The rivalry between DC Comics and Marvel Comics has many fronts in media like toys, films, video games, etc. But as it stands right now, DC Entertainment dominates the television medium with its current slate of TV shows on the air and their plans for additional programs coming in the near future.
DC’s Television Summit
Once Smallville ended in 2011, a void needed to be filled by DC Entertainment in terms of having a superhero presence in the TV landscape. Rather than mining the Superman/Batman lore, the decision was made to showcase DC’s other heroes and it was a wise choice. For some time, DC and Warner Bros. fell into a crutch and relied too much on Superman and Batman to represent DC in other media. This was understandable since those were the company’s two biggest heroes. It makes perfect business sense to take advantage of the popularity of those heroes. The problem, though, is that with all the marketing and attention focused on Batman and Superman, DC’s other heroes were left out and helped give the impression that the rest of the DC roster consisted of second stringers. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The DC universe is populated by many captivating heroes and villains and the problem was that the company wasn’t taking full advantage of that notion. Marvel, and specifically Marvel Studios, faced a similar problem but for different reasons. They didn’t have the film rights to Spider-Man or the X-Men, so they had to rely on their lesser known properties. It turned out for the best, otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten live-action adaptations of Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor.
In DC’s case, they too were forced to look elsewhere since the Superman well had run dry with Smallville and Batman was considered off limits because of the Dark Knight films. Thus, DC Entertainment looked to an urban vigilante that had many of Batman’s characteristics – Green Arrow.
All things considered, he is a solid alternative for Batman when it came to being featured in a live-action TV show. After all, both are urban crimefighters without superpowers and use specialized weapons. When Arrow premiered in 2012, it presented a more grounded, realistic world for the superhero. In the first season, the main character, who wasn’t even called Green Arrow (in one episode his alter ego, played by Stephen Amell, thought that name Green Arrow was “lame”), wore a practical uniform with only a hoodie and grease paint to conceal his identity. Moving away from fanciful superhumans allowed Arrow to concentrate more on character development and street-level fight scenes. This meant that it was more inviting and relatable for casual viewers.
What the producers of Arrow did correctly is that they embraced the DC universe. They weren’t afraid to name drop places like S.T.A.R. Labs and Blüdhaven. Likewise, the series featured recognizable DC characters like Amanda Waller (head of the Suicide Squad), Slade Wilson and even the Batman villain Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Assassins. It was enough bones thrown to DC fans to keep them glued to their TVs. Arrow then took a step further and introduced superpowered characters in its second season thanks to this strength-enhancing drug called Mirakuru and the introduction of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), whose Flash origin occurred at the end of one of the Arrow episodes.
This naturally led to The Flash spinoff that premiered recently. Taking a lighter tone than Arrow, The Flash is more of a throwback to the fast-moving comic books with outlandish supervillains, while utilizing the same kind of engrossing subplots that Arrow uses. What’s more is that both shows are definitely in the same universe. Although the concept of a shared universe isn’t new in TV shows, this was the first time this was done for superhero shows (not counting The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman) and it’s exciting to watch characters appearing in both programs with even more allusions to a wider world.
Both Arrow and The Flash are huge hits on The CW network and should be around for the long haul. Gotham, a show set in the title city and taking place after the killing of Bruce Wayne’s parents, is a hit on Fox. In fact, it pulls in more ratings than The CW superhero shows but that is due to the wider audience that Fox has compared to The CW. Even though Gotham is a hit, there should be some caution because it’s on Fox, so there isn’t any guarantee that it will last as long as if it was on The CW. That is a problem that DC and Warner Bros. faces. Sure they can put anything on The CW, a fledging network, but it won’t reach as large an audience as in the major networks. But on the big networks, there is more pressure to succeed. Already, Constantine airs on NBC and has dismal ratings–it was recently announced that the show won’t go beyond initial 13 episodes and its fate is unknown. Constantine’s rating woes are due to its time slot: Fridays at 10 pm. How can any show succeed on that slot? It probably would’ve been better if it aired on a cable network where it could’ve thrived and be allowed to be darker like its comic book counterpart.
Marvel Becomes A Contender
For assorted reasons Marvel hasn’t fully capitalized on the increased popularity of superheroes, at least when it came to TV. Its attempts in the last decade, Mutant X and Blade: The Series didn’t garner much interest. It was surprising that it wasn’t until last year that Marvel produced a TV show based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and it didn’t even feature superheroes. Instead, the stars of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were the spies seen in the MCU. Needless to say that with its main star being Clark Gregg reprising his role as Agent Phil Coulson from films like Iron Man and Thor, Agents Oo S.H.I.E.L.D. was undeniably set in the MCU.
This concept of integrating film and TV shows is something not being explored by DC Entertainment with its TV shows. Of course, this has allowed characters from the films, played by the same actors, to appear on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Notable appearances to date include Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sif (Jaimie Alexander).
Despite the moderate success of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it had many detractors who bemoaned its quirky characters and pedestrian scripts. It turned out that being integrated into the MCU didn’t do much of anything to make the series interesting to watch. That all changed with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In that film, a conspiracy was exposed where the evil Hydra organization had infiltrated the S.H.I.E.L.D. spy network. This turn of events upended the MCU and its effects were fully explored in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. One of the main characters was revealed to be a Hydra agent and the organization was thrown in disarray. The series vastly improved as new characters were introduced, many of them were mainstays from Marvel Comics like Glenn Talbot, the Absorbing Man and Mockingbird.
One of the perks of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for Disney and Marvel is its capability to help promote their MCU films and vice versa. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a very good model of synergy between films and TV shows. The MCU will expand further on TV since Disney and Marvel will be debuting other TV shows set in the MCU starting next year. These new shows will only enhance the MCU viewing experience and win more fans.
DC’s Universal Challenge
It’s regrettable that DC hasn’t used this synergistic model with its current shows and films. Right now, Stephen Amell owns the role of Green Arrow/Oliver Queen and it’s hard to imagine another actor playing the role, even though Justin Hartley played the role in Smallville not too long ago. The same goes for Grant Gustin since the Flash will be played on the big screen by Ezra Miller, who isn’t anything at all like Gustin. This movie casting has rankled some fans, even Amell himself has opined his displeasure over the Flash recasting.
Overall, this separation of universes may be confusing to casual viewers/audiences and non-fans. Being that The Flash airs on The CW, it’s a good bet that the show will be around in 2018 when the movie version of the Flash is due to be released. Also consider that there are lost opportunities to cross promote properties since this separation means that actors from the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn ofJustice can’t appear on Arrow or The Flash.
Therefore, with characters like the Flash and Deadshot being recast for upcoming films, this probably means that other actors like Amell won’t reprise their roles on the big screen. (It should also be noted that Amell has expressed interest in playing Green Arrow in films.) In that case, both shows should be allowed to introduce their own takes of Superman, Batman and any other DC character. Yes it can be confusing, but since DC is comfortable with the notion of two different actors concurrently playing the Flash then they should be fine with actors aside from Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck playing Superman and Batman on the small screen in a separate universe.
Broad Horizons Ahead
Putting aside Constantine’s ratings woes, the future looks bright for DC and even Marvel. The true TV war will actually begin next year as Marvel presents new TV shows and DC expands its television presence with the premiere of iZombie on The CW, Preacher (written and produced by Seth Rogen) on AMC, and Static Shock, which will be live-action shorts distributed by Warner Bros.’ Blue Ribbon Content. Finally, Greg Berlanti, the executive producer of Arrow and The Flash, is prepping a Supergirl TV series for CBS and it might be set in the same universe as the two former shows.
That’s not all. There are other properties being developed now which are in different phases of preproduction for pilot episodes. They include Young Justice for The CW; Global Frequency, which has a pilot order from Fox; the same network is also developing Lucifer, which is based on the character featured in the Sandman comic books; Scalped for WGN America, a crime-western based on a Vertigo comic book; another Vertigo comic book being developed into a series, this time for Syfy, is DMZ, about a future American civil war; Titans, which will feature Nightwing and air on TNT; and due to Gotham’s success, a new project in development is Krypton.
On Marvel’s end, Powers, based on the Icon Comics (a Marvel subsidiary) and starring Sharlto Copley will debut soon on the Playstation Network. Then, Agent Carter starring Hayley Atwell as Sharon Carter in the 1940s, premieres in January on ABC until Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comes back from its winter break. Next year, Netflix debuts Daredevil, with Charlie Cox playing the title character. Additionally, Netflix will roll out shows based on Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and a Defenders mini-series.
Looking at this lineup, it’s very clear that Marvel has woken up on the television front and is making some aggressive expansions. This is why the TV War, although won right now by DC, is by no means over. Regardless of who wins this so-called war, it’s a great time for comic book/superhero fans who’ve endured a decades-long drought of superhero fare on TV.
José Soto and Lewis T. Grove