Saturday, December 1, 2001

The Mount - TV Time

Never before have so many superhero-related TV shows been on prime-time television than in this time in history. Never before have I written an article about all these TV shows. Never before have I had so much gushing praise to write about something. So without further ado, let's talk about Smallville, The Tick and Justice League.

Smallville: WB : Tuesday Nights at 9:00 EST (8:00 CST)

The breakout hit of the three shows so far, Smallville has been described as "Dawson's Creek with superpowers". It's all about life, friendship and love in a small town. The fact that the small town is Smallsville, Kansas and that a teenage Clark Kent, Lana Lang, Pete Ross and Lex Luthor are among the friends and that there are weird green rocks that seem to be bestowing odd powers on people at random is just a coincidence.

There seems to be a pattern to the episodes I've seen so far, with a "monster of the week" theme driving the plot. Hopefully the show can move beyond this, as having one person a week besides Clark developing a superpower and abusing it is going to get really old, really fast.

The acting is good, for the most part. None of the younger actors really stand out, except for Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor). Also worth noting is John Glover, who plays Lex's father.

A quick fun fact: this is the third time John Glover has been involved in a DC Comics related project. He was the voice of The Riddler in "Batman: The Animated Series" and played Jason Wodrue in "Batman and Robin".

Overall, this isn't the kind of thing I'd watch every week, but I think I'm a little out of the target audience. Regardless, it's pretty good if you don't mind angsty teen melodrama.

Assessment: Okay. Will likely have a long life if the ratings stay constant.

The Tick: Fox : Thursday Nights at 8:30 EST (7:30 CST)

The cult indie hit comes to the small screen again: This Time, Alive! A big blue superhero known only as "The Tick" comes to "The City", looking for adventure and an archenemy to call his own. He teams up with Arthur (an accountant who bought a moth suit at an auction), Bat-Manuel (Half Bat-Man, Half Rico-Suave) and Captain Liberty (Wonder Woman, with a streak of strumpet) to fight the forces of evil.

With only two episodes aired so far, it's a bit hard to gage the direction of the show so far. Overall, the humor and characterization from the comics seems transported very well into the show. Patrick Warburton cuts a fine figure as The Tick, giving the role the right mix of obliviousness and innocence, with just a bit of pomposity as he says dramatic lines that would make Adam West wince. David Burke finds the right mix of wannabee hero and bunny rabbit in his portrayal of Arthur.

That said, I really have to question some of the writing so far. For instance, in an early scene The Tick "rescues" some people from a broken coffee machine. As he beats the machine into submission, he says proudly "Java Devil: you are now my bitch!" While the line is funny, it really doesn't fit with Tick's innocent image for him to be saying the B-word. It also makes it seem kind of odd later when he doesn't get any of Bat-Manuel's sexual innuendoes. It's a running gag in fact, with two variations on the line...

Bat-Manuel: (winking) .... if you know what I mean?

Tick: No.

There seems to be a lot of sexual humor for a superhero show. Not that there hasn't always been a link between superheroes and sex jokes. I mean, how long have we had men say, while looking at Wonder Woman, "I wouldn't mind HER tying me up with that Lasso Of Truth". Still, we come about one level below Larry Nevin's "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" essay at some points, with jokes about Bat-Manuel and Captain Liberty's escapades on the rooftops while Arthur and Tick are trying to save Jimmy Carter from being assassinated.

In fact, the second episode centers around the team having to hide the body of legendary "Superman-esque" hero "The Immortal" after he dies while making love to Captain Liberty in order to preserve his image. Very little is said about the image of the other heroes, Captain Liberty's virtue or Arthur's reaction to his childhood hero dying in such a manner. I'm not saying that such humor is bad, but that it seems to be a big part of the humor of the show... and the comic was funny enough without having to stoop to such humor.

Assessment: I really did enjoy the show and think it may easily be the best of the three new superhero shows. Sadly, most of the humor and concept is a little off the wall for most of America. That and a lousy time-slot on Thursday nights will probably mean a quick death for this bug.

Justice League: Cartoon Network : Monday Nights at 9:30 EST (8:30 CST)

Probably the most eagerly anticipated of the three, Justice League is an animated series based on the DC Comics superhero team of the same name.

Produced by the same team that created Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, this show matches the animation style of the show well. It also brings back most of the voice cast from before. Kevin Conroy and Michael Rosenbaum return as Batman and The Flash but Tim Daly isn't on hand to continue voicing Superman. He is replaced by George Newbern.

Five episodes have aired so far- the three-part pilot "Secret Origins" and a two parter entitled "In Darkest Night".

"Secret Origins" details the formation of the League after an alien invasion nearly destroys the Earth. Superman and Batman investigate a series of odd break-ins at aerospace-related businesses, leading them to a captured J'onn J'onzz. J'onn informs them of a race of parasitic aliens that killed the Martian race which is now on Earth. Joining them are established heroes The Flash, Green Lantern John Stewart, the Thangarian Hawkgirl... and a newcomer; Princess Diana of Themyscria, who is summoned away from the Island of the Amazons by a telepathic message by J'onn.

"In Darkest Night" details the trial of John Stewart, who supposedly blew up a planet while trying to stop a pirate. Abandoned his fellow Corps members, his only hope lies in the rest of the Justice League being able to prove his innocence.

Justice League is a real treat for old time DC Comics fans and anybody who likes to play "spot the reference". Between numerous references to "The Martian Chronicles" and "War of the Worlds" and cameos by Snapper Carr, Kanjar Ro and a host of other obscure characters, one might think that Dennis Miller had a hand in writing the scripts.

There is also an outstanding use of humor; both personality based (Batman's subtle grimace as he has to swing in through an opening as the rest of the team flies) and wise-cracking. I'm especially fond of Ajuris 5's solution to dealing with mercenary lawyers. (You have to see it to get it).

Sadly, the show does have some significant problems. While the show is a treat for comic fans, the writers assume that the audience is already familiar with most of the characters and concepts involved. I watched the show with some friends who didn't know much about superheroes past Batman and Superman. I found myself quickly trying to answer...

1) How many powers does Martian Manhunter have anyway? There were a lot of cries of "How?" whenever J'onn got a pensive look trying to make telepathic contact and said "I can sense it." J'onn "senses" things a lot.

2) There's more than one Green Lantern? (There's a lot of them... they're space cops)

3) Who are the little blue guys watching everything?

4) Why can't Superman just use his heat vision here?

5) I thought Green Lantern was a white guy?

6) Where is Hawkgirl from?

Of course most of these questions are answered by the end of "In Darkest Night", but it leaves everyone confused until the near the end of Part Two, when the Guardians and their relation to the Manhunters and GL Corps is explained in detail. We never get much explanation of Hawkgirl's powers (are the wings natural or what?) although we do find out she's from "Thangar" (this brought out a course of "huhs"?) or what exactly a Martian can do. It's hard to tell whether J'onn is becoming intangible or invisible. No background has been given for The Flash or Hawkgirl yet, and very little has been given to John Stewart.

There's also some characterization that is bound to irritate, if not offend the classic DC fans. For example, Superman, ever the staunch moralist, seems to have no qualms about taking the lives of alien invaders in "Secret Origins". The Flash is played more as comic relief than as a merely wisecracking hero. Batman here is too close to the Grant Morrison "I can do anything" characterization. John Stewart's characterization here is different than in any other written incarnation; not necessarily bad... just different.

Assessment: Sure to be a hit with comic fans and cartoon lovers alike, but it may be too inaccessible and "insider" for most people.