Summary: The first few minutes of Vixen splits its time well between action and exposition, providing a solid introduction to the character.
Mari McCabe is pursued by Arrow and The Flash, using a totem necklace to emulate animal powers in her escape. She slips off of a building, however, and we flash back to three days prior, where Mari is in jail. Her foster father, Chuck, bails her out, and she explains that she returned to Detroit to find her parents, and stabbed a potential employer with a pen after he sexually harrassed her, which is why she was thrown in jail. Suddenly, they are held at gunpoint by a gang of muggers.
So far, nearly all female heroes in the DCwU are tied in-universe to another male – both Canaries and Speedy are either partners or tied intricately with Green Arrow, future Killer Frost is still a supporting character for The Flash, and Hawkgirl will still have Hawkman. Even Supergirl, who’s technically her own separate continuity, is still under the Superman umbrella. Despite how these shows have made decent strides at integrating more than just the typical white guys as major players in this DC Universe recently, there’s still a ways to go.
Vixen, then, is both a smart and necessary move for the DCwU, regardless of what form it comes in. There’s potential here for this version of the DC Trinity to be the Arrow, Flash, and Vixen to mainstream DC’s Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Beyond that, Vixen not only presents a female and person of color perspective, she’s also representative of a cornerstone of comic book superherodom – Arrow is gritty action, The Flash is science fiction, and Vixen is supernatural magic. (Legends of Tomorrow, meanwhile, is the team show that brings all the elements together.)
Arrow is to be exploring magic this season, but it’s likely to deal with the darker shades of necromancy and demons that characters like Constantine would bring. Vixen and her animated medium, meanwhile, has the capacity to deal with the straight-up fantasy side of magic. It’s hard to tell if this is what ultimately comes to pass in the 6-episode miniature Vixen season, which will only clock in at about a half-hour total. That’s not much for all the hype Vixen’s gotten, so there’s hope that it could lead to something more than these five-minute webisodes.
Still, “Episode One” gracefully dispenses a wealth of information in its minuscule runtime. We meet Mari McCabe, a struggling and troubled budding fashion designer who, while young, is already jaded after spending her childhood bumped around in the foster system. That’s a lot of information to bestow so quickly, but it’s not much more background information than you’d get from a full-length pilot. As with her superhero predecessors, Mari has a chip on her shoulder that will surely play into her main character arc. Unlike her predecessors, though, she has an entertaining rebellious attitude and edge that establishes her nicely as the lead. She’s got a delinquent-like violent streak, as the pen-stabbing story shows, but it’s not without reason; “He wouldn’t give me a job unless I gave him one” is a brilliant little line that clearly paints Mari’s hardened but identifiable perspective. It’s become rather expected in superhero media for a female hero to have faced misogynistic harassment in her origin, but it’s not territory the DCwU has explored yet, so it seems apt to include that here. And, again, it just makes Mari seem even more charming, in a rebel-without-a-cause sort of way.
Conversely, Mari mentioning how she’s “without an identity” is the most forced bit of dialogue we get. It’s a bit too on-the-nose and typical of a superhero tale, and it feels especially shoehorned in here to tie into the ongoing identity thread of Arrow’s third season (which was at its midpoint when this series was written.) That could have been something we’d glean later – though perhaps the webisode nature means we’ll have to sacrifice some subtlety in order to keep things moving.
Megalyn Echikunwoke makes the most of her limited dialogue, channeling the bubbling rage she utilized for her role in The 4400 for Mari’s sharp edges, but without sacrificing the softness of a likeable lead. Neil Flynn, meanwhile, is immediately recognizable and warm as Chuck, Mari’s affectionate foster father. Blake Neely and Nathaniel Blume’s score is perfectly in-line – the music cues for both Arrow and The Flash are heard among the Arrow-like soundtrack – and the fast, almost jungle-style beats in the end credits theme reflect the wild aspects of Vixen’s powers nicely.
Where the episode excels best not letting that exposition take over the episode’s entirety. In fact, this feels like a very meaty opener without being overly dense. The opening action sequence with Arrow and Flash works wonders towards this, not because it contains those two characters, but simply because it’s fun. The Young Justice-style designs, fluid animation and James Tucker’s dynamic direction shows off Mari’s powers in chaotic fashion – implying she’s still new at it – and it’s an impeccably engaging, even if expected, introduction to the action style of the miniseries.
That in medias res action is split evenly with the exposition, a perfect balance for introducing us to the primary character and quickly integrating her into the dangerous fast-paced action of the DCwU. These first few minutes of Vixen, even devoid of much by way of plot yet, has plenty to unpack, and it’s a promising start to a miniseries that could certainly thrive as a more ambitious prospect if it succeeds.
Odds and Ends
- Vixen is available on the CW Seed app, along with a bunch of behind-the-scenes extras.
- For background: I have very little experience with Vixen beyond the Justice League Unlimited iteration, where she was portrayed by the talented Gina Torres and played an integral role in that show’s central character arcs. It will be fun seeing her be leading lady here, and hopefully further down the line.