Emily, Del, Jackie, Teddy…
UPDATE: Script scans excerpts removed, at the request of Asad Kazi of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. So that's confirmed it's real then…
On Monday I talked about the script to Riverdale, the new CW teen drama based on the Archie Comics series. Well, today I have the script to the DC Comics TV show Powerless, written by Ben Queen, dated January 5th 2016.
And… yes. It is exactly as promised. Something of the DeMatteis and Giffen's Justice League, something of McDuffie's Damage Control and even a touch of Pearce's No Heroics.
And the description of the titles taps into that feeling from the Marvel montage intro but goes in its own direction. We see classic panels from DC Comics, with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman saving the day, but the focus moves to the civilians in the background, the cast of the TV show.
It is full to busting of references to superheroes in and around the DC Comics Universe. Such as wall clocks in the office showing Metropolis, Gothm, National City Keystone and the setting for the show, Charm City.
And this is a world where the superhero has become taken for granted. As, indeed, has the supervillain. Death and destruction have become obstacles for the city to work around, like roadworks or a burst water main. Life shuffles around.
Such a Emily flossing her teeth while, outside, a 50 foot tentacled creature is vaporised by a laser bean – which she ignores.
That is until Emily Thorpe, insurance claims adjuster, asks Crimson Fox if she wouldn't mind putting the train that Crimson Fox has caught – and Emily is riding – back on the tracks so everyone can get to work. And all the other commuters join in with whatever they are all late for.
And suddenly Emily, rather than Justice League Europe's Crimson Fox, is the hero of the city. Or, at least, she is a meme. If anyone knew who she actually was. That choice of superhero character right at the top does two things – first, it makes sure it moves focus away from the familiar DC superhero names and expands the world – but also for the fans really cements how much this comic owes to the Justice League eighties title.
So, welcome to Emily's job, where she has to deal with this nonsense all the time. Retcon Life and Casualty Insurance.
RetCon being an internet derived word created by Damian Cugley for "retroactive continuity". Changing things in the past to make them better. Possibly an overclaim for an insurance company, but hey. That's marketing for you.
That is how Powerless works. It takes the battles we all face in our lives, in our work, with the people who surround us, from whatever position we hold, and frames them in terms of the superheroic fantasies that fill our comics, our games, our movies, our TV shows, by placing them next to each other.
Oh and also perving over them – Jackie's "I want tio nail Aquaman so hard" while reading a People Magazine with Aquaman on the cover, in a cubical covered in beefcake magazine cutouts of DC superheroes…
So Emily chooses her battles, makes mistakes, but stands up for what is right – even if it's just bringing back office bathrooms for each floor.
And there's jokes about when super folk break into airwaves to threaten each other, to Jackie's "It's like, exchange digits already. Threaten via text like the rest of us." Later on Jack O' Lantern will take over all TVs and monitors to threaten Crimson Fox. he will be ignored by everyone, and turned to mute.
It most resembles Ally McBeal for me, especially the earlier years, smart, funny, an ensemble of characters that bounce off each other, each with their own world views that compete for dominance of the narrative. We have her platonic male friend with delusions of more, her office lust object who has been turned against her, the sarcastic office gossip and .a new manchild boss getting his position by nepotism and bad behaviour. Indeed he has all the power without any of the responsibility and it's down to Emily to try and turn the tables – with all the responsibility, yet none of the power.
And all around are superheroic acts that both save and damn in equal measure, part of the city furniture, and occasionally crashing in to your narrative and taking away someone you love.
Any Emily justifying a claim against damage caused by Wonder Woman can not be turned down as an Act of God since she is technically a demigod.
But there are the tropes of fiction that now become part of your life, ignorable at your peril. Such as the idea of taking a date to the Museum of Natural History – as being synonymous with wanting to be attacked by supervillains – and that you might as well go to an abandoned amusement park.
Powerless has a combination of comedy and pathos that manages not to sicken, at least from this reading. I can see elements of M*A*S*H in this. It is actually funny in a way that the Powers show really tried to be and failed.
Such as Teddy asking Jackie if a superhero has ever dated their sidekick, to the response "I assume they all have."
But what will set this apart is the use of text and subtext, swapping places interchangeably, courtesy of the superheroic world they must live in.
The script is fun and snappy, but there is little to separate it from a million-and-one other whip-smart office-work-in-the-city shows, apart from the superheroic textures – and the fact that Emily isn't actually a superhero.
Yet. That shark is waiting to be jumped. Then grabbed by the tail and flung into the sea.
But as the show demonstrates, she's anything but powerless. It might be enough to bring out new themes, new experiences and carve out a unique place for itself. Until Damage Control comes out, that is.
Oh and since Monday, 22 copies of Justice League Europe #6 have sold on eBay – the first copies sold for weeks…