Monday, January 24, 2011

Episode Twenty-Four: Solar Power

Dr. Lightner (Lois' insane tech contact earlier in the show) breaks out of prison using a machine that harnesses the power of light.  His target: the Man of Steel for putting him in prison.  Lightner takes control of LexCorp satellites to filter the sun, only allowing the red spectrum to reach Earth.  Lois, Clark and Jimmy investigate possible connections to LexCorp, but are unable to yield solid results.  Superman's powers quickly dwindle as Lightner captures Lois and Jimmy to force a confrontation.  Despite having the advantage of hard-light holograms, teleportation and laser guns, Lightner is unable to deliver the killing blow before Superman causes his machinery to be destroyed.  The explosion knocks out the satellite computers, and the full spectrum of the yellow sun repowers Superman.  He easily knocks Lightner out, and the day is saved.

Evan:  After three terrible episodes the show finally makes it back to form!  I remembered who Lightner was about halfway through, and ironically his transition to full super villain was actually a nice way to raise the stakes for his return after I felt he went to far towards super villainy in his first appearance.  The show brought back Lex and Jimmy for this episode, which did wonders for filling out the episode's background.  Luthor was played perfectly in this show: from his smirking reactions to Lois' investigation its clear he made sure Lightner found everything he needed for his revenge plot, but placed himself at a far enough distance not to be involved.  While Superman was powerless and at the whim of a madman, Lex practiced his archery (a perfectly threatening activity in a world without invulnerability).  Absolutely perfect.  I've been hoping the show will remember Luthor's early claim to Metropolis.  Finally, Lex is at the root of Superman's problems once again, and is just ambiguous enough about it to be untouchable.

Tone is a huge element of what made this episode work.  We saw Clark's relationships to the people around him, there were some fun slapstick moments and the increasing stakes were a pleasure to watch develop.  There were three action sequences: the first two were Lightner toying with Superman as his powers weakened, the final being his attempt for the kill on a very human Superman.  Each time, Lightner had the upper hand and each time Superman was pushed to the extreme.  Little moments, like Superman realizing he's bleeding and the rage he felt for being made to feel vulnerable sold this episode for me.

We also go to see Lois, Clark and Jimmy do some actual reporting and interact with one another while Lex smirked just behind the curtain.  We haven't had any real movement in character relations in a while, but even as a function of the status quo it was nice to see the cast back together.

Very fun story that used a character I never thought we'd see again in an interesting and exciting way.

Kristin: What a relief! After 3 straight episodes earning zero out of ten, this show gives me something worth talking about.

Predictably, what I loved most about the episode was the fact that it brought back our core group of characters, even for brief scenes. We saw Lois, Jimmy and Clark working together in a way that we haven't seen setting up an episode in a while. Luthor returned to the universe in a glorious archery-in-my-office cameo. It was brilliant. I can only hope for more of him to come.

I was also impressed by the narrative that this episode built. It was simple with moments that winked to the audience (such as Luthor's denial to Lois over the phone while delivering a lovely smirk as he fires off a bullseye) and really demonstrated a respect for the integrity of the Superman mythos that has been sorely lacking in the last few forays into Metropolis. It would have been easy to make this another return-of-the-wronged-villain episode complete with gratuitous punching and Kristin face-palming. Instead, the show stuck to it's own rules by weakening Superman under the red sun and not having him miraculously muscle his way out of it. I'm looking at you, kryptonite heartburn.

Final Thoughts: Back to form!

Evan's Episode Rating: 8/10 (Lois Lane Ratio: 0 incompetent/1 insane) - Seriously Lois, invisible doors are never locked? The hell?

Kristin's Episode Rating: 8/10 - Thought about a 7... but these guys deserved an 8 for scaling the mountainous turd that came before them.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Episode Twenty-Three: Double Dose

Livewire breaks out of her containment facility and begins another reign of terror over Metropolis.  Stopping only to get Parasite out of Striker's, she once again targets her brand of electric mayhem on Superman.  The criminal duo appear to have Superman and the police helpless, but a rainy day gives the Man of Steel a plan.  He attacks the villains wearing a plastic suit, but is quickly defeated by the pair's power.  Parasite drains off his powers, but rather than leave him for the finishing blow he uses them to attack Livewire and drain her's as well.  He chases the powerless Superman through an office facility, but Superman uses Parasite's new weakness to water (Livewire's achilles heel) to defeat him by activating the fire sprinklers.  Once again, Parasite is left without a memory, keeping Clark's secrets safe.  Both Livewire and Parasite are sent back to prison, and a triumphant Superman flies off into the night.

Evan:  This was a disaster.  A plotless nightmare aimed at bringing back Livewire that should have been shelved after the only new idea the writers could generate was "also Parasite is there".  As a result we get a repeat of Livewire's first appearance with strong elements of the Parasite episode where two men are in the body of Parasite.  So it was a repeat on both fronts.  With no new ideas, the writers go to the formula and deliver a series of action sequences that completely ignore any attempt at characterization.  We get Leslie on multiple TV screens, tons of sequences where she turns to electricity and escapes through electronics and throws thunderbolts at people.  And to make matters worse, the fights are boring because we saw them in "Livewire" and the numerous Parasite episodes!

We get so little time for story I was actually wondering if some of this was cobbled together from cut battle-scene ideas from "Livewire", which had a lot of story up front that was interesting and was let down by a weak second and third act.  This was like an extension of the weak third act into acts six, seven and eight which got progressively worse.

As I've mentioned, this isn't exactly the first appearance of Parasite.  He's right up there with Luthor in terms of appearances as a villain, and he's had a fairly solid MO throughout the series as a janitor-turned-villain who has simple tastes and doesn't particularly enjoy being a terrible person outside of the occasional revenge fantasy and being easily manipulated.  This was the manipulation side of things, but we don't get enough character moments with him to make it work. He follows Livewire around on the promise of power and sex and tries to rape her/drain her powers several times when her guard is down.  The vulgar sexual side of this episode began as some double entendres and flourished into a bizarre series of scenes where Parasite tries to pick his moments to attack Livewire from behind, with the show using the language of sexual assault.  It was blatant and gross, especially when we've had both of these characters before and neither had a dirty, creepy sexuality about them.  It set the worst possible tone for the episode.  Any amount of taste could have saved this one.

Livewire's sexual reinterpretation makes me think this show has no idea how to handle women as villains outside of "sexpot".  It isn't because the show added elements of sexuality to a cartoon.  There's nothing wrong with that.  The problem is that they did it in a way that makes me think they hate women, which is probably not what they were going for.  The tone of the banter, I think meant to be sexy, was actually disturbing.  Amplify this by the factor of it being a show aimed at children and the whole thing ended up making me feel like I need a shower.

Did this uncomfortable episode have positive moments?  A few.  The ending was sort of clever, although the plot made no sense as to why anything leading up to it was happening.  It was unclear from the moment Parasite entered the episode why he was there, as Livewire never has had any real problems with Superman. So once it was transparently to raise the stakes, the team proceeded to hide-out and... something.  They were possibly stealing things?  Maybe trying to power up Livewire by breaking into the generator and office building?  Nothing made a lot of sense.  The brief scenes with Clark and Lois was nice, even if Lois looks increasingly like an idiot for not suspecting something is up.

It seems wrong in a Livewire episode to move her aside and let the men fight to the conclusion.  Her entire first episode was about that exact thing not happening.

Concluding, I think the major problem was tone.  They didn't know what to do with this episode, and the tone was so off that it became a sexist nightmare.  The show was clear this wasn't accidental with the crassness they used.  They used the language of rape in the scenes, so it wasn't like it was unintentional.  I didn't think I needed to say this, but can we not do a fifteen-year old's idea of a hilarious rape side-plot in this Superman cartoon?

Kristin: After a long hiatus for Christmas travels, rehab after the imp fiasco that was last episode, and a lot of new year procrastination, we are back with a double dose of uncomfortable. Let me break down what went horribly wrong this time.

Livewire is back and she is as anti-feminist a character as I have possibly ever seen. A former progressive  talk radio host uses her sexuality in order to manipulate Parasite and then denies him satisfaction at every turn. And since when was he a creepy rapist who preys on unsuspecting women? Wasn't he a misused janitor at one point in this disaster of a series? In any case, yes, apparently the writing team on this show thinks women use men as toys, luring them into dangerous and unsavoury situations with the promise of sex dangling like worm on a hook. Because in the comics universe, women are either mindless superboobs or sexual manipulators.

The awkwardness does not end with the very plot itself. It continues into the dialogue, which is filled to the brim with sexual allusions and double-meanings that feel so ridiculously forced that even the voice actors sound like they're ready to vomit. Evan keeps telling me that this series is considered the worst of this team's work. They must have had different writers. I don't know what self-respecting storyteller could justify keeping these incompetent chimpanzees on the crew.

I don't think I need to say that there was no development in character or overarching through-line at all. We were immediately thrust into the asshole of this horrendous episode and never saw the light of conversation again. I'm not sure there was ever an exchange between characters at all that wasn't Livewire trying to sex her way to the top or Parasite trying to rape his way there through her... literally.

This disgusted me as a woman and as someone trying to find a way for superhero culture to reinvent itself with an equally strong eye to feminine psychology and character. I have been disappointed as a viewer before, but I truly believe that this episode is something the creators ought to be ashamed about.

Final Thoughts: Not sure why this episode needed to foreground the "rape" angle.

Evan's Episode Rating: 1/10 (Lois Lane Ratio: When was the last time Lois did something?) - Vile garbage beneath the intelligence of anyone watching it.

Kristin's Episode Rating: 0/10 - At least this episode was not even interesting enough for children, so they won't walk away with it's detestable messages.