With Vixen, the superhero TV craze has spilled over from network television to the world of digital series. The latest addition to the DC television universe comes from Arrow boss Marc Guggenheim, but is being aired completely online through CW’s online counterpart CW Seed.
Today, the first of six five-minute installments of Vixen went up online. How is it and how does it fit into the larger DC TV universe? Here’s what we think…
Vixen brings the DC comic book hero Mari McCabe or Vixen to animated life. Originally from a fictional country in Africa, Mari is orphaned at a young age and inherits her family’s Tantu Totem, which gives the wearer the power to take on the abilities of animals. In Vixen, she is a grown up foster kid and aspiring fashion designer trying (and failing) to stay out of trouble in Detroit when Flash and Green Arrow catch up with her. The first episode begins with an action-packed fight scene between the three superheroes as Barry and Oliver chase Mari over Motor City rooftops — an exciting start to what could be an adventure that reaches past this digital series.
There are a lot of interesting elements in play here. It is refreshing to see a female superhero of color in a lead role — something that’s mostly lacking on TV comic book adaptations, and severely lacking in film comic book adaptations. We also get to spend some time in a real-life city that needs saving versus the Central or Starling cities of the world. Though we’ve seen Vixen in animated TV form before, perhaps most notably voiced by Gina Torres in Justice League Unlimited, she has never headlined her own series and this very much feels like a barometer of interest in her story and her integration into the larger DC television universe.
There has already been speculation that Vixen star Megalyn Echikunwoke (formerly seen on The 4400) could potentially appear on The Flash or Arrow. Echikunwoke recently told ET Online:
“I would love to do that! I hope it does turn into that. I think it all depends on how the fans respond to Vixen, and hopefully if people really like it and want more, then I think the ability to give fans more is there. It’s all up to the fans, but I am ready and available!”
The possibility seems built into the very fabric of Vixen. Over the course of the show’s six episodes, Flash, Green Arrow, Felicity Smoak, and Cisco Ramon will all make cameos — complete with voice acting from their live-action counterparts. Guggenheim told ComicBook.com that the episode takes place around Arrow season 3’s Episode 15 and Episode 16, just prior to Oliver joining The League of Assassins. It’s pretty cool to see that characters we already know and love from the live action DC universe showing up here in their animated forms. However, it isn’t enough for Vixen to survive off of our excitement over seeing our favorite DC TV characters in animated form. It needs to pull in viewers on the merit of its own characters and story, or the series is not sustainable.
So how does it do on those counts? Well, it’s hard to tell after only watching a five-minute episode, but given that there are only six of these short eps, Vixen is going to have to tell a story quickly anyhow. It’s easy to root for Mari, who not only has some unique superpowers, but has a dry sense of humor and an understandably dark outlook on life. In that way, Vixen fits in well tonally with Arrow. The two have a similar aesthetic — albeit one live action and one animated — with Detroit’s skyscrapers rendered in the same play of shadows and streetlights as Starling City.
What’s missing in this first episode is a real sense of place. Though Vixen does a good job of setting a dark tone with a touch of dry humor in its first installment, we’re lost in terms of why this place matters, in terms of what needs failing or not-failing, if you’re speaking in Arrow phrasing. In another fictional universe, this might not be a problem, but the DC TV universe has proven to be at its best when it sets larger, city-wide stakes for its characters and casts the city as a character itself. Arrow had its weakest season yet arguably in part because of a failure to integrate Starling City into the narrative in season 3. I’m not ready to call this a problem in the first five minutes of Vixen’s run, but, again, this digital series only has 30 minutes total to tell its story right now. Better shape up.
What works better in Vixen’s first outing is the introduction of the larger mystery of Mari’s identity and the mystery of her family. Here, she seems not to know who her parents are or what happened to them, though she does have a family in the form of a foster father who bails her out of jail and who seems to genuinely care about her. A superhero narrative is nothing without a personal journey to go along with it and Vixen does well in immediately setting up Mari’s motivations, allies, and challenges in just five minutes. At the end of Vixen’s first episode, we know who this character is, even if she doesn’t. Sure, that is in part to do with the dramatic irony of watching a show based on previous source material, but it’s also a credit to the storytelling itself.
So is Vixen worth watching? Personally, I am intrigued and will continue watching. Mari McCabe fits well into the larger DC TV universe, while telling a unique story filled with elements that aren’t being addressed on Arrow, The Flash, and, presumably, Legends of Tomorrow. Furthermore, the grand total of this story adds up to only 30 minutes — a small temporal price to pay for the excuse to spend more time within this rich, ever-growing fictional universe.
New episodes of Vixen will become available online every Tuesday on CW Seed.