You have to hand it to The CW for figuring out how to market the hype surrounding “Absolute Justice” -- the two-part episode aired as a SMALLVILLE
The hype started a few months ago. Then pictures came…Dr. Fate, Stargirl, Hawkman, The Sandman. Quick flashes of the Golden Age Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkgirl and others. The promos gave us little hints of what to expect in the episode: who is -- or was -- the JSA?
A bit of background: I have been watching SMALLVILLE since the first episode aired in 2001. I was on the edge of my seat for the exhilarating first three seasons, in particular when Christopher Reeve guest starred, or when we were given background on Lex’s formative years. I stuck with it during the not so glorious times. Lana the Witch. Lana the Vampire. Lana the Superhero, Lana the …yeah, it got old. Having said that, each season showed a glimmer of hope or brought some aspect of Clark’s background into focus, And that’s what I stayed for -- the mythology episodes.
This episode qualifies as that, to me, though it could be read as a diversion from the main season arc. Either way, it was welcome.
Geoff Johns -- who had previously penned the “Legion” episode last season -- returns to introduce Clark to the Golden Age heroes.
At first, it feels a little copy-and-pasted from WATCHMEN: Someone is killing retired superheroes, and Clark and company must find out why. During the investigation, The Justice Society of America -- the original Golden Age Superhero team from DC Comics -- comes into focus and provides inspiration to Clark, Ollie, and even John Jones. The current version of the Super Friends are having a difficult time getting it together and communicating as a team. Perhaps, if they were to just learn from the Golden Age, the Silver Age can properly begin.
Hawkman vs. Green Arrow
The villain -- a second tier foe called Icicle -- appears to be behind the murders. His motive is fairly straightforward -- he wishes to avenge his father, the original Icicle, whom the JSA rendered brain-dead.
Had the story been this straight forward, I probably would have been disappointed. But there turns out to be a shadow organization operating behind Icicle. Pam Grier (FOXY BROWN) steps into the light -- partially -- as an agent of Checkmate. Seems there’s a meta-motive occurring behind these deaths, but just what is it?
Without spoiling here, I’d say the script takes a strong turn by incorporating hallmark DC comics elements (Checkmate, The Suicide Squad, and even a mention of Apocalypse), while providing a much more satisfactory third act than I had anticipated. I love it when this show actually manages to surprise me, and there are a few big ones in the last act!
That said, there are some problems with the episode. Icicle (as rendered in casting, performance, and costuming) seems like an unlikely super-villain -- at least one who is capable of bringing down so many JSA members. He comes off a bit bratty and as someone Hawkman could have easily swooped off the ground, droped from 10 stories, and be done with. Also Stargirl (who had some fun moments in the JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED cartoon from earlier this decade) seems a bit off -- mainly due to a weak performance. And Hawkman’s voice is…well…it makes Bale’s Batman’s voice sound like Mel Torme in comparison.
The episode is also filled with some clunky dialogue. The first few lines between Chloe and Clark are heavy exposition designed to tell the audience what has been going on this season. You almost expect Dark Helmet to pop out and say, “Everybody got that?” The rule of “show, don’t tell” is sometimes lost on SMALLVILLE -- even the great Geoff Johns falls victim (here and there) to expository, anvil-dropping dialogue.
And some of the special effects don’t quite play out, but one can forgive them -- they’re on a smaller budget than ever, but they’re trying.
Still, given the choice between filler episodes that focus on romance triangles (Seasons 5 through 7 anyone?) I’m real pleased that they have been bringing more DCU elements front and center. It doesn’t always work, but when it’s done it’s exhilarating. If you weren’t geeked out by the image of The Green Martian Manhunter or his subsequent shape-shifting abilities, then turn over your geek card at once! The team -- working together at the end -- felt very much like the heroes from the comics I’ve loved for so long.
Dr. Fate and Star Girl
In addition, the episode hit upon something that has bothered me in recent seasons -- The Justice League NOT behaving like “The Justice League.” Where’s the team? The camaraderie? This episode brought those issues to light and seems to have resolved them. Here’s hoping!
With Checkmate, The Suicide Squad, and even Apocalypse getting set up -- along with the much publicized return of Annette O’Toole as Martha Kent and her husband Michael McKean returning as Perry White -- I think the stage has been set for a strong conclusion for Season 9...
And perhaps even a Season 10.
Still, I’ve been wrong before, so let’s call this caution optimism for -- at the very least -- solid mythology episodes.
Here’s hoping for Geoff Johns’ return in future episodes. After “Legion” and the “Ultimate Justice,” one has to wonder what may come next!