Wednesday, May 5, 2010

TV Review
    — Smallville “Absolute Justice” (Season 9)

Wow.  Just wow.  This was an amazing two-hour episode of Smallville.  (Yes, I know it aired in February.  I just got around to watching it this week.  Better late than never!)

Not because either the story or the special effects were spectacular.  We’ve seen Clark interact with other heroes before, and the effects ranged from pretty good (Dr. Fate) to downright cheesy (Hawkman in general, and that final fight with the Icicle).  But just in terms of quality and significance, this was a level up from most episodes.

What differed was the level of detail packed into this episode.  Not that this should come as a surprise, given that it was written by comics writer Geoff Johns.  He also did Season 8’s centerpiece of Clark interacting with multiple super peers (the Legion of Super-Heroes), which exhibited a similar quantum jump up in, well, depth.

“Depth” is probably a good term here.  Most Smallville episodes have a passing, sometimes even “winking”, connection to the DC universe of the comics, featuring some version of a comic hero or villain that is recognizable but not really grounded as anything more than this week’s guest star.  But with the Justice Society (and Legion) episodes, Johns abundantly uses the high-level continuity and backstory of the the characters’ comic book versions to influence the characterizations and dialogue throughout the episode.  For viewers who don’t read the comics, there is probably only a little added value, but for comics readers, the characters and situations feel much more authentic than with most episodes.

In particular:
  • The pairing of Hawkman and Green Arrow is right out of the Justice League of America comics of the 70s and 80s, rubbing the characters’ internal idealogies up against each other to create sparks.
  • They wisely left out the 1940s origins of the Justice Society, merely keeping them as an earlier generation.
  • The government requirement that the Justice Society unmask followed by them disbanding.
  • Establishing the Justice Society as a “family”, in contrast to the Legion as a “club” and the Justice League as a “professional business organization”.
  • Established Hawkman’s repeated past lives, although they only established him back 1000 years instead of the 5000 or so in the comics, and his link to Shayera.
  • An Oreos reference for the Martian Manhunter.  And a mention of his family on Mars.
  • Sylvester Pemberton’s intro heavily implied the Jack Knight Starman.
  • Abigail “Ma” Hunkel (the Red Tornado).  Stripesy, and his real name, Pat.  Inza Nelson.  And of course all the props to provide non-character references to the JSA.
  • Amanda Waller.  And Checkmate.  And the Suicide Squad.

Also of note:
  • Dr. Fate’s helmet kept in the bowling ball bag was a nice nod to the Bowler from Mystery Men.
  • Chloe’s experience in the dumpster while the super-hero fight went on outside was perhaps the best reflection that we’ve ever seen (or not seen, I guess) of what a non-super experiences during one of these fights.
  • We really need to have a follow-up of this featuring Canary and her presumed mother, Black Canary.  (And for that matter, Bart needs to meet and train with Jay Garrick.)
  • Icicle’s makeup seemed to owe a little to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze.
  • Almost in an aside, boom, Martian Manhunter is restored to full capability.
  • The breastplate for Hawkman, as a means of attached his wings, made a lot of sense.  (Although I wouldn’t have minded seeing a half-naked, hairy chested Carter Hall running through this episode!)
This was all squeezed into a two-hour episode (just 1 hour, 20 minutes of actual content).  Between what we actually saw and all the behind the scenes stuff (Chloe helping to find the other JSA members and their families), they could have pulled an entire season out of what was stuffed into this episode. (That’s actually one of the hallmark oddities of Smallville: they let stuff like this year’s Kandor plot meander through an entire season, and then they throw the Legion and the JSA at us for a single burst.  Maybe they should have done half the season on the Kandorians and half on the JSA?)

Smallville should really consider having Geoff Jones do an episode like this as the season opener and then mine it for all its worth throughout the season.

I’ve seen it said by others that the last episode of Smallville needs to have Clark in the red-and-blue suit (with cape), and I agree.  But after this episode, they need to have that last episode involve a big Crisis that brings back as many of the hero actors as they can: Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter, Hawkman and Star Girl, Canary and Arthur and Bart and Vic, Zatanna, and of course the Legion.  Oh heck, add in Diana or Donna.  Written by Geoff Johns.  Just to have them converse for 5 minutes, pose, and head off to deal with the Crisis as the show ends.

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