Arrow, Gotham, The Flash and now Constantine. DC characters set the bar high for TV comic book shows.
With the movie market becoming saturated with big screen super-hero adaptations it seems obvious that the studios behind them would turn to television to further expand on the, almost inexhaustible, number of comic book titles and superheroes out there that could be conceptualised to suit an extended series. Given the success of titles such as The Walking Dead, based on a long running comic series, and Heroes, a series due for a return to television screens soon, that clearly inspired the thinking behind Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, it’s a clever move to tap into this audience.
It was DC Comics, who operate alongside Warner Bros for their movie and TV output, that launched their recent scheduling first in 2012 with an unlikely title, Arrow. Based on the comic character the Green Arrow the show enjoys continued success on both sides of the Atlantic and worldwide. In 2013 Marvel entered the game with a spin off from their recent blockbuster movie, The Avengers (Avengers Assemble in the UK due to a licensing issue with the sixties television show of the same name), Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Bringing fan favourite Agent Coulson back from the dead and focussing on how that was possible as a sub-plot, whilst protecting the world from ordinary people developing super-powers and their exploitation from evil factions, the show received impressive viewing figures pulling in around 12 million with the pilot episode. But despite the large audience the show always looked like a cheap offshoot of the movies with unimpressive CGI and basic writing.
This year both studios announced further TV projects with Marvel lining up another Avengers spin-off focussing on Peggy Carter with the aptly titled Agent Carter which will run mid-season in conjunction with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. In addition they announced a tie-in with Netflix for series based on Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones and The Defenders. Expect plenty of cross-overs with that lot as we begin to see them in 2015.
DC Comics have rolled out three series in quick succession in the second half of 2014. Gotham kicked off with the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents but focusses on a young Jim Gordon. The pilot crowbarred in more would-be Gotham villains than you could shake a stick at, but subsequently revolves around the mafia family rivalries with the character Fish Moonie, portrayed by Jada Pinkett-Smith, making a move for control of the city whilst Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, presumed dead at the hands of Gordon, bides his time for supremacy. Feedback has been mixed but personally speaking I’m enjoying a show that looks great, captures the tone of the Batman universe and provides clever and interesting plots each week. Yes some of the characters are a little cheesy, but what else would you expect from a show introducing Batman villains?
Taking a very different approach to presenting a DC character on the small screen is The Flash. Where Gotham is dark, The Flash is young, vibrant and enthusiastic. Barry Allen has realised his ability to run at super-human speeds having been struck by lightening and uses his powers for good with the assistance of the young brilliant minds of Candice Snow and Cisco Ramon (a dynamic very similar to Agents Fitz and Simmons in S.H.I.E.L.D. Actress Danielle Panabaker (Snow) even bears a resemblance to Elizabeth Henstridge (Simmons). In the background is Harrison Wells, the man behind the project whose experiments led not only to Allen’s abilities but also to a increasing number of villains with meta-powers. Though this knowledge is kept from his team, the point is rather rammed home at the conclusion of each episode. The show is, this far, very formulaic and fairly predictable, but being aimed at a younger audience the dumbing down is a necessary evil. I’m still on-board but need something to hook me in soon otherwise it’s unlikely my interest will hold.
This week saw the stakes raised considerably with the launch of the latest DC character to hit our television screens and the introduction of Constantine. With a mature audience very firmly in mind John Constantine (once horrendously portrayed by Keanu Reeves in a movie adaptation) is burdened with the guilt of the death of his mother as a result of his birth and the eternal damnation of a nine year old girl whose soul he intends to set free. Gritty is not the word. The opening show packs punches from the off with actor Mat Ryan finding the perfect balance between insanity and humour, all with a Liverpudlian accent as the character should have… Keanu… honestly! It’s not just the accent that is faithful to the comics, the show finds a great balance between the New 52 and classic portrayals of the lead character and presents it as a legitimate and honest vision of what Constantine should be. John Constantine is a master of the occult and dark arts and there is so much to enjoy in just one episode of Constantine that my only concern is, can they maintain this level of quality in future episodes. Horror, blood, peril, angels, demons a strong plot and wonderful art direction – it’s got the lot.
I read more Marvel than DC comics, but when it comes to the current TV listings? DC with Warner Bros and associated production companies are way ahead at the moment. I gave up on S.H.I.E.L.D midway through season one as it failed to hold my interest both in storylines and low budget looks, but so far I’m hooked on Gotham, curious about The Flash and chomping at the bit for the next installment of Constantine. It’s difficult to see how Marvel can compete with that. No doubt they will if they up the production quality.
Are you a DC or Marvel fan and what do you think of the current TV series? Let us know in the comments.