I try, I really do, not to be negative about things – films, TV shows, comics – before they come out. It’s so very easy to say “Oh my God this look so dreadful!” whenever the news lands about a new show or book when all that reaction is based on is one or two news reports on the net, and Cthulhu knows there are enough blogs and websites out there that do just that.
When it was first announced a few months back, the forthcoming show Powerless left me cold. A sit-com based in the DCU, about an insurance company called Retcon helping clean up after the mess caused by superheroes, didn’t fill me with anything approaching enthusiasm or interest, but I kept my mouth shut and this blog free of my opinion. Over the weekend, I read that the insurance angle is gone, as is the name Retcon, and been swapped out for a security company that’s a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises, tying it even firmer to the DCU.
Despite liking the inside joke original name of Retcon, nothing about the premise of this show interests me and this latest article has made me throw caution and reticence to the wind and actually blog about it.
We comic fans are in a great place right now as far as TV shows go. DC’s Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow and, while I’m not a viewer, Arrow are all garnering positive reviews. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, the sadly cancelled Agent Carter, and the Netflix shows of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage have all done splendidly. Each of them, in their own way, enjoys a sense of fun and levity amongst the drama, punch ups and superpowered smackdowns, without edging into the world of a sitcom – they’re played straight, not for laughs, and that is what’s at the heart of my misgivings over Powerless.
I worry that by – potentially – laughing at the superheroes, the world of TV comic book adaptations will shoot itself in the foot. We all know that in the real world, men and women running around in spandex and leather is inherently silly, but the shows I mention above get away with it by shrugging their shoulders and buying into it. And because they’re playing it straight, we the viewer buy in to it too. The Crimson Fox appears on Powerless as seen on the right and her costume isn’t a million miles from the original comic book version; it’s difficult to judge from a few set photos, but that wouldn’t look out of place on an episode of Flash.
My worry with Powerless is that the superheroes become the butt of the jokes; if we start making fun of the heroes – their costumes, their names, their powers – on this show, then what’s to stop us doing the same to Daredevil or Arrow? Once we lose our ability to take those characters even slightly seriously, we end up heading down the road of the 60s Batman show. It gets silly, it gets campy, people stop watching, viewer figures fall.
Once that happens, networks panic and some executive decides the superhero boom is over. Shows get cancelled, nothing new gets commissioned and the shows we currently know and love disappear from our sets.
Like I said, I’ve been reluctant to post about Powerless – I have no basis for my concerns, I don’t know that the heroes will be laughed at or merely incidental to the show. But with such a lacklustre review of the first episode, I wonder if this is going to do more harm than good to the current crop of superhero shows.
If and when it turns up here in the UK, I’ll give it a look and reserve my judgement till then. However, I’m not that hopeful right now.