The CW’s Vixen is a number of things. It’s the network’s first superhero-inspired premiere for the 2015 fall season and its first show to feature a black, female lead. Most noticeably, though, the show is something of a disappointing, empty promise.
Recently, the CW has made a point of introducing more women and minority characters into its comics-inspired line up with the announcement of Mr. Terrific an openly gay, Olympic decathlete and genius inventor played by Echo Kellum and a reincarnated Hawkgirl portrayed by Ciara Renée. Though Kellum and Renée welcome additions, their roles are likely to be supporting ones at best.
Conversely, when it was first announced, Vixen had the potential to be so much more. As a character, Vixen’s always been one of DC’s best kept secrets.
Mari McCabe (Vixen’s secret identity) was introduced in Action Comics #521, three years after her originally planned solo series was suddenly cancelled in 1978. By using her magical totem created by the African trickster god Anansi, McCabe could of summon the strength and abilities of any animal that had ever walked the Earth.
Her origin story and powers were directly linked back to her African heritage, and in terms of background and personality, McCabe was more fully fleshed than most of the publisher’s black heroes.
Over the years, McCabe’s appearances have been sparing apart from occasional stints with the Justice League in the both the comics and a few appearances in the television show Justice League: Unlimited. The idea of the CW giving Vixen her own show meant that a new generation of fans might finally get to know her in a capacity that might warrant DC expanding her role in its larger universe. Vixen, however, is far from a real “show.”
Unlike Arrow, The Flash, and the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow, which are all hour-long shows that air on the CW’s terrestrial network itself, Vixen is a 30-minute long series broken up into six “episodes” that clock in at under five minutes each. The series is also only viewable via CW Seed, the network’s online platform that you’ve probably never heard of.
For a series about a character that most casual DC fans are probably only vaguely aware of, the CW’s handling of Vixen isn’t just clumsy—it’s insulting.
Though Vixen is animated, the series takes place in the same shared universe as Arrow and The Flash and introduces the concept of magic into the mix. Both of those things could work to Vixen’s benefit if the show were given the chance to be anything more than a few scant minutes of frenetic action with no time for plot or character development.
Given the gargantuan special effects budgets attached to most superhero shows, Vixen’s different medium could have easily worked to its advantage, allowing it to tell a kind of story that might not have made it to television otherwise. Vixen easily could have been inserted into the CW's traditional broadcast where people might actually see it.
The CW has always known how to make massively popular superhero shows (remember Smallville?) and it still does. Whether Mari McCabe will ever make her way into the realm of live-action is up to the network, but this first run at Vixen could have easily been a success.
It's just a shame that the CW doesn't really seem to believe in it.