Part of the fun of the 21st century superhero shows is the effort put into worldbuilding. Not just the cast of characters but the entire ecosystem of the city, the attitudes towards heroes and villains from the civilians, and histories that hold sway over
The fun of the CW superhero shows—Arrow, The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and (as of season two) Supergirl—is the way they’ve worked them into the same universe (or at least connected universes, in the case of Supergirl). You could say the same of the Marvel shows on Netflix, which exist in a tight, decidedly earthbound and mortal world confined almost entirely to New York City. They have a focus, more like a series of graphic novels in a shared universe, and their all-at-once release pattern emphasizes that unity. The CW shows, for better or worse, are more like monthly comic books, with stand-alone episodes like individual issues as well as ongoing story arcs and crossovers with sister series. They are looser, with more digressions, which can also mean more opportunities to play with the possibilities. And because they all roll out concurrently, they offer a possibility right out of the comic book world: stories crossing over from one series to another. This season offered a story that brought all four shows together.
The 2016-2107 seasons of all four shows are now available on DVD and Blu-ray (they were staggered over the past couple of weeks). One note that is applicable to all four shows: these set do not feature the episodes from the sister shows of the crossover stories so you’ll need all four sets to see the full story (though to be fair the Supergirl episodes offer little more than a few minutes of set-up for their portions of the stories). What each set does include is a featurette on the big crossover event (each one focused on the show’s POV).
The Flash: The Complete Third Season (Warner) of the most family friendly of the prime-time superhero show on TV opens with Barry Allen / The Flash (Grant Gustin) facing repercussions from his decision to save his mother’s life by changing history and his attempts to repair the results in a world bearing the scars of his actions. his girlfriend Iris (Candice Patton) is no longer speaking to her father Joe (Jesse L. Martin), Cisco (Carlos Valdes) holds a grudge against him, he’s working with a senior forensics scientist, Julian (Tom Felton, of the Harry Potter movies), who dislikes him, and he’s hunted by a new villain named Savitar. Meanwhile, Joe’s son Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) develops speed powers and is mentored by Barry to become Kid Flash, and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) struggles against the villainous Killer Frost taking over her identity. You know, comic book melodrama.
Gustin makes for an enthusiastic, likable Flash. He’s the most optimistic of TV superheroes and the show leans in on issues of responsibility and trust and teamwork. In a genre full of secrets that inevitably come out and drive rifts between characters, these characters (after a struggle) confess all because honesty only makes them stronger as a team and as a family. But it also confronts all the damage of Barry’s impulsive choice to change history, which are potentially fatal the woman he loves, and the hard choices he makes to accept responsibility. Gustin makes it work with a mix of earnestness and gee-whiz charm, an old fashioned hero with a modern sense of humor.
On a more playful note, the season also brings back Gorilla Grod, a telepathic gorilla with a grudge against the human race, in a two-part story that takes them to a literal planet of the apes in an alternate reality, and villain turned quasi-hero Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller). There are two crossover storylines this season, one that spans all four CW superhero shows (Supergirl, Arrow, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow) and a musical episode featuring characters from Supergirl that puts the musical talents of Gustin and Melissa Benoist (both alumni of Glee) on display with Broadway veterans Martin and Victor Garber (a former “Flash” regular back as a guest star) (the sisters shows are not included in the set). It’s a bright, colorful series (in contrast to the dark colors and nocturnal scenes of Arrow, Gotham, and the Marvel shows on Netflix) with impressive special effects and superhero battles that emphasize the fantastical powers over physical violence. This is designed with adolescent viewers in mind for family viewing but it’s my favorite superhero show in TV. It’s nice to have such an optimistic hero.
23 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD with 10 featurettes including the 2016 Comic-Con Panel. Note that this set does not include the sister episodes of the crossover arcs, only featurettes on the two storylines with brief clips. It’s the same for all the sets of the CW superheroes. Each has a slightly different version of the crossover featurette. But to see the complete storyline, you need access to each and every set. The Blu-ray edition also includes an Ultraviolet digital HD copy of the series.
The Flash: The Complete Third Season [Blu-ray]
The Flash: The Complete Third Season [DVD]
Arrow: The Complete Fifth Season (Warner) – The original series in the interconnected universe of DC superhero shows on the CW network is also the darkest—visually and thematically—of the shows. It is set in the fictional Star City, a corrupt, crime-ridden urban swamp much like Batman’s Gotham City, filled with pathological supervillains and heroes with dark dimensions to them, and it leans heavily on the “dark knight” aesthetics of the Batman movies with a largely nocturnal show. The villains only come out at night. It firmly planted a flag to differentiate the new generation of CW superheroes shows in a universe more mature than the young adult sensibility of Smallville, which had left the air a little over a year before the launch of Arrow.
The fifth season finds millionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) trying to save the corrupt Star City by day as the Mayor and by night as the masked vigilante hero Green Arrow. The balancing act becomes overwhelming without the support of his old crew on the streets so with the help of tech genius and former fiancée Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) and loyal crimefighting partner John Diggle (David Ramsey) he recruits and trains a new squad of young, upstart heroes. There are trust issues work through—Oliver isn’t the type to share—and that’s kind of refreshing.
Prometheus is the new villain, a mad genius whose reign of terror over the city is part of an elaborate revenge plot against Oliver, and he goes after everyone close to him, including the son he’s shielded from his life. Along with lots of returning faces in the ambitious finale, which relocates the cast to the island compound where Oliver was tormented for years, the flashback sequences feature Dolph Lundgren as a Russian mobster and Lexa Doig as Talia al Ghul, daughter of the supervillain that Arrow killed in a previous season. This has a harder edge to the violence than the fellow CW superhero shows in the big cross-over event (Supergirl, Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow) and a more morally ambiguous sensibility, and it ends on a cliffhanger that leaves the fate Oliver’s team in question. It’s not my favorite of the shows but it’s committed to its aesthetic and embraces the comic book visuals whole-heartedly.
23 episodes on DVD and Blu-ray, with the featurettes “The New Team Arrow,” “Returning to the Roots of Arrow: Prometheus,” “Allied: The Invasion! Complex (Arrow),” which looks at the crossover event from the perspective of Arrow, and the “2016 Comic-Con Panel,” plus deleted scenes, and a gag reel. The Blu-ray edition also includes an Ultraviolet digital HD copy of the series.
Arrow: The Complete Fifth Season [Blu-ray]
Arrow: The Complete Fifth Season [DVD]
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete Second Season (Warner) – Award for most improvement in a superhero series goes to the second season of the CW’s superhero team series, a spin-off of both Arrow and Flash.
The first season of the series was awkward, in part due to an overstuffed team and an uninteresting villain. The team is smaller this season, which gives more screen time to the remaining characters, it’s swifter and it has a more playful approach. It’s more fun, and it has more fun with history. The second opens with the team scattered throughout time and the introduction of a new character, history detective Nate Heywood (Nick Zano). He helps find the team and he joins them on a mission to World War II America to stop the Nazis from getting the atomic bomb, the first of the time-quakes that threaten to unravel history.
Brandon Routh brings a deft gee-whiz quality as Ray Palmer, the genius scientist who shrinks down to become the Atom, Victor Garber and Franz Drameh bond as the men who merge to become Firestorm, and Golden Age hero Vixen (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) joins the team, but the season belongs to Dominic Purcell’s Heat Wave, the former criminal who becomes frustrated with the team’s lack of trust, and Caity Lotz as White Canary, who grows into a natural team leader. The season features a more challenging nemesis: the Legion of Doom, consisting of Arrow and Flash villains Reverse-Flash, Damien Darhk, Malcolm Merlyn, and (in the final episodes) Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), once a member of the Legends but in this timeline still a ruthless villain. It also offers Civil War zombies, a superhero in the court of King Arthur, a conspiracy to murder General George Washington, and the golden-age superhero team Justice Society of America, and they cross paths with Albert Einstein, George Lucas, and J.R.R. Tolkein, among others, as they take on the Reverse-Flash’s plot to change not just history but reality itself. Along the way they come back together under a new captain and discover what it means to be a real team and that is even more satisfying than the witty adventures along the way.
17 episodes on DVD and Blu-ray editions. The CW presented a four-episode cross-over story with all of their DC superhero shows, with the finale landing on Legends of Tomorrow. Unfortunately none of those other episodes are included in this set. Instead there’s a featurette that explores the event. Also includes the 2016 Comic-Con panel, deleted scenes, and a gag reel. The Blu-ray edition also includes an Ultraviolet digital HD copy of the series.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete Second Season [Blu-ray]
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete Second Season [DVD]
Supergirl: The Complete Second Season (Warner) marks the show’s move from Fox to CW where it joined the network’s extended DC universe, if only in a parallel world that occasionally crosses over. It’s a good fit and perhaps helped guide the series to a more interesting season.
Like The Flash, Supergirl is an aspirational superhero series. Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist), the cousin of Superman, arrived on Earth as an orphan from a dead planet and was raised in a human family as one of them. Now she leads a double life, as Catco newspaper reporter Kara and costumed hero Supergirl, working with her adoptive sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) and a team that knows and keeps her secret while they all work to keep National City safe from both alien and human threats. And as we discovered last season, there is a big alien presence in Central City, not just her boss at the DEO (Department of Extra-Normal Operations), who is actually the shape-shifting Martian J’onn J’onzz (David Harewood), but a whole hidden society, most of them law-abiding immigrants who have embraced their adopted home.
The second season revolves around a secret organization called Cadmus created by Lillian Luther (mother of Lex) to eradicate all aliens on Earth while Supergirl and her team defend the aliens (a timely theme in today’s political climate). This season introduces a new member to the cast and the DEO team: Mon-El (Chris Wood), a superpowered survivor from Daxon, a sister planet in the Krypton system who arrives on Earth with little moral direction and develops a sense of responsibility and compassion from Kara. James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) becomes costumed hero The Guardian with a suit created by Winn (Jeremy Jordan), now the computer expert at the DEO, Alex comes out as gay and dates a cop, Helen Slater and Dean Cain (former Supergirl and Superman actors) return as Kara’s adoptive parents and Teri Hatcher and Kevin Sorbo guest star as Mon-El’s much less compassionate parents.
But the show’s best addition has been her cousin Superman, played by Tyler Hoechlin with a warm, optimistic performance that recalls the charming Boy Scout of Christopher Reeves’s big screen incarnation. He wears the mantle of the most powerful superhero on Earth and hero to everyone with modesty and treats everyone he meets with a welcoming acceptance, and his relationship with Kara is nothing if not supportive and encouraging.
22 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD with four featurettes, including the 2016 Comic-Con Panel and its own version of the crossover featurette. The Blu-ray edition also includes an Ultraviolet digital HD copy of the series.
Supergirl: The Complete Second Season [Blu-ray]
Supergirl: The Complete Second Season [DVD]
Discs provided by Warner Home Video for review purposes.