One of DC Comics’ oldest villains is Vandal Savage, and I use oldest in several senses of the word. The character first appeared in 1943, during the Golden Age of Comics, when superheroes and villains were just getting started. In-world, the character has variously been said to be one of the first Homo sapiens, emerging when they and Neanderthals shared the world, or, by other accounts, Savage was Cain, as in the Christian Bible Cain. However you look at it, the character has a long history, so it’s fitting that an episode which mostly focuses on him is titled “Evolution.”
Vandal has had many children over his millennia-long life, most notably Scandal Savage of Gail Simone’s Secret Six comics. In this episode, we meet another daughter, Cassandra, and her teacher Olympia, both original to this show as far as I know. Through a book passed between the two women, we learn Vandal’s version of his earliest years, or perhaps a stylized spin on it. While this goes on, our newest team of heroes is having a day on the beach near Mount Justice as Dick Grayson, Superboy, and Artemis put Halo, Brion, and Forager through their paces. There’s a radio playing that I think is going for a reward on Easter Eggs: announcer Steve Lombard (a supporting character from Superman) mentions Hank Heywood High (Hank was Steel, a World War II hero and later his grandson used the same name as well as a version of the character being on Legends of Tomorrow), and the school’s star football player, Victor Stone (Cyborg of the Teen Titans, later Justice League, and then the Doom Patrol tv show). There’s talk of new costumes and alien vs human sensibilities.
After we learn some more of history, we see Vandal cast in a new role. He confers with Lex about the status of Earth’s heroes, and they realize they may have done some things a bit too well. After more of Vandal’s biography, Dr. Jace and Jefferson Pierce go out on a date. Ok, that’s a new one. The heroes do more training, and Dick hints at a major new step. Savage faces more challenges, both in the past and the present, as things keep getting odd. Vandal starts getting frustrated, but then, he’s not used to doing things this way.
The young heroes shoot down one of the great comic book debates of all time as they roast marshmallows and talk about things changing. Dick’s talk about metas and normals slides into more scenes of Vandal Savage’s past exploits. Not being an idiot, Vandal arranges for some help, and there are some very unexpected developments in his past story that explain how a few things in the much more recent past have worked. Back in Metropolis, Jace and Jefferson’s date continues to go well. Dick and company take the new heroes through an important rite of passage that doesn’t go as smoothly as it could, due to some interesting choices from Brion. After that, of course, it’s time for more training. The newcomers are picking things up pretty well.
Vandal and his allies go on the offensive, with some bickering and a strategy the heroes would strongly disapprove of. We also hear some of Vandal’s management strategy, and he’s not really wrong. The immortal warlord guides someone though an important step, while in flashback we see something that links an important DC character to Savage in a completely new way. In the present, Vandal figures out his priority target. In Metropolis, the night out takes a turn.
The past and present converge in an interesting way as Vandal realizes what he’s fighting. He is damn good at what he does, you have to give him that. Another unexpected development from his long past sheds some light on more recent history. Dick and Superboy both start sounding like their mentors, and then there’s an unexpected development in the training. Savage’s part of the story comes to an end with some unexpected consequences about an unauthorized book deal, and we see he has some very powerful prisoners in the background. There are a few further developments, and an ending to part of what’s been going on.
What I liked: If a show’s writers are good enough, they take some chances and do some focus episodes. I can’t say I wanted to learn the history of Vandal Savage, but this was a really well done episode with some unexpected links between various past events and the present. The training scenes were fun, and there were good humorous moments. I’m kind of neutral on the date. I was very surprised to see who Vandal has prisoner. The Savage/Lex scene was particularly well done.
What I didn’t: I think my only complaints about this episode were along the lines of things I wanted to see they didn’t do for whatever reason. I want to know what Batman and his splinter team are up to. I would have loved to have seen Scandal, or least a mention of her. In the comics, Vandal is often linked to another undying character, and I would have enjoyed a mention of him.
And all of those are small things. This was a really well-done episode. I’ll give it a 4 out of 5.