Live action superhero shows are not a new idea – versions have existed almost as long as there have been comics to inspire them. Over the last 80+ years, there have been numerous attempts to bring our four-colour heroes to a mass audience, with many of the characters and concepts from the comics having found their way to the movies, serials and tv shows.
After the serials of the 30s (Captain Marvel, Spy Smasher, Batman, Captain America, The Phantom, Congo Bill, Superman and Blackhawk), TV became the next home for many (The Adventures of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Doctor Strange, The Incredible Hulk, Shazam, Superboy, The Flash, Birds of Prey, Lois and Clark, etc)
Whilst many of these (notably the Incredible Hulk) were popular and long-running, it was Smallville which set the stage for the modern era of superhero TV. Running for ten years and showing the life of Clark Kent from his high school days to his first day as Superman, the show demonstrated that it was possible to have development and longevity in a genre that had largely been seen as disposable entertainment.
With the success of the Marvel Universe sequence of blockbusters having cemented the genre as fully mainstream and immensely popular, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the various TV networks have latched onto this trend and are producing multiple superhero shows, providing fans with the current golden age in terms of live-action comics material.
From the Marvel Comics world, there is Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and the Defenders. Meanwhile, the DC stable has Arrow (now in its fourth year), The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Gotham and Supergirl.
Unlike what we’ve seen in the past, the shows no longer stand in isolation. There is a feeling of cohesiveness between the various shows within each universe, particularly those on a single network. For example, Arrow introduced Barry Allen which directly led to The Flash tv show, and both shows have built the foundations which in turn will shortly be leading to Legends of Tomorrow – with the three shows acknowledging each others’ respective worlds and also running crossover storylines between them.
This even extends to some extent with shows on different networks, with not even the cancellation of Constantine preventing the character from making a crossover visit to the streets of Star City in an upcoming Arrow episode on a different network. In addition, the networks look to be cooperating on promotional activity, so character crossovers might be a possibility in future.
Whilst the film world still leans heavily towards Marvel Comics heroes (at least until Batman vs Superman starts the DC movie universe running), Autumn’s new season demonstrates DC’s current strength is in television, with a lot to look forward to for comics fans, perhaps moreso than at any time previously:
(Potential spoilers on page 2)