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“Arrow-versity”- A Look at Inclusivity & Diversity in the CW Superhero TV Shows: Part 2

Legends of Tomorrow

When temporal anomalies threaten the fabric of reality and continuity, you call upon the unsung heroes known simply as “Legends”; a rag-tag bunch of misfits plucked from different points in time, whose impact on history at large is so negligible they might as well have not existed (Yike! That’s harsh. But you can still call the “Legends”). True to its unflattering premise, “Legends of Tomorrow” became the ceremonial “burying ground” for characters on the other CW superhero shows to continue their existence. From “Arrow” we have White Canary and The Atom, and from “The Flash” we have Captain Cold, Heatwave, Firestorm and Kid Flash. We even get John Constantine (Matt Ryan) who was a salvage from the ill-fated self-titled series on NBC. But that’s not to say there weren’t  a handful of brand-new characters, which in all rotated with every season.

Now I won’t rehash my analysis on White Canary, Captain Cold, or Kid Flash here (for those check out Part 1). For everyone else, let’s dive in.

Franz Drameh as Jefferson “Jax” Jackson. Photo credit CW Network.

Jefferson “Jax” Jackson / Firestorm

Literally one half of the nuclear-powered superhero “Firestorm”, young actor Franz Drameh plays Jefferson “Jax” Jackson, as well as the physical form of the radioactive hero. First introduced on “The Flash” to replace the character Ronnie Raymond, Jax only made 3 appearances on the show, but his character, or rather his overpowered alter ego, was writhe with potential. Part of the original crew on “Legends”, Jax would go on as a regular cast member until his fateful sacrifice at the end of season 3 alongside his equal half – Martin Stein. Sort of your stereotypical angst Black teen, Franz’ character really came into his own, as his relationship grew and developed alongside Martin. Initially a “forced bond”, a sort of mentor-student and later father-son connection was forged between the two characters that was the heart of what made Firestorm so unique and endearing on the show. Jax’s youthful exuberance and kinetic disposition was always juxtapose to Martin’s aged pragmatism, wisdom and foresight. Having to share the spotlight with his other co-stars, Jax still managed to develop into a well-rounded and likeable character; making his and Martin’s noble sacrifice all the more heartbreaking.

Maisie Richardson-Sellers as Vixen. Photo credit CW Network.

Vixen

One of DC’s earliest (and often underutilized) Black characters (who is of African descent) that debuted in Action Comics #521 (1981), Vixen had cameos on the animated series “Justice League Unlimited” (voice by Gina Torres). When it came to the CW, she was given her own mini-web-series on CWSeed in 2015 (voiced by Megalyn Echikunwoke). It was an origin story set in the “Arrowverse” (albeit animated). She would not make her live-action appearance until a one-shot episode on “Arrow’ in 2016, played by the same voice actress. The character of Vixen would not return until her appearance on season 2 and 3 of Legends, where she was played by a new actress, Maisie Richardson-Sellers. The rationale was that this wasn’t the same Vixen in contemporary times – Mari McCabe (Echikunwoke) – but rather her grandmother Amaya Jiwe (Richard-Seller) who also held the hereditary moniker. Vixen’s character arc on Legends revolved around her budding romance for fellow teammate Nate Heywood, which conflicted with her own preordained history. Ultimately, Vixen/Amaya was returned to her own time to maintain the continuity that would lead to the birth of the newest Vixen, Mari, two generations later. As for the short-lived Mari McCabe version, that character still hopefully exists post-Crisis, and we get to see more of her shine in some form or fashion in the future.

Of note, the actress Maisie Richardson-Sellers identifies as queer. She also co-founded “Shetority, an online global collective described as a “positive place for women and the feminine to inspire, empower and share”. Many of her Arrowverse co-stars are active members.

ETHNIC AND SEXUAL DIVERSITY

In terms of ethnicity, the only character that stood out (*not counting the reincarnated Egyptian Hawkman and Hawkgirl) is the character of Zari Tomaz, a regular from season 3. Played by Iranian-American actress Tala Ashrafi, Zari was a Muslim hacktivist and fugitive in the fascist dystopian future of 2042, where practicing religion is criminalized. Recruited onto the “Legends” Zari was essentially erased from history through the course of their adventures and rewritten as Zari Tarazi, a wealthy socialite and media influencer. This leads to her original self conflicting with her new self. While “Tomaz” had a relationship with Nate, “Tarazi” ended up being attracted to John Constantine – more on him later. Much like with Vixen, Zari’s ultimate arc involved sacrificing herself/wants for the maintenance of historical continuity, as her tenure on “Legends” created temporal anomalies that threatening those she loves. Zari is succeeded by her brother Behrad Tarazi (portrayed by Shayan Sobhian) who grew into prominence alongside his sister. Overall, Zari ended up being outshined by her more established co-stars and lack of original pathos.

Now with respect to sexual representation, while not addressed or hinted at on Legends, the character of chain-smoking mystical con-man John Constantine is a prolific pansexual, having trysts with humans, beasts/demi-beasts, demons, angels, and would-be gods, males, females or otherwise. The character’s irreverent promiscuity was also non-existent in the 2005 film bearing his name starring Keanu Reeves. In essence, his live-action appearances have been extensively neutered of mass consumption. Oddly enough, Matt Ryan, who plays the character on Legends (and in the aborted CBS series), also voices the character for the mature-rated DC animated films, “Justice League Dark”, “Constantine: City of Demons” and the more recent “Justice League Dark: Apokolips War”, where the character is unabashedly like the source material – the guy literally has sex with Los Angeles in the second animated film. To put it mildly, John’s uninhibited sexuality and overall impertinent personality is a bit much for mainstream audiences, who are unfamiliar with or are easily offended by the character. At least his animated form was given due justice and representation.

That brings us to the end of “Arrow-versity”. While the Arrowverse also includes Black Lightning and Batwoman, I’ve already touched on the numerous main and secondary characters throughout Black Lightning’s run in my episodic and seasonal reviews. With respect to Batwoman, which showcases a prominent lesbian and Jewish superhero, it only has one season; and real-life lesbian actress Ruby Rose who plays the titular Lady Dark Knight has since left the show, leaving a prospective season 2 up in the air. Nevertheless, I hope you’ve all enjoyed this look at diversity and inclusivity on the CW superhero shows or for the uninitiated, that your interest has been piqued to check out any of these fine series.

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Hailing from the eastern-most Caribbean island of Barbados, Fabian Wood has long since been fascinated by the power of storytelling to inspire and invoke emotions – whether in film, comics or videogames. No longer content to be just an avid comic book reader and videogamer, he’s eager to exercise his literary acumen as an aspiring writer and reviewer.

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