Superman: Earth One Vol. 3
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Other than Jeph Loeb, is this the first Smallville show written by a comic writer? I think it is, isn't it? Jeph Loeb and Geoff Johns both have experience in the movie industry, and have a keen grasp of cinematic concepts, so it's no surprise.
How did it fare, then? Well, as an episode showing the first time the Legion appeared to Clark Kent on Smallville in terms of a show that likely doesn't have a massive budget, rather fine. The story beats were strong, very strong, as was the writing.
There were some production errors/continuity issues that drug the show down a bit. But just a bit. Mostly it was a hit through the whole thing, save when the typical Lana fetish crap explodes in our face.
I mean, she's back one episode, and we have a "You're fantastic!" scene and a "I take credit for all Clark's accomplishments while diminishing them!" nod.
Clue: Lana is NOT destined for greater things than her relationship with Clark. Indicating she will be is not feminism. Inspiring Superman is the height and noble purpose of her comic book existence.
That's not saying that women are defined by the men they are with, or that a WOMAN should be subservient and only inspire a SUPERMAN, nor is it diminishing Lana's worth as a person, unless you look into it and see that. There was a time where Lana's purpose as inspiring Superman would be pointed at as an example of the way all women should behave. "Oh, I live only to inspire Superman, and maybe he'll someday marry me in reward!" That was the pre-feminist point of her existence. She was Lois without the career ambition.
Now, she's just a character who lived with and fell in love with Clark, but decided to stay in Smallville. There's no broader implied social context that that's her duty, it's just her choice. Otherwise, there'd be holy hell raised. She loved her hometown, couldn't have Clark, so she stayed.
But to imply that somehow she's going to have a greater meaning to her existence than her time with Superman, who is, hell, SUPERMAN, irks me. It's like Blue Beetle going on a mission with Superman that saves the world, lamenting that he's the mouse to the elephant, and then someone saying, "Well, you're destined for better things!" No. He's not. He's a good man. A noble character. A great hero. But he will die by Max Lord's bullet and Superman will continue to save the universe near-eternally barring DC closing its doors.
There is nothing wrong with inspiring a good person. That's a noble existence. That it's a man's existence? Well, that's a product of patriarchy, yes. But to pretend the character is something it's not is not a way to rectify that. Neither is reversing the situation, honestly. There is no way to "fix" patriarchy beyond awareness. Arbitrary feminism just insults the intelligence of the viewer and does little to solve the problem. It's just false storytelling. But that isn't just Johns here, it's endemic in this show.
To arbitrarily indicate, "You'll go on to greater things!" as a way to assuage Lana fans says, in a backhanded way, that Superman is nothing compared to Lana's accomplishments, and that Lana is just SO FANTASTIC! Which fans of this show have had too much of.
Beyond that, there's a scene where Lana indicates that he's always been strongly against killing, and that the Clark she knows was very decisive. The Clark Lana Knows, like the Lana Chloe Knows, is a different beast than the one on the show, but we can't blame Johns for not necessarily knowing that or acknowledging that, because who DOES want to acknowledge the Clark that has killed a goodly number of his enemies instead of showing restraint on this show? Including, it should be noted given the subject matter of this episode, Brainiac, who he coldly and impersonally murdered in the last episode of last season.
One can then counter, "But he might have known Brainiac would likely be back!" Two factors against that, chum. The "might" part, and the fact that he asserts at the onset of Brainiac's mention that Brainiac is, in fact, dead. He knew he was, to his mind, killing Brainiac last season. Lana didn't stop him then or even question it, to say nothing of the other people Clark killed, or the people Lana asserted needed to die, of which there have been a number, even if I can't recall specifics offhand.
Those are the big philosophical irks, and where they derive are likely the fact that Geoff wrote this as the comic book Superman when he's Clark Kent, as opposed to the Smallville show, which writes the Clark Kent Lana Knows. It creates contradictions. So I have to either come down hard on the fact that the writing didn't do the research, knowing that I wouldn't want to myself in Johns' shoes, or indict Smallville for overall crafting a Superman that isn't the Superman he could be. I'll go with the latter, and excuse Johns the gaffes, because he stepped in and wrote an awesome show.
To the blow-by-blow:
Lana decides to go to the Isis Foundation, and Clark decides to get some rest after touring three time zones. He leaves Lana to do the three hour drive instead of zipping her there. Cold, Zeus!
The Persuader shows up, and starts tearing the hell out of the barn. This is a well-executed scene, and I love how he was realized on the screen. Not a half-baked kid in a half-jacket named "Persie," but the Persuader, the actual character, in a suit that looks like his actual suit. Awesome good times.
Cut to the Legion ring, even better times. Very rad.
I should caveat that I could have given a solid damn what the Legion was until a Geoff touched them. I read Superboy's Legion, an Elseworlds, a long while back, and ran like hell. I know their history, and their basics, but if it hadn't been for Geoff's work, this Legion ring would be a woopity doo moment for me. Here, it's awesome comic synchronicity at work, like with the mention of the Human Supremacy movement. It's just a great experience because of his work.
I got goosebumps. I don't know about you. That's rare these days from this show, and it was great.
The Phantom Zone plot device was a little lame AS a device, but I guess it worked. I mean, they're from the future. Why not ZOOP, pop back, get a Phantom Zone device, and ZOOP! Pop back? Because it's TV, stupid, he said to himself.
I was worried the Brainiac with Davis scene would be more shipper crap, because Davis starts in on his typical, "The feelings between us were REAL!" crap. But Brainiac coldly shuts him down and confronts him with logic. Points for me here. Though I still want Davis smacked about for being a guy who wants to A) Pull a marriage apart and B) Keep the secret that he murders people. I have much less sympathy for him than I did a few episodes back when he was humanized as a monster he couldn't control. Now he knows what he's doing, and doesn't off himself or get help.
Here's the big point where, as a reviewer, I am torn. Brainiac asserts that his goal is to take the knowledge of Earth and then destroy it using Doomsday.
But it contradicts wholly his whole previous motivation across three years of show.
So I can again choose to A) Embrace the new story and enjoy it, or B) Get mad about the previous motivation being ignored. Which requires me to pretty much ignore the last three seasons (which I try to do anyway), or laud them so that they can be held up as cannon, which I can't.
Brainiac in seasons past was Zod's herald. Zod uses him to preserve the world under his control. Black Thursday (HAW). Brainiac keeps Clark alive despite having numerous opportunities to kill him in cold blood, because Zod wants him to be his slave/scion, etc.
Now, he's an information obsessed supercomputer who takes planets and then destroys them, like in the comics. I dig that more, but it's blatantly contradictory and a 180.
The Legion reiterates the dilemma to Clark, but with a larger consequence. Chloe must be killed. Clark blanches. Good way to repeat something and raise the stakes, though it stuck out a bit. Another time travel bit here. If they don't know who Chloe is, ZOOP! Find out, return, problem easier to solve.
First big gaffe here. It's dark outside. Cut to commercial, Clark's running along train tracks in broad daylight. The Legion follows him, plops down, and confronts him. Irksome on several levels.
One, it shows the Legion in flight, which is rad for a fraction of a second, then pans away. HORRID tease. I wanted more. Like the Doomsday fight. I know, I know, budget, but I still want to see it. If you make me expect to see it, I want to see it. If you can't do it, just do the whoosh sound.
Beyond that, night to day miraculously despite an urgent dilemma (why would they wait 12 hours, etc).
Great dialogue choices here, as elsewhere. "What? He can't fly? What's up with that?"
Johns, through dialogue, asserts what many fans of the show are saying to themselves a number of times. "No glasses? No tights? No flights? So far he's nothing like the Man of Steel!"
Ding! 500 critic points.
"Chloe doesn't die, you hear me!" Good line, good delivery, good moment. I'll feel bad for him when Chloe dies, heh. That's just my guess.
Here there's an odd little scene with Lana and Saturn Girl. Saturn Girl spouts what is obviously insane logic, and Lana recognizes it as such. Then, Saturn Girl says a few words that only Clark would know (Kal-El, I believe it was? Or maybe Brainiac), and flatters Lana, and suddenly Lana trusts her implicitly. If this were any other character, I'd be like, "C'mon, more convincing needed." But this is Lana, who, if you flatter her, will put your word in front of Clark's, who she's known for years, on a given day. The weird thing is that this is TOTALLY in show continuity, but Johns wrote this episode seemingly independent of that notion, so it sticks out.
Irksome dialogue: "I came to you because you understand sacrifice more than anyone! You sacrifice so much for Clark!"
What has Lana sacrificed for Clark? What could she conceivably sacrifice before her guest appearance here ends? If anything, her endless waffling made Clark sacrifice his entire youthful love life on an utter bint.
Maybe she... uh... flees to protect Clark, and thereby sacrifices their loving existence together... despite the fact that their loving existence was over and never was really that strong to begin with.
More Lana puffery.
You don't have to kill Chloe to incapacitate her. I don't understand. Why not simply sedate her or knock her out? Why the instant jump to "SHE MUST DIE!"?
The twenty years to the end of fossil fuel bits was awesome. Sad thing is, I remember hearing that bit on TV shows twenty years ago. HAHAHAHAH (cough cough) Heeeeeeeehhhhh...
To reiterate a complaint I've had with Final Crisis #6... a good writer can put you in a place where the main character might seem like they have to kill, but a hero character does not kill. Making Batman kill Darkseid was abominable to me. Here, Johns teases the idea, and uses it to make character hay, like he did with Batman in Infinite Crisis.
How does Brainaic give Chloe's frail human body superpowers again?
Lana's high and mighty "CLARK WILL NEVER WAVER!" speech is from comic Lana, not the Smallville Lana, unless I missed a season somewhere.
Chloiac goes to the Daily Planet to begin her campaign to take over the world. Why the place where Clark hangs out? A bit unsure. Why in person and not from hiding as a digital entity? Even more unsure. Why put all of Brainiac into one frail body instead of multiple bodies? Even more unsure.
But most odd is the way she rips the power supply out before using computers hooked into a power supply. Now THAT is damned perplexing.
The Brainiac symbol being the Brainiac symbol, however, was truly rad.
But then, if she can take over minds, why does she need Doomsday? I get the feeling that less thought was put into the logistics than the number of cool things that could be put into one show. Still, there are cool things all over this show, so hey.
One scene really made me want to gouge my eyes out. Did it have Lana in it? You betcha. It was one of those "MEGA GIGS" scenes where they try and wow you with technology that's really just, I don't know, crap you could infer and/or something that would be useless to a man with eye lasers and the powers of a god.
Lana types up a GLOBAL POWER GRID at the touch of her fingertips (because despite no formal computer training, she can do what Chloe does), and it shows a BLINKING RED DOT where there's a power surge.
Clark, with baited breath, asks, "Can you pinpoint that address?"
Major issues here for any thinking being:
1) The building is SHOWN on the screen, and it just happens to be the place where he works, the Daily Planet. The man doesn't know his work from a map of it from above? Clark does not do Google Maps, but can search three time zones?
2) Clark can HEAR the cause and location, if he just listens.
3) Clark can look through the city, using x-ray vision, and SEE surges of power. The man has thermo-scopic vision, if it's the same Clark as the comics.
All of the above contradictions are ignored to justify a scene with Lana Lang. That's not arbitrary favoritism, it's... uh... FEMINISM! Welcome back, Lana. Die in a fire.
Brainiac's little visual thing comes on, and Lana is zombified. Clark sees this, grabs her, and says, "Are you all right?" That's kind of a dumb question, but Clark doesn't win the dumb as Clark award until he then, after seeing that it's zombified Lana, turns to the monitor and LOOKS AT IT. Dumb as Clark award. Cows on an electric fence, I swear.
Another case where Clark could ZOOP! Go to the future, get tech to handle Brainiac, and then come back. Instead, they do it with what they have on hand. Heroic, but still stupid in theory.
A good fight, however, despite the fact that (sigh) it goes from night to day again, another night/day error.
Why does the electricity not kill Chloe? And do we care, given that we're watching the Legion in action? Ultimately, I didn't. Although I am creeped out that Brainiac comes out of her mouth.
I was initially hacked that Clark doesn't immediately destroy Brainiac, but then, it becomes a Brainiac 5 bit, so I forgave it. Good deal.
Chloe feeling dumber was pretty funny. Reminded me of the James Halperin books I loved as a kid, "The Truth Machine" and "The First Immortal." Buy. Read. Worth your time.
BAM! Chloe remembers Clark again. So I guess her memory loss episodes were, as they seemed, a waste of time. Thanks, show!
The Legion adopts Clark's "preserve life" code, which comes off well, and urge Clark to come to 3009, offering him a Legion ring... THAT DOESN'T ALLOW FLIGHT. C'mon, show. I mean, seriously. Let 'im fly. What can it hurt!?
And, of course, Doomsday, who will likely wander for weeks before being confronted in the finale, heh.
I may seem like I'm trashing on this show, but read the above. I'm pointing out inconsistencies. People are always like, "You gave it a five but you ripped on it!" That's what analysis does. I showed you all the flaws, now what's left is my gut reaction. My gut on this is that it was a fun show, warts and all. I enjoyed it. I came away from it pleased that I sat down and spent my time. There were some flaws, and the Lana stuff pulled me out enough for a point drop, but other than that, LEGION. Brainiac, REAL Brainiac. Doomsday. This is fun. This is good.
4 of 5
I have had an extraordinary series of personal problems pop up in the last week, my own infinite crisis, if you will, so I apologize, but I have to delay the large return letter column until next week. Catch you then!
Hey everyone... Welcome back! I hope your new year is going well so far.
Smallville is back and it takes up right where it left off...
Lana is in the remnants of the barn walking around when Clark returns after checking three time zones for Chloe and the Monster. After a bit, Lana is out the door only to be replaced by an axe wielding killer from the future that is really mad at Clark's trunk. A mild super throw-down ensues which ends when three Supers from the future arrive in the nick of time to save the Man of Steal from getting his atoms split. Quickly they learn the Villain's real plan was to kill the trunk and not the mild mannered farm boy bleeding on the floor. We then learn the entire future is at stake. The Brain-I.A.C must be destroyed today or the future will not happen. Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, and Cosmic Boy decide to stay and help Clark defeat the super computer nemesis but with one catch. Their new "plan" involves killing Chloe. Well it's a good thing Lana Lang is still around. Why? Well because not only do we get Saturn Girl telling her how great she is and how important she is (twice) we also have her there to lecture our Superman on how killing isn't an option when he starts to think about actually doing it... Ok... Sorry... Anyway... Clark faces off against The Chloe-I.A.C but can't bring himself to hurt his friend and ends up getting tossed aside by the gothic looking blonde in the wedding dress... A moment that probably isn't going to go on Superman's highlights reel. The Chloe-I.A.C then heads to the Daily Planet and starts a super sized download of everyone's brains who looks at a computer (which was actually pretty cool). The Legion have to hit Chloe-I.A.C with a super powered E.M.P. to stop her (which was REALLY COOL) Then they go in for the kill... Finally Clark stands up and does his hero thing and saves Chloe from the Legion, from Brain-I.A.C., and basically takes those three punks from the future to school.
Ok. Sarcasm aside, this episode was kind of a roller coaster ride but all and all one of the classics. There was so much totally awesome greatness embedded in this episode that if I wasn't already bald I probably would have ripped the hair out of my head when they slammed on the breaks and brought everything to a screeching halt.
Unfortunately again those down slides all had to do with Lana Lang.
I know anyone who read my review on the previous episode would know I might be a bit biased about Lana and her "place" in Smallville's world. Maybe it's that. Maybe I am just unhappy about them brining her back that I am being overly critical. I have to admit that just might be the case here... But really? COME ON. Do we really need Saturn Girl to tell us and her TWICE that she is so great? That she is so important? Sure maybe she was just fluffing her up to get her to play ball so to speak but then we have to follow that with her lecturing Clark about killing? I know it is normal for the hero of the story to doubt his convictions and to consider taking the dark path. It happens. That is part of good story telling. What is not good story telling in this story is having Lana be the one to talk him out of it. Ma Kent, John Jones maybe, or heck I'd even take Lois or Oliver or anyone else. Last time we had to sit through her telling the Green Arrow how to be a Superhero and now she's the one teaching Superman not to kill. Yeah I know I am blowing it out of proportion. Clark was just in a moment of self doubt. But as I said with such high points in the episode it really made these low points stand out.
I don't know. Maybe if she would have said "You know better than that" or "You would never do that" and left it at that. You know. Just a subtle reminder of who he is. But know it just wasn't subtle and that is what made me mad... We get the preachy angry voice. Again a Lecture. Just like with Oliver last time. The tone and reactions was just all wrong. Maybe I just need to watch the scene again. Maybe my bias made it come off wrong just to me but I like to write my reviews right after watching it once. Most people see shows once and I want these to be my "first impression" as much as possible and that is just how it came off to me.
It is kind of funny that after they couldn't convince Clark to take Chloe's life Saturn Girl went to Lana. I mean if they need some killing done why not go to the person with the highest body count on the show right?
Anyway enough of that. Like I said. Those were just the low points, and while they did frustrate me they were probably not as bad as I make them sound. Besides honestly? Everything else rocked like there was no tomorrow. Which there almost wasn't if not for the actions of Su... I mean... The Blue-Red Blur and the Legion of Superheroes.
The legion looked sweet. They all came off just perfect. Lightning Lad was very amusing the way he was geeking out over Clark and I thought Cosmic Boy was pretty much dead on. Saturn Girl was pretty cool too except for her "your so great Lana" scenes.
The Persuader looked awesome. It was nice to see a Super-villain in full costume. I liked the effect on his axe too. I do wish Clark had put up more of a fight. This show needs to start having this Superman dish out as much as he takes in these super throw-downs. I know that fighting doesn't make Superman Superman. As I'll point out later he can be most super when he's not even using his powers at all. Still it can get a little old having him knocked across the room all the time until someone else saves his backside. We know he can bring it. We saw him do it with Bizzaro and Titan. We need that a little more often. A little more consistently. Just a little bit of fight back is all I am asking for. He is Superman and this show needs to show a little more why you don't tug on Superman's cape... or split his keepsake trunk with an atomic axe.
Allison Mack was also right on her game this week. Her scenes with the Paramedic of Doom were chilling... She pulled off sultry, evil, and danger without a hitch. She made me believe it was really Brain-I.A.C in there and not Chloe-I.A.C in charge anymore. It was also nice to hear Chloe's attraction to Davis was just a program being run in her head so Brain-I.A.C could lure in the Doomsday monster. I suspected that and I was pleased to see that to be the case. It just felt wrong otherwise.
I also thought Brain-I.A.C's plan was classic Brainiac and it was great to see the show go that route. Download and destroy. The backup plan to when Zod's domination and rule didn't succeed tying all those story lines together.
It was also cool to hear they were going to use his remnants to make Brainiac-5 in the future. That was an interesting twist... Though it is doubtful that is the last this Superman will see of Brain-I.A.C. We all know in the comic's world they always come back.
You can tell the show is running on a budget with the effects. The legion flying was limited and most of it came from just watching Clark as he tracked them overhead but what they did was well done. You can do that in this kind of show. I know flying characters are really costly and it is okay. We have imaginations. You don't need to show it every time. Other than that the powers of each Legion member were fantastic. How they did Saturn Girls' mind whammy was pretty cool. Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy's powers were standard light shows but well done. I loved the shot when they combined them for the supped up E.M.P... That was awesome. Chloe vomiting up Brain-I.A.C was pretty cool too. Just because it's always awesome when the super villain is reduced to glowing vomit. (Seriously. It really was really cool).
The shot of Doomsday coming out of his cocoon was pretty awesome too. I know they are likely keeping him in low light for a reason but so far the creature looks just awesome.
I liked how the Legion members arrived in a time in their lives when it was early in their careers as superheroes. Having them come back and be taught a lesson from Clark and not the other way around was really awesome. I got a little worried when Garth was going on about Clark not being what they expected but they turned it around and did it right in the end. Even with the things I said above about Lana's lecture, the subplot about finding a way to be the hero without killing was fantastic and what really made this episode.
When Tom Welling delivered the line about how the Legion's first rule should be no killing. Ever?
Whoa... I really mean Whoa...
I had goose bumps from head to toe. Everything about that line was home run and out of the park. Where it was in the story. The intense moment and the real danger present. The way he said it. The look on his face. The reaction on the faces of the Legion when the rightness of it sunk in. Everything just perfect. The nail must be hurting because in that moment they hit it right on the head. That moment was everything about Superman that makes him Superman and he wasn't even using his powers. Just standing between someone and someone else trying to kill them and simply saying, "No. Not now. Not ever. That is not how I do it and it is not how it should be done. We will find another way."
Yes I cheered and maybe got a little choked up. Admit it. You did too.
It even made sitting through the Lana parts worth it and if for no other reason makes this episode a must see.
So I am going to give it a 4 out of 5. Up and down at times but the ups are really up so they get some extra credit.
The preview from next week looked more like a preview for the next few episodes. Not sure so I have no comment. Just know I'll be there and I am really looking forward to the second half of this season. See you next week.