Depressed about the grimdark future of DC’s comic book films? There’s already a fun alternative on TV…
You no doubt heard our feelings on the current DC cinematic universe ever since the 2013’s disappointing release of Man of Steel along with ourBatman V Superman review podcast. At this point we’re in the pitch black darkness of a world where Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are united mainly by their agreement that sometimes people have to die and frowning makes you look cool. With Zack Snyder still overseeing the two-part Justice League film, it feels like we’ll never get great live action storytelling deserving of DC’s almost 80 years of mythology. Though maybe you just aren’t tuned into the right universe.
Above: “Grrrrrrr, I’m so serious and important right now! Take me seriously!”
Since the launch of CW’s Arrow series in 2011, there’s been a golden age of DC television happening across multiple networks. While Warner’s film division clumsily attempts to make Man of Steel the starting point for the most depressing Justice League the world has ever seen, shows like The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow make it look easy to build a universe of of compelling superheroes with a fraction of the budget of the Zack Snyders of the world. Here’s seven ways the DC shows handle themselves much better than the current films…
7. TV allows more time to tell stories
Batman V Superman leaves you with many conflicting questions, including “How can a film feel so bloated with unneeded scenes while ALSO feeling jam packed with exposition?” That’s largely because Dawn of Justice not only has to tell the story of Bruce fighting Clark until they bro out over their mommies, but the film also has to lay the groundwork for about 10 other films. There’s no time to brief. It could’ve benefited from having dozens of hours of TV to fill instead of less than three hours.
Take CBS’s Supergirl for example. The first episode is simply an hour of her learning to be a hero, fighting her first bad guy, and introducing the villains of the series. The next 19 episodes have time to develop subplots, introduce a rogues gallery, and build up a supporting cast with B-plots. By the midpoint of the season, you’ve gotten to know all these folks more than the mere minutes of exposition they’d be allowed in a film. You get to know the characters beyond Zack Snyder lazily cashing in on the pop culture cache of creators much more skilled than he. Much like in the comics, viewers need time to build a relationship and care, which those shows handle smartly.
6. TV does more with lesser known characters
Looking at the Justice League’s lineup, they seem to have dibs on all the best characters: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, even former joke Aquaman. Other than The Flash, none of the TV shows have access to those major Leaguers, so they’ve gotta dig a little deeper into DC’s collection of characters. In the end, that has inspired the shows to find novel approaches to heroes outside the mainstream, making stars of Green Arrow, Hawkgirl, and The Atom – in fact, making them more dynamic than any of the Justice League folks we’re currently seeing in film.
I’d wager few had heard of Deathstroke until his villainous run on Arrow, but Slade’s introduction on the series used some of his best comic moments and made him into a major player. Martian Manhunter would be trapped in the background of Snyder’s Justice League, but on Supergirl his appearances feel special. Hell, the cast of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow includes Firestorm, Hawkman, and Rip Hunter, people who’d never get a shot at a film, and Legends’ premise opens up the door for TV cameos by every oddball DC ever created. While the films waste the AAA stars on sad sack movies, TV makes the B squad look like superstars.
5. TV can balance dark and light elements
Dawn of Justice leaves you with a literal funeral to deal with, as you’ve watched hope die and heroes glumly march toward a Justice League while some bad guy or something is coming or whatever. Nothing will ever be fun again. Meanwhile,, shows like The Flash know how to balance the light with the dark, giving you a chance to smile along with the leads of the show, while also dealing with tragedy and death in equal measure.
CW’s Flash is born when he sees the death of his mother and his father is wrongfully convicted of her murder. Pretty dark stuff, and in the Snyderverse that’d likely be used as justification for why Barry Allen strangles cats when he isn’t disfiguring drug dealers. But as Grant Gustin plays it, Barry is a conflicted man trying to outrun his grief while doing the right thing, realizing that taking the life of even his greatest nemesis would be a perversion of justice, instead devoting his life to helping others while supported by people who love him. And Flash more often than not is seen with a happy-go-lucky smile plastered on his face, even when things aren’t going great. Compare that to Clark Kent’s boss screaming at him and his mother implying Superman would be better off ignoring humanity.
BONUS: In the TV shows, Superman DOESN’T Kill!
Superman may never be seen on the Supergirl series, but I LOVE that they make it clear that in this universe, Superman doesn’t kill people.
On the next page – Other worlds and smiling characters!