Black Lightning Remains Better Than Riverdale

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk on Barbara Minerva! Much like “Blue Monday,” her entrance theme inexplicably wound up on the cutting room floor. If WW84 was made as an excuse to increase the amount of Kristen Wiig merchandise, many licensees are not upholding their ends of the conspiracy. Keep a weather eye out for a companion piece on Doctor Domino.

Now we must venture back into SPOILER territory for the final season premiere of Black Lightning & a few episodes of Riverdale that would’ve been more momentous had the pandemic not shortened last season. As if that wasn’t enough, I have a tangible reason to hate Disney monopolization at the end.

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Black Lightning was one of the lucky shows not to have its previous season interrupted by the pandemic. Season three, which began in 2019, predicted 2020. Unfortunately season four will be its last. They finally incorporated Black Lightning into the Beeboverse just to cancel it? (Although it probably won’t be able to be part of any crossovers before its conclusion, Javicia Leslie would like Thunder & Painkiller to appear on Batwoman.) As good as Jordan Calloway looks shirtless, nobody wants a Painkiller spinoff! Luckily The CW warned showrunner Salim Akil early enough that he was able to give it closure.

Jefferson_Pierce

This wasn’t boring enough to release as a promotional still.

There was no advertising until a fortnight before the premiere. Was the lack of interesting promo images to avoid spoiling the season premiere or because the network doesn’t care about it? This commercial makes it look like one of the Pierce women is getting fridged. I didn’t sign up for that. It’s already giving me Arrow season four mystery grave flashbacks.

Thankfully it’s just Detective Bill Henderson’s grave. After a nifty upside-down shot, Jefferson Pierce blames himself for his friend’s death. The (possibly but probably not literal) ghost of his father tells him that it’s silly to hold himself responsible, but he doesn’t listen. Although he saved Freeland from the ASA & Markovians without an assist from his new Super Friends, this death has broken Black Lightning. The new police chief’s response to her predecessor’s death is to register all metahumans in the city, despite none of them having killed Henderson. Registering superhumans like firearms & automobiles sounds like a reasonable practice in the abstract, but in the history of superhero media it always immediately leads to fascism & genocide. I doubt this will subvert the trope, but it’d be novel if something finally would.

Classical music begins “The Book Of Reconstruction” on a somber note. Jeff has to rescue a kid from police on the trumped up charge of being black while carrying a violin. Zapping the cops’ temples is a nifty new trick to erase their short-term memories. (How many failed attempts did it take for him to perfect the voltage?) Jeff didn’t have time or the inclination to put on his costume before intervening, which ends up putting his family in jeopardy when street cameras get a partial view of his license plate. One of the detectives on his case is Henderson’s protege, who has conveniently never been referenced before.

Tobias Whale returns to Freeland to publicly bankroll its reconstruction a year after the Markovian invasion was thwarted. Lynn & Anissa astutely concur that that albino bastard has to die. Jeff tries to shut them down with morality, but they counter by reminding him that his whole family has killed folks. It’s nice they acknowledged that.

LaLa has grown more vicious since taking control of The 100 (still not the recently concluded CW series). A news report identifies his rivals as the Kobra Cartel. Does that mean Lady Eve survived the shootout? I’ve been waiting for some direct Kobra reference since she debuted. I’m worried that Kobra will just be boring crimesters. They don’t need to have drastic misconceptions of Hinduism, but I really want to see an overtly snake-themed cult.

Grace Choi has been comatose for a year, but she’ll probably awaken soon since Chantal Thuy has been elevated to the main credits.

Now that Thunder & Lightning are back, Zoey Clarke is no longer the best superheroine currently on network TV. (Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is a cross between Wonderfalls & Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Jane Levy is amazeballs in the episode where her powers get inverted! Its season two premiere kind of felt like a finale? Max gave Zoey her superheroine logo on an invisibility ring that doesn’t work! This feels like the workplace show Supergirl wanted to be.) One of LaLa’s goons shoots Lightning with an anti-metahuman rifle, but she mostly recovers. A death in the family isn’t entirely off the table, especially since China Anne McClaine was already planning to depart this season early.

The attempt on his daughter’s life puts Jeff in an even worse mood. He cripples the shooter by beaming lighting into his eyes. Black Lighting is getting sloppy violent, which is something I would’ve expected more from a non-powered vigilante or The Boys. Will this series end with Black Lighting as a tragic hero? It’d be a daring move by showrunner Salim Akil to end on this note, but it’d also be a huge bummer. This series is part of the Beeboverse not Netflix’s Defenders. I’d prefer to see Jeff opening a school for metahumans by the finale instead of being laid low during a grief-rage rampage.

Lynn could also end up being the surprise big bad. She’s in denial about her recovery from Green Light addiction. She’s become obsessed with extending how long her body can keep borrowed superpowers by testing them out as sensibly masked vigilante. Hopefully they’ll hook Christine Adams up with her own supersuit. She’ll try to ingratiate herself with Jeff again so he’ll help her with this project. I don’t think being scientifically curious & manipulative are automatically evil, but fiction portrays them thusly, especially when doubled up. That’d provide additional conflict beyond the standard Jeff vs. Tobias, but it could also throw the semi-estranged couple under the bus.

Lynn_BlackLightning

She borrowed this look from Ultraviolet.

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Riverdale_season5

They swore a blood-oath to keep its shallow grave secret.

Although “The Preppy Murders” is a more unique title than “Climax,” this episode felt like a climax in a way Riverdale’s fifth season premiere didn’t. “Graduation” is the denouement. The would’ve been season four finale should’ve been the series finale. It had a bittersweet finality that’s undermined by going immediately into the time jump.

Defiantly announcing you’re getting a divorce so you can become a Real Housewife Of New York sounds so bizarre.

Charles, with help from Chic, killed the Blue Velvet’s proprietor & the Skull & Quill crew save Donna. These murders seem lazily tacked on. FP & Alice have had barely any scenes with their shamebaby.

The Auteur is Jellybean. Her motive was to create a mystery that’d keep Jughead from leaving home to go to prep school & college. It would’ve been very helpful to have some scenes where she interacted significantly with her brother, let alone raise her separation anxiety fears. The lack of hints were akin to the time they refused to indicate Hal was wearing colored contacts as the Black Hood. So who were Jellybean & pals murdering? They made a point of saying The Auteur had leveled up to genuine snuff films. Jellybean’s accomplices were all the urchins residing at Archie’s gym. So instead of providing them with a safe haven, it was just a networking hub for budding crimesters. It’s implied they’re arrested & carted off to juvee. Meanwhile Jellybean just hangs out in the Cooper house like nothing happened until FP unilaterally decides to move back to Toledo with her. It pays to be the (Ex-)Sheriff’s daughter. Falice being endgame is a fallacy. Fare thee well, Skeet Ulrich!

You can identify the killers each season because they’re the supporting cast members with the least to do. There is one very substantial clue dropped per season & that’s it. The are no follow-up hints & any red herrings are obvious. Motives aren’t revealed until after the culprit is identified so the crimes feel randomly assigned instead of tailored to the perpetrators.

The Blossoms refusing to help Cheryl after she pretended to feed them a dead relative is actually reasonable. Then Penelope poisons them all as graduation present to the daughter she hates. She later pops out of the bushes after graduation with the random decision to turn herself in to the authorities for some of her crimes. She lovingly calls Cheryl “nightmare child.” I feel like we missed all the steps to these two not loathing each other anymore. They still seem to exist in a private zany murder series as opposed to the somber murder series everyone else is relegated to. Vitamin Cheryl has opted not to go to college with Toni so she can rehabilitate her maple empire. (“Sexy Gollum” implies the standard Gollum is somehow not sexy.)

Condensed Archie trauma is still annoying. Upon learning he’d need to redo his senior year to graduate, he enlists in the army. This upsets Veronica because the US is at war? Joining the army was Kevin Keller’s thing in the comics! He’s not allowed to have layers beyond artsy gay. (Kevin’s comment about his musicals always being interrupted being cut off by an announcement is extremely meta.) Kevin & Fangs are still together because he never met his husband from the comics, Dr. Clay Walker. Omitting a prominent black character isn’t the best way to avoid more racism accusations. Perhaps he can pop up later for a love triangle?

Archie begins Return To Riverdale “Purgatorio,” what would’ve been the fifth season premiere, with a dream where he’s in WWII on the football field. Points deducted for this not literally being Archie’s wartime experience. Surrealism in dreams doesn’t count because they’re supposed to be surreal! This was cheaper than than deploying Archie to a modern Middle Eastern occupation.

Jughead throws his iconic hat into the time capsule. This is stupid, I hate it. Now his head looks naked. The hatless Jughead should not be seen in public! He better get a new crown during the time jump. Instead of staying in the Cooper house before college, he opts to become a squatter again. He becomes a one-hit wonder author. He, like most who moved away, are called back home anticlimactically for Pop’s retirement party not a new mystery.

Betty is going to be imitation Clarice Starling, not be confused with CBS’s Clarice. Neither are continuations of Hannibal. (If you’re nostalgic for Bryan Fuller television, the Mind Palace webcomic has wrapped.) Unlike her famous inspiration, trainee Betty was captured for two weeks by the Trash Bag Killer. He remains at large, presumably as the murderer in the obviously scary truck. Betty peaked at thwarting serial killers in high school. 

Toni is Riverdale High’s pregnant guidance counselor, Serpent Queen, co-owner of & From Dusk Till Dawn enthusiast at the Whyte Wyrm bar below Pop’s, long haul trucking manager, & infodump tour guide. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa responded to Vanessa Morgan’s entirely valid criticism by giving her all the jobs. Cheryl has become a recluse making old masters forgeries for Nana Rose so she doesn’t need to sell Blossom land to Hiram. Reconstruction on Thornhill continues indefinitely to stave of a family curse like the pop culture interpretation of Sarah Winchester, whom was probably just a fan of sacred geometry. Who is raising Dagwood & Juniper?

Veronica married some jerkwad named Chad who wants her to make babies instead of upstage him on the stock market. He’s the spitting image of her dad just as Betty’s FBI beau resembles a mini-Edgar Evernever. She makes a reference to it being 2021 during the time skip, the showrunner having forgotten the previous seasons weren’t set in the past. It’s not like they have multiple time periods to coordinate like the MCU.

Her father still doesn’t have his iconic white hair, moustache, & glasses. At least Gotham gave Jim Gordon a moustache for two scenes! Hiram’s pointless illness arc got all our hopes up. Reggie is his assistant, which will likely be the most relevant he’s been since he was with Veronica. Hiram has destroyed all the town infrastructure to make money building a turnpike to the SoDale suburbs. This dodgy plan seems counterintuitive. So now Riverdale is a somewhat worse crime-ridden Hellhole, but not like a fun one with atomic cyborgs riding giant cockroaches. So it’s still basically the same.

Archie characters are very versatile because they’ve become archetypal. The further Riverdale meddles with that formula, however, the less it feels like a faithful Archie adaptation even when comics Riverdale had its share of crime. The central love triangle has been stabilized into the core four being a pair or couples. Since the love triangle equilibrium had been upset by Veronica & Archie being a requited romance since season one, Betty & Archie need to get it on too. Sharing one kiss per & an impure thought per season doesn’t seem sufficient to destroy two long-term relationships. Have Archie & Betty consummate their mutual horniness so there’s more substantial drama over which woman he should ultimately choose. Or perhaps they swerve & satisfy everyone shipping Archie with Jughead & Betty with Veronica? Don’t immediately default to the prior romance status quo.

Riverdale is now the opposite of Smallville & Gotham. While they confused fans by dragging out origins rather than focusing on their superhero prime, high school glory days are the meat of Archie Comics.  Although there are tales set in the future, it’s arguable they don’t have enough mileage to continue the series for much longer. The initial flash forward changes appear to be superficial & transitory. The most substantial change is the cast no longer was to pretend to be high schoolers. The novelty of teens doing adult stuff has been erased.

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Disney killed Blue Sky Studios. This is an object lesson in conglomerates being bad for creatives. Scrapping Nimona with less than a year of production left is a bastard move, Disney! It only had ten months to go until it was finished! Relative to an animated film’s lifecycle, that means it was very far along. Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is a great comic book that deserves a completed adaptation! The world needs all the animated features about gay knights & sharks with boobs it can get!

6 thoughts on “Black Lightning Remains Better Than Riverdale

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