Twelve things you don't need to know about 'Powerless' (but are fun to know)

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

NBC’s Powerless premiered Feb. 2, and it’s based on the same DC Comics universe as TV shows like Arrow and movies like Batman v Superman. It’s just not connected.

Just as the DC superhero movies and DC superhero TV shows are basically set on parallel worlds – literally with Supergirl, where the Maid of Steel has to crash the dimensional barrier to guest star on The FlashPowerless is only connected in concept. It lives on “Planet P,” according to a Jan. 18 TV Line interview with executive producer Patrick Schumacker.

Batman v Superman and Man of Steel are the cinematic universe,” he said on tvline.com. “The Berlanti-verse [The CW programs] is its own thing. And Earth-P is its own thing. And they all exist within the multiverse of DC.” 

So, while Bruce Wayne obviously exists in Powerless (and is Batman), he’s a different version of Bruce Wayne than the one in Batman v Superman or the one on Fox’s Gotham. Similarly, all three of those Bruce Waynes are different takes on the ones seen in the 1989 Batman movie and the 1966 Batman TV show. And all of those are different from the various animated Batmen, from Batman: Brave and Bold to Batman Beyond to Super Friends.

Simple, right? Just think of them all as existing on parallel worlds.

Which means you don’t have to be an expert in DC Comics lore to find Powerless entertaining. It’s an office comedy with the added complication of being set in a world where super-battles are commonplace, which draws comparisons to Marvel’s Damage Control (a construction company owned by Tony Stark which cleans up after superhero battles) and Action Lab’s Super Human Resources (HR for superheroes). But Powerless, starring Vanessa Hudgens at her perkiest, is very definitely its own thing.

Photo by Evans Vestal Ward/Warner Bros/NBC

Vanessa Hudgens stars as Emily Locke, an upbeat and perky character determined to succeed.

But if you are curious about some of the oddities that flew by as we were introduced to the collection of oddballs who populate Wayne Security in Charm City, it’s Captain Comics to the rescue. Here, in no particular order, are 12 Easter eggs in the Powerless premiere:

1. He Has All the Best Words: The headline on the Charm City News newspaper in the opening scene reads “President-Elect Luthor Vows To Make Metropolis Super Again.” That sounds like a funny reference to our current President’s campaign slogan, which it is. But Lex Luthor was, in fact, elected president in the DC Universe in 2000. (It didn’t end well.)

2. World’s Oldest Cub Reporter: Did you recognize the father of Emily Locke (Hudgens)? Mr. Locke was played by Marc McClure, the same actor who portrayed Jimmy Olsen in the four Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve (1978-1987) and Supergirl (1984). He has, of course, aged considerably since then.

3. It Came from Outer Space: That weird starfish thing that flapped on Emily’s window is a spore from a gigantic alien starfish called Starro the Conqueror, who first appeared in the Justice League’s debut in 1960. The spores attach themselves to people’s faces and turn them into mind-controlled drones. I’d like to think that the emerald light that smooshed it was from Green Lantern, a Justice League charter member. I’m glad it got smooshed no matter who did it, though, because Starro is disgusting.

4. Fun with Fast Food: Advertisements for Soder Cola and Big Belly Burger are hidden in the background, which are the Coca-Cola/Pepsi and McDonald’s/Shoney’s of the DC Universe. Over at The CW, a character from a parallel world on The Flash said that Big Belly Burger is a multiversal constant. As is high cholesterol, I assume.

5. Virtuous Vixen: Charm City’s resident superhero appears to be Crimson Fox – Emily calls her by name – who is strong enough to catch a falling commuter train from an elevated track. That’s not what the Crimson Fox of the comics could do … all three of them. They just had heightened, vulpine speed and agility, and a pheromone ability to make men fall in love with them. (They were French. What do you expect?) The first two (who were twin sisters) are dead, but there’s a third about which little is known – except that it’s unlikely she can catch a falling commuter train.

6. “Prepare to feel my balls … of fire!”: I don’t think that’s how Jack O’Lantern, the villain in the Powerless premiere, wanted that threat to come out. Nor would either of the three Jack O’Lanterns from the comics. Two of them were members of the Global Guardians, wielding a magic, pumpkin-shaped lantern granted by the fairies. (Yes, the little people. The Jacks were Irish – what do you expect?) The third Jack was considerably different, except for being equally ridiculous.

7. Holy Cameo!: The Wayne Security commercial was narrated by none other than Adam West, who played the eponymous hero on the 1966 “Batman” TV show. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Batman!

8. Credit Where It’s Due: References to comics creators are littered throughout. The newscaster who announces The Joker’s capture is named “Marv Wolfman,” a man with lengthy credits at both Marvel and DC, and the co-creator of the New Teen Titans and Deathstroke, among others. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman, and thus we have a “Siegel & Shuster Coffee” ad on the commuter train. Kane and Finger’s Pub, where our heroes repair for a drink, is named for the creators of Batman, Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

9. Leave Jim Nabors Out of This: Ron (Ron Furchas) jokes: “We need a wizard – Shazam!” That’s not a Gomer Pyle reference, but instead refers to the wizard Shazam, whose name was the magic word that turned boy newscaster Billy Batson into adult superhero Captain Marvel, beginning in 1940. Pyle came along somewhat later, but his use of the word was from his love of comic books, established in The Andy Griffith Show and continuing in Gomer Pyle, USMC. Captain Marvel currently goes by the name Shazam, to avoid trouble with Marvel Comics, which has a Captain Marvel of its own.

 
Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward/Warner Bros/NBC

(Clockwise) Ron Funches as Ron, Christina Kirk as Jackie, Danny Pudi as Teddy, Jennei Pierson as Wendy are four of the oddball employees of Wayne Security.

10. Keep ‘Em Flying: A billboard advertises “Blackhawk Airways,” a reference to a group of fighter pilots from occupied countries during World War II who banded together to fight the Nazis. The Blackhawks had a long-running series (from 1941 into the 1980s), a radio show and a movie serial. Who can forget their thrilling song, “Over land, over sea/We fight to make men free/ Of danger we don't care/We're Blackhawks!” OK, not so thrilling. You’d think it would at least rhyme.

11. Cousin, Once Removed: The slacker boss on Powerless is Van Wayne, who says he’s Bruce Wayne’s cousin. Oddly, a Vanderveer Wayne appeared once in the comics, in a throwaway story in 1962. A contemporary of tweenage Dick “Robin” Grayson and “the scion of a super-fashionable family,” he learned a Very Important Lesson and vowed to grow up to be a better person. He probably has nothing to do with the Van Wayne of Powerless, but Michael Fleisher’s Batman encyclopedia describes him as “arrogant, boastful and conceited,” so who knows?


Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward/NBCAlan Tudyk plays Van Wayne, who may or may not be based on a throwaway character from 1962 named Vanderveer Wayne.

12. Double L: LexCorp, mentioned in the show, also exists in the comics. It also appeared on Smallville.

Of course, you don’t need to know any of that to enjoy Powerless. But still, it’s kinda fun to know about Starro, right? Even if it is kinda icky.

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A timely column for me, because I finally got around to watching the first two episodes last night on-demand through the NBC app on my Roku. I didn't catch all of the Easter eggs, but some of them fly by pretty briefly. The opening credits are clever: they show some classic DC superhero scenes (like the Action Comics Superman debut where he's lifting a car), but focus on the hapless civilians in the background. I found it a bit frustrating that the only heroes that have appeared onscreen so far are B-listers like the Crimson Fox. But it's a fun show. It definitely has its own identity.

Pyle came along somewhat later, but his use of the word was from his love of comic books, established in The Andy Griffith Show and continuing in Gomer Pyle, USMC.

I always thought that associating Gomer with comic books was a cheap-shot way of enforcing his stupidity. It's hard to say how many people got the joke. The Gomer Pyle character debuted on the Christmas Eve 1962 episode of the Andy Griffith Show. At that point, Captain Marvel had not been published in 9 1/2 years. I personally never saw a copy on the spinner racks, since this was five years before I started buying comics, and I am OLD.

I haven't started watching Powerless yet. I've been waiting to hear more positive talk about it before I do, and it's been mostly under the radar so far.

It’s an office comedy with the added complication of being set in a world where super-battles are commonplace...

That pretty much says it all.  It's a by-the-book office comedy that somebody slapped a coat of superhero paint on.  Like one of those doodads at K-Mart that are only shelved with the superhero merchandise because someone slapped a picture of Captain America on them.  "Look ma, a Dr. Doom napkin holder!"

Which sounds bad, except for that fact that this is a pretty good napkin holder office comedy. It would be funny (not side-splitting, but generally amusing) even if you stripped all the DC Easter eggs out.  They just make it that much more fun.

Doctor Hmmm? said:

It's a by-the-book office comedy that somebody slapped a coat of superhero paint on.  Like one of those doodads at K-Mart that are only shelved with the superhero merchandise because someone slapped a picture of Captain America on them.  "Look ma, a Dr. Doom napkin holder!"

I finally watched the first two episodes of Powerless. NBC frequently promotes it together with Superstore, as "the "Super Power Hour."

Neither show is terribly original -- Superstore is basically The Office set in a Wal-Mart/Kmart-type big box department store in St. Louis, and even has some of the same character types. Yet I find it funnier than Powerless.

Vanessa Hudgens, who gave a winning performance in Grease! Live last year mere hours after her dad died, is definitely the best thing about Powerless, as the plucky new department head. But the rest of the cast, and the writing, doesn't come up to her level. It's a nice little time-waster, but that's about it. 

I just watched the first two episodes. I'm sold. It's pretty clever, as is Superstore.

I also remember how heroic Vanessa Hudgens was performing Grease Live right after losing her father.

Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) said:

A timely column for me, because I finally got around to watching the first two episodes last night on-demand through the NBC app on my Roku. I didn't catch all of the Easter eggs, but some of them fly by pretty briefly. The opening credits are clever: they show some classic DC superhero scenes (like the Action Comics Superman debut where he's lifting a car), but focus on the hapless civilians in the background. I found it a bit frustrating that the only heroes that have appeared onscreen so far are B-listers like the Crimson Fox. But it's a fun show. It definitely has its own identity.

Don't know why I didn't do this earlier, but I found an article that identifies those covers in the Powerless opening credits. It also points out some of them were altered, such as Action Comics #1, which puts a cartoon Vanessa Hudgens in place of the anonymous man in the real cover.

Enjoy!

"Powerless: What Are the Comics in the Opening Credits?"

Tracy and I watched the first episode and liked it well enough. We discussed it and I thought we had agreed to watch it for a while (a replacement for DC Legends), but she didn’t set it up to record so we missed the second episode. We’ve seen the third and subsequent ones, though. I like the light tone. “A nice little time-waster.” That about sums it up.

Doggone it! I decided last night I was going to look up those covers, and somebody's beaten me to it!

Sad news: "Powerless (Essentially) Canceled at NBC After Remaining Episodes Pulled"

In short, NBC is putting on Superstore reruns in the Powerless time slot. Two episodes remain, with no assurance they'll actually air.

That's too bad. I rather enjoyed Powerless.

Rats! It was fun seeing Natalie Morales as Green Fury.

It's funny -- I have no problem believing people can fly and shoot energy bolts from their hands, but I just could never take seriously the idea that Vanessa Hudgens was a vice president of anything. Her character was such a total greenhorn in every way. 

I liked watching it well enough, but I wished it was a lot sharper and funnier than it was. If it were half as clever as its amazing credits sequence -- that's all I ask.

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