Up, Up, and Away to Smallville
Arrowverse 2021 Season: Week 6
With this sixth week of the 2021 season, we have a new show joining the ranks of the ArrowverseWhen it was announced that the CW was creating a show based on the Green Arrow, people laughed. The CW? Really? Was it going to be teen-oriented like everything else on the network and be called "Arrow High"? And yet that one show, Arrow has spawned three spin-offs, various related shows and given DC a successful shared universe, the Arrowverse on TV and streaming.: Superman & Lois. Obviously, there are those that argue the show should be called "Clark and Lois" as that's the real name for the two characters, but you don't sell a show with such a generic name (even the 1990s show with a title similar had to add "The New Adventures of SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s." as a subtitle") It does give us not only our first Superman-focused show in the 'verse, but also a replacement series to carry on Supergirl's part of the Arrowverse, especially once that show ends this year.
This week we'll cover this new entry into the universe, as well as an episode of Batwoman, for our two in-depth reviews:
Superman & Lois, Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot
Before "Crisis on Infinite Earths", Superman (Tyler Hoechlin, who has played Supes since the second season of Supergirl) and Lois (Elizabeth Tulloch), were off at Argo City having their first son. That was changed, though, after "Crisis" with it being not one but two sons, Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) and Jordan (Alex Garfin), and now they're both suddenly teenagers. Universe reboots are weird, man. The family lives in Metropolis where both husband and wife work at the Daily Planet while the sons go to Metropolis High, where Johnathan is starting freshman on the football team while Jordan is a distant, socially awkward wallflower with anxiety.
When Martha Kent, Clark's mom (played by Michele Scarabelli), dies of a stroke, Clark, Lois, and the fam head to Smallville to tie up loose ends. While there, though, they learn all about what's been going on in the town, from various farmers falling on hard times, to rich industrialist Morgan Edge coming in and buying up all the foreclosed properties (for some reason). Clark and Lois start to dig and what they find puts them on edge. Meanwhile, Clark struggles with keeping his super-heroic identity secret from his kids (as he hasn't yet told them). Oh, and there's a terrorist attacking nuclear plants to draw Superman out, and he knows who Superman really is and wants nothing more than to kill the Man of Steel. There's a lot going on for Clark and Lois in this extra long pilot episode.
In the lead up to this pilot, a number of outlets complained about how somber and dramatic Superman & Lois appeared, with the trailers playing up the drama. It's fair to say that this pilot is more dramatic than the comparable time period over in Supergirl, with out bubbly heroine playing up the goodness of the world. Thing is, we've already had five seasons with her and that show learned, very quickly, that when you have a superhero that's practically god-like in their powers you have to find some way to make them interesting, either through character dynamics or power-creep. Supergirl invested in politics and pitting our heroine against a worthy villain, Lex Luthor, eventually. Here, Superman & Lois is investing in a new angle: family drama (along with, yes, a different Lex Luthor).
I don't actually hate this approach. Although the show is pretty somber for a length of its run, it starts to brighten up near the end of Clark reveals who he truly is to Johnathan and Jordan, and once it's revealed that Jordan has inherited his father's powers, and everyone learns a bit about each other, the show starts to bring in a playful tone. There's brightness at the end of this road, I think, but to make Superman interesting the show wants to focus on the ups and downs of being both a superhero and a family man. That's the right tone to take, I think, and will provide plenty more for the show to do than just fighting the standard villain-of-the-week.
As far as villains for the big guy to eventually tussle with, the show provides two potential long-term foes: Morgan Edge (who we don't see in this episode) and Captain Luthor (Wole Parks), an alternate universe version who apparently survived the "Crisis" and now wants revenge on the only Superman left to fight. From just this first episode, without a lot to go on yet, it's hard to know if Luthor and Edge are working together (or will work together) but it does seem like each man, in their own way, is targeting the things Superman holds dear (his identity, his family, his hometown) and are seeking a way to take it from him. How this plays out could be interesting because while Luthor is the super-powered foe Superman can punch, Edge is a foe that's better taken up by Lois and her investigative skills. Likely that's the dynamic we're going to see with this Smallville-set show -- Superman taking out the big foes while Lois doggedly goings after the political and financial threats, as a reporter should.
Overall I like what this series sets up and where it's headed. It's a new take on the Superman material, for sure, and the chemistry between the lead duo help to anchor and ground this new material. If the show can grow, evolving, and bring a little of that sunny quality in, this could be more than a worth successor to Supergirl but also the show that helps carry on a good legacy for the Arrowverse going forward.
Batwoman, Season 2, Episode 5: Gore on Canvas
This week sees our characters on two different quests. The first plot (the A-plot) sees Batwoman allying herself with the Crows (who she hates with a blind passion, for good reason as we learn) so they can track down the Napier Painting. This painting, a canvas done in paint and gore (human entrails, apparently) hides a map to the secret island of Safiyah, the villainess holding Kate Kane hostage. The Napier is for sale at an underground auction, and to get it Batwoman will have to infiltrate the gallery as herself, Ryan Wilder, and then somehow find a way to steal it before anyone else gets the canvas.
Meanwhile, Alice is on her own trail for a path to Safiyah's island. She's tracking down Ocean, a guy she somehow once knew from the island (although she, and he, both have no memory of it somehow). She was supposed to kill him, as per Safiyah's orders, but now having met him, she suspects there's much more going on. That's revealed by the end of the episode, after the two of them take out Safiyah other goons, when Ocean shows he has the real Napier painting (the one at the auction being a fake).
This episode is working a few different angles that I think actually deepen Batwoman as a whole. The first is that it illustrates Alice can support her own plot line without having to be tied so directly to Batwoman. Her plot line is directly tied to her sister, Kate (who she wants to kill), but since Kate is no longer Batwoman Alice is freed from being just a "Bat Villain" to something else, somewhere between psychopath and anti-hero. Long term the series needs this if it's going to keep Alice around in any capacity (and as one of the only connections the show has to Kate, who is effectively written off the show now, we need Alice to stick around for a while yet).
Meanwhile, on the Batwoman side, the show does two things that are interesting. For one, we're delving deeper into the institutional corruption of the Crows, a paramilitary force that acts like the police in Gotham but really only protects those that can afford their services. Ryan has pointed out, time and again, that she feels the Crows are corrupt, and over the course of this season we see bigger and bigger hints about that. It culminates this episode with two crows bashing into a suspect with their van, breaking a number of his bones and leaving him dying while they drive off, not worries about the consequences. For Batwoman ally, Sophie, who is in deep with the Crows, this could serve as a turning point for her character.
And then there's Jack Napier, the painter of the canvas everyone wants. The show tells us, flat out, that Napier was the JokerOne of Batman's first villains, and certainly his more famous (and most popular), the Joker is the mirror of the Bat, all the insanity and darkness unleashed that the hero keeps bottled up and controlled., which puts this series in a bit of shared continuity with the 1989 Batman. While I might not be the biggest fan of that film, it feeling much more like a Tim Burton film than a Batman movie, I am intrigued by this connection and what it could mean for this series (and the Arrowverse as well). And hey, maybe we'll get an old Joker showing up at some point, played by Jack Nicholson, to introduce a new, younger Joker Gang. That could be kind of cool.
Although I know there are viewers that aren't into this show, I really feel like Batwoman has grown to be one of the most consistent shows in the Arrowverse. This second season of the series has only improved that.
Elsewhere in the 'Verse
- In comparison to the good work done in Superman & Lois and Batwoman, this week's Black Lightning was only... okay? Bear in mind, an "okay" episode of this show is still miles better than most of what the show outputs. The issue is that the series continues to move at a snails pace, moving the character incrementally forward without really changing much for anyone or the dynamic of Freeland. This episode wasn't cringingly bad, and sets up some intriguing ideas -- Jefferson helps a person as himself, not as Black Lightning; Lynn potentially strikes a deal to work for Tobias Whale -- but on the whole this episode struggles to keep up with the other shows running in the 'verse.
- Speaking of running, next week sees the return of The Flash, which we'll cover in detail along with one of these other shows next week. Same Flash Time, Same Flash Channel.