Yesterday the second episode of Legend of Tomorrow’s second season aired and I found myself strangely okay with their alternate WW2 setting. The episode “Justice Society of America” features just that: the Legends teaming up with the Justice Society to stop an evil Nazi nobleman and capture a magic amulet that may or may not be part of the Spear of Destiny. Easy peasy.
It seemed strange to me that I would be okay with this version of portraying WW2 instead of the Captain America: The First Avengers version, but the more I got to think of it, the more it seemed just so simple. Captain America’s version of WW2 and the Nazis bothered me mainly because they had taken so many steps to removing the Nazis from the film and replacing them with Hydra that it just seemed insulting to me, like a painstakingly big marketing push to get foreigners to watch America indulge in another Greatest Generation wankfest. To me the biggest problem were things like “Red Skull was kicked out of the Nazis for being too evil” or “fully integrated US Army with three token black people in the background” or “Nazi salutes are so out of fashioned, here’s the handglider salute”. Another element was tone where most of the film was so cartoonish that I couldn’t take their attempts at drama seriously. Historical inaccuracy I can, under certain circumstances, abide by, but it also felt highly inauthentic to me.
With this episode and Legends of Tomorrow’s previous episodes historical inaccuracy shows up as it has before, but the added element of time travel and changing the past, coupled with high amounts of historical authenticity, do help. Its small elements like casual racism and sexism on display, like Hourman not taking Sara seriously because she’s a woman, go a long way to help ground the series in the time period, regardless of the inaccuracies, which have a blank check through time travel shenanigans anyway and help suspend your disbelief. The fact that Reverse-Flash is still trying to change history for some reason goes a long way to somewhat sustain this historian.
The tone of Legends of Tomorrow also helps: despite its occasional goofiness in certain episodes, the show does now when to play it serious for stretches and outside of a couple of jokes the episode never winks at the camera, even when the Nazi supermonster roams around. There is talk of consequences, dying in battle, doing ones duty, to the point that I find Commander Steel more compelling in two short scenes than Captain America in his entire first movie. The fact that they are fighting the actual Wehrmacht in covert ops does certainly help to ground this in the actual time period and a secret special ops team is more believable than a propaganda mascot fighting a secret war against Wolfenstein enemies.
Historical accuracy is an important element in fiction dealing with real events since I believe media reception and reappraisal are important parts of one coming to terms with parts of ones own and other peoples history because of the wide range of films and television. Would I have preferred a version of this where everything is period accurate and Wehrmacht soldiers didn’t do the Nazi salute until late 1944? Of course I would, but if I can at least get some authenticity in my World War 2 story I will take that over trying to disney- and cartoonify the era.