This Legends of Tomorrow review contains spoilers.
Legends of Tomorrow Season 2 Episode 2
Sometimes, and you have to stay with me here because I know it’s hard to believe, but sometimes I think Legends of Tomorrow is pandering to me a little bit. I mean, it’s rare that a show is such a convergence of so many nerdy things that I enjoy and does it with absolutely zero pretension in the first place, but when it’s doing it with obscure DC superheroes on a cool spaceship with ray guns and time travel? I mean, c’mon, did nine year old me dream this up?
So what, pray tell, could make me enjoy Legends of Tomorrow even more? I dunno. How about an episode featuring the frakkin’ Justice Society of America fighting Nazis with Indiana Jones and Back to the Future jokes peppered in there? Would that do the trick?
Yes. Yes it would.
So it’s tough for me to really tell if this is an honest, dispassionate review of a fun hour of television, or if I’ve just been dazzled by something that if I went back in time and visited my kid self and told him about, my past self would look at me and say, “Future Me, you are totally full of crap, because there is no way something I like that much will ever happen on TV.”
Wrong, kid. Dead wrong.
“The Justice Society of America” isn’t a perfect hour of television, and I’m not even sure it’s the best episode of Legends of Tomorrow (that distinction, so far, still belongs to the season one finale). But it is a damn fine hour of television, and it might be the episode of Legends of Tomorrow I have most enjoyed.
While this episode is heavy on the set-up for the new status quo (the mystery of Nate Heywood, the likelihood that at least one member of the JSA is going to join the Waverider crew as a regular, etc) the show’s new direction and formula of snappy, self-contained missions through time is very much in place, and it seems to be working. There’s no wasted time in this one, while a number of season one two-parters absolutely felt like they were spinning their wheels for at least one full act in each episode, “The Justice Society of America” is full speed ahead from the opening intro, packs a load of exposition into a scene set in JSA HQ, and then goes about its business of fighting Nazis in 1942 with a bunch of obscure superheroes that I love.
Incidentally, was that a Justice Society theme song we heard in those opening moments? I’d be down for more of that.
Much like “Out of Time” things just happen in this episode, and there’s not a whole helluva lot of time to process it or talk about it, which is great. And whether it’s intentional or not, you know what it reminds me of? The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., the brilliant western that starred Bruce Campbell that criminally only lasted one season. But the World War II setting brings up something else that inspired that show, the Indiana Jones franchise.
The Flash and Supergirl are unapologetic superhero shows, and while Arrow is one, too, it’s heart remains nearer to Gotham City and the tortured urban vigilante pretensions of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. But Legends of Tomorrow is hardly a strict superhero show with this crew of misfits and outcasts and a mission that certainly doesn’t involve traditional rescues, so what identity does it have? Well, maybe turning this into the TV equivalent (from a pacing and sense of humor standpoint) of the original Star Wars films or the Indiana Jones movies isn’t such a bad idea. Seriously, they should go all out with totally insane George Lucas-style wipe-cuts in between scenes and everything!
It’s tough to not put a bunch of wisecracking Americans in 1942 to punch out Nazis and not get Indiana Jones vibes, I suppose. So this episode’s answer was to double down on that tone. And it worked.
It was also a little predictable, especially with Nate Heywood’s arc with his grandfather, Commander Steel or Professor Stein’s inability to handle a leadership role. Maybe those might have been better suited playing out over more than one episode, but there’s no time for that (there are a lot of characters to service this week, even more than usual), so you take the good with the bad.
But there’s so much good. The JSA look great, with costumes that are either wonderful tributes to their comic book counterparts (Stargirl, Dr. Mid-Nite, Obsidian) or are sensible, practical updates (Commander Steel). The fact that we don’t get explanations about the nature of Obsidian’s powers, or what’s up with Dr. Mid-Nite, or whether Steel or Hourman really have powers at all is almost welcome, and it just means we’ll get to learn more when these characters return later in the season.
Also, for the second week in a row, I have to point out how much better the Waverider set looks. It’s still not as roomy as something like the Enterprise, but there’s more of a sense of space in it. The production values on this show are solid. So what if Nazi Hulk looked a little dodgy? We got to hear a dude dressed like a Nazi refer to the Reverse-Flash as “Herr Thawne.” That’s gold, my friends.
And, c’mon guys, we got to hear Victor Garber sing tonight! As if all this other stuff isn’t awesome enough.
DC Universe Time Bubble
– The Justice Society of America (although surprisingly very few of the members we meet in this episode) first appeared in All-Star Comics #3 in 1940. They are, without question, the most important superhero team in comics history, but their legacy is too complex for me to discuss here. Luckily (or unluckily if you don’t like me), I wrote an entire article about them. Think of it as like a bonus feature for this article if this article was a Blu-ray or something. I dunno.
– Commander Steel, amazingly enough, was NOT a product of 1940s comics, though, despite his patriotic name and costume. His legacy is even more freakin’ complicated if you can believe that, so allow me to present another article (this one not written by me) that should make everything clear to you about both Commander Steel and Nate Heywood.
– We didn’t get to spend a helluva lot of time with Obsidian tonight, but he’ll be back. He first appeared in All-Star Squadron (one of my favorite comics) #25 in 1983, and was a member of JSA offshoot Infinity Inc. He was never a founding member of the JSA or anything, but what he is, is the son of Alan Scott, the first Green Lantern. Apparently, that will be discussed this season, too!
– Rex Tyler’s costume looks a little bit more like the younger, Rick Tyler version of the character than his Golden Age counterpart, but I ain’t complaining:
I am also completely certain that by the end of this season he won’t be dead. Or if he is dead, he’ll still be around in…another form. You have to trust me on this.
– Stargirl is another second or third generation JSA character who they moved to the past here for convenience sake, but that’s fine. That cosmic staff she’s wielding was designed (at least in the comics) by founding JSA-er Ted “Starman” Knight, father of one of my all time favorite DC characters, Jack Knight…who would totally be perfect for a CW show of his own, but if you ask nicely I’ll write you a thousand words or so about why that’s the case.
She’s a great character, and you can see her kicking ass in more modern/recent JSA adventures.
– They never make it clear if this Doctor Mid-Nite is Charles McNider or Pieter Cross. It doesn’t matter. He looks really cool. It’s like if Republic Pictures made a Doctor Mid-Nite serial in 1942, he kinda would have looked like this. I’m so happy I just got to type that sentence. Dr. Mid-Nite dates back to 1941, so this is some serious DC history on display.
– So, the “original” Vixen on display here isn’t “original” at all, but created especially for this series. She is indeed Mari McCabe’s grandmother, though. What’s cool about this is that the comic book JSA has always been about legacy, and heroes from this era passing their mantle on to the current generation. Right now, Vixen is set to be the first “legacy” character (other than the Canarys on Arrow, they kind of don’t count) in the CW DC Universe, which is pretty cool, right?
– So, Baron Krieger. There is no Baron Krieger in DC Comics. There is, however, Baron Blitzkrieg, a JSA foe. BUT…and this is where shit gets weird, so stick with me. That guy’s name was Baron Reiter, and Reiter was the villain of Arrow season 4’s excessively tedious flashback sequences, and he was most certainly not a super-powered Nazi from 1942. So what gives?
I suspect that this guy is intended to be the “real” Baron Blitzkrieg, and I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if he wasn’t turned into Nazi Dickhead McNuggets by that bomb and comes back at some point.
– I have no idea what the Askaran Amulet is supposed to be, BUT…it looks a little bit like the amulet that DC heroine Isis wears. Kinda. I’m not sure.
But Hitler’s fascination with the occult was very much a real thing, and that helps with the whole Indiana Jones vibe of this episode, doesn’t it? His ultimate prize, by the way, would be the Spear of Destiny, which would help him not to ever have to worry about superheroes interfering with his affairs ever again. Ever wonder why a world populated by DC superheroes didn’t just win World War II in like, a week? Yeah, the Spear of Destiny. I’ll get deeper into this if it comes up again or if you want to talk about it on Twitter or in the comments or something.
– I was squinting for easter eggs in the JSA HQ trophy room but didn’t spot much. Was there a crown I saw in there? Anyone? Help me out!
– But on the Waverider, there was prominently displayed a Red Tornado helmet.
No, not the robot one. Ma Hunkel, the pot-helmeted lady who ran with the JSA for a bit in the ’40s.
– Max Lorenz was absolutely a real person, and I suppose maybe if you squint in the dark and have bad eyes there is a passing resemblance to Martin Stein?
By the way, Victor Garber wore a Superman shirt when he was Jesus Christ in Godspell in 1973…
And his little speech to the band right before he started singing (I don’t have to tell you this, I’m sure) was Marty McFly’s prep line to the band in Back to the Future before they ripped into “Johnny B. Goode.”
– “You’re not a wartime consigliere” is the nicest way to demote somebody, and probably the nicest thing Michael Corleone ever said to anybody in The Godfather.
– I know the motorcycle sidecar chase is right out of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, but you know what was even more in the spirit of things? Ray’s inability to bring himself to “Seig Heil!” before saying “ah, hell” and punching that Nazi douchebag right in the kisser.
What did I miss? Shout ’em out in the comments or right at me on Twitter!