Friday, October 28, 2011

Legion of Super Heroes: "The Man from the Edge of Tomorrow", Pt. 2

Okay, I just watched this episode and ten minutes later, I can't tell you what happened. And in a sense, that's by design, because the purpose of this episode wasn't as much to tell a story as it was to set up the new status quo. So, while this review will cover the little bit that did happen, it's going to be in the form of the top ten list of where I think the season went wrong.

1.) Grim & Gritty:
I can't find the piece, but I recall an interview with showrunner James Tucker where he said that a lot of the changes that I hated about the second season were mandated by focus group, and the second season had higher ratings than the first.

I'm glad that the show got a second season, but I'm sorry that it had to come at the expense of what made the first one so unique. I can get grim and gritty anywhere! Keep it out of my Legion!

If I had to sum up the Legion of Super-Heroes in a single word, it would be "optimism". The property has been in existence for over fifty years and there have been many different conceptions of the characters in that time, but I think it all really comes down to that. Even the definitive Legion stories like the Great Darkness Saga and the Death of Ferro Lad have at their core, an optimism that heroism wins out in the end, that the world does sometimes change for the better. I'm reminded of two quotes, one by Margaret Mead and a longer one by Greg Rucka:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

That's the Legion, folks.

And Greg Rucka:(edit, fixed the link)

There is a time and a place for gritty. I’ll take my Batman gritty, thank you, and I will acknowledge that such a portrayal means that my 11 year old has to wait before he sees The Dark Knight. But if Hollywood turns out a Superman movie that I can’t take him to? They’ve done something wrong. Superman is many, many things. Gritty he is not, something that Richard Donner certainly understood.

(Pet peeve time: for the contingent out there who sneer at heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman and Captain America, those icons who still, at their core, represent selfless sacrifice for the greater good, and who justify their contempt by saying, oh, it’s so unrealistic, no one would ever be so noble… grow up. Seriously. Cynicism is not maturity, do not mistake the one for the other. If you truly cannot accept a story where someone does the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, that says far more about who you are than these characters.)

2.) Same as everything else: This is a subset of the first complaint, but it's distinct enough that it gets its own entry. I never thought a Legion of Super Heroes show would ever get made because it is such a niche property. Teenagers a thousand years in the future who fight crime? But the same things that made it so hard to adapt also let it tell stories that couldn't be told anyplace else. That all goes out the window with the second season. This entire season could have, with a few changes, been a Justice League or Teen Titans story. There is nothing uniquely Legion about it, and the show is worse for it.

3.) Superman X: Oh God. He's a yelly space asshole, and his characterization all over the map. He reminds me of Poochie. Remember Poochie, from the Simpsons?  Itchy and Scratchy were slipping in the ratings, so the show introduced a character called Poochie, who was just a collection of "cool" attributes.("The name's Poochie D./And I rock the telly./I'm half Joe Camel and a third Fonzarelli./I'm the Kung-Fu hippie,/from Gangsta City./I'm a rappin' surfer./You the fool I pity..") There's really nothing about him that's in any way appealing, but more importantly, he's just not interesting.

Also, he goes by Kell-El? That's a terrible name.

4.) Superman X in relation to Superman: Superman occupies a unique place on the team and that presence is diluted by another Superman. I really think they should have gone with Mon-El, or failing that, Drax, from the first season episode Phantoms, who shows more personality in one episode than Superman-X does in an entire season.

5.) Redesigns: Some of the designs are updated. Lightning Lad looks nice with the beard.

The awkward, gangly Superman from the first season eventually grew on me, but I like the new design too.

But Bouncy Boy is conspicuously muscular in certain shots in a way that doesn't work for the character and Brainiac 5 just looks uncomfortable with the crewcut. (The design in the first season was one of the things that really made the character work.), Validus looks, for lack of a better word, fucking ridiculous. (Specifically, he's drawn in such a way to show that he has no teeth, and that's a weird thing to emphasize in a 20 foot tall purple and grey unitard-wearing brain monster, but there it is.)

And the Emerald Empress. She sounds different. That's because Tara Strong is voicing her rather than Jennifer Hale. And that's not to disparage Tara Strong's fine work. The Empress just sounds different. I'm sure if Hale were replacing Strong rather than the other way around, I'd be making the same complaint. But it's noticeable and it's distracting.

6.) Imperiex: I don't like the character of Superman-X, but at least he has the benefit of having a really nice design to go with it. The same can not be said of Imperiex. Everything, from the name to the suit to the voice to his dialogue looks like it came out of a 5th grader's sketchbook. Wikipedia says that DC let the LSH show use an established villain for whom they had no active plans. I can see why Imperiex was sidelined.

7.) Destructobots: Really a subset of Imperiex, but too awful not to mention. His robots are called "destructobots". They make the "Roger, Roger" robots from the Star Wars prequels seem like ED-209.

8.) Just lame:
Compare the finale of Season One. It had pathos, sweep, sacrifice, the two teams headed by Bouncing Boy and the Emerald Empress circling each other and countering each other's contingencies. This one they just slug it out until the strongest side wins.

9.) No Girls Allowed:
When we first see Phantom Girl, Timber Wolf has to rescue her.Then Saturn Girl is benched for almost the entire season. A big part of the appeal was the fairly even mix between male and female characters and we don't see that in the second season.

"Oh thank goodness! I've been waiting forever for a boy to rescue me!"

10.) Lazy characterization: When did the Light Speed Vanguard become the Legion of Super Villains? I made the joke before about not needing to change their monogrammed sweaters. They were a bunch of asshole mercs in the first season, but they were mostly out to make a quick buck. It could be argued that they were hardened by their time in Takron-Galtos, but nobody even bothers with that fig leaf. Suddenly, they are just there, twirling their mustaches right alongside the Fatal Five.

Also, the little details that were present in the first season are mostly absent. When Mano was imprisoned the first time around, his hand was sheathed in some kind of containment unit, presumably so he wouldn't disintegrate his way through the walls of his cell. From this shot, you can see they didn't bother with that the second time around.

I've generally just talked about the season as a whole and only briefly mentioned the episode that I'm reviewing. That's because there's not much here. The Legion returns to the 31st century. Superman wants to rescue the Legionnaires being held on Takron-Galtos and Superman-X wants to defeat Imperiex. It takes almost the entire episode to figure out that these goals are not incompatible, that twenty Legionnaires are going to have better odds than two. It takes them 25 minutes to conclude what I figured out in three seconds and I'm not even a 12th level intelligence.This is even more ridiculous than it seems at first glance, because the imprisoned Legionnaires seem to be entirely unguarded. It's only later, after the endless dilly-dallying, that the Fatal Five and the LSV return to keep an eye on them.

The irony is that when the show was aimed at younger kids, it had a greater attention to detail and more constant characterization.

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