'Legends of Tomorrow' Introduces TV's First Muslim Superhero: 'We Held a Mirror Up to 2017'
By Meredith B. Kile
The CW/DC Comics
There’s a new Legend in town!
On Tuesday’s all-new DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, the Legends add another to their ranks when they travel to a dystopian 2042 and meet Zari Tomaz, a fugitive hacker on the run.
“Since the beginning of the show, we’ve long recognized that there was not a lot of estrogen on the bridge of the Waverider, so it was sort of on our bucket list of to-do items,” executive producer Marc Guggenheim explained to reporters earlier this week. “We really, really wanted to bring on another female character.”
“We always knew it was going to be a show where people would come and go,” EP Phil Klemmer added, noting that the addition of two members of DC’s Justice Society of America -- Nate Heywood/Steel (Nick Zano) and Amaya Jiwe/Vixen (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) -- at the beginning of last season “changed the dynamic [of the group] in such an interesting way.”
“Selfishly, it’s fun to have new people on the show… it brings a real vitality to us in the [writers] room, having to figure out how this person is going to affect the dynamics on the show.”
In Tuesday’s episode, titled simply “Zari,” the Legends touch down in a future that is unrecognizable, despite only being a few decades forward. ARGUS has enacted a police state in which metahumans are locked up and subjected to horrific experiments while policing drones circle the skies and private armies patrol the streets.
It’s a world in which Zari -- played by Smash and American Odyssey alum Tala Ashe -- has a rap sheet a mile long, thanks in part to her Muslim faith. As it turns out, religion has been outlawed in this version of 2042, forcing defiant faithful to practice in secret.
Of creating the dystopian landscape, Guggenheim said simply, “We held a mirror up to 2017.”
But, while the Legends creative team looked to the present to model the character’s environment, Zari is inspired by a decades-old DC superhero known as Isis, who was popularized in the Black Adam comics as well as in a live-action ‘70s TV show. The character’s full name, Zari Adrianna Tomaz, is a nod to Isis’ past alter egos in the comic canon.
“I make no secret of the fact that I love The Shazam/Isis Hour from when I was growing up,” Guggenheim shared. “It was very important to me that certain elements from the Saturday morning show were reflected, but, you know, modernized and updated.”
Part of that lore involves the source of Isis’ powers, an ancient Egyptian amulet. While the powerful stone is frequently worn as a headband by comic interpretations of the character, Zari’s amulet comes in the form of a necklace belonging to her late brother. Ultimately, the amulet provides Zari with a undeniable connection to the team, when it becomes clear that there is a mysterious link to Amaya’s Anansi totem.
“It’s still a bit of a mystery to me, but I know that the totems are what is bringing them together and actually also links them to Kuasa (Tracy Ifeachor), who is also a totem bearer,” Ashe hinted. “The connection between the totem bearers does become a larger part of the season at a certain point. It is leading up to something.” (Guggenheim noted that season two of the CW Seed Vixen series might offer more insight for interested fans.)
So how will Zari fit in among the rest of the Legends, including no-nonsense assassin-turned-captain Sara Lance (Caity Lotz), mechanics-minded second-in-command Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh) and hot-headed muscle Mick Rory (Dominic Purcell)?
“I think sort of philosophically, she’s different than everyone else. She’s new, obviously, to time travel, and I think her hacker brain sees a lot of potential in time traveling, not just in fixing these anachronisms, but possibly improving the future,” Ashe mused. “The hacking of it, I think for Zari, is about finding loopholes, essentially. How to improve things without changing major events.”
“Having come from this very dystopian, broken world of 2042, I think [her motives] have sort of a humanitarian tilt to it, which will clash with certain people on the Waverider.”
Klemmer agreed, noting that tension is precisely what Legends producers hoped to foster with this season’s new addition to the team. “When Nate came on the show… he was just so immediately engaged, and I think the one thing we knew we wanted to do with Zari is have her not easily convinced that this was a good fit.”
“Instead of it being like, ‘Being a superhero is great! Look at all the things I can do!’, we wanted to put her face-to-face with, like, Ray Palmer,” he added of Brandon Routh’s character, whom Zari will get to know better in next week’s Amblin Films-inspired Halloween episode.
“Her take on this guy is like, ‘Of course you can be an optimist, when every good thing has happened in your life.’ Their story together is realizing that, yes, Ray is an insufferable optimist, but in a way, they have a similarity in their backgrounds. [Zari’s] hard-boiled, sardonic [demeanor] is just another way of dealing with adversity. You find a little bit of respect, even though he still annoys her.”
The addition of a new member to the Legends cast for season three, it seems, went much smoother.
“The high schooler in me was very scared, coming into, like, junior year,” Ashe joked of joining the show in its third year. “But everyone’s been really, really lovely and welcoming… We’re now [shooting] episode nine, and I’ve sort of been making my way around, having little interactions with different people, and it is fun to find the dynamics between Zari and each of the characters.”
The actress noted that she especially enjoys scenes with Legends’ growing female contingent. “It’s been really fun working with Maisie. There’s a sort of connection there, because of our totems, our characters come together quite a bit. It’s lovely to have scenes, two-person scenes in my bedroom, talking about the emotional state of what’s going on.”
And there will be plenty more bonding time for the women in upcoming episodes, like when the crew touches down in the Golden Age of Hollywood in search of a legendary siren. “Helen of Troy sort of renders all of our guys useless,” Klemmer joked.
“More useless,” Guggenheim corrected.
Apart from Tinseltown, the producers revealed that Ashe’s character will also be joining the crew on adventures to Victorian London and the age of the Vikings, and will be a central part of an episode in which they don’t travel to any time period at all.
“It’s our Groundhog Day episode, but Tala’s at the center of it,” Guggenheim teased.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.