Absolute Justice (2010 TV Special)

Posted: March 29, 2018 in Smallville
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Back in 2001, the thought of comic book characters on TV screens was a largely foreign concept. There was little to suggest that comic heroes could find any success on network television. When Smallville premiered in the fall of that year, it played safe and stuck to conventions of teen dramas at the time. While focusing on a young Clark Kent, pre-Superman, its first few seasons did little to escape a “threat of the week” formula that allowed for little in the way of plot-growth. However, the series eventually did mature over its 10 year run. While many view the show from the position of the doldrums of its first few seasons, that is to intentionally ignore the strides that the series took in quality and characterization in its later years. That’s no better encapsulated than in the 2-part special during the 9th season, “Absolute Justice”.

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The special focuses on Clark and his allies (Chole, J’onn and Oliver, the Green Arrow) as they stumble upon a team of former super heroes and mystery men who were meticulously hunted down and erased from the history books by a malevolent government agency known as Checkmate. This team, the Justice Society of America, show themselves to Clark and warn him of the impending doom that his own superheroic friends will likely encounter. Early in the episode, we’re introduced to Star-Spangled Kid and Sandman, both of whom are quickly dispatched by the villain Icicle, who is hunting them down at the behest of Checkmate. From there, the remaining founding JSA members (Hawkman and Dr. Fate) are introduced through Stargirl, the next-generation hero inspired by the original team.ic

The decision to bring the JSA onto Smallville was a huge step for the show. While the larger DC Universe had been hinted at and used on the series in the past (most notably with the Legion of Superheroes and Oliver’s proto-Justice League), it had always been kept at arms-length. Characters and costumes had always been adapted through the lens of early 21st century style and culture. What costumes we had seen on the show had been “modernized” and “updated”. Typically this meant the addition of sunglasses and a hoodie in place of a more traditional mask or cape.

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Case in point: Smallville’s take on Flash.

The new cast members introduced on these episodes are amongst the best on the series. Many point to Cameron Mahkent/Icicle, the villain, as a weak-link. And while he isn’t as strong or confident as the others, Wesley MacInnes turns in a serviceable performance that highlights his character’s fragility and need to belong even if that’s to a shadowy agency or his comatose father. Both Britt Irvin and Michael Shanks sell the underlying motivations of Stargirl and Hawkman quite well. They went on to have future appearances in the remainder of the series where Stargirl took more of a leadership role and Hawkman shifted into a sort of super powered Indiana Jones. We also get Amanda Waller’s live action debut with the wonderful Pam Grier in the role. She doesn’t do much other than give vaguely threatening exposition, but she would also become a reoccurring presence within the show and she happens to be my go-to when it comes to a physical take on the character. And finally we have Brent Strait as Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate. He is easily the MVP of these episodes. His ability to fluctuate from being a small, tortured man and mystically enhanced hero at the snap of a finger is amazing to see. The effortless performance and new spin on his power (he has the ability to see the fate of anyone near him. However, his own is a mystery.) made it all the more tragic that this was his sole appearance.

dfWith “Absolute Justice”, Smallville was unabashedly and openly accepting its comic book roots. Dr. Fate wore his traditional helmet and cape, Hawkman had a bold looking, glowing insignia and giant wings. And what’s more is that they looked excellent. Live action had done nothing to diminish the look and feel of these epic heroes. This turning point allowed the series to continue on into a final season that featured Darkseid, the Suicide Squad, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and a multiple further appearances by the JSA. And it even continued into an eleventh season in comic book form that further pushed the comic book aesthetics and origins that the show had once considered trappings.

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Smallville is largely thought of by modern fans as a relic of a time when plots were simpler and superheroics were best left off of TV screens. Those criticisms aren’t without reason, but they also ignore how much the show did to pave the way for the entertainment we enjoy today. Without Smallville, there would be no Arrow (which, in it’s earliest iteration, was a spinoff of this very show) and by extension no Arrowverse. If you enjoy the comic-based shows of today, you owe it to yourself to take a look at what came before.

 

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