Andrew A. Smith
Tribune Content Agency
October can be an early Christmas for superhero fans, with four superhero shows premiering in just the week of Oct. 8-14. With Spoiler Warnings ahoy, here are some of the standout elements:
Jessica Parker Kennedy plays Nora West-Allen, a speedster from the future named XS who is the daughter of Barry and Iris. She’s adorable.
Season 5 Premiere: Oct. 9 (The CW)
The Gist: This season begins exactly where last season left off, with the reveal of Nora “XS” West-Allen, the adult daughter of Iris and Barry, who has time-traveled from the future. Not only has she inherited her father’s super-speed, but also his tendency to muck up the timeline. That, along with the various villains that have been teased the last few months, will likely be the season’s focus.
Reaction: Flash works best when, of course, it barrels forward at high speed in a charming and breezy manner (the better to smooth over the wacky techno-babble everyone shouts all the time). Nora (Jessica Parker Kennedy) establishes that vibe in abundance, mixing awkwardness, enthusiasm and sweetness in just the right amounts.
Fun Facts: Nora is composite character from the comics, combining Barry’s daughter Dawn Allen, one-half of the heroic Tornado Twins (introduced 1968), and granddaughter Jenni Ognats, XS of the Legion of Super-Heroes (1984). In later iterations, Jenni is a Tornado Twin instead of Dawn, with Bart “Impulse” Allen as her brother, instead of Don Allen.
But that’s just one Easter egg in a basket full of them. For example, longtime comics fans were treated to more references to the 1986 series Crisis on Infinite Earths, which has been teased since the first season. Barry Allen died in that story, becoming a bolt of lightning that went back in time, and gave his younger self super-speed. (Yes, Flash is literally a self-made man.) Barry remained dead in the comics for more than 20 IRL years, before returning in a series called Final Crisis. On the show, the newspaper article about the first Crisis is dated 2024, so let’s hope the show lasts that long so we can see what happens.
More trivia: Nora used future slang from the Legion of Super-Heroes (“grife”) and Batman Beyond (“schway”). XS gave Barry the ring he uses to store his costume, which has existed in the comics since the 1950s. She said it was invented by Ryan Choi, who in the comics is the fourth hero named Atom, and is protégé to Ray Palmer, the second Atom, who is currently appearing in Legends of Tomorrow. Nora mentions Lightning Lad, who is a member of the 31st century Legion of Super-Heroes, as are Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl and Mon-El, seen on Supergirl. Both Nora and Barry reference Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, which is where the Justice League established its first HQ in the early 1960s.
Finally, and amazingly, when the three speedsters phased an airplane through a bridge, that was lifted form a 2011 Flash comic book – and the show reproduced the panel almost exactly. There was a great disturbance in The Force Oct. 9, as thousands of comic book fans squealed in delight as one – and then swooned with joy.
The emotional heart of Black Lightning is a family going through a series of crises, with every hand turned against them. One crisis is the runaway powers of Jennifer Pierce (China Anne McClain), who is here comforted by her father, Jefferson (Cress Williams).
Season 2 Premiere: Oct. 9 (The CW).
The Gist: More of the same, and even better. Black Lightning is about a lot of things, such as family, a community’s complicated relationship with law enforcement, and the black experience. IOW, it’s a show that’s about Important Stuff, and the costumed hi-jinks are just the icing on this complex cake.
Reaction: Black Lightning is unflinching in its depiction of racism in all its forms: overt, institutional, even accidental. I’m not black, but I think I’m getting the best taste of what it’s like to be black in America that TV has ever given me, including the news. I’m transfixed.
But Black Lightning isn’t all Serious Social Issues all the time. When Kara Fowdy (Skye P. Marshall) popped stilettos out of her stiletto high heels, I nearly lost it.
Fun Facts: None to speak of. Black Lightning tends to be self-contained, and that’s cool, too.
The initial storyline in Titans appears to be the evil inside Rachel “Raven” Roth (Teagan Croft), whose father is the other-dimensional demon Trigon.
Season 1 Premiere: Oct. 12 (DC Universe)
The Gist: Dick “Robin” Grayson has ended his partnership with Batman, and it looks like a bitter break-up. He’s now a police officer in Detroit, where he stumbles across runaway Rachel soon-to-be-“Raven” Roth, who thinks there’s something evil inside her. Meanwhile, two other characters – Kory “Starfire” Anders and Garfield “Beast Boy” Logan – are on their own journeys, which we can assume will somehow bring them into contact with Robin, so they can form the Titans.
Reaction: Boy, this is dark. Dark, dark, daaaaaaaark. Sometimes literally, as I couldn’t tell what was happening amid all the dark darkness. But it’s a dark story – there really is a something evil inside Rachel, as she is the daughter of other-dimensional demon Trigon (Read: Satan). And almost every time Robin’s departure from Wayne Manor has been depicted – there have been lots of versions – it’s usually been bitter. I assume these kids will form something of a mutually supportive family, and some optimism will eventually arise – I mean, surely DC has learned from their movies that relentless negativity doesn’t work. Oh, and the power manifestations – especially Raven’s – are excellent (and kinda creepy).
Fun Facts: This whole show is an Easter egg. It’s essentially an adaptation of the 1980 Teen Titans revival, minus three members (Kid Flash, Wonder Girl and Cyborg, all busy in other DC projects). The Titans confronted Trigon back in the ‘80s, which is what sorta cements the team, and that may happen here. Look for Robin to transform into Nightwing, further distancing himself from the Dark Knight.
The season premiere of Supergirl introduced Rhona Mitra as Mercy Graves and Robert Baker as Otis Graves, a brother-sister team of nogoodniks, with a history in cartoons and movies.
Season 4 Premiere: Oct. 14 (The CW).
The Gist: Like Black Lightning, Supergirl is often about something – not as consistently or impressively, but there are moments when it hits the zeitgeist like a lightning bolt. This season the show is using anti-alien bigotry – actual aliens, from other planets – as a metaphor for the Administration’s treatment of illegal aliens and white-supremacist prejudice. And, brother, it nails it.
Reaction: For this viewer, the lightning bolt struck when J’onn J’onzz (a Martian masquerading as a black man, a two-fer for prejudice) tries to warn Supergirl about rising anti-alien sentiment. And she didn’t believe him. She didn’t want to believe him. I imagined every black person in America nodding along, thinking of all the times when their well-meaning, liberal – and white – friends and allies simply did not get it.
Fun Facts: The best surprise was the introduction of Mercy and Otis Graves. You may remember them – but not necessarily from the comics. Both characters were introduced elsewhere.
Otis, as played by Ned Beatty, was introduced in Superman: The Movie in 1978, and has appeared in cartoons like Young Justice and Super Friends. But he was never Mercy’s brother in any incarnation, nor has he ever made it to the “mainstream” Superman books. But he has appeared in some peripheral comics, like the all-ages Superman Family Adventures.
Mercy Graves first appeared in Superman: The Animated Series in 1996 as Luthor’s right-hand woman. But she was introduced in the comics soon after, because she’s kinda awesome. One reason she’s so formidable was the reveal – at least in one incarnation – that she’s an Amazon from Wonder Woman’s home, Themyscira. Do not mess with Mercy, who has none.
So merry Christmas, comics fans. We still have Arrow, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Daredevil, Legends of Tomorrow and Riverdale under the tree. And that’s just what’s coming before Halloween!
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