Pow! Zap! It's a Comic Book TV Explosion!
There’s nothing new about comic book heroes on television. TV’s first Superman flew in the fifties, Adam West played our first small screen Batman in the sixties, Lynda Carter spun into action as Wonder Woman and Lou Ferrigno hulked around in the seventies, the nineties gave us Lois and Clark and the CW reintroduced us to Smallville in 2001. But then something changed. After years of mildly successful series, Smallville was a big hit for its young network, lasting 10 years. The series’ popularity, along with the huge success of the Avengers film franchise, has resulted in an explosion of comic book superheroes on television.
The Flash (Tuesday, October 6, 8:00pm)
Arrow (Wednesday, October 7, 8:00pm)
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (2016)
The CW is a smaller network with only 9 scripted series set to run during the Fall TV season — a full third of them comic book adaptations. Arrow started up when Smallville ended and followed the same formula: take an established character, in this case Oliver Queen aka Green Arrow, and reinvent him for a Teen-to-New Adult audience that skews female. Ollie got a kid sister, a progression of love interests, and an edgier look and outlook. Two years later they introduced The Flash as a counterpoint: where Oliver is dour, Barry is upbeat. Ollie is a silver spoon, Barry is white collar working class. Ollie is a player, Barry has been in love with his best friend since childhood. Ollie is a crack shot with billion dollar gadgets but no superhuman abilities, Barry got super speed in a freak accident. The Flash ran away with ratings and now a third series set in the same universe is set to premiere in 2016. Legends of Tomorrow will feature a team of supers including The Flash’s Captain Cold and Arrow’s White Canary.
Supergirl (Monday, October 26, 8:30pm)
The team behind the CW’s DC universe is also bringing CBS a new heroine in the much anticipated Supergirl. The upcoming series appears to be closest in tone to The Flash with an optimistic protagonist surrounded by an ensemble of friends and coworkers. Early reviews are as positive as Kara herself and got the series a full season commitment pre-premiere. The network strategically scheduled the freshman series against Fox’s noir hit, Gotham in what’s expected to be a head to head battle between sunshine girl power and frowny faced violence.
Gotham (Monday, September 21, 8:00pm)
Fox’s current entry into the superhero showdown does not yet feature any superheroes because the city’s most famous son-and-hero is only twelve years old. The main protagonist of Gotham is not Bruce Wayne but Jim Gordon, years before he’s made commissioner. The sophomore series has come under criticism for having too much Batman lore and/or fan service — quite a few of Batman’s Rogues Gallery were introduced or hinted at in the first season — but not enough Batman. It’s also a strange mixture of high concept pseudo noir and cookie cutter cop show, but if Gotham can find cohesion it could be a contender.
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (Tuesday, September 29, 8:00pm)
Agent Carter (January, 2016)
ABC and Marvel share a parent company, Disney, and so the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) can be found in the small screen as well as the silver. Agents of SHIELD is only a modest hit, but crucial enough to the MCU tapestry it’s protected from cancellation. Inhumans were introduced last season, with main character Skye revealed to be one when exposed to Terrigen Mist.
Agent Carter is a spin-off and prequel to SHIELD as well as a spin-off and sequel to the first Captain America film. Hayley Atwell reprises her role as Peggy Carter in the period drama that tells the story of SHIELD’s early days. The first season introduced us to the original Jarvis, Howard Stark’s butler, and Russia’s Black Widow program, more examples of Marvel using the small screen to enhance the mythology of their film series.
Daredevil (S1 currently available, S2 to premiere in 2016)
Jessica Jones (S1 to premiere late 2015)
Marvel also has a deal with Netflix starting with last Spring’s Daredevil and continuing with the late Fall introduction of Jessica Jones. Daredevil is dark and gritty compared to SHIELD, aimed at a more adult audience, and Jessica Jones (based on Marvel’s first “R-Rated” comic series, Alias) is expected to continue that trend. Three more series are scheduled to follow these two in 2016 and 2017.
Heroes Reborn (Thursday, September 24, 8:00pm)
With the cancellation of Constantine, NBC doesn’t have a comic book adaptation on their schedule, but they do have a superhero series and it’s not entirely original. The 13 episode miniseries Heroes Reborn revisits the universe of NBC’s Heroes (2006-2010). The basic premise remains the same, namely that superhumans (still) exist and are (still) distrusted and hunted. The story takes place in what would be the tenth season if the show continued past season four and thus the cast will be made up of familiar faces (like Masi Oka’s Hiro), familiar faces in new roles (like Once Upon Time’s Peter Pan, Robbie Kay) and unfamiliar faces (like newcomer Kiki Sukezane). Sounds complicated and it’s weird to expect ‘nostalgia’ for a series that ended only five years ago, but who knows, maybe they’ll bring back Firefly someday.
The 3+ year Netflix roll out, CBS’s full series commitment to Supergirl, and the CW’s crossover goals make it clear comic book superheroes will be around TV-land for a while. Which super-series are you most looking forward to?