Television Never Looked So Much Like a Comic Book
By Amy Ratcliffe on June 3, 2014
Five years ago, if you had told comic book fans there would be more than two live-action television series based on comics on screen at the same time, you’d probably have been laughed at. Most wouldn’t have believed you. Yet here we are. Shows such as The Walking Dead and Arrow were already thriving, and more series based on sequential art are headed our way this fall. We’ll have at least eight such shows to watch. Eight. And I’m not even counting the shows Marvel’s debuting on Netflix or what studios are developing. Well done, us.
And you know what? Well done to the studios, too. Yes, they are riding the “superheroes are awesome” wave but just because audiences fork over cash to see films like The Avengers doesn’t mean they’ll commit to an entire season of television. Some of the shows currently airing do well, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D didn’t bring in crazy impressive numbers (it did better with DVR totals). That fact didn’t stop ABC from picking up Agent Carter.
The most interesting part of all the comic book-inspired titles coming to television is that there’s variety. They’re mostly from the big two comics publishers, Marvel and DC, but we’re not just getting five slightly altered versions of Superman. Take a look at what we’ll be seeing in the 2014-2015 television season:
Heading into its third season, The CW’s Arrow strikes a solid balance between action and drama. It occasionally features some over the top gestures, but the relationships between the characters are fascinating and the fight choreography is some of the best I’ve seen on television. Oliver Queen and his heroics are the focus of the series, but the other members of the primary cast get their own battles and screen time. Arrow, based on the DC Comics character, does a terrific job at showing the struggles of leading a superhero life and keeping secrets.
Before Bruce Wayne became Batman and the members of his rogues’ gallery got their names, Gotham City had its own problems. Gotham will premiere on Fox, and it will show how the characters we know grow up. A young Jim Gordon is at the center of the story. It’s framed as a crime drama, and we’ll see how Gordon’s career develops. Pre-superheroes and villains will be part of the plot, but there should be plenty of procedural, crime-solving scenes to bite into. It’s also based on characters from DC.
Barry Allen is zooming onto The CW this fall. He was introduced in Arrow, and we’ve already witnessed the event that triggered his superhuman powers. It’s apparent from the first trailer for the series that The Flash will not be Arrow set in a different city. Barry Allen doesn’t seem as broody – he even has fun with his powers. On top of him learning about his speedy gift, there’s a mystery solving aspect as he investigates the truth about the death of his mother.
Itching for more horror on television? An adaptation of Vertigo’s iZombie will bring scares on The CW. An everyday, average sort of young woman goes to a party and becomes a zombie. Rather than embrace the slow-shuffle lifestyle, she tries to hide her new uh, problem, and pretends to be human. Her new eating habits lead her to a career in crime-solving because she gains the memories of others after she eats their brains. That’s got to make for a whole lot of awkward.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
ABC is bringing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. back for a second season. The action/adventure drama is its own beast because no one in the main cast possesses superhuman powers. They work alongside superheroes and protect the world from enemies and dangerous items, but at least in season one, it was a small part of the bigger picture. Instead, S.H.I.E.L.D. focuses on James Bond-style missions with cool tech and mostly interesting character dynamics. We may see more appearances from superheroes next season, but if you know someone who is anti-capes and zombies and demons, recommend this series or Agent Carter.
Marvel’s Agent Carter
Peggy Carter joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: The First Avenger. The no-nonsense military officer made an impression and later came back in a one-shot short released on the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray. She’ll star in this short series on ABC that will air during S.H.I.E.L.D’s mid-season hiatus. Set in 1946, Agent Carter will follow the lead character of the same name as she works for the Strategic Scientific Reserve and goes on secret missions for Howard Stark.
Based on DC Comics’ “Hellblazer,” John Constantine works in a world of the supernatural. Constantine will debut on NBC and will focus on the reluctant hero. He’s not the kind of guy you’d want to introduce to your grandma, but he’s exactly the person you want by your side in a fight. He battles demons and knows the dark arts. The series is a drama, but if they match his personality in the comics, it should have plenty of laugh out loud moments.
The Walking Dead
AMC has aired four seasons of The Walking Dead, and we’re headed into season five. The story is based on the Image Comics series of the same name. You’ll find plenty of horror, gore, and blood in this show about a small group of human survivors who are living in a world of zombies. It’s gripping, gross, and not quite like anything else on television.
While these shows all have characters from comic books and most are set in universes in which superheroes exist, they won’t be copies of each other. The physical settings aren’t the same, the powers vary, and the time periods differ. Viewers will find disparate plots and motivations, and hopefully the new shows will attract the attention of people other than comic book fans.
Because even though we’re making progress, some still discount stories that originate in the pages of comics. There’s a persistent belief that superhero tales are goofy and superficial, or that they’re all dark and gritty. But, there is hope. The same people who won’t pick up a comic book may be more willing to try out an episode of a television series.
Having so many comic book shows on screen isn’t just a win for geeks and fans, it’s a recruiting tool. Others have the chance to notice all these series in their cable guide and see how diverse they are. This will make at least a few people realize that comics can tell stories across the spectrum from lighthearted to heartbreaking, and that comic books aren’t just about superheroes.