A TRAP, YOU STUPID **** and the two youngsters are captured, not that you could see the cliche coming from the other side of the Crab Nebula. So Dick and Kory survey the place and find it’s chock-full of armed guards and electronic surveillance by the mile, only they can get in unnoticed, and they can free Rach and Gar, and they can stand around talking, and walk kilometres down dank, dark, ill-lit corridors, without the slightest sign of any of these hoardes of guards or anyone spotting them on the CCTV, and I am bored out of my crust because the episode has all the tension of cold rice pudding and it’s expecting me to swallow the likelihood of this as if I were stupid.
That left four episodes before the end of the season. Two of these introduced and included Conor Leslie as Donna (Wonder Girl) Troy, who I’d never heard of before but who immediately became almost worth the interminable dullness by being both seriously gorgeous but also almost exactly like the Wonder Girl of the New Teen Titans. The other two were, to put it politely, diversions. One devoted itself to the back-story of Hawk (Alan Ritchison) and Dove (Minka Kelly), told in flashback from Dove’s hospital room, she having been in a coma since episode 3, which was reasonably interesting.
The other was a flashforward/fantasia of Dick, living in California, married to Dawn (Dove) Grainger with a young son and a second bun just short of coming out of the oven, being called back to a deteriorating Gotham to try to save Batman: The Joker has killed Commissioner Gordon, Batman’s sworn to kill the Joker (and does) so Dick betrays Bruce Wayne to the cops, leads a raid on the Manor that sees Batman beat and kill everybody, including Agent Kory Anders, so Dick kills him, giving way to the darkness inside him (oh, snooooore).
Which might have been interesting but for one thing: this was all but the last ninety seconds of the last episode. I get that it’s intended to be a cliffhanger ending, but it was the most inept handling of such a thing I’ve ever seen. It contributed nothing, literally, to the developing story, coming over as a complete abnegation of the obligation to deal with your commitment to the audience to advance the story and set up your conclusion.
Add to that some ridiculously shallow and cliched lines over the last two episodes that sounded as if they’d be written in the writer’s sleep and I’ve no hesitation in calling this a piece of ripe and mouldering shit. I shall politely refuse a loan of season 2.
But this isn’t just about venting my feelings on Titans. It ties into the wider picture of the other superhero series I still watch.
The Flash has fallen to pieces. Grant Gustin was excellent as Barry Allen to begin with, alive to possibility and the blast of his powers. But as early as season 2, the creators started to Oliver Queen him. Ollie’s always been the grim, gloomy, driven one, the responsibility-magnet, assuming everything bad that happens is because of him only. Barry’s gone a long way down that path until the pair are barely distinguishable. The show drags.
It’s also, paradoxically, got too much comic relief. Ralph (Elongated Man) Dibny is an endearing idea but the reality is that of a clownish sleazeball, where the original is supposed to be a detectivesecond only to Batman. The idea of having Ton Cavanagh as a different Harrison Wells each season was amusing but, even before this year’s ‘Sherloque’ Wells, was struggling to survive the stupid personalities.
And adding Jessica Parker Kennedy this year as Barry and Iris’s daughter Nora from the future was good in conception but lousy in execution: Kennedy just isn’t a good enough actress, and ever since it was revealed that her character is working with the Reverse-Flash, it’s been a case of wondering just how dumb everyone else is that they can’t see she’s clumsily hiding something. Five more episodes to get to the end of the series and I’m out, no matter how stupendous the teaser for season 6.
Which leaves me with Legends of Tomorrow. Up until the end of season 3, I was thoroughly enjoying myself, and the idea that things should take a turn for the magical this season was intriguing. Instead, it’s been a bust. Gone are the funny and awesome cameos. Instead, the series has decided to turn up the comedy knob, to painful effect.
It’s like the Helfer/Giffen/deMatteis Justice League International comic, which was superhero as sitcom, going goofy. The problem then, and the problem now is that there’s only so far you can go down goofy before the requirement to top yourself, to get even goofier becomes insurmountable, and from there it’s a short step – or fall – into inanity.
The first half of the series, until Xmas, was bad enough in that respect, but the show then took a break until April and it’s return has landed with a completely dull thud. Ray (The Atom) Palmer and Mick (Heatwave) Rory have ossified into caricatures whose performances can be, and are being phoned through: lord knows, there’s nothing for either actor to actually do. Gary of the Time Bureau is an inept idiot that not even MacDonalds would employ, let alone a serious intellignce agency. And Mona (Ramona Young) has been played as Little Miss Bubblewit.
I’m sorry but, no matter what he does, I look at Mat Ryan as John Contantine and think, you’re having a laugh, mate, and for ******’s sake lose the fucking tie if you have to have the ‘knot’ a permanent seven point six five inches from your shirt collar. And much as I like the sight of Tala Ashe, the ‘character’ is nothing but a monotonous sarcasm and that’s not good enough.
At this moment, I’ve downloaded the newest episode but I’m not full of enthusiasm about actually watching it, since I already know so much, sight unseen, of what will be in it.
The problem would seem to be simple. Too many shows, too few ideas. Since the CGI budget is limited, and the characters on Legends appear to be completely averse to wearing their costumes, the stories are having to be wound around minimising any kind of superhuman activity, which misses the point. And once you take the superhero stuff out, what’s left is limited.
There’s an irony to the fact that I have managed to read superhero comics for nigh on sixty years and remain interested, but I can’t even go near ten years with the stuff on TV. That said, the forthcoming Batwoman series starring Ruby Rose looks interesting, or at least likely to satisfy the more shallow side of me. It might be the only thing left then.