Summary: The second webisode introduces intriguing mythology, but has trouble delivering the information.
Mari accidentally harnesses the strength of her totem necklace and valiantly fights off her attackers. She recalls when her foster mother, Patty, gave her the necklace, remarking that it was passed down from her parents — the identities of whom remain unknown — and that it may be the key to determining where she comes from. Mari contacts a professor, Dr. Macalester, and the two discuss how legend says it was created by Anansi the Trickster God, and had the power to harness the spirits of animals. After Mari leaves, Macalester calls a mysterious woman, revealing that the two are conspiring together to obtain the totem, and that the earlier attackers were in fact out to steal it.
With its characters introduced, the second installment of the Vixen webseries shouldn’t have to worry about as much exposition as the introductory webisode. And yet, as it explains the basic concept behind Mari’s powers, it feels remarkably more bogged down. That’s definitely a result of the short length of these episodes — we’re still having the pieces placed on the board to set-up the climax of what will basically amount to a Vixen pilot.
The first episode had enough action and mystery intercut with the talking to make it work, but this episode is more-or-less a straight Q & A. The information isn’t uninteresting, of course, but it feels more like the characters catching up with the main premise rather than we, the audience, learning new information. This type of medium might have been better suited for a predominately in medias res story rather than an origin story because of that.
The Vixen mythology is intriguing nevertheless. Characters wrapped up with the likes of gods can get overly cosmic sometimes, but the Vixen perspective can keep it appropriately grounded. There’s potential for a more expanded Vixen series to explore African folklore from a modern perspective, not unlike some of Neil Gaiman’s works, and that’d allow it to be a completely different beast from its Arrow and The Flash brethren even while keeping in the same universe. And it’s still of the dark and urban mold of Arrow, which is a unique way to follow a character with powers created by gods.
The brief opening fight scene is along these lines, with a brutal and finely choreographed battle in the streets as the first showcase of the powers. We don’t really see much, and Mari’s use is appropriately chaotic for her lack of practice. But the use of shadows representing the animal spirits behind Mari, rather than brightly colored manifestations, is a subtle and artful representation of that power. There’s a fluidity in Mari’s use of her powers that wasn’t as present when Vixen used her powers in Justice League Unlimited, the latter of which felt more like typical magic than the primal force this new version manifests as.
The way characters talk about this mythology isn’t nearly as exciting, though. Even if the entire webseries was written by a cohesive unit — all writers are credited for all episodes — the dialogue seems noticeably more clunky in this installment. That, again, is probably because of the running time — young Mari quickly has to express her grief so Patty can have a reason to quickly recap Mari’s upbringing and give her the necklace she quickly summarizes as “the key” to all the answers. The talk of the necklace being “the key” is very heavy-handed; it’s something Mari might have gleaned over time, we didn’t need her foster mother to enigmatically hint at its greater importance. It’s a trap superhero stories often fall into, where the easy route is having a parental figure instill the idea that the hero has a “greater destiny,” when the most interesting part of an origin story is having the heroes figure that out themselves.
The talk with Dr. Macalester about the mythology is thankfully less heavy-handed, but it’s still not terribly interesting. The mythology itself is great, but there’s not enough time to talk about more than what most of us already know. It’s nice that the series has every intention of clarifying the nature of Vixen’s powers, but it’s not in-depth enough to be truly engaging in its own right. It doesn’t help that, with everyone rushing to get out the cold hard facts, the dialogue is mostly dry, the occasional splash of wit not enough to liven up the scene.
The ending introduces a mysterious villain and opens a larger conspiracy, though the traitor reveal doesn’t have much impact when it’s a character we only met two minutes earlier. But either way, the pieces are on the board, and hopefully the remaining episodes will see their collision. Seeing what Mari does with this information and how she harnesses the powers ought to be much more fun to watch, now that the basic exposition is out of the way.
Odds & Ends
- Outside of Vixen’s DC Comics mythology, modernized versions of Anansi are spread all around pop culture, including aforementioned Neil Gaiman works, Gargoyles, and even as part of Spider-Man‘s comics. He’s a fun character to use.
- Also, love the little detail of Mari mispronouncing Anansi.
- Dr. Macalester has three PhDs? How much time did that guy spend in school?
- Is Mari saying “52 million dollar question” supposed to be a nod to DC’s New 52? It’s really awkward dialogue.
- “Normally this is the part where I’d say ‘My eyes are up here.'”