Arrow, The Flash (2014) and Legends of Tomorrow

Arrow (2012-    )
The Flash (2014-    )
Legends of Tomorrow (2016-    )
Type: Spin Off
Group: DC Multiverse: Earth 1... mostly

   Having had success with shows based on DC Comics Green Arrow and The Flash, The CW tried to extend their franchise to a third show, Legends of Tomorrow, a different and more ambitious sort of hero show. Ambitious but flawed. Get ready, I'm about to take some shots at Legends, but I do so with love.

   Arrow and The Flash are both shows based on specific DC comics books. Legends of Tomorrow, a spin off of both shows, is the first team-based hero series centering on a new hero team not previously established in the comics (although all the characters are DC universe characters).

   The show is set up as a saga with a specific season long arc. Rip Hunter is a time traveler from the future. In that future, immortal villain Vandal Savage has not only taken control of the world, he has also murdered Rip's wife and child. He is a member of a group of time travelers called the Time Masters. Rip wants to go back and change the past to save his family but the Time Masters forbid it. Rip says, screw it, I'm doing it anyway! He travels back to our time and gathers a group of heroes and villains to help him defeat Vandal Savage and save the future. He tells them all he has picked them because while at the moment they are B-listers, in the future they are seen as legends. This is a lie. The team very directly discovers the opposite is true. He has chosen them because they are the people whose deaths or absences would least alter history. Here is a rundown of the team...

Rip Hunter. Already established who he is. Additionally there is the extra nerdy plus that he is played by Arthur Darvill who previously appeared in the time travel series Doctor Who as The Doctor's companion, Rory. So he's got time travel cred.

The Atom. With the use of his tech suit Ray Palmer as The Atom can shrink to microscopic size. Geek cred here is that The Atom is played by Brandon Routh who previously played Superman in the film Superman Returns. The show makes use of that with reference jokes and by framing Ray Palmer as a goody goody boyscout similar to Superman.

White Canary. Sara Lance, formerly a member of Green Arrow's team of heroes. A longtime friend of Oliver Queen, she was killed and then resurrected by means of a Lazarus pit. She came back a soulless killing machine. Team Arrow restored her soul but she still has a killing bloodlust she fights.

Firestorm. This is actually two characters. On The Flash, when Star Labs particle accelerator exploded it caused people all over Central City to become super powered "meta humans". Among these were Dr. Martin Stein and Ronnie Raymond who gained the ability to merge into one nuclear powered superhero named Firestorm. At the end of the first season of The Flash Ronnie Raymond died helping to save the world. Dr. Stein needed someone to merge with as Firestorm or he would die. Team Flash found the a suitable replacement in the form of Jefferson "Jax" Jackson. Stein/Jax/Firestorm became part of the Legends team.

Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Introduced on The Flash these two were maybe the characters most directly tied to villain Vandal Savage. centuries ago, Hawkgirl's first incarnation on Earth was Egyptian princess Chay-Ara who Vandal Savage, then Hath-Set an Egyptian priest, lusted after and desired. But she was in love with Prince Khufu. Hath-Set killed them both. Only due to magical machinations I will not go into, Chay-Ara and Khufu reincarnate over and over, their love always drawing them to each other. And each time they reincarnate Vandal Savage shows up and murders them, their deaths fueling his continuing immortality. Their origin being so tied to Savages they seem key to his defeat. Sadly (spoiler) early on Savage does in fact kill Carter Hall, Hawkman's latest incarnation.

Captain Cold and Heatwave. Leonard Snart and Mick Rory respectively. They are villains from The Flash's rogues gallery. Long time partners in crime before becoming full-on super villains, Captain Cold uses a freeze gun and Heatwave a heat gun to cause havoc. In the comics Flash's villains are unique in that most of them maintain some level of civility with The Flash. That was brought into the show with Flash at one point making a deal with Captain Cold to cut him some slack if he agreed not to harm innocent civilians in his crimes. The fact that he agrees to the deal shows that Snart was a bad guy but not a bad guy, if you follow me. Thus his willingness to join the Legends team. That and the potential for he and his partner to loot and steal all through time. While Snart conceals a moral code beneath his rough exterior, his partner Mick Rory is mostly about crime although he has a code of loyalty towards his partners. Geek cred here is that Snart and Rory are played by Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell who previously starred together in the series Prison Break as wrongly imprisoned brothers.

   This series had a bigger mountain to climb than the shows that spawned it. Because Arrow and Flash were based on actual comics they had a load of preexisting material to draw from in creating stories. They could look over decades of stories and cherry pick the coolest material. With Arrow taking on more of a Batman tone Arrow could also freely steal from Batman too. But Legends doesn't have quite that advantage. Yes, they could grab elements like Vandal Savage and the Time Masters but overall it was a new thing. While I appreciate the effort to do something new I'm afraid for a variety of reasons Legends has bitten off more than it can chew. The show has a number of unavoidable flaws...

1. There are too many main characters. Arrow and The Flash both have expansive casts but in both cases there is really only one central character with all the other characters taking supporting roles. Setting aside main villain Vandal Savage, Legends of Tomorrow starts off the season with nine main characters. On the other shows only the titular hero HAS to be featured each week. The supporting characters can be featured or fade into the background week to week as needed. With nine hero characters pretty much each and every week all nine heroes need to be used in some way. No small feat. Possibly to ease that burden one character has been killed off and another one ditched. Additionally some episodes find at least one hero seriously wounded, sidelining him and usually at least one other character to care for him. This leads nicely into the next problem.

2. All the characters are stuck in the same spaceship every episode. Sounds weird but stick with me on this. The premise of the show is that the heroes are all on the same space ship basically on a road trip through time. Remember how I said on the other shows characters could fade into the background if not needed? The premise of Legends precludes this show ever doing this. While all the characters are heroes if the show was about, say, The Justice League you could get away with not using all the characters and just use the ones truly needed for the story. Batman is off on a mission and so missing. Green Lantern is on the other side of the galaxy. But on Legends all the characters are trapped on that ship and so every week they all have to be accounted for and given something to do. This can hamstring the show if they're not careful. When handled correctly the plot is constructed so that every hero is necessary for the mission at hand. Or if not, again, the unneeded characters are sidelined by injuries, hopefully fully unconscious so they can be fully set aside. But sometimes you end up with a plot where most of the characters are involved in a battle to save all of time and space but... because everyone needs to be accounted for we keep cutting to an extraneous B-plot where a couple of characters not needed for the main plot learn how to spackle some damage to the time ship's bathroom. It's bad because you are aware it's an unneeded plot and you just want them to get back to the main story.

3. A story that travels all over time and space means the need for sets and props to replicate all those settings. That's no small challenge. Let me give examples of this issue being handle well and poorly. On the positive end of this I hold out the spy show Alias as an example of how to do this right. While filmed in Los Angeles the show had its characters traveling everywhere: Paris, Moscow, the Middle East, ancient caves, etc. And they would always do it in a way where you really believed it! On the negative end I point you to genre shows from the 60s and 70s where, sometimes, it seemed shows would just phone it in. The Griffith Park Observatory would be used by Wonder Woman every other week, always as a new location. The Six Million Dollar Man would travel to Bloockstanislan in the Middle East and it would look amazingly like Burbank including a highway and phone polls in the background. Lost In Space would use office equipment as alien technology. Legends of Tomorrow falls somewhere in the middle and I wish they'd try harder. Sometimes they nail it so well. Like when they travel to an alternate timeline where Starling City is a nightmare. But then on other episodes they'll have characters heading to a fancy foreign theater and it will look just okay but still like a set where if they worked the camera moves better, maybe threw a filter on the video you'd just buy it more. But I can deal with that. But in an episode where the team infiltrates a Russian nuclear facility they went full Lost In Space. At one point Roy Palmer is tasked with finding the controls for a nuclear experiment and adjusting the controls. Turns out the Russians control their nuclear experiments with big old audio mixer boards. Noooooooo!!! Come on, guys, if you gotta go that way at least try to disguise the thing. Again, I know the scope of the show is a daunting challenge for props and locations but ya gotta step up. I beg you!

4. With such a saga heavy show it's hard to work in standalone episodes. Most shows with big season long arcs will still throw in standalone episodes. On The X-Files they'd do maybe four standalone monster stories for every alien conspiracy episode. Flash might be hell bent to defeat Zoom but if a random villain shows up in Central City it still needs to be dealt with. But on Legends of Tomorrow the heroes are removed from a permanent setting. They really have to work to find reasons for episodes not centered directly on Vandal Savage to happen and feel valid. For the most part they do a good job with this but I'm pointing this out as one more obstacle they have to confront. For an example of this handled well I will point again to the episode where they are sidelined on an alternate future Earth where everything has gone to hell. It's a side trip from the main story but it's always fun to visit future Earths gone wrong, see characters we know morphed into different surprising versions of themselves. But when the characters have to stay in a location for a second episode because the time ships is having problems with the transmission and then the plot seems not so critical or shocking then you've got a problem. Again, 9 out of 10 times they nail this but it is an issue.

   I don't mean to bash the show. I like it. I just think sometimes it can feel clunky. Everything above was partly me just thinking through the show and realizing why. Supposedly if the show continues into new seasons the plan is to have a rotating cast of characters. Some people are hoping maybe Constantine can find a new home on Legends at least for a season.

   Assuming the show is renewed, I hope some adjustments are made. I hope they give it a more filmic look, step up there game on props. Most of all I hope they find a way to handle the cast of characters better. Maybe a smaller crew. Or a scenario where they have an Earthbound home base so that characters not needed for specific plot reasons can just be written off for an episode without us having to see a superhero learning to make waffles as another character is on the verge of being ripped limb from limb.

Other Arrow Crossover Links
Arrow and Constantine
Arrow and The Flash (2014)

Other Flash Crossover Links
The Flash (2014) and Arrow
The Flash (2014) and The Flash (1990)
The Flash (2014) and Supergirl (1990)

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