ComicsAlliance Recaps ‘Smallville’ Episode 8.11: Legion
Love it or hate it, the Smallville TV show has been one of the most popular mass media adaptations of a comic, reaching millions of viewers each week with stories of what Clark Kent's life was like before he became Superman. Now, we're marking its passing by having ComicsAlliance's Chris Sims and David Uzumeri, two guys who have never actually watched the show, watch and review every single episode of the tenth and final season.
David: Welcome back to Smallvillains, and with yet another month-long hiatus in front of us, we're compelled to travel back in Smallville time to episodes predating our "discovery" of the show. This week we're taking a look at "Legion," season eight episode eleven, written by DC Chief Creative Officer and unquestionable head architect of the DC Universe Geoffrey Johns from Clarkston, MI., who we saw last week in letter column write-in form.
Chris: I am completely mystified by the month-long gaps we're getting in this season's run, beacuse it implies that it takes longer than, say, three days to film what we've been seeing, and that can't be right. But that said, I was actually kind of looking forward to this one.David: This happens with almost all network television shows, though. The season is 24-26 episodes, and it's always over more weeks than that. Breaks are natural. The break is also to ensure that the big episodes air during May sweeps.
Chris: Because Smallville Darkseid is guaranteed to bring in the viewers.
David: LIFE IS DEATH! TRUE IS FALSE! HE IS THE NEW GOD! WITH SIX BILLION EYES etc etc
Chris: Viewers love Anti-Life! How else do you explain The Big Bang Theory? But back to this week's selection: I'll admit that this was the one episode that almost got me to watch the show before we started watching it for work.
David: I like Geoff Johns. He doesn't always hit it out of the park, but I'm always entertained, even if it's in a pulling-hair-out way in some cases (like anything involving the Star Sapphires). But he's written stuff I've really really enjoyed, like Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge and his Conner Kent work in Adventure Comics, and I was really hoping that this episode would carry the characteristics of his best comics work.
Chris: I've also had my difficulties with Handsome Geoff's work in the past, but I'm a huge Legion of Super-Heroes fan, and I honestly think his stuff on the Legion is the best of his career.
David: Yeah, absolutely, I was a fan of his entire Action Comics run - traditionally, Superman has brought out the best in Johns's writing. And I think one of the major issues with the episode is that he writes Clark Kent like Superman, and the production scaffolding of Smallville can't take that kind of ideological purity. Welling's acting crushes under the weight of the totality of Superman himself. The thing is, in those books he had the benefit of talented artistic collaborators like Scott Kolins and Francis Manapul, while here he's got Kristin Kreuk and Tom Welling.
Chris: And you just summed up the next 45 minutes.
Chris: Before we start in with the actual episode, I just want to point out that the "Previously on Smallville" segment during the opening is maybe the craziest 64 seconds of television I've ever seen.
David: It's like Friedberg and Seltzer putting on a Passion Play.
Chris: Seriously, I thought we were starting to have a pretty good handle on this show, but it is one solid minute of "haha, wait, what?"
David: Yeah, I'd read about all of this stuff, to be honest -- the 'human' Doomsday that was in love with Chloe, Chloe being a vessel for the BRAIN InterActive Construct, all of these totally bizarre interpretations of Superman canon...
Chris: There's even a shot of what appears to be Superman in his Superman outfit -- or at least that Nicolas Cage version. Where did that come from?
David: Apparently, Doomsday is some sort of evolutionary-adapting Kryptonian weapon, which isn't too off-base from the original character, but being portrayed by a shirtless David Bloome sort of adds a bit more sympathy than necessary to a gigantic grey, bony murder machine. He's also totally in love with Chloe, so he's kidnapped her, which leads to the episode's first scene where Lana enters the most popular set in the show, The Barn, to talk to Clark about the fact that a huge monster just stole their best friend.
Chris: And once again, the set looks like something from the November Rain video.
David: Well, I do remember that this season did end with a death at a wedding. Thanks to Doomsday. Clark and Lana's conversation lasts for like a minute of bad acting until Lana leaves and Persuader tele/timeports there to cut Clark with a big axe.
Chris: For those of you who aren't familiar with the Legion, the Persuader is one of the members of the Fatal Five, a group of Legion enemies that make no sense and have absolutely no reason to hang out with each other, but they're awesome anyway. His appearance in this brief and fittingly bizarre, and also underlines one of the absolute craziest things about this show:
Chris: The Persuader in Smallville looks pretty much exactly like the Persuader in the comics. Hell, Doomsday in Smallville is a giant grey monster with bones sticking out of him, just like in the comics. Ditto for Hawkman, Stargirl, and Dr. Fate. And yet, for some reason I will never understand, Clark doesn't dress like Superman and Oliver and Kid Flash get hoodies.
David: No tights, no flights! For Clark Kent, at least, just not everyone else. I have to say, though, in all of our historical adventures with this show, I find the over-the-top borderline-nonsensical superhero episodes still more entertaining than when it wants to be Dawson's Creek with meteors.
Chris: Cosigned. But it really does sort of undermine the idea that Clark's the first and greatest of this wave of modern super-heroes when there's, you know, Hawkman flying around with his electro-mace fighting Deathstroke the Terminator.
David: The idea that he inspired the three kids in this episode seems ridiculous, which is something the episode plays off of -- the founding members of the Legion of Super-Heroes come to Clark's defense against their villain, with some actually halfway-decent streetish outfits that still play off of their original Al Plastino costume designs.
Chris: Okay, I'll admit it: I thought that was hilarious. In my imaginary expanded universe for this episode, everyone in the 31st Century wears tights and capes at all times, but the Legion just wears jackets with a lot of zippers because that's how Clark & Co. did it back in the day. They're keeping it real.
David: I was going to say I can't wait to see their version of Brainiac 5, but we already have, and I'm pretty damn sure James Marsters was wearing a leather jacket.
Chris: A PURPLE leather jacket. Sometimes I think all the heroes in the Smallville unvierse were inspired by Eddie Murphy: Raw.
David: Clearly the Athramites' culture came from the Earth corporation Danier. In any case, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad (who is a total ginger) (and who go by their real names of Rokk, Imra and Garth) show up and help Clark fight Persuader, who they then send to the future. Clark starts whining about Chloe being stolen, and the Legion are all basically "Huh?" because apparently future Superman chronicles don't record her presence, basically reinforcing the idea that the Legion are there as the fanboy identification perspective characters.
David: "Why isn't he flying? Why does he whine so much? Who is Chloe Sullivan?"
Chris: I really wish Johns would've gone the Mark Waid route and have them come back with a bunch of actual DC Comics, wondering why things didn't match up. This would have suddenly been the best thing ever.
David: "I wanted to see a giant key!" Anyway, Rokk sees that some kind of magic mumbo-jumbo went wrong, so he stays around to help Clark beat Brainiac, especially after Imra reads Clark's mind, and writing so many first names is making me feel like I'm doing Identity Crisis fanfiction.
Chris: Seriously. You've already got a guy with lightning bolts on his blue leather jacket shooting out lightning and saying that he's from the planet Winath (which, judging by his accent, was settled by spacefaring Canadians) a thousand years in the future. Is it really that much of a stretch to have him say "They call me Lightning Lad?"
David: "I'm from Whine-ath. We whine a lot!"
Chris: Heck, if that's too silly, you could even go with Livewire.
David: Yeah, but that'd prevent them from introducing that really obnoxious character from the animated series into the show later.
Chris: I will not hear a word against Lori Petty, Uzumeri.
David: You won't bear my Petty insults?
Chris: Move on.
David: "Davis Bloome," the hunk who is actually Doomsday so they don't have to pay for the special effects of the suit all the time, wakes up in the Fortress of Solitude, where Brainiac tells Doomsday that he's Doomsday with a fairly similar origin to the original Dan Jurgens iteration, actually -- scientifically created Kryptonian Frankenstein who can evolve past any obstacle. Here his evolution is more of a sleeper agent thing, though. This is where things start getting totally bizarre, with the Legion flying (!!!!) and carrying Clark with them, and deciding that since they've never heard of Chloe in the future, obviously she has to die in the next like 45 minutes.
Chris: I just want to point out two things about the scene where the Legion flies: One, for some reason their Flight Rings sound like jet planes. They are insanely loud. Two, it's nice to see that the Adidas corporation survives to the 31st century.
Chris: With all our puzzling over the Legion stuff, we haven't gotten around to mentioning the villain of this episode yet: Chloe, who has been taken over by Brainiac and turned Evil, because every third episode of this show has to be about one of the female characters getting possessed.
David: True! I am just referring to her as Brainiac, but this is a good point. Perhaps this is setting up Brainiac possessing Lena Luthor, a Loeb/Kelly/Casey/Schultz-era plot point from the comics. Lena being Lutessa, of course, although she was Lex's daughter in the comics.
Chris: That's got to be the first reference to "Our Worlds at War" that anyone has made since... well, since "Our Worlds At War." It's also worth noting that while Allison Mack does a pretty good job of playing evil -- Everyone on this show is ten times better as a bad guy -- she just sort of looks like she's really, really, really drunk.
David: We're then sent to Imra and Lana talking at the "Isis Foundation," which seems to be a big support group for superpowered people, and basically Saturn Girl asks Lana Lang to advise Superboy to kill his best friend.
Chris: I thought the Isis Foundation was the spy organization in Archer.
David: That would make this so much better. Lana Lang actually gets married to Jacob Kane due to military contacts, and has a dangerous accident in the "I am Curious (Black!)" machine with the process halfway completed. Archer is basically Smallville Clark, except he's honest about being a douchebag.
Chris: But yeah, the Legionnaires are actually massive a-holes in this episode. But then again, if you go back and read through their Silver Age appearances, that's how they acted. I once wrote an essay in a book called Teenagers From the Future (available now!) about a story where Earth gets surrounded by Kryptonite in the future, which will last for two years so they decide that Superboy and Supergirl can no longer come to the future, rather than just, you know, showing up two years later because they are time traveling. In order to enforce this, they take back all of the trophies and awards they have given them, burn them, and then Shrinking Violet goes into Superboy's brain with a machine that will erase his memories, then gets out of his skull by making him think about his dead Kryptonian parents and riding out on his tears.
Chris: I swear to God, this actually happened. Adventure Comics #350.
David: That's ... horrifying. Who wrote that?
Chris: It's an E. Nelson Bridwell/Curt Swan classic.
David: That makes a lot of sense, though, and also informs why Johns would write the episode this way, as a reinterpretation of those old stories where the Legion used to be total dicks.
Chris: Yeah, the whole thing's also a big play on the first Legion story, where Rokk, Imra and Garth come back and basically make fun of him for eight pages before saying "okay, you passed the test of us being jerks to you. You can be in our club now." One of the things I really like about those stories is that they were kids who actually were written like kids: just goofy and mean to each other.
David: People always characterize the Legion as this anachronism from the silver age, but it was really way ahead of its time, focusing on the long-term soap opera of its characters' relationships rather than monster of the week shenanigans.
Chris: I should note, however, that I don't think they ever went to murder as their first option, unlike Smallville, where they decide that CHLOE SULLIVAN MUST DIE!!
David: I wish Doctor Hurt was hamming it up on this show. Chloeniac shows up at the Planet and makes the three-circle Brainiac symbol show up on all the monitors, and also freezes everyone, for some reason.
Chris: I believe one of the Legionnaires mentions "human brain wave transmissions," which is as good an explanation as anything we've gotten on this show.
David: Reverse fingerprint matches! Or maybe it's just Anti-Life. Either way, Lightning Lad pulls some sort of sacrificial dagger out of nowhere, and seriously all that thing needed was a serpentine blade.
Chris: This was the most hilariously ridiculous part of this episode. They are from ONE THOUSAND YEARS IN THE FUTURE with super-rings that allow for time travel and they have super-powers like shooting lightning ouf of their hands. So obviously, they carry around a +1 Dagger of Wounding. Is Geoff Johns really into Warhammer 40K or something?
David: Lightning Lad has a huge backstab bonus, dude. Anyway, Imra connects with Chloe inside Brainiac and acknowledges that Chloe's still alive, and then Rokk uses his Cosmic Boy powers to draw all the nanites out of Chloe into a big metal ball, which Garth renders inert with his Lightning Lad powers.
Chris: But only because Clark shows up and tells them that killing people is wrong, which is the closest Smallville Clark has gotten to acting like Superman, ever.
David: I'd love to know what the Legion Code was before they were inspired to put "no killing" at the top of the list. "Don't harsh Cosmic Boy's vibe." "Fake moustaches are so passe."
Chris: Item 1: Sweet Jackets and the Wearing Thereof.
Chris: That pretty much brings us to the end of the episode, where Chloe is safe and sound and remembers Clark's secret, even though he asked Jor-El to wipe her memory because he's a dick who loves lying, because Jor-El is an even bigger dick who loves screwing with his son's personal life.
David: Lana and Imra have a conversation at the barn too, where Lana's told she has a special destiny separate from Clark. Unfortunately, she is not told that that special destiny is being possessed by the Insect Queen every second weekend, and on federal holidays.
Chris: Oh, and then Doomsday shows up, pretty much ensuring that we're going to have to watch his big fight with Superman next week.
David: I bet there isn't one, and Doomsday gets taken down by a Krypto-Taser by Lana or something.
David: They embraced the goofiness of the Legion for the most part, and I appreciate that. The actors weren't necessarily very good -- they were all sort of caricatures of the written characters -- but despite the ridiculousness of the story's conceit, I generally enjoyed when they were on screen. Clark had a moment to actually be somewhat of a moral leader, too, which was refreshing.
Chris: I have something that... I'm not sure if it's a high point, a low point, or something that surpasses our narrow categories.
David: It's an outlier in some heretofore uncategorized third dimension.
Chris: We all know that as a writer, Geoff Johns has used his stories to take pot-shots at comics readers before -- specifically ones who complain about comics on the Internet. That is quite literally what the Superboy Prime stuff is about. And here, he's doing it again, but he's made it about comics readers complaining about Smallville because it doesn't match up to the comics. The Legionnaires know about Lois, Lana and Jimmy Olsen because they're the ones that are in the comics, but they have no idea who Chloe is because she isn't -- or at least, she wasn't until Nick Spencer brought her in -- so their solution is to MURDER HER WITH A KNIFE because she doesn't fit into the continuity of the stories they read when they were kids.
David: It's more interesting than most of the episodes we've watched, to be honest, silly as it is.
Chris: On one level, it's hilarious -- and I say that as someone who makes fun of Smallville on the Internet in a professional capacity -- but on the other, coming from the guy who brought back Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, it's pretty ironic.
David: He's just self-aware!
David: The Legion decide to take the inert Brainiac nanite ball with them to the future, and Chloe comments on how he'll be remade as "Brainiac Five," which makes no sense, since as far as I know they never introduced Brainiacs two through four in this show. I'm willing to be wrong, though. Also: Everything thespian.
Chris: I don't want to exaggerate things, but the girl playing Imra might be the worst actress to ever have a camera pointed at her in the history of film.
David: I didn't want to be cruel, but yeah, that's basically what I was thinking. What the hell. Rokk was wooden and Garth was a bit overexcited like he thought he was in Pete & Pete, but Imra was just terrible.
Chris: Again, though, I have no idea how much of that was the director trying to get her to be a strange telepathic alien, but man, it sure came off as the blandest set of line readings we've seen yet. She makes Mera look like Meryl Streep.
David: I dunno if I'd go that far, man.
Chris: Did you notice that none of the Legionnaires wore their rings on their ring fingers?
David: I did not notice this at all, actually.
Chris: It's been pointed out to me that they've been drawn pretty inconsistently over the years as wearing them on their middle fingers too, but I have to wonder if that's just a big reference to this bit of Silver Age hilarity:
David: Hm. That doesn't look a lot like the standard Legion ring at all, though. It looks like cheap bazaar jewelry, to be honest.
Chris: First appearance, man. They didn't have the logo yet. Anyway, with Johns leaving the door open for the Legion to return at the end of this episode, what do you think the odds are that we're going to see them before the end of Season 10?
David: Well, we already saw Brainiac 5 in "Homecoming," but I wouldn't be surprised if we saw them again in Johns's upcoming Booster Gold episode.
Chris: I'm not saying I think it'd be good, but if the season finale suddenly turned into Smallville's insane version of "The Great Darkness Saga," it's definitely something I'd want to see. So next week! Doomsday?
David: I'm down for the finale of this season. Doomsday it is!
Chris: Join is next time, when we find out what happens when one of the best-selling comics of all time, which is about a super-hero and a monster punching each other to death, gets adapted for network TV! It should be... well, it'll be something.