ORIGINAL AIRDATE: 3.21.18
We’re introduced to a rich backstory of Superman’s family two generations before Kal-El was born. And it’s fantastic.
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First off, let me say that the production values of this show are INCREDIBLE. It’s firmly based in the world of Man of Steel, but it avoids most of that movie’s mistakes. It still has that blue overcast tone, but it doesn’t feel washed out. The reds in particular are vibrant against the blue backdrop. But there is no brightness, and that is perhaps to ingrain the idea of a bleak ice planet whose civilization is only safe behind its force shields. The Kandorians are not a happy people. There also doesn’t seem to be a lot of them.
Seg-El, whose name gets on my nerves every single time someone says it(were they riffing on the phrase ‘segue way’?), is narrating the history of his family to Kal-El. So I already have to imagine that the last shot of this show will be a long shot of Superman standing in his Fortress on earth watching this vid. Superman is truly the audience character in this, as are we, the viewing audience.
All of the people of interest (so far) are located in Kandor City, and they are undergoing a transition. There’s a new religious power, the Voice of Rao, and it seems to be mysterious and dangerous. It also seems to demand complete allegiance upon penalty of death. I smell a huge and incredible reveal coming in a future episode.
Also, their accents are…Australian?
Besides Man of Steel, one of the best ways to understand where they’re going with this series is the excellent story, Superman:Birthright. I highly recommend that you read it to get more of the contemporary backdrop on Superman’s story. Superman has moved a way from a LOT of his traditional elements, and that is often off-putting to some members of today’s audience. These materials will help you gain the more updated perspective on Kal-El.
New Power, Old Fight
So Seg-El’s grandfather Val-El, their greatest scientific mind, has discovered life outside of Krypton. And it’s not friendly alien life either. He’s tried to both prepare for its imminent arrival and warn the people of the same. This is of course counted as treasonous and an attempt at insurrection, so it costs him his life. He is Krypton’s greatest scientific mind, and you see both Jor-El and Kal-El in his countenance clearly. Let me also state that this is precisely why I hate when Superman is written as a “dumb farmboy.” Yeah, no he’s not. He comes from scientific greatness, and I love it when that aspect of his character is emphasized.
The first thing we see of Val-El is Superman’s cape, with a black shield on the back, as he’s walking towards his trial. That shield is interwoven into almost every shot of the story, and it has various uses. The shield shape itself is worn by every ranked member of the city. Their personal family crest is displayed on it. The Els end up being stripped of rank, and their symbol is torn off. But it’s still everywhere. This is probably one of the best collection of interconnected winks/nods to Superman’s entire story I’ve ever seen. So they open a force field door to the city, and Val basically walks the plank and falls to his doom to the ice below. But it’s not the last we’re going to see of him.
The threat Val was warning them of is an incredibly comics accurate version of Brainiac, here presented as the Collector of Worlds. Holy COW he’s now officially DC’s cinematic version of Galactus, except done way better. You can already feel his presence, and the fact that he’s coming hangs as a pall over everything, as Boss Villains should(Vader, the Borg, etc.)
So if I were to describe Seg-El, I’d say he’s got Superman’s unfailing sense of justice, but Batman’s temper. He’s a brawler, hands down, and it’s what he spends most of the episode doing. Brawling.
So in the biggest kind of connector to today’s world, we have our version of Okoye front and center in this episode, and she is of course from the House of Zod. Alura Zod by name. I was really hoping we’d get away from the Zods for a change, as they feel overused to me like the Luthors, but they’re still good here. And of course, in true Romeo and Juliet fashion, Seg’s in love with her daughter, Lyta. So we know they’re doomed, but hey, what’s a story without a good and tragic romance?
One of the biggest things I didn’t see coming was that Adam Strange is the catalyst and lynchpin for connecting Seg to his grandson. He kind of looks like Jimmy Olsen here, and not in any way part of his traditional story, but it’s kind of funny in a good way. He’s both the explainer and the buddy cop on a limited basis. He’s the one that alerts Seg to the thing that got his grandfather killed, his Fortress of Solitude, where he holds all of his scientific advances. He also brings him Superman’s cape, and it’s like the picture of Marty in Back to the Future, it’s an indicator of whether or not Superman’s future is still intact. And it’s slowly disintegrating as Brainiac moves closer. Brilliant.
Alas, heroes can only be orphans
Seg’s father and mother disagree on revealing his heritage. His father is willing to accept their rankless status underground, his mom is not. Seg saves those in a trial chamber from a bomb threat, and gets an offer to have his rank reinstated. He’s paired up for ‘binding’ to the Chief Prosecutor’s daughter and gets a Science Guild rank.
So after Adam gives Seg the key to the Fortress (which is totally stylized after the one in Man of Steel), momma steals a skimmer to take him to it.There’s a terrorist organization named Black Zero that I’m sure we’re going to hear more from in the future. They’re blamed for everything, natch. Momma-El is discovered, tried, and both she and Seg’s father are executed. By Seg’s secret girlfriend’s momma, the head of security, no less. So he’s all alone. I really felt like we got rid of them far too soon. I wanted to see more of Seg’s underground life with them, but oh well.
As we enter the Fortress, it is a precursor to the one that Kal has on earth. It’s beautiful. He figures out that it takes blood to activate its console, and his bleeding hand activates another Superman crest, and this one has the modern red and yellow coloring after the blood hits it. Brilliant again. We also hear the very familiar John Williams Superman theme woven into a few scenes, and that was really great to hear. That is my favorite superhero music of all time, and I regard it as the Superman music, so I always love when it’s included.
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I must say, this was really good. And really intriguing to watch. The stage is set for a grand adventure. We’ve got forbidden love, the 1% against the middle class and the poor, religious zealotry, time travel, and a looming Boss villain. All set against Superman’s backstory. That’s loads of fun for us geeks, but may be a source of being bogged down for non-comics readers.
It also does the same thing that Star Trek Into Darkness did with Khan…it treats Seg as if he would know Superman’s significance. With just one sentence, even. That’s more of something the audience would know. It wisely then pulls the camera back a bit more and makes Brainiac a threat to all existing life, instead of just Kal-El’s existence. But that then kind of dilutes the premise unless you already know who Superman is and what he means to the universe, which is kind of a fourth wall breaking wink.
The one issue I have is the one I thought I’d have…they have to bring in every element of Superman’s world except him. Also, there are no powers. It’s difficult seeing the super shield everywhere juxtaposed against people falling to their death and being gunned down.
Good news is, there doesn’t seem to be a Lana Lang character, so I hope they don’t turn Lyta into her. I was dead set against watching this as I thought it would go the way of Smallville, but if this pilot’s any indication, it will be much greater. I hope they can keep this level up throughout the series. As for this pilot, I highly recommend it!