In a climactic scene from last Sunday’s season 6 premiere of The CW’s DC superhero show Legends of Tomorrow, a new character who was once abducted by aliens must drink a smoothie made of an alien chrysalis so a bisexual sorcerer can reach out to said alien through space and time to rescue the Legends’ captain, Sara Lance, who has been also been abducted. You see, one of our favorite characters, Gary Green, was secretly an alien all this time. The sorcerer can’t contact Sara, but luckily, her girlfriend can, astral projecting to Sara long enough to say yes to marrying her. And somehow, this is all even weirder than I’ve made it sound.

And that scene is an encapsulation of why Legends of Tomorrow is a different kind of superhero show. Because it’s not just weird – it’s full of heart.

Weird Works

Now, there are lots of outside-the-box takes on superheroes on television these days. There’s Watchmen with its dissection of American race relations; Doom Patrol and it’s weird and wonderful take on trauma and found family; The Boys skewers corporate exploitation and the repercussions of violence; WandaVision explored television tropes and how we process grief. We have an entire television landscape of shows using superheroes as a backdrop to explore vital and emotional issues in really smart and entertaining ways.

But Legends is a different kind of different because, more than any show on the air right now, it cares about being fun while it’s making a point. And in some ways, the fun and hope of the show is the point. And it does so in a way that’s loving, empathetic, and comforting.

Capes Need Compassion

I’m behind on some of my Arrowverse shows, I’ll admit. In fact I’m behind on a lot of shows in general. Because a lot of TV is depressing these days. In a world where everything is so terrible, it’s hard to muster up the energy to watch even highly stylized terrors on screen. And I think we all feel that. That’s one of the reasons why the show of the pandemic was Ted Lasso, because in an exhausting, confusing world, a show about hope and kindness and optimism was what we really needed.

And I realized as I laughed and smiled through the season 5 premiere: Legends of Tomorrow is the Ted Lasso of superhero television. Over five seasons, the series transformed from “C-list DC characters travel through time with Rory from Doctor Who” to one of the weirdest and wildest shows on TV. But it was able to do this, and sustains the weirdness so well, because everyone that meets the Legends and finds a home on the Waverider is treated with empathy and respect by the characters and the writers. Every misfit – from lost souls to arsonists to shapeshifting gods to sorcerers to awkward office workers who turn out to be aliens – has a place. The ship and the show run on the idea that while they can’t change the past (too much), they can forgive pretty much anything and move towards a better tomorrow. When you can literally treat the past and even murderous puppets with at the least some humor and usually some compassion, anything is possible on your show.

And this isn’t to say that reckoning with the past isn’t important, or that it doesn’t matter. The attitude of Legends of Tomorrow is…maybe you screwed up. But so has everyone on the team and sometimes they can screw things up for the better. Or at least be better going forward. On this wacky show about time travel, the big point is that everyone has a past, but what happened then doesn’t matter quite as much as what you chose to do with your future.

Avenging is Stupid

Trapped on an alien ship along with Spartacus, Sara Lance manages to take down another imprisoned alien with no help from the gladiator general. He says he would have avenged her death. To which Sara pointedly responds: “Being an avenger is stupid. The goal is to prevent death. I’m a Preventer.”

With that simple line, Sara and (on a meta level) the show made an important point about superheroes as an idea. They’re supposed to help people, not wait for people to suffer and then avenge them. Being an “Avenger” may sound cool, but that name is an acknowledgment that these supposed heroes are just acting in and responding to a cycle of violence. Perpetuating it.

Don’t get me wrong – the Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe this line of dialogue points to are great, but the entire franchise, and the larger DC films as well, are all built on this idea of escalation and increasing devastation and collateral damage. It makes for good cinema, but as we face so much actual devastation in the real world, it’s very refreshing to see a hero say it doesn’t actually have to be that way. We can prevent things, and when we focus on proactively making the future better rather that avenging the past, that opens up a lot of new paths, and allows for all sorts of folks to join the team.

Who Even Needs a Bad Guy?

Sure, every season of Legends of Tomorrow has had a season-long villain, but after the disaster of the first season’s very silly Vandal Savage story, the Big Bads been more generalized every season, and that’s because half the villains end up Legends themselves, and the show, as Sara said, isn’t really about killing one person each season. It’s about some people deciding to clean up a mess because they’re the ones that can…and they’re usually the ones that made it.

As compassionate preventers, the Legends are different kinds of superheroes. Most of them are driven by things that aren’t too angsty, which allows for plotlines that are incredibly wholesome. The central love story between Ava and Sara isn’t defined by break-ups or relationship problems – they’re a team and they love and support one another. That’s so nice to see for a queer couple on television. Rare, too. In general, I just love this show because it’s not about making heroes suffer in new and painful ways. It’s about showing how people can grow and thrive when they’re loved and supported.

What will season 6 of Legends hold? I know better than to guess. It will be wild and creative and fun, and I can’t wait to watch it. But the other thing I know for sure is that it will continue to tell a superhero story with heart and hope, one that thrives on the idea that if we did a little more preventing and a little less avenging, we could all do something…legendary.

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