Yesterday, the first season of Vixen, the CW Seed’s animated series, wrapped up after six episodes, each running approximately five minutes in length. Each episode didn’t exactly have enough to chew on for a review, but the first season did introduce some interesting elements, as well as set the stage for future expansion of the Arrowverse. Be warned that spoilers for the season will be discussed.
1. Vixen’s Origin, Simplified
The series takes an origin that had a lot of moving parts and streamlined it into a very easy to understand story. Mari was orphaned as a young lady, and was raised by a series of foster families, before eventually settling with the McCabes, Chuch and Patty, in Detroit. All grown up, she’s a fashion designer with a chip on her shoulder and only a necklace from her mother to connect her to her roots.
One day, she’s confronted by trouble, and the necklace (which is really the totem of a god) allows her to channel the powers of various animals. Much of the season deals with the necklace, and revealing its history and powers, as well as Mari’s sister’s desire to get the totem back.
The show gets grittier than you’d think, especially during the action sequences with Mari in Africa, where she is more Ollie Queen Season 1 than Ollie Queen Season 3 (aka she’s willing to kill). She also, as the teaser image above shows, interacts with both the Arrow and the Flash, and both Grant Gustin and Stephen Amell do a nice job of bringing their character’s tone to their voice acting. Gustin is just as scattered and goofy as you see on The Flash, and the brooding somehow is amped up without seeing Amell’s chiseled face under the hood.
Their interactions are brief, and especially their final one feels rushed – Ollie wants to train Mari, she says she wants to handle it herslef, and he backs off instantly – but this show does feel like it could exist in the Arrowverse. The fact that they call her a metahuman, and actually define how they see that term (people affected by the S.T.A.R. Labs incident – which makes Mari unusual, as she wasn’t affected by that), means that this show ‘matters’ in the Arrowverse, which is great. As that universe keeps expanding, it is nice to see how there isn’t just one type of show that works in that world. Arrow is the gritty one, The Flash is a living comic book, and now Vixen is somewhere in between those two.
2. Animating Animal Powers
Vixen and Animal Man, in particular, always have a hard time being drawn using their powers, as their powers really aren’t visual ones. This show did what lots of comics have done in the past, which is to have an animated animal ‘spirit’ hover around Mari when she’s calling upon the power. This works far better in a cartoon than it would in a live action setting, and the powers are easy to understand due to the visual techniques used.
3. A Smart Expansion
This animated series is a smart, calculated risk on the part of the DC TV unit. It introduces a character that, hypothetically, can be brought into the live action series (more on that later), who is also both female and African, two traits we don’t see enough in comics or on the screen. Mari also has strong ties to the Justice League (and, specifically, the Justice League that also had Vibe [another DC TV character] as a member). With Legend of Tomorrow being a team up show, this gives the producers a potential cast member in the future, and one who won’t need to have an origin episode.
By doing an online series of animated shorts, the cost and risk were kept down, and the creative team was able to work out the kinks without being in the spotlight. While the show was not exactly Batman: The Animated Series, it told a strong story across six episodes, and certainly was enjoyable. If this worked well for the CW, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other animated series pop up in a similar vein, perhaps leading to an animated component on TV – maybe even a slightly more kid friendly version on Saturday mornings?Continued below
And they did all of this without using a ‘big’ character that DC will have other on-screen plans for – hell, DC TV is building up their second tier characters far better than DC Publishing is right now.
The show’s animation design was handled by Phillip Bourassa, who also worked on DC projects like Young Justice and Justice League: War, and so the look is pretty much what you’ve come to expect from Warner Bros and DC at this point. The action sequences have an anime influence, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially considering how Young Justice also bore a heavy one, but it might be a little unusual for folks who haven’t seen that show. This isn’t the smooth/streamlined Justice League Unlimited look, but something a little grittier, which fits the tone of the show nicely.
The only weirdness in the animation involves Mari’s Vixen costume. I really applaud the show for making Mari a hero that didn’t rely on being ‘sexy’ at any point in the show – until she puts on her spandex costume. Now, granted, spandex hides nothing, but for a character that was kicking ass in relatively shapeless street clothes, it is weird to suddenly see her animated with giant breasts all of a sudden. Granted, she is a fashion designer on the show, and she clearly made this outfit, so maybe she wanted to show off her goods, as it were, but it still feels like a weird choice, given the tone of the show before that final scene.
5. A Live Action Future?
I don’t know if DC ever plans to bring Vixen to one of their live action shows, but Vixen might make the jump for a few reasons. First of all, Megalyn Echikunwoke, who voiced Mari on the series, is an actress with African heritage (her father is Nigerian), who could clearly handle the role physically. She’s a beautiful actress with lots of TV experience – she could easily make the jump to broadcast television. Now, whether or not they feel they could handle her powers in a live action setting is another story, but really – we have Firestorm and Supergirl on TV each week, but we can’t have Vixen? That seems a little silly.
On a sad note, Neil Flynn (who many of you may know as the Janitor on Scrubs) probably won’t be able to reprise his role of Mari’s adoptive father, Chuck, because he looks absolutely nothing like the character on screen. That’s a shame, as Flynn does a nice job adding some heart to the role, and the show.
You can watch the entire first season for free on the CW Seed.