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Captain Comics: Stories behind TV comic book shows

Andrew A. Smith, Tribune News Service on

Published in Comic Books

The week of Jan. 15 saw five genre shows appear on The CW – four returning from mid-season break, plus one rookie. But what's the story behind the stories? Here's Captain Comics with some Fun Facts to Know and Tell:

SUPERGIRL

The Maid of Steel's mid-season return Jan. 15 was called "Legion of Superheroes," which sounds like a silly trifle made up for children.

Which is exactly what it was in 1958, when Cosmic Boy, Lightning Boy (later called Lightning Lad) and Saturn Girl traveled to Superboy's time from the 30th century to recruit the Teen of Steel, who was able to travel through time to hang out with other super-teens. It was boss, Daddio!

In 1960, the same trio traveled to a later time period for Supergirl. "You see," said Cosmic Boy, "We've come back into the past because we want you to join our club!" (The earnest Cosmic Boy was often used as Exposition Lad.)

That "Super Hero Club," as it was originally called, was meant to be more or less a throwaway idea. But fans latched onto the idea of a "legion" of unknown characters in the future, and wanted to know more. The "Legion of Super-Heroes" began appearing more often, the strip became more sophisticated, and before you can say "Long Live the Legion," the LSH grew into one of DC's more popular series. At its height, the Legion Roll Call boasted more than 30 members.

It's unlikely the budget on "Supergirl" will ever allow for the whole team. But so far we've got Mon-El, who is a Legionnaire in the comics, and these three:

-- Imra Ardeen, Mon-El's wife on the show, is Saturn Girl in the comics. Strangely, she's only a telepath in print, but can move things with her mind on the tube. I guess the producers felt her powers needed to level up.

-- Brainiac Five is a "twelfth-level" intellect in both media, which means he's pretty smart. He's blue on the show, green in the comics, and a genius on both -- with a crush on Kara.

-- Mon-El mentions "Ayla of Winath," who in the comics is Ayla "Light Lass" Ranzz, a Winathian with the power to negate gravity. Her twin brother, Garth "Lightning Lad" Ranzz, has electrical powers.

But maybe the best comics reference in "Legion of Superheroes" was to a black cat named Streaky that Kara had as a girl. This mirrors the comics, where Kara had an orange tabby named Streaky from 1960 to 1986.

The print version occasionally got super-powers from something called "X-kryptonite" to become Super-Cat. The TV Streaky was evidently an ordinary kitty, but pretty special to Kara, who explained why the lonely girl from Krypton adopted her:

"She was a stray, too."

Awww. I'm not crying. You're crying.

THE FLASH

Flash Fact: The mid-season opener used the title "Trial of the Flash," which was also the name of an infamous storyline from mid-'80s "Flash" comics. That version put the Scarlet Speedster on trial for second-degree murder, lasted more than two years – and was perhaps the most boring storyline in the history of comic books.

And that despite not being terribly faithful to the boringness of real trials. A lawyer name Bob Ingersoll practically made a career at "Comics Buyer's Guide" pointing out the legal errors "Trial of the Flash" committed. You'd think with all the detours from jurisprudence, they could at least have made it interesting.

Thankfully, the TV show avoided most of those problems. On the tube, Barry Allen – not his alter ego – was on trial, in this case for first-degree murder. And it was over in one episode. Now Barry's in jail for a crime he didn't commit – just like his father. He even has Dad's old jail cell! Oh, those Allen boys.

But there are some similarities between the TV version and the comics version. For example, Anton Slater was the prosecutor and Cecile Horton the defense counsel in both. This despite Cecile being a prosecutor on the TV show – she took a "leave of absence" to defend Barry, which is preposterous. (And she did it badly). Bob Ingersoll, your phone is ringing.

If Slater looks familiar, that's because the actor, Mark Valley, played Christopher Chance for two seasons of "Human Target" in 2010-11. Human Target, of course, is another DC Comics property.

BLACK LIGHTNING

There's not enough room this week to explore just how good "Black Lightning" is. Perhaps the best review possible is to note that there is genuine tension when sympathetic characters are in jeopardy – because that peril feels so real.

"Black Lighting" doesn't dance around what it's like to be black in America. Any interaction with the police has obvious potential to lethally escalate. The best of kids still can't avoid drugs, guns and gangs at school – which establishes more situations that can lethally escalate.

The premiere gave us a plateful of this reality. We felt what Garfield High Principal Jefferson "Black Lightning" Pierce felt as he navigated this social minefield for himself, his children and his students.

--Sponsored Video--

What's our Fun Fact? Here you go: Pierce's aide-de-camp, tailor Paul Gambi, has a long history in DC Comics, dating back to 1963. Originally he owned a small shop in Central City, where he secretly made uniforms for all of Flash's supervillains. Later he was partially rehabilitated, making uniforms for Justice League Europe.

Here's another cute touch: Gambi's tailor shop on TV has a sign saying it was established in 1977 – the same year Black Lightning debuted in comics.

RIVERDALE

"The Blackboard Jungle" – all "Riverdale" episodes use titles from movies – was jam-packed with new plots, information and jaw-droppers:

-- Archie is now an FBI informant. Because the FBI always uses teenagers for their legwork, right?

-- Archie beats the snot out of Nick St. Clair, while the latter is in bed with two broken legs. And Archie is the good guy!

-- Penelope Blossom is now an escort. Are there really that many men in Riverdale who A) have enough money for an escort, and B) can get away with it in a small town? Maybe she caters to Greendale clientele.

-- Betty finds her long-lost brother Charles, who works in "fantasy fulfillment." That sounds an awful lot like what Penelope is doing, but second-guessing this show is a fool's errand.

-- Josie is on the outs with the Pussycats. Well, it worked for Beyonce.

-- Polly named her twins Juniper and Dagwood. I'm calling it now: She's an unfit mother.

-- Mayor McCoy closed Southside High so the Lodges could buy the land, and in return they're going to contribute to her re-election campaign. Sadly, this is how the real world works, too.

-- With Southside High closed, Jughead and the only Serpents whose names we know are now at Riverdale High. Instead of ditching the goofy jackets, though, Jughead is trying to maintain the gang, because, you know, drug-running, illegal gun sales and street-fights are such beloved traditions.

That's fun stuff, but not exactly inside knowledge. So here you go:

Betty's brother goes by "Chic." That's a reference to the first Riverdale story in 1941, when the newly introduced Archie announced he wanted to be called "Chick." (That didn't last very long, because we are not now talking about Chick Comics.)

Further Fun Fact? The logo at Riverdale High reads "Est. 1941." Yep, the very year referenced above.

ARROW

Honestly, this episode didn't offer any Fun Facts. But the mid-season premiere was good nonetheless.

Curtis, Dinah and Rene are still mad at Ollie, Felicity and Diggle, and determined to create their own Arrow-free team. While Team Arrow is splitting up, Cayden James' injustice league (including Anatoly, Black Siren, Dragon and Vigilante) is getting stronger, and dramatically advancing his villainous, albeit mysterious, plans.

Since James has already framed Felicity, blackmailed Rene into informing on Ollie, gotten an anti-vigilante ordinance passed, taken over the docks and has inside information on all of our heroes (thanks to a bug in the Bunker), Team Arrow is in so much hot water it will take the rest of the season to drain it.

(Contact Captain Comics at capncomics@aol.com. For more comics news, reviews and commentary, visit his website: comicsroundtable.com.)

(c)2018 Andrew A. Smith

Visit his website at comicsroundtable.com.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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