Uncollected Thoughts: Crisis on Earth-X


The TV promo

Where there are four DC Universe TV shows appearing on the same network, you’re going to get crossovers, especially as three of those shows are practically incestuous to begin with, having spun-off each other.

Last year, the crossover was spread over four consecutive nights, with each of the shows retaining their own identity and concerns for the most part against the background of invasion by distinctly unconvincing CGI aliens. It was fun, but most of that came in the last part, when everybody got together for a mass superhero brawl.

This year, it went a whole lot better. Firstly, the four-parter was stripped over only two nights, in blocks of two hours (for which Arrow shot forward three days),which maintained the momentum far more successfully, and secondly it went out under its own title, Crisis on Earth-X, and played as a distinct, four part mini-series, which worked fantastically.

The title alone had a nostalgic ring for veterans like me. Ever since the first JLA/JSA team-up back in 1963, Crisis has been the DC got-to title for big events. And Crisis on Earth-X is personally significant to me because that was the title of Justice League of America 107, all those years ago, my gateway back into reading comics.

The mini-series borrowed the same principle but built its story upon a colossal twist. This further forward in time, their Hitler has died (in 1994) and a new Fuhrer is in charge, supported by a female General. The Fuhrer is an expert archer with a mainly green leather costume, the General is a superstrong, flying, blonde-tressed Aryan type: yes, it’s the Earth-X Oliver Queen and Kara Danvers Queen – his wife!

And supporting this unlovely pair of versions, we have the Reverse-Flash, still wearing Harrison Wells’ face and, if we don’t have enough allusions to early series, another expert Archer called Prometheus, under whose mask is… Colin Donnell, aka Tommy Merlin.

The main thrust of the story is that Super-X-girl is dying due to some form of radiation poisoning and needs a new heart – that of Kara Danvers. As she’s going to be on Earth-1, attending Barry and Iris’s wedding, our villains bust in on the ceremony (does anyone have any objections? Pouf: Minister is vapourised).

The wisdom of trying this on just when the Church is crammed packed with the superheroes of four whole series may be questionable but not to Green-X-Arrow: in fact, the show is heavy with speeches, from him, from Super-X-girl and even from poor Tommy (before he chucks a cyanide capsule down his throat after being captured) wholeheartedly espousing Fascist ideology, and despising the heroes and, by extension, all the other 52 worlds of the Multiverse, as weak, deserving only of serving their betters.

It’s horribly contemporary, though nobody makes that connection outside the audience, and the F-word is never used, though Nazi is bandied around with comfortable ease. But this strength through purity, contempt for the weak, the poor, the non-Aryans: tell me that doesn’t ring a bell with a lot of what we see around us.

The Comics promo

I particularly liked the way that each show abandoned its individual identity in favour of the four episodes going out as Crisis on Earth-X. This was particularly welcome in the case of Supergirl, which I’ve given up watching.

Generally, there was a common core cast of the principals and a couple of essential supporting characters, with the other supporting players having only relatively limited roles, in passing. For instance, Kara brought her sister Alex with her to the big wedding (whereupon Alex copped off with Sarah Lance at the rehearsal), and Oliver Queen brought Felicity.

The Flash got the best of it, but then the story was mainly taking place in Central City and was built around Barry and Iris’s wedding, so having the full cast play through was pretty much a given. And whilst only Sarah, Mick, Jax and Professor Stein went to the wedding, the positioning of Legends of Tomorrow as the close-out show again ensured the rest of the Legends got a good look-in too.

There were more than a couple of surprises along the way. Russell Tovey turned up for the back half as a Concentration Camp victim on Earth-X, imprisoned for being gay but, as advertised, he’s also a superhero, the solar-powered The Ray. Though the Ray is actually from Earth-1, once the whole thing was done, he went back to Earth-X to continue the good fight, but his lover (from Earth-X) decided to stay on Earth-1 for a bit. His lover was captain Cold, the Earth-X version, Wentworth Miller enjoying subtly camping things up as ‘Leo’ Snart, his interactions with Dominic Purcell a total delight.

And despite the vapourised Minster, Barry and Iris did get married at the end. They’d had the ceremony, all they needed was the Licenced Minister, so Barry speed-snatched John Diggle out of Star City.

Not to be outdone, having rather loudly turned down his proposal in part 1, because she did not want to get married, Felicity had a sudden change of heart, and got Dig to tie her and Ollie’s knot too. Aww!

But there was one thing I didn’t expect, not in itself but especially not in a more or less self-contained mini-series with only a minor degree of relevance to each show’s ongoing plotlines. I rigorously avoid spoilers, so I have had no idea where the Legends plot of Professor Stein and Jax trying to separate themselves as Firestorm, to enable the former to return to his wife, daughter and grandson, was going to lead. Was Victor Garber leaving? He is the first name in the credits, after all.

So the cliffhanger for part 3 was that he and Jax had separated to speed up what needed to be done to get everyone home to Earth-1, but they were all being attacked by machine-gunning Nazis, and Stein made a run for the lever he needed to pull, and was shot. In the back.

In the final episode, he made the final effort and pulled the lever, but at the cost of another bullet. So he was rushed back to the medbay on the Waverider, and his physical suffering fed back to Jax, but it rapidly became very clear, that Martin Stein should be dead from his wounds, that he would be if he wasn’t sustaining himself on Jax’s life-force, and that Jax would die alongside him. So Stein refused to drag Jax in with him. And he died.

It was a shock and it was felt by everyone. Next week’s Legends is the Fall Finale and I’m eager to see where they go with this now: I mean, Stein could ‘survive’ as a ghostly voice in Jax’s ear, as Firestorm, or maybe Franz Drameh is out of the series two, and depending on the reaction to Russell Tovey, I’m guessing on the Ray joining the Legends before the season is over.

But this was really a surprise, even if it did turn the last part into Two Weddings and a Funeral (I’m sorry, but the producers were angling for that, obviously).

Speaking of Supergirl, I didn’t see anything to suggest I’m missing anything, and with the exception of Sarah helping Alex get over her separation from Maggie (and I don’t mean by that that her… head was turned by a lesbian one night stand, you filthy-minded sods), there was nothing to do with ongoing continuity there: Kara/Melissa Benoist was in it for the mini-series story only, and thank the TV Gods for that.

So, a palpable hit by being almost purely superhero geek from start to finish. Keep this format for 2018 and, as one who has recently watched Justice League on the big screen, take a bloody big dose of Crisis and inject into everyone who will have anything to do with the sequel: this is how you do it, you pompous bastards!

The nostalgia…

End of Term Report: The Flash


A happy crew

I love The Flash. Forget this grim’n’gritty nonsense, the superheroes I grew up on, who imprinted upon me my innate sense of recognition for the form, were filled with excitement and a sense of fun, and from its inception, this show has been the best at portraying that internal lightness, the joy and thrill of powers and the sheer yee-hah cut-looseness of superspeed.

A lot of people have talked down season 2, and are already talking of even further limited expectations for season 3. Not I. Whilst I recognise the flaws of this season, especially the way its first half was rather clogged up by the donkey work required to set up Legends of Tomorrow, the show had me from the moment when, at the end of episode 1, this tall, clean-cut guy walked into Star Labs and said, “I’m Jay Garrick.”#

The Flash of Earth-2. Earth-2. Earth-freaking-2 and it’s on tv and I’m watching people crossing the vibrational barrier that blew my mind so much fifty years ago!

So my objectivity and critical faculties tended to get overlooked on Wednesday mornings and I luxuriated in the show. And there was a lot to luxuriate this season. Iris growing into a viable and respectable character. The introduction of a young, strong Wally West (even if he isn’t ginger-haired). The week-in, week-out excellence of Jesse L. Martin’s performance as Joe. Danielle Panabaker getting to rock it out as Killer Frost.

And the presence of Jay Garrick, wearing a darker version of the Golden Age Flash’s costume, but hell’s bells, I am watching such an esoteric thing on TV!

True, I wasn’t happy with the show turning Jay into a villain, though the reveal was nicely handled. And I was definitely not on board with how, after the writers revealed that Jay wasn’t Jay at all, but was actually Hunter Zolomon, everybody still kept calling him Jay. But, still…

The finale was well set-up last week, with Zoom, aka Hunter (not Jay Garrick) Zolomon, killing Barry’s Dad, Henry, who we all remember is being played by John Wesley Shipp, the Barry Allen/Flash on the 1990 series. This wound Barry up to a pitch of genuine agony/anger that everyone else thought was unsafe, but which enabled him to face off and defeat Zolomon in a final race, where the penalty for losing was not just death for Barry and everyone on his side, but the destruction of the entire Multiverse, Earth-1 excepted. Barry pulls off a neat trick by duplicating himself, leaving one version to save the day Crisis on Infinite Earths style, by running himself into disintegration, whilst the other whupped Zoom.

So, this led into a seemingly downbeat endgame. The man in the iron mask in Zoom’s lair had already been revealed by Zoom to be the real Jay Garrick, whose name he had stolen, and who turned out to be the Flash of Earth-3. But the kicker – which did not come unforeseen – was that he was the spitting image of Henry Allen. Which did Barry no good at all.

So, rather improbably stuffed into a red and blue Flash costume, John Wesley Shipp took Harry Wells and Jesse back to Earth-2, where they would help him get on to Earth-3 (it’s funny how Barry hasn’t told anybody about his side-trip to Kara Zor-El’s Earth). Jesse wanted to go home. Harry had her blessing to stay, since he obviously fit in over here, but his promise never to leave her held, which means some hopefully tolerable contrivance is going to be needed next season to bring Tom Cavanagh back, because he is just as important to The Flash as Grant Gustin.

But the real Jay’s appearance completed the job of breaking Barry Allen. Iris is ready for him, what he’s dreamed of, but he feels too hollow, too broken inside to be what she deserves. So the real finale is Barry running back in time to his old home, that very night, the night the Reverse-Flash killed Nora Allen.

This time last season, Barry did this, but was warned off saving his mother by a future version of himself, wearing this season’s uniform. But this time, the season 2 Barry rips into the Reverse-Flash, and saves Nora. When season 1 Barry peeps through the door, he sees his Mom alive, and promptly fades out. As does season 2.

So. Barry’s saved his Mom. He’s Flashpointed his world (which ought technically to bugger up Arrow, Legends and Supergirl, if it now turns out Barry never became the Flash) which led to absolute disaster in the comics (the new 52, for a start).

Let’s bring it on! I can’t wait to see how they get themselves out of this. Roll on September.

The Fall Season: The Flash episode 2


Oh, wow! I mean, just… oh, wow!!

This ‘Fall Season’ bit isn’t meant to be an episode-by-episode blog of anything but, like Gotham but for the exact opposite reason, I can’t contain myself about the second episode of The Flash. It was almost like falling into a crossover episode of the comic book way back in the Sixties, when I was young and fresh and everything was new and exciting.

You know that I love Earth-2, I’ve written about the Justice Society so much. From the moment I first heard of it, the idea has thrilled and excited me my whole life. First and foremost amongst these has always been The Flash, the Flashes, Barry Allen and Jay Garrick. It was where the idea started.

And now Earth-2 has come to the series. And Jay Garrick has walked across the vibrational barrier, and I am seeing so many of my old comics in front of my eyes. I have seen the two Flashes in action, with my mouth open in awe. That moment when, having defeated Sand Demon, and Patty Spivot calls for the Flash and both respond, running towards her, one either side of a brick pillar… Great glory, I am laughing out loud for sheer joy for this recreates the cover of The Flash 123, the story that is the fountainhead, that gives it’s title to this episode: “Flash of Two Worlds”.

There are so many goodies in here, a season-worth in implication. 52 breaches between Earths 1 and 2, one of them, the biggest, in STAR Labs: that’s more than enough for two whole seasons!

And then that glorious coda, as we cross into Earth-2 itself, a glorious, retro-future world, it’s very look the look of the Forties when it was DC’s only world, and who should be the Director of STAR Labs in this world but Harrison Wells. Well, well, well.

I am in my own private fanboy heaven, this is my childhood rising up to overwhelm me. I am so going to enjoy this season of The Flash.

The Fall Season: The Flash


This is the one I’ve been most looking forward to seeing return. The Flash‘s first season was the unexpected hit among the superhero shows, mainly for its air of fun, and underlying lightness of touch among all the grim’n’gritty series focusing on the oh-so-serious and dark elements of costumes and powers.

In fact, I understand that, whereas the week 8 crossover between The Flash and its parent vehicle, Arrow, was intended as support for the newbie, by the time it hit the screens it was Arrow that needed the crossover appeal: outside of the crossover, Arrow‘s best rated episode didn’t get neat The Flash‘s worst.

So, good things to look forward to, and even better things on the card if season 2’s underlying arc is to involve Earth-2: the appearance of Jay Garrick’s winged helmet in the season finale was not just an easter egg for us D veterans.

But what of the cliffhanger that we were left with at the end of season 1? After a whirlwind flashback covering the whole season, we jumped straight to a perfect world: Flash and Firestorm take down Captain Cold and Heat Wave, everybody’s happy in STAR labs until we see Eddie Thawne and Harrison Wells… No, the reality is a deserted, dilapidated STAR labs and Barry alone.

It seems that for the past six months, the Flash has been pushing everybody away and trying to go it alone. Eddie and Wells are still dead. Caitlin’s quit and gone to work for Mercury Labs. Cisco is Joe’s science expert on the Anti-Metahuman squad. And Barry’s being very stubborn.

It’s quite understandable: he didn’t get to undo his Mom’s death, his Dad is still unjustly in prison for it – but it’s not until the carefully delayed flashback to the save from the Singularity that we see the real reason. Central City is holding Flash Day to celebrate the man who saved the City, but Barry knows that he only did so much, and that the true hero was Firestorm. Except that when Firestorm split, only Victor Gerber emerged, not Ronnie Raymond. Ronnie’s dead, and Barry won’t let any of his other friends face that risk.

Of course the episode is dedicated to reversing that decision and restoring the basic set-up for the next 22 episodes. This is accomplished around the menace of Atom-Smasher, aka Al Rothstein, a chunky, radiation-sucking gentleman with the power to expand his size and weight. Team Flash comes up with the solution of overloading his radiation absorbing capacities, though this doesn’t merely neutralise Rothstein, it kills him.

His dying words are to say that he was trying to kill The Flash at the behest of Zoom, who had promised to send him home. Who Zoom is was not explained, though we ancient comic book fogies know full well that the other name for Flash-foe Professor Zoom is… the Reverse-Flash (though since Geoff Johns is all over this series, it’s bound to be his revised version of Zoom: if you hear the name of Hunter Zolomon being bandied about…)

Nor was any detail given of where Rothstein calls home beyond, ‘You wouldn’t believe me.’ Oh, but I would: try Earth-2…

But there was still a surprisingly emotional moment to come. Barry receives a kind of living Will from the late Harrison Wells that he’s resistant to watching until Caitlin volunteers to share the pain. The late Doctor woofles a bit before telling Barry to erase the tape up to here: he then launches into a full confession for the murder of Nora Alllen. Barry’s dad is set free.

It’s a joyous moment, as well as an end to an overbearing plot that Johns introduced into the comics, and which I’ve always felt was totally inimical to the world of the Flash. To have that lifted was a great blessing on all levels, though the show then made its great mistep: no sooner is Henry Allen free than he’s buggering off out of Central City to parts far away from the son who has missed growing up with a father and whose greatest wish has just been realised. And why? Because having Henry around will stifle Barry’s growth as the Flash.

That’s definitely a comic book moment: stupid, implausible, based on specious reasoning, a clueless expedient towards trying to recreate the status quo after game-changing incidents.

So, we and the vast majority of Team Flash are now back where they were, which is to be both expected and welcomed. There are still tweaks to be ironed out: as Tom Cavanagh is staying with the show, either Harrison Wells has left a whole parcel of living Wills or else something ingenious is up someone’s sleeve (hopefully).

Nevertheless, it’s all good. STAR Labs is fully intruder-proofed: no-one’s just walking in here unannounced anymore. Except for the guy who does. He’s hear with a warning: Team Flash’s Earth is in danger. The guy’s name is Jay Garrick.

And he’s the Flash of Earth-2…

Uncollected Thoughts: The Flash


DC may be trailing Marvel irrecoverably in establishing a Cinematic Universe, but they’re in better health when it comes to bringing theit characters to TV. Arrow, which has been steadily entertaining and far more reliable than the erratic Agents of Shield, has started its third season with the confidence to kill a very popular leadng character in its first episode, whilst also sparing time for a mini-crossover with DC’s second attempt to create a series centred upon The Flash. And, unlike its predecessor, twenty-five years ago, and like but unlike Arrow, this Flash works and works wonderfully well.

You see, the thing about the Flash in the comics, the Barry Allen version that ran from 1956 to 1985 and was revived in 2008, was that it was Fun! with a capital F. When your superpower is the utterly primal one of Speed, of being able to run *fast!*, how could it be otherwise? Blessed with one of the best origins ever – a lightning bolt on a stormy night shatters a rack of chemicals, spilling an unpredictable, incalculable mix of electrified chemicals over Barry Allen and granting his Superspeed – Barry was not driven by trauma, guilt, revenge or anything. He had this wow power, he’d worshipped the comic book Flash as a kid, he could do what he almost wanted to do and help people.

That’s what this new series gets right, immediately and gloriously. Barry’s speed is fun, and he loves running. That’s why it’s going to work.

Of course, there’s one more vitally important aspect to this. One of the major reasons the 1990 Flash didn’t work was the special effects. And the budget, but mainly the special effects. Speed is incredibly difficult to make convincing onscreen: wasn’t the only part of the SFX in Christopher Reeve’s first Superman that looked ludicrous the bit where young Clerk outraces a speeding locomotive?

The 1990 Flash was a victim of effects too ineffective that nevertheless swallowed up too much of the show’s budget, giving it no chance to compete on other levels. Though the two episodes starring Mark Hamill having a whale of a time going OTT as The Trickster (complete with costumed sidekick Prank, in the extremely nice shape of Corinne Bohrer in the second) showed what could be done, the series stood little chance of convincing.

Twenty four years later, CGI is much more effective, though the close-ups on Grant Gustin when he’s actually running do still mar the illusion. Still and all, on the first episode alone, this looks like it can cut it.

It’s a good pilot. Central City is less a character in this than Arrow‘s Starling City, but much more of the action takes place in daylight. There’s an essential lightness overall that contrasts very well with Arrow‘s tension, and whilst the latter started with Oliver Queen alone in on the secret of the Hood, The Flash goes to the opposite extreme with a whole team of scientists knowing Barry Allen’s secret identity, not to mention his surrogate father, Detective Joe West. That’s the direction the series looks to be taking: The Flash is an out in the open hero, welcomed by his city.

As for Flash mythology, there’s plenty of it to see. We have the Weather Wizard in the pilot, a torn apart cage with the nameplate Grodd, Iris West as Barry’s virtual sister, and Detective Eddie Thawne as the guy she loves. And we’ve the promise that the EMP that created Barry’s powers also did lots of supery things to lots of metahumans, offering the promise of fun to c0me!

My only reservation about the series is that as Geoff Johns – a very influential writer at DC, with whose work I do not entirely get along – involved, we have to have Barry’s reboot 2008 origin in which Barry is driven by the trauma of his mother being killed and his father convited and imprisoned for her murder: Barry is convinced hie Dad is innocent and determined to one day prove it.

On the one hand, it’s a nice way to involve John Wesley Shipp, the 1990 Flash, as Henry Allen, but on the other the story’s crap, and the flashback we were shown of it makes far too little effort to conceal the inevitability of it being the Reverse-Flash (aka Eobard – or maybe Eddie? – Thawne…) having travelled back in time. If we’re going to have to suffer with this, could we at least have this washed out in the first season, please?

What intrigues me more is the ending to the pilot. During the pisode, Barry spends nine months in a coma, as established in season 2 of Arrow. He wakes to find himself being studied in the remnants of Star Labs, where the particle accelerator malfunctioned, causing the lightning. The small team studying him is led by genius scientist Harrison Wells, who life has been ruined by the particle accelerator incident. He has lost his company, his friends, his reputation, and is confined to a wheelchair for life. Aiding the Flash is an obvious way to repay and rehabilitate.

Except that, in the closing seconds, he manouevres his electric wheelchair into a concealed room, stands up and walks towards a lone console.

I am seriously looking forward to finding more out about this.