DC Comics: Should it be Small Screen over Silver Screen?
With the recent release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and its underwhelming reviews, is it time for DC Comics to stop and put even more effort into television programs? I think that is a fair question. Even if this latest blockbuster is a financial success, I do not believe that it has lived up to expectations. And I do not think that they can match what Marvel has done in their cinematic universe no matter what the future holds.
In the past, DC has struggled with just about all of their movie releases. The original 1978 Superman movie was their first big success. But with the film being 38 years old, it doesn’t hold up as well as it once did. The three direct sequels it spawned were inferior. The 2006 sequel Superman Returns was a bomb. And although I did enjoy Man of Steel, I don’t think it was a game-changer for the company.
And then there was the Green Lantern film. It was a disaster before it was even released! That movie has become a joke that even star Ryan Reynolds poked fun at in his new superhero film Deadpool. And let’s not forget to mention the way outdated Swamp Thing films that are easily forgettable.
The only DC franchise that was ever truly successful was Batman. The 1989 film with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson was a huge success and spawned three sequels, one of which was at least good. Then a new trilogy began in 2005 with Christian Bale playing the Dark Knight and it was the definite highlight of DC Comics films. And even in the new Batman v Superman film, I thought Batman was the best part of it. But that is just one of the many great heroes DC has. Where is the success for all of the others?
Dating back to the 1952 Adventures of Superman TV series, DC Comics has probably had it most success on the small screen. The series, starring George Reeves as Superman, was a great triumph and probably the best Superman work to date. Then other series emerged: the campy 1960’s Batman, the 1970’s Wonder Woman, the 1990’s The Flash and Swamp Thing, and then the new millennium saw the start of Smallville.
Sure, some shows flopped. The Flash only lasted one season. Then Birds of Prey, which was based Gotham crime fighters after Batman is gone, also lasted just one season. But Smallville took a different approach to the superhero genre and it succeeded. And it gave birth to the new wave of DC Comics on television.
First, it was Arrow in 2012, just one year after Smallville ended its run. The show was an immediate hit and is now almost through its fourth season. Star Stephen Amell has taken the role of Oliver Queen/Green Arrow and made the character part of popular culture. Then, off the success of Arrow, the CW decided to begin The Flash in 2014. This superhero’ spin-off has skyrocketed in popularity. Grant Gustin, who plays the speedy hero and his human form of Barry Allen, has led a great cast and crew to soaring heights. Some would say that The Flash has even speed past Arrow in terms of popularity.
2014 also saw Fox get in on the action and begin their own DC show, Gotham. This series is set at a time when the famed Batman is still just a teenager trying to figure life out after his parents are brutally murdered. Instead of focusing on Batman, the series revolves around Detective Jim Gordan, played by Ben McKenzie, and the rise of popular Batman villains like Penguin, Riddler, and Mister Freeze.
And it didn’t stop there. In 2015, CBS joined in with Supergirl while the CW added Legends of Tomorrow to their lineup. Supergirl stars Melissa Benoist as the Man of Steel’s cousin and focuses on her rise to becoming a superhero. While Legends of Tomorrow borrowed both heroes and villains from Arrow and The Flash to create a team that battles through time to stop the villainous Vandal Savage.
It is safe to say that while DC struggles to realize its potential in theaters, they are riding high on television screens across the country. All of these shows offer something different for everyone. Arrow is a darker, brooding show that deals with a hero questioning whether he can have a life outside of being a hero. The Flash deals with similar issues but without being as dark and presents audiences with more villains that we know and love. Gotham has given us a glimpse into why and how we have the villains and characters we all knew. Supergirl is more of the alien characters we are used to getting from the Man of Steel and takes place in a much brighter atmosphere. While Legends of Tomorrow completely changed the course and put heroes and villains working together through different eras of time.
These one-hour formats on television are great for many reasons. They allow time for back stories, but are usually interwoven into the current action taking place. They allow for our heroes to be built up without rushing into it. The television format also allows for crossovers like we have gotten between Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow. And they have even given fans appearances from other DC characters. Jonah Hex was recently on an episode of Legends of Tomorrow. While on Arrow, an appearance was made by John Constantine. Constantine had his own show in 2014 that unfortunately did not succeed, although I do believe it could have if it was on a different network.
It is just hard to believe that DC could have so much success with their television programs but cannot seem to get a movie right. This begs the question: should DC continue their focus and maybe slack off on the lineup of movies they hope to release? I am sure it is a question that many people have asked and I think the answer may be yes. Sure, they can continue on their way to giving us a justice League film. I would love to see it and I do hope it is a hit. But why do they not want to use their TV stars in those roles? And will solo movies for all these characters work? I find it hard to imagine they will at this point. Instead of movies, couldn’t we just get series for Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, and Cyborg? I know I would like to see that. Television is in a golden age right now. Series are getting better and better as time goes along. And I for one think DC might want to continue their focus on that. Especially if they cannot find the success they are looking for in the movie industry. Marvel has already shown that they are the best in the superhero genre right now. And DC should let them win that battle because I do not think DC will ever surpass them. But they have a chance to own TV screens and laptops across the country. Why not strike now and build an empire on that medium? It is a good question and one that will be answered in time hopefully.
Daryl Karpinski, Jr.