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 Flash – Powerless 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.
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.
(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?
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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I liked the show but I'm not really surprised it's being dropped. If they have a couple more episodes they'll probably "burn them off" when everything else is in reruns, as is their pattern. If it's set on your DVR don't delete it and you'll catch them probably in June.
I think that as comics fans we were more likely to give it a chance than the general audience. When you compare it to Superstore it's like night and day. Powerless always seemed like it was climbing uphill for laughs. Just --- clunky.
Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) said:
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.
Yeah ... any number of TV shows work on the "fish out of water" premise where the newbie movies to the big city, but Powerless did stumble there. This was like Mary Tyler Moore coming to WTM-TV in Minneapolis to become not the news program director but the president of the network. As adorable as Vanessa Hudgens is, that was too much to ask us viewers to swallow.
Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) said:
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.
I just saw the Adam West episode of Powerless, "Win, Luthor, Draw," on the Hulu streaming service. I understand that DC was streaming it on their website also.
I'm hoping it and the other 1 or 2 episodes will make it to broadcast TV. I especially want to see "No Consequence Day," which has the gang doing things they would never do because they are expecting Superman to turn back time.