Friday, February 12, 2010

In Defense of Smallville: Absolute Justice

Last week Smallville had its most anticipated episode ever. A two hour event which included the live action debuts of several classic characters from the Justice Society of America. Finally seeing these characters come off the page and become flesh and blood was awesome. It brought back the same type of feelings I had when I was 13 and I first saw Tim Burton's Batman movie. It could've been better had it been a big budget feature film of the JSA, but just seeing a live action version of fantastic characters like Dr Fate and The Sandman (who would likely never, ever, eeeeeeevvvvvveeeeeeer get a movie) was a lot of fun and very cool. As a lifelong DC comics fan, I enjoyed the episode (and the series as a whole) immensely. I don't get why any comics fan would complain about it.

Oh, oh, oh, oh......wait..... I forgot....this is the internet. It's not considered cool on the internet to watch a TV show and enjoy it. You have to nitpick it apart piece by piece and rip it to shreds. You can't be positive on the internet. You can't be subjective and just go along with the ride and enjoy it despite its limitations of being a low budget show on a 12th place network. You can't allow yourself to just enjoy how cool it is to see these characters in the flesh for the first time because the costumes aren't exactly right. The internet has brought us a lot of great things, but the absolute worst thing it has done is give a voice to the cup half full negative nellies of the world who have the ability to suck the fun right out of everything and ruin it for everybody else.

The episode was watched by nearly 3 million people and probably illegally downloaded by another 25 billion and opinions seem to be divided straight down the middle. My gut feeling is that the 50% who liked the episode were probably already Smallville fans anyway. Of the other half I'd say 75% of those people had already tried Smallville years ago and didn't like it and the other 25% had never watched Smallville before and were trying to jump on board a series during its 185th episode. So basically what it comes down to is mostly a bunch of people who already hated the show, watched it anyway, just looking for reasons to hate it some more and write all their message board posts about how awful it was.

The main complaints seem to be that that Clark Kent doesn't wear the Superman costume yet, too many nods to comic book continuity and the cheapness of the JSA's costumes. Three of the lamest complaints ever.

1. Why do you want him to wear his costume if you think the other costumes looked bad?
2. How good did you think the costumes would look with their limited TV budget?
3. You saw the costumes in all the promotion leading up to it, you already knew how they looked.
4. People are usually complaining that Smallville doesn't give enough nods to the comics, they just spent two hours trying to give every DC fan watching a nerdgasm and they complain about that too.

Another complaint about the costume is that Clark being around so many costumed heroes makes the fact that he is NOT in costume seem sillier. If you watched the show, you would understand that. Why would you complain about things like that if you’re going to jump into episode 185 with no understanding of what has happened before it?

Up until now Clark hasn't really had a need for a costume. His super speed allows him to do his superheroics without being seen. He hasn't really needed the dual identity of Clark/Superman yet. Recently he has started to understand that he does need to start using symbols and being more visible to inspire hope in people. And now that he's starting to meet and interact with other heroes who DO have costumes, doesn't it make sense that those people are going to be what inspires him to put on the suit? That he sees how the costumes help them do their crime fighting while maintaining a separate life? That was one of the themes of the show, the new generation of heroes learning lessons from the old generation. To me they're doing exactly what Batman Begins did, they're giving him an actual REASON to put on the suit so when he finally it's not like the standard Superman origin where Ma Kent makes it with her sewing machine and he just goes oh, I guess I'll wear that since you went through all the trouble.

Of course, it really comes down to this....a lot of comic book fans hate this show. They always have and they always will no matter what they do. Had the JSA episode done everything right, the same people bitching about it now would still be bitching about it then because they already wrote the show off long ago during it's early teenage soap opera days. I can understand the complaints about some of the early episodes to a point, but all in all I don't get why comic book fans hate this show. I really and truly don't. Because it's not faithful to the source material? Because he doesn't have a cape? I don't get those complaints because we've had so many different versions of Superman in the comic books over the years that nobody could possibly name them all. The origin story has been told and re-told, changed and re-changed, dozens of times. Why is it that comic book fans can handle 300 different versions of Superman's origin in the books and can handle 300 different Elseworlds version of the character but can't handle this one? In Superman: Red Son, Kal El's rocket ship crashes in Russia instead of Kansas. He grows up to be a Russian version of Superman complete with a hammer and sickle on his chest. He doesn't fight for truth, justice and the American way. He fights for socialism. Did comic book readers throw a hissy fit over this? No. They just accepted it as somebody taking the Superman character and doing something different and original with it instead of the same old tired story. For some reason it is fine to do that in comic form, but on TV and in film doing something different is considered sacrilege to the source material and whoever did it should be shot. They only want to see the exact same story over and over and over again. It makes no sense.

The only real problem with Smallville is Warner Brothers. Despite the show's success the studio has made every effort to squash it including forcing it to be made on a shoe string budget and taking it off its long held Thursday time slot this past season and putting in the Friday night death slot. They've been trying to get rid of this show for years, but the people keep watching so they can't. Even putting it on Friday nights, the show continues to thrive and will likely get a 10th season. For some reason they feel that having a live action Superman on TV hurts their ability to put a live action Superman in movie theaters. As if we can't tell the difference or handle two different versions of the same character. The only thing hurting their ability to put Superman into theaters is their own bone headed decisions.

If you have a problem with Clark Kent not flying or not putting on the suit and becoming Superman, blame Warner Brothers. The studio won't ALLOW them to use the costume or have him fly because they don't want it to step on the toes of any feature film version. The actual people making the show? I'm more than certain that they're tired of hearing the complaints. I'm sure they'd love to go ahead and move Clark into being Superman, but they're not allowed to. Warner Brothers came VERY close to forcing the network to cancel the show when Superman Returns went into production for those reasons. It took Bryan Singer himself to step in and convince the studio that the two could co-exist.

Yes, series creators Gough and Millar are famous for using the "no tights, no flight" slogan to describe the show, but they didn't make that up for no reason. They made it up because they had to in order to get the show on the air. The original show wasn't even about Superman, it was about Batman. They wanted to do a show called "Bruce Wayne" and show a teenage Bruce Wayne traveling the world and training to become Batman. The studio said no because they were looking to do a Batman origin movie. Then the focus switched to a young Superman. Once again, the studio wasn't down with it due to trying to get a new Superman movie going AND because there were all kinds of lawsuits going on as to who owned the rights to Superboy. But Gough/Millar came up with the solution that they would put their own spin on the origin story and wouldn't allow flying or tights in order to not interfere with a movie and to not cause legal problems.

But thankfully Gough/Millar are long gone and have been replaced with new show runners who don't completely buy into the no tights, no flights rules and actually read comic books and care about trying to please comic book fans. If you think the producers don't want to be making a real Superman show, you're insane. They're doing EVERYTHING they can to make a real Superman show without breaking the studio's rules.

There is a loooooong list of characters they've wanted to use on the show for years, headlined by Bruce Wayne, that the studio won't let them use because we're apparently too stupid to understand a Smallville Bruce Wayne isn't the same one that Christian Bale plays. Other characters like Wonder Woman, Flash and Green Lantern have been refused due to the possibility that maybe, one day, at some point, they MIGHT, sort of, could, maaaaaaaaaaaybe do a movie version and that would just be sooooooo confusing to the viewers. And even when they ARE allowed to use some of these characters the studio puts all sorts of restrictions on what they can and can't do. That's why they can have a Flash character but he has to be called Impulse instead of Flash or they can have a Martian Manhunter but he can't actually look like Martian Manhunter, he's just some ordinary black guy.

The studio did much the same thing to Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's Justice League Unlimited animated series. Those guys had all sorts of plans and ideas for characters that were shot down by the studio to the point that making the series became nothing but a non-stop barrage of battles, nightmare and legal headaches for those guys. They eventually gave up and ended the show way earlier than they wanted.

Personally, I applaud the people behind Smallville for staying behind the show for nearly 10 years now, squeezing every cent out of every dime they're given and busting their butts to bring us the best live action superhero show they can possibly do given all the restrictions they're under.

And it IS the best live action superhero show......maybe of all time. Believe me, I'm a sucker that will watch every single show and movie that has a superhero in it.

I managed to not laugh myself to death during the syndicated Superboy TV series....

I managed to pour myself a big glass of shut the hell up through Mutant X....

I managed to not break my TV during every episode of Electra Woman and Dyna Girl....

I managed to survive Night Man and his sexy saxophone....

I was such a masochist that I managed to watch ANOTHER Electra Woman and Dyna Girl....

I managed to not kill myself after the Superhero Roast starring Ed McMahon and Ghetto Man....

I managed to think Shazam was pretty cool....

I managed to sit through the JLA TV movie twice....

I managed to think this Thor looked pretty rad....

I managed to get excited to watch every episode of Spider-man....

I managed to watch Captain America and not get him confused with Evel Knievel....

And there are plenty more where that came from. Birds of Prey, Doctor Strange, Mister Terrific, My Secret Identity, Spider-man showing up on The Electric Company.......after a lifetime of all can anybody put Smallville in the “sucks” category?

I understand that in the early years it was just a soap opera and wasn't very faithful at all. But in recent years, since the new show runners have taken over, they've done everything possible to change the show and to embrace the DC universe and put it in a live action form with as much respect as they can afford like nobody has EVER done before. One week ago I got to see a live action JSA, Checkmate, Amanda Waller and saw hints at a future that includes the Suicide Squad and Apokolips. And that is on top of all the other additions they've brought on the show the past few years like Green Arrow, Speedy, Doomsday, Metallo, Roulette or the Legion of Super Heroes. Plus the fact that the show's main story line this season is mirroring the storyline that is also running concurrently in the Superman comics where the bottle city of Kandor has been opened and thousands of Kryptonians have arrived on Earth.

Was Absolute Justice perfect? No. Do I wish they had more money to make things look better and have more action? Of course. But despite its limitations it was just plain FUN. And isn't that what all this is supposed to be about? It's not Shakespeare. It had a guy dressed like a friggin bird and you're expecting Emmy award winning television? Shut up and go screw.

1 comment:

  1. Lol to the clips. Don't think I've seen any of those shows. I didn't realize there had been so many.