While I really enjoyed some of the most recent episodes of the shows in the so-called Arrowverse (Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow), there’s this nagging notion that has grown with me. It has to do with the fact that in the shared universe of these shows (leaving out Supergirl for now since that show takes place in another reality) Superman and Batman don’t seem to exist.
I understand the reasons why DC Entertainment/Warner Brothers don’t want their two most popular superheroes in the Arrowverse. Early on when it was just Arrow, the show’s creators/producers wanted a superhero show that was grounded in reality without any connections to the just-concluded Smallville. So that meant no characters with superpowers and Arrow had to appear as if what happened was kind of plausible. But superpowers started to creep its way into Arrow by its second season when a drug was introduced that can grant people superhuman strength and when Barry Allen made his debut appearance, which ended with him getting struck by lightning. Not only that, but other elements of the DC Universe started appearing such as the Suicide Squad and Amanda Waller.
The following season of Arrow had the title superhero battling with the Batman villain Ra’s al Ghul and The Flash premiered with an explanation as to what caused people to suddenly develop superpowers. It seemed like a good starting point to jumpstart a DC Universe. The producers even took things a step further by introducing magic in Arrow with the Lazarus Pit and an appearance by sorcerer John Constantine, as well as the supernatural heroine Vixen. It didn’t end there, both shows served also featured the superheroes Hawkman and Hawkwoman, which were then spun off to co-star in Legends of Tomorrow.
All this is going on in the Arrowverse so why not have Superman and Batman be a part of it? To me, this Arrowverse feels a bit off since neither of those characters are in it and the Flash is probably the most powerful superhero in it. The obvious answer to the question is that Warner Bros. and DC don’t want their two big guns appearing on the show. They’re being held for the big leagues, IOW the movies. That’s fine, leave the epic heroes for the silver screen with the big budgets, but what is baffling is this idea that TPTB have that they don’t want audiences confused or have their product diluted. The average fan wouldn’t expect to see Ben Affleck or some other big shot actor appearing as Batman or Superman in The Flash. Nor would they be confused if they saw someone else portraying the Man of Steel. We’re not stupid.
This doesn’t mean that Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow have to feature the actual appearances of Superman or Batman, just allude to them like they do in Supergirl. We don’t see Superman on that show, but he is mentioned and has a presence. Would it hurt to just name drop the city of Gotham or Lex Luthor? No. It would make the Arrowverse feel more complete and richer. Instead we keep wondering why Ra’s al Ghul exists but not Bruce Wayne.
Seriously, I think the Arrowverse shows should be allowed to refer to both superheroes. And on a personal note, I think they do exist in the Arrowverse. In one episode of Legends of Tomorrow the time traveler Rip Hunter said that he saw Men of Steel die and Dark Knights fall. That couldn’t be any more clear who he was alluding to. The fact that Ra’s al Ghul exists implies that the world of Batman also exists in the Arrowverse. Ditto goes for Superman when you throw in Supergirl. In that already famous Supergirl episode “Worlds Finest” the Flash visits her dimension and he states that he doesn’t know of any aliens on his world. That implies that Superman may exist in the Arrowverse, but has not revealed himself to the general public. The same can go for Batman, who is probably operating deeper in the shadows than Green Arrow and may be considered an urban legend at this point.
Maybe after some time, we’ll see some kind of reference to the two superstars of DC Comics. It won’t be the end of the world if this never happens, but it would make watching the Arrowverse shows much more fulfilling.
T. Rod Jones
Legends of Tomorrow is the latest superhero TV show airing on the CW network taking place in the so-called Arrowverse (named by the show Arrow, the progenitor of this shared universe) and is an ensemble show featuring B-lister superheroes from DC Comics. In many ways, it’s an ambitious program, one of the first to star a superhero team. A show of this scope should scream “difficult to pull off” just in terms of special effects, scope of the story and air time for the characters. There are many things that Legends of Tomorrow gets right and many missed opportunities.
As an ensemble show, there isn’t one true lead character among the mostly colorful group, but the premise of Legends of Tomorrow is jump-started by time traveler Rip Hunter (Doctor Who’s Arthur Darvill). In the future, the immortal supervillain Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) has taken over the world and killed Hunter’s family.
Defying his group, the Time Masters, Hunter steals a time-traveling spaceship called the Waverider (a nod to the time-traveling character from DC Comics) and travels to our time to recruit a team to stop Savage’s rise to power throughout history. The eclectic group he gathers includes Ray Palmer/The Atom (Brandon Routh), whose armored suit allows him to shrink; Martin Stein (Victor Gerber) and Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh), who make up the combined fiery entity Firestorm; Sara Lance/White Canary (Caity Lotz), the martial artist anti-hero featured on Arrow; Kendra Saunders (Ciara Renée), who discovered she is the reincarnated warrior priestess Hawkwoman; and the sibling criminal supervillains from The Flash, Leonard Snart/Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) and Mick Rory/Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell).
When Hunter initially recruits the team to help him stop Savage in the past (starting with the 1970s), he doesn’t tell them that the reason he recruits them is because they have minimal impact on the timeline so their disappearances from normal time wouldn’t really matter. Once they learn the truth, most are crestfallen, but decide to use this opportunity to make a difference outside of their eras and become actual legends.
This TV show, has been described as a mix of Doctor Who and Guardians of the Galaxy. That is an apt way of putting it, but it doesn’t reach the heights of those properties. Much of the time, Legends of Tomorrow is a lot of fun to watch and is fast moving. Cluttered with Easter eggs and nods to all things genre and meta (at one point Snart made a typically snarky statement about having experience breaking out of jail–a tongue-in-cheek reference to Miller and Purcell’s last collaboration Prison Break), and unlike the ABC/Marvel Studios TV shows, it takes full advantage of the shared universe it occupies. It’s thrilling to spot characters from other shows making guest appearances and all the time traveling allows for a further exploration of the Arrowverse. One of the best episodes to date was the most recent one “Star City 2046”, which featured a post-apocalyptic Star City where Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (Stephen Amell) was MIA and the city was taken over by Green Arrow’s nemesis Deathstroke, actually Deathstroke’s son (Jamie Andrew Cutler). In a nice tribute to the classic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, Queen shows up missing an arm and has to be inspired to fight for his city again with the help of Connor Hawk (Joseph David-Jones), who takes up the mantle of Green Arrow.
Still, as much fun as that episode was, it had a flaw in its logic. Sara wanted to help Queen out, but Hunter did not want to get involved because that would be interfering with time and that as a past event in his time it was set and could not be changed. Yet, he wants to travel throughout history to find Savage and alter the timeline. This diminishes Hunter and makes him seem selfish. Then there is the concept that 2046 was the past and set in stone for him, but is the future for the others, so otherwise malleable. There are attempts to address the problems with time travel in the show but they are uneven at best.
That unevenness is the basic tone and flaw of Legends of Tomorrow. Some plots and subplots are engaging and fun, other times the stories are rushed and thin without any subtlety. The same criticism applies to the characters. This was quite apparent in the pilot episode. Rip Hunter just shows up and asks them to joni him and most of the characters all-too-willingly oblige without deeply questioning Hunter or exploring their motive to leave their lives on a lark. It does take pains to develop them and some of the actors like Miller steal scenes with their acting prowess, but the show struggles to juggle all these characters. That is probably a reason why Legends of Tomorrow killed off the character of Carter Hall/Hawkman (Falk Hentschel) early on to thin the herd. But frankly, it wasn’t a loss since his performance as Hawkman was rather wooden.
Like the team, Legends of Tomorrow isn’t quite legendary, but it has huge potential. Given enough time and guidance, it may find its footing and move past its inspirations and become something of a legend.
This past week we witnessed the opening salvos in this year’s Superhero Movie War disguised as TV specials and returning programs, plus more.
Marvel Comics and DC Comics are the two comic book juggernauts on the block and they’ve taken their rivalry to other media. Chiefly on film and TV. On DC/Warner Bros.’ side, this week had the return of the popular shows The Flash and Arrow, plus the special The Dawn of the Justice League, which was largely a commercial for the upcoming DC Extended Universe (DCEU) on film. They topped off the week with the debut of the eagerly awaited spinoff show Legends of Tomorrow. Marvel Comics/Disney, meanwhile, brought back Agent Carter and premiered a special celebrating the 75th anniversary of Captain America. Just by looking at the lineup it’s obvious that DC won the first round.
The Flash was the best presentation even if its universe is apart from the DCEU. It was a typically great episode with the introduction of another classic Flash villain (the Turtle, who can slow down time), more intrigue about the uber villain Zoom and Barry Allen’s personal foibles taken straight from the pages of a Spider-Man comic book. The new Arrow episode hit all the marks with Oliver Queen/Green Arrow’s vendetta against Damien Dahrk as the episode tantalized us with the mystery of who dies in the near future. Based on the flashforwards to Oliver’s cemetery visits I’ll guess that the person who died is Felicity Smoak’s mother. I didn’t see Supergirl this week because I just couldn’t get into the show when it came out earlier this season. Legends of Tomorrow was kind of a mixed bag, which means it was a bit of a letdown since this was highly anticipated. Doctor Who mashed up with The Avengers, sounds great right? Well, Legends of Tomorrow is a case of a show sounding better than its execution. Mind you, it’s just the pilot episode and there were many cool things about the premiere episode like all the cameos and Easter eggs of the Arrowverse and the greater DC universe sprinkled liberally. But the episode had a hard time with its execution. Characters behave erratically, like Professor Stein, who is too eager to kidnap his partner Jefferson just to go time traveling. And the way the characters just seem to take Rip Hunter’s word that he’s recruiting them for a noble quest without being healthily skeptical was too unbelievable. Still, Legends of Tomorrow had a goofy charm and is worth sticking with for the moment.
The half-hour special that aired on The CW, The Dawn of the Justice League, was just fodder for comic book fans anxious for the DCEU to get underway already. Basically, it was a commercial for upcoming films in the DCEU with lots of pre-production art for several DC heroes like Aquaman and Cyborg. Although it was great seeing actual footage from Wonder Woman and the new trailer for Suicide Squad was magnificent, it would’ve been terrific if they presented at least test footage of the characters that haven’t made their live-action appearances. BTW, the over-the-top fawning by the host Kevin Smith was just too much and the special inaccurately stated that Superman was a founding member of the Justice League. He actually wasn’t.
ABC aired its own superhero special, Captain America: 75 Heroic Years, which was a nostalgic and informative look at one of Marvel’s most popular heroes. Just like the DC special, it got some facts incorrect, notably not properly attributing the panels that Captain America appears in to being in The Amazing Spider-Man #36 (the 9/11 issue). But on the whole it was a well done special that featured interviews with Stan Lee, Chris Evans and the living relatives of Captain America’s creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
Marvel’s sole original fiction program was Agent Carter, which returned for its second season. For the most part, it was competent and enjoyable, but couldn’t hold a candle to the excitement offered from the DC TV shows. It lacked the other shows’ energy and intrigue, though it did its best, especially in the opening scenes. The most interesting thing about the new Agent Carter was its origin of the darkforce energy (in the show called zero matter), which is supposedly the source of power in the Doctor Strange movie.
It’s only the first month of the year and already indications are that the Superhero Movie War will be quite intense. But remember it doesn’t matter which side you want to win since after all we fans get to revel in all the goodies on screen at home or in theaters.
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.