DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, a fun-loving show about a group of time-traveling super-heroes going around time, saving people from these things they call “Aberrations”, or just things that have been somewhat… misplaced in time, making sure they get back to the places and era they were originally to keep the entirety of the timeline in-tact. Nothing too big. Now, this show is something that never takes itself too seriously, constantly joking and poking fun at itself (See: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Episode 04×08 “Legends of To-Meow-Meow”) but, while it does all of this, it doesn’t fear to stray away from the harder topics, some that might have made Frederick Douglass himself proud.
In the Season two episode entitled “Abominations” we see the gang of misfits travel to the year of 1863 in Mississippi, to the height of the Civil War and one of the bloodiest years in history. They are here because they heard a distress call from a time pirate (long story) so they go back to investigate. Now, this would be all fine and dandy–go back, pick up the pirate and leave–but when they arrive, they see a slave being chased by confederate soldiers. All of the superheroes, while wanting to, chose not to help the slave escape the confederates, all except for one, Jefferson Jackson, one of the two black superheroes aboard their time traveling spaceship. Jackson is one half of a nuclear-powered superhero known as “Firestorm”. Firestorm is a hero that works only if the two halves are present, Jefferson Jackson and Martin Stein, an old white scientist. The confederate soldiers were stopped by Firestorm, but not before they strike a fatal blow to the slave, Henry Scott, we find was trying to deliver a letter to a Union camp in the South headed by Ulysses S. Grant. Scott asks Jefferson to deliver the letter for him. He dies and Jackson takes it upon himself to deliver the letter and find where Ulysses S. Grant’s base is. He embarks on this journey with the other black hero on the team, Amaya Jiwe, also known as “Vixen” who’s magical totem/necklace/artifact that she wears around her neck and has a spiritual connection to gives her powers of whatever animal she wants at the moment. See how I said this show gets a little wacky sometimes? Jackson has her stand guard as he enters a nearby slave owner’s home to see if he could gather any information. He subsequently gets captured for accidentally grabbing the hand of a white woman and gets chained in the barn of the home, along with the owner’s other slaves. Amaya later gets captured as well when she doesn’t hear from Jackson for a long period of time, but not before she has to stop herself from interfering with a slave being captured and whipped. After freeing Jackson, they both go to free the other slaves, but are met with some resistance, due to them fearing that running my lead to their death, or something much worse.
(Ignore the zombie confederate soldiers, let’s just say they are a metaphor for how horrible the confederates actually were.)
The ability to hear the voice and see the faces of someone who has been a slave for their entire lives and are scared to even try to escape in fear of what might happen transcends the screen in a way you wouldn’t get with textual literature. “[Slavery] That’s the real aberration” Jackson states. The two heroes ignore what they’ve been taught for the past year about not messing with time to keep the timeline intact. They ignore one of the most important rules of time travel that was set in this show just so they are able to rise up and lead a slave rebellion, ultimately Jackson uses the alias of the slave they met at the beginning of the episode, Henry Scott.
This is a story of a person rising up against all of the things that have been happening around them, realizing that it’s wrong and helping those around him realize that they have the power, they have the ability to rise up and do something, be the person they need to make the change that they want to see. Much like Madison Washington in Frederick Douglass’ book The Heroic Slave, Madison is portrayed almost like a superhero, someone with extraordinary courage and power taking down those around them for the betterment of others. The Heroic Slave is set as almost a comic book, the way that Madison rises up from the bottom to heal and save all of those who have been wronged by the heinous act of slavery. Firestorm is a literal comic-book superhero, he comes in from the future and despite all odds, defying their one major rule to time travel he changes the past for the betterment of those who were wronged.
“Don’t worry. We’re gonna protect you. I know you’re scared. I get it. Don’t ask me how I know this, but it gets better. Not perfect. Nowhere near close. But…better than this. But it starts right now with us not giving up.” – Jefferson Jackson DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Season 02 Episode 04
Douglass wrote The Heroic Slave to appeal to an audience that needed hope, an audience that wanted to smile and have some future to look forward to in hopes of something coming along to help them get the courage to save others, or even to gain the courage to be that person themselves. Comics were written for the exact same reason. Superheroes inspire hope to a world that has so much corruption to it with so many corrupt politicians or businesses, just seeing someone who can rise above all of that, seeing someone who can go above and beyond the call of duty just to help out their fellow people is so awe-inspiring, if not just inspiring. That’s what both of these texts are trying to do. Douglass uses The Heroic Slave as a point to connect with all ages; he uses strong language and scenarios to connect with the adults, and he uses the majestic feats of Madison to appeal to children as almost a fairy-tale character. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow takes the same idea of appealing to all audiences by drawing everyone in. The historical aspects and more adult jokes for the adults, the wackiness of the aforementioned zombie outbreak and the superhero aspects draws in children, and the mix draw in all of the other ages as well. This is all so they are able to bring this message of empowerment to as large an audience as they are able to, evoking the spirit in people to rise up. In Douglass’ time, empowerment was used as a direct relation to slavery and all the other hardships that African Americans were being put through. Now this message is also almost a metaphor, showing any hardships can be fought if you have the right spirit and drive to do so, while also showing the aspects of how horrible slavery truly was.