[NOTE: This article contains minor SPOILERS for the Powerless premiere]
With more and more superhero blockbusters exploring the superhuman men and women who protect Earth from villainous plots, and the top secret government agencies that interact with them, there’s one side of things that’s rarely seen. It’s the everyday citizens who are overlooked, or, more specifically, the professional who make it their job to protect them from the chaos of superheroics and villainy, in the form of cutting-edge pharmaceuticals or wearable tech. It’s the office workers who make it their job to protect the Powerless – at a price.
It was hard to know what to expect from NBC’s look into the background of the DC Comics Universe, and just how many references to massively popular comic book superheroes would be contained inside of it. Thankfully, the premiere episode packed in enough easter eggs, DC brands, homages, and references to qualify as a live-action comic book. And for the devoted DC Comics fans, it’s the kind of fan service that’s hoped for, but rarely delivered on.
To make sure not a single one is missed, we’re offering our breakdown of Powerless: 16 DC Easter Eggs & References You Missed.
It doesn’t take long for the writers to start blurring the line between the world of Charm City (a new location not previously appearing in the DC Universe) and that of the audience, with a playful jab at American President Donald Trump. DC had its own industrialist/billionaire run for the highest office in America when Lex Luthor – business magnate and outspoken supervillain – was named President. Unfortunately, he didn’t do so with the promise to “make Metropolis Super Again” – a headline implying plenty of worrying things about Superman’s city.
The comparisons between Trump and Luthor have been pointed out to varying degrees throughout the world of DC Comics since the 2016 election, mainly focusing on the former’s hyperbole or broad claims (dating back to his time hosting The Apprentice). Since Powerless is starting off with the gag, there’s a good chance audience can look forward to more subtle comparisons in the coming episodes.
The first encounter with superheroics is a memorable one, with a high-flying fight pulling those inside Emily’s tram car into a deadly situation. The hero is actually the one being pursued, and as was revealed since the earliest days of the Powerless pilot’s existence, it’s Crimson Fox playing the part. She may not be as well known as the other DC heroes and villains referenced in the pilot, but she most definitely has a fan base among fans of the DC Animated Universe, or Justice League Europe comice series.
Created by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Bart Sears in 1989, Crimson Fox is actually the name of two sisters: Vivian and Constance D’Aramis, who don the single identity whenever they’re not running their successful perfume empire. In the comics, their powers are based on superhuman agility, and the ability to manipulate their opponents through use of pheromones. In Powerless, she’s a downright superhuman in terms of strength, which is a creation purely for the series. Here, she’s played by actress and stuntwoman Atlin Mitchell, who previously appeared as a victim of Everyman on The CW’s The Flash.
Things are a bit less faithful to the comic books when it comes to the villain pursuing Crimson Fox, clearly evoking at least some memories of Marvel’s famous pumpkin-thrower, Green Goblin. The character is credited as Jack-O-Lantern, a DC creation from the minds of E. Nelson Bridwell and Ramona Fradon first appearing in an issue of Super Friends in 1977. The difference was that he was portrayed as a hero, and always would be.
The character’s real name is Daniel Cormac (the first version, anyway), an Irish hero using the powers of a mystical Jack-O-Lantern to fly, fire attacks, and help defend the Earth as part of the Global Guardians – a super-team consisting of heroes from a variety of different countries. Fans may not like seeing him cast as a creepy, cackling villain, but if we’re awarding points for obscurity, then debuting Crimson Fox alongside Jack-O-Lantern has to earn the creators plenty.
When Emily offers her account of the events that have led to her current employment, we begin the next wave of obscure or insider DC Comics reference, beginning with her choice of career. A desk job in the insurance industry may emphasize the everyday nature of her chosen career field (to begin, at least), but the name of the business is worth another look. Retcon Insurance may sound as fitting a name as any, but to fans of comic books, the term carries a lot more weight.
The term “retcon” is a combined and shortened version of “retroactive continuity,” which – aside from sounding like the kind of phrase you’d expect to see in your insurance agreement – refers to the comic book practice of essentially re-writing history. When characters or storylines are changed or reinvented over the years, paradoxes, plot holes, or just plain ugly timelines are done away with thanks to a bit of retconning, the most famous example of which came in the wake of DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths event, in which DC’s long history of parallel Earths was collapsed into a single planet, and heroes were re-written as a result.
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen
The fact that Emily is working an office job while others fight epic battles as superheroes against just as incredible supervillains is a bit of a downer – and she’s aware of it. But it’s her father who offers her a bit of heartwarming advice: that normal people can make a difference in the world, too… just not the kind that winds up on the front page of a newspaper. The actor will look familiar to longtime fans of the Superman universe, particularly the films starring Christopher Reeve (and Supergirl starring Helen Slater).
It’s Mark McClure playing Emily’s father, best known to comic buffs as Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen. Aside from appearing in each one of Reeve’s Superman films, he also appeared in the same role in 1984’s Supergirl, providing a link that made DC’s first shared cinematic universe. McClure may also be known to fans for his small role as Marty McFly’s brother, Dave, in the first Back to the Future.
Starro the Conqueror
One of the first glimpses into the effects that DC superheroes have on the average citizen comes in the form of a massive alien menace… soon blasted into a wave of slime that cover’s Emily’s apartment building. The beam of green energy that causes the gigantic starfish to explode may have fans thinking it’s a nod to a certain Lantern – and it may be – but it’s the villain who’s the real nod to DC’s history – otherwise known as Starro the Conqueror.
A member of the race of Star Conquerors, the villain made its first appearance in The Brave and The Bold #28 as the first threat the Justice League battled as a team. It’s possible that the TV show is actually revealing the first collective battle of the Justice League, ending by blasting apart the galactic mind-controller. It may not be in keeping with the fight depicted in the comics, but these days, dousing a massive starfish in quicklime seems a whole lot crueler (and less funny) than an instant, gooey explosion.
It just wouldn’t be a DC property without some clever nods to the number 52 – an easter egg that has become so prevalent, we’re willing to bet that fans know to look out for it, without actually knowing what‘s being reference. The number has gained the most use on The CW’s The Flash, with Channel 52 news, the access hatch 52 being used to enter and exit S.T.A.R. Labs’s particle accelerator, and too many other nods through the DC movie universe to count. And with DC’s New 52 Universe still going strong, it doesn’t show signs of stopping.
The reference is most direct to the 52 Earths of DC’s new Multiverse, or the collection of parallel worlds recognized by DC Comics in its fiction. As mentioned above, the Multiverse was collapsed from and infinite number to just one following the first Crisis, but after the 2000s saw yet another Crisis (and another), it was revealed that 52 parallel worlds now existed, with several well-known heroes, villains, superteams and “Elseworld” narrative calling each home.
The makers of Powerless promised they would be filling their world with the kinds of easter eggs, comic book readers would expect, and that seems to mean that just about everywhere where there’s visible text or marketing, there’s a nod to something in the DC Universe. The first such instance comes in the tram car itself, with a highly visible add for “Soder Cola” – it may sound like a placeholder, but it’s an actual brand in the DCU… with some famous mascots.
Marketed with the slogan that “sometimes even superheroes get thirsty,” Soder is visible wherever carbonated beverages are sold in comics, video games, animated show and features, you name it. Booster Gold is likely their best known spokesperson, with their logo usually visible on his ad-covered suit, but it’s Bane’s use of the popular drink plants to produce his Venom that shows they’re an equal opportunity megacorporation.
Siegel & Shuster
Since the Man of Steel started the craze of costumed superheroes all by himself, it’s only right that his very first appearance – on the cover of Action Comics #1 – should lead off the show’s credits sequence, highlighting the normal people who were there to witness his powers when they first debuted. But Superman’s creators also get a shout-out in the opening sequence… well, part of one. But the reference is clear, confirming that only a handful of letters were needed for the show’s homage to hit home.
Keep your eyes trained on the right side of the tram’s door as Emily is having her window-based meeting with Crimson Fox, and you’ll spot what appears to be an ad for coffee. Only the beginnings of the names are visible, but it’s obviously a reference to Siegel & Shuster, or Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman. Since their names appear ahead of just about every Superman property and release fans have ever seen, it’s hard to miss.
The Revolutionary Joker Antivenom
Emily (and the audience) soon plunge into the world of Wayne Security, a company based on finding solutions, treatments, or precautions for the threats now waiting around every corner in the form of supervillain plots, or simply collateral superhero damage. And since there’s nobody bigger than Batman, and no villain bigger than Joker, it makes sense that Wayne Security would highlight their treatment for a typically fatal dose of Joker Toxin.
Delivered in the form of an autoinjector, Wayne Security’s Antivenom apparently kills the Clown Prince of Crime’s plan in seconds, relieving even the most maniacally laughing man of all symptoms. The fact that the voice used in the marketing is that of Batman himself, actor Adam West, only makes the victory sweeter. If only they had the technology back in the 1960s…
Casual viewers may have been disappointed to learn that the “Wayne” leading Wayne Security isn’t Bruce, but his cousin, Van. The relationship is what fans might expect of the secretive, ultra-rich billionaire playboy, who apparently has little time for his cousin. As much as it may seem a creation strictly for the TV show, Bruce Wayne did have a young cousin by the name of Vanderveer, introduced in Issue #128 of Batman back in 1962. The story saw Van Wayne pay a visit to Bruce and Dick’s house, showing himself to be an arrogant, spoiled child from the moment he entered.
Positioned as a mirror to Dick Grayson, Van had devoted his life to being the best at everything, from fencing to gymnastics. But when Van and Dick stumbled upon Alfred carrying the duo’s superhero suits through the foyer – seriously weak move on Alfred’s part – they covered it up as costumes for a masquerade ball. But Van took that same idea and ran with it, acquiring his own Robin uniform, and staging an emergency just so he could upstage Dick by revealing he was secretly a superhero. It was a bad idea all around, and Van learned his lesson. Learned it so well, in fact, that he was never seen again until this episode.
The wizard Shazam and his human champion of magic, Billy Batson, have yet to make their debut in DC’s movie universe (in fact, his villain Black Adam will be getting that honor first). But apparently, he’s already established enough in the world of Powerless to be common knowledge, along with the magical word he utters to grant him the power of the ‘living lightning.’ When Teddy makes a joke about summoning a wizard, he proclaims the same word, confirming for us that at least one member of this cast isn’t secretly a superhero (it could be anyone).
We know that Powerless isn’t set in a universe already seen in live-action – affectionately referred to by the showrunners as Earth P – but this reference, more than any other, seems to imply that all of DC’s characters are alive, well, and famous. Since everyday citizens would have to actually know that Shazam is a boy who utters the word to become the hero, they’re even more on the inside of that mythology than the public of the comics themselves..
Big Belly Burger
When Jack-O-Lantern delivers his city-wide address, it’s worth pausing to take in the advertisements on display in Charm City. The most visible for fans of DC television is certainly the prominent logo of Big Belly Burger, the fast food chain of choice in the Arrow and Flash universe. It’s so visible in those shows, in fact, that fans might believe it’s mainly an invention of Arrow, with John Diggle possessing a close link to Starling city’s location. But the restaurant first debuted as a pastiche of Big Boy, created by Superman writer John Byrne back in 1988.
Unfortunately, fans hoping that this is a sign that Powerless takes place in the same fictional universe may want to hold off theorizing. As Harrison Wells informed the cast of The Flash, Big Belly Burger is a Multiversal constant. As much as we can believe that this burger chain exists in any and all universes, it’s a bit harder to buy that they would use the same logo. But then, that may just be the power of a truly tasty hamburger.
In the same shot, a billboard advertising Blackhawk Airways is just as visible, and just as loaded with DC Comics history. The story of the Blackhawk name actually spans decades, with the first Blackhawk used as a nickname for Janos Prohaska, an ace fighter pilot in World War II that debuted in Military Comics #1 by Quality Comics. Blackhawk, like the rest of his Blackhawk Squadron originated from a country brought under German control in the war – in his case, Poland (he was later rewritten to be an American of Polish descent).
The name has also been tied to Zinda Blake a.k.a. Lady Blackhawk, an honorary member of the team due to her being a woman… but primarily used to rescue the men who had gotten captured. DC’s Zero Hour event fractured the timeline enough to propel Zinda to the modern day, where she worked at Guy Gardner’s Warrior bar, before eventually joining Black Canary’s Birds of Prey. In fact, while the name is never used for the team in that comic series, Zinda did suggest it (to little reaction).
Kane and Finger’s Pub
After a job well done, Emily and her new coworkers head for a beer at their local bar. Keep your eyes peeled to the background and you’ll notice that it’s no ordinary bar, but specifically named ‘Kane and Finger’s Pub.’ It’s not the smoothest name for a drinking spot, but the names are no coincidence, either. Bob Kane is the most obvious reference, as the creator of Batman (and Bruce Wayne, the billionaire who kicked this whole story off). But it’s Bill Finger who deserves much of the credit for the hero known as Batman, with most industry insiders even suggesting that he’s due a “co-creator” credit.
For now, the character of Batman is credited as the creation of Bob Kane “with Bill Finger,” which was first credited in movie form in Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman. The Batman: Rebirth comic relaunch even poked fun at the credit due to each comics legend, so Powerless adds itself to a growing list of projects and stories paying credit to the minds behind the cape and cowl. Even if it attached to something as sinful as karaoke.
You might think that it’s the Joker who gets the final reference in the pilot episode, with a news broadcast at the bar revealing he has finally been arrested by Gotham Police (unfortunately his head is covered, so a detailed look eludes us). But while the footage is rolling, take note of the news reader’s name: Marv Wolfman. Aside from the fact that such a name is completely believable in the realm of TV news, Wolfman is a comic book legend whose influence resonated throughout DC and Marvel under his leadership.
His most famous credit is undoubtedly The New Teen Titans, taking the series from a sidekick book to one focused on modern struggles and issues, while famously introduced Deathstroke as the team’s greatest enemy. Wolfman also led the aforementioned Crisis on Infinite Earths with George Pérez, and went on to create or co-create DC and Marvel characters including Blade, Bullseye, Raven, Starfire, Cyborg, Tim Drake, Black Cat, Spider-Woman, and too many others to name.
NEXT: Batman Confirms He’s a Transgender Ally
Powerless continues next Thursday with ‘Wayne Dream Team’ @ 8:30 p.m. on NBC.