Back in the day, I was a big fan of DC’s comedy titles, like Justice League International, Lobo, and The Heckler (all co-written by Keith Giffen, oddly enough), so I was intrigued when it was announced that NBC was making a sitcom set in the same universe as these fondly remembered books that brightened up many a boring school lunch-break/field-trip. Powerless stars Vanessa Hudgens as ‘Emily Locke’, a rather naïve country-mouse who’s travelled to Charm City to take up the position of “Director of Research & Development” at Wayne Security, a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises that produces gizmos to help civilians survive the crossfire between rampaging supervillains-and/or-heroes. I couldn’t help noting the similarity between this show and Better Off Ted… and it’s not a very favourable comparison, because Ted had much more satirical bite to it, owing to the fact that the featured corporation (Veridian Dynamics) was straight-up evil, and snidely proud of its soulless greed, despite the best intentions of some of its more sympathetic, lower-level staff members. Here the corporation is genuinely trying to make the DC universe a little safer and more secure, despite the indifference, cynicism, and selfish pettiness of the main characters… which isn’t as funny or as subversive, when you think about it.
That said, Hudgens is doing some fine work in the lead role, deploying her doe-eyed-idealism (and killer karaoke skills) to maximum effect… and I was happy to see A to Z’s Christina Kirk snarking it up as ‘Jackie’, the long-suffering personal assistant to their spoiled-rich-boy boss ‘Van Wayne’ (played by the always-hilarious Alan Tudyk). Fun fact: Although I assumed he was an original character created for the series, Van actually made his first comic-book appearance all the way back in 1962! (Batman #148)
Still, my main reason for sticking with the show this long is the addition of Green Fury (aka Beatriz da Costa) as Charm City’s go-to guardian-gal. I’m pretty sure she was known as “Green Flame” back when she first joined the JLI, and set my pubescent pulse a-racing, before eventually rebranding herself as “Fire”… but Wikipedia informs me that “Green Fury” was her original moniker, when she made her comic-book debut back in 1979 (via Super Friends #25). Whatever she calls herself, she’s a feisty Brazilian firebrand with bright green hair and awesome powers, and I’m really loving the way she’s portrayed here by Natalie Morales (who I like to think of as the Latin Anna Chlumsky, because I’m strange/racist like that). I should also say her costume looks fantastic, and the FX they’re using to depict her fiery powers are top-notch… especially considering they must be on a fairly tight budget, and she isn’t even a main character. Although this is a sitcom, she isn’t being set-up as a clownish “joke”… her badass attitude and heroic agency are being respected, while much of the humour derives from how a sexist and superficial media focus on her physical appearance and personal relationships, rather than her life-saving acts of derring-do. The gossip-mongers even attempted to misrepresent her budding friendship/workship (?) with Emily as a lesbian fling… which wouldn’t be totally out-of-character with how Fire was portrayed in her post-JLI comic-book appearances, but probably isn’t on the cards for this show (no matter how much pervs like me might fantasise about it).
Sadly, Powerless isn’t exactly bringing in big ratings (or any critical acclaim), so I doubt it’s going to help Fire break-out into the mainstream consciousness… but for me, her inclusion here was way more exciting than the announcement of a Wonder Woman movie. In fact, whenever I think of WW, I remember the way she was portrayed in the old JLI comics, as a flawless alpha-female, who all the men were mooning over, and Fire kept calling a “bitch” under her breath. The thing I liked about those comics was that they (mostly) focussed on the second-string heroes and underdogs, rather than the headliners, so the fact that Powerless has done the same (first with an Americanised version of “Crimson Fox” (Deanna Russo), and then with Fire) is a big plus in my book. Even the dismissive name-dropping of “Justice League Europe” made my fanboy heart skip a beat! I wonder if there’s any way the show’s writers could be convinced to slowly bring in more JLI characters, and retool it as a Super Buddies series, with Van taking the place of Maxwell Lord…?
Update: The day after I posted this, news broke that the series had been cancelled… sort of. Basically NBC pulled the remaining 3 episodes from their schedule, and still haven’t said when/if they’ll air. Pesky!