What with DC superhero series The Flash, Arrow and Supergirl currently airing on successive nights on Sky One, together with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Agent Carter on other channels and Daredevil and Jessica Jones on streaming services, not to mention Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Defenders in development, the word that unequivocally comes to mind about the macro situation of such comic book series on television is ‘overcrowded’.
The same word also comes to mind on the micro level when talking about DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, the latest addition to the Sky One line-up. While the Avengers feature films teams up all of Marvel’s A-List cinematic properties, the small screen DC version is put together from a bunch of characters introduced elsewhere on television and now seemingly collected at random in the hope that they will make some sort of coherent team. Unfortunately they don’t, and in this case the whole proves to be somewhat less than its constituent parts.
Many of the characters first appeared in The Flash, including Professor Martin Stein (Victor Garber) and Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh) who between them fuse into superhero Firestorm. There’s also Wentworth Miller as Leonard Snart a.k.a. Captain Cold alongside his old Prison Break co-star Dominic Purcell as Mick Rory otherwise known as Heat Wave. Meanwhile, from Arrow we scoop up one-time Superman Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer, whose superhero name is Atom; and Caity Lotz as Sara Lance, the resurrected White Canary. From the torturous origin story set up at wearyingly great length in their parent series, add to that roll call the characters of Hawkman (Falk Hentschel) and Hawkgirl (Ciara Renée) as reincarnated Egyptian deities, along with the story of their neverending battle against 4,000-year-old immortal Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) who becomes the recurring villain of Legends of Tomorrow.
If you haven’t become familiar with the characters from Arrow and The Flash then too bad, because the pilot episode gives no more than a 30 second reintroduction to each before moving rapidly into full blown action, instigated by the arrival of new character Rip Hunter as a rogue Time Master intent on having his revenge on Savage for killing his wife and child sometime in the future. Hunter collects his team and whisks them off to Earth in the 1970s where they prove laughably inept at trying to stop their nemesis.
The problem with so many characters is that unlike their parent series there is no clear lead around which the series revolves, and unlike Marvel’s Avengers the show simply doesn’t seem to have decided on how to make up for this. Arguably the star of the show should be Rip Hunter, but as the newest addition to the DC Universe he’s in the weakest position to successfully grasp the central role in the face of such a bunch of well-established fan favourites. The producers have done their best to balance the scales by craftily casting former Doctor Who companion Arthur Darvill as Hunter so that he brings a lot of ready made cult credential kudos with him by default, and Darvill certainly delivers whenever he’s given anything to work with.
I’m also a big fan of Victor Garber – I liked him a lot in The Flash not to mention Titanic and Alias. He’s one of the best things in Legends along with Brandon Routh, the two characters making a nice complimentary double act when paired together on screen. By contrast, the characters of Captain Cold and Heat Wave are played largely for laughs and are over-the-top cartoons at odds with the darkness of White Canary and Hawkgirl, so much so that we appear to be watching completely different shows from scene-to-scene.
Similarly the show itself lurches from one genre style to another: science fiction action suddenly become quiet heist-style capers, and then there are laser bolts and fire blasts bursting around before the martial arts action takes over for other scenes, all of which simply demonstrates that the team has been put together from many disparate sources which don’t always play well with others. In between action set-pieces the series is trying to find emotionally grounded B-plots by pairing different characters together to talk about their feelings in a somewhat mechanical, forced fashion.
One of the ways of establishing the characters and exploring their back stories is by basing the show (at least initially) in their earlier past lives. Unfortunately that means that for a series founded on the principal of time travel, what’s most notable about the first four episodes is how little time travelling they’ve actually done so far – they’re more reluctant to move away from the 1970s and 1980s than the Doctor was in his UNIT days. This stolid lack of imagination makes you realise just how effectively the Doctor Who format has been exploited since its 2005 reboot.
All these complaints aside, the show certainly gets off to a surer footing than Supergirl managed to do in its first two months. Yes, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow might be messy and badly in need of a firmer showrunner to round up all its characters and make them into a functioning unit (possibly by thinning them out a little), but it does at least have the solid foundations of Garber, Routh, Lotz, Darvill, Miller and Purcell to build upon all of whom have proved themselves entire capable scene- (and even series-) stealing talents in other shows. Maybe by around episode nine this show too will have started to settle down and find its way.
Fittingly it has time on its hands, the series having already been recommissioned for a second series by its US network The CW.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow continues on Sky One on Thursdays at 9pm.