Friday, December 5, 2014

DC vs. Marvel - DC is Winning! On Television, that is.

By Ken Parker

On Television that is.   Yes, I know, DC has usually done fairly well on TV, this is nothing new but they are kicking butt big time right now.  I have been critical of DC’s vision for their movie franchise and probably unfairly.  Their recent Batman movies were excellent but they have done little else.  Meanwhile Marvel is so far ahead of them in terms of their plans that by the time DC’s first phase kicks into high gear, Marvel will be in its third phase.  It is not that DC is doing it wrong (Man of Steel was a misstep for sure) the problem is that it’s taking time getting going. Not true for Television - DC is doing everything right - in my opinion.

Green Arrow and Hawkman are bonding in Smallville
DC has had a presence on TV since 2001 with SmallvilleSmallville was incredibly successful and created a mini DC universe by introducing many of the characters that we will soon see on the big screen.  With limitations of character rights and budgets, Smallville still managed to almost become a Justice League TV series without actually going that far. 

Arrow was next and what that show has done is begin its own DC universe.  With the spin-off of Flash and introducing numerous other DC characters like Canary and the Suicide Squad, there is another well conceived DC universe on display.  So far the TV universe has been excellent.  Again, I am barely knowledgeable about the comic books and so I will not compare these TV personas with their inked counterparts. I am basing this article on what I have seen and what I see looks fantastic.  I was absolutely blown away by the two part Flash vs Arrow crossover on December 2 and 3.  This was one of the best crossovers ever and really displayed these shows strengths. 

The contrast between these shows was noticeable and pointed out by the characters perhaps a bit too many times.  It was still great to see the conflict and differences in tone that the series and characters have.  The stories and characters worked perfectly together and the writers wrapped the plotlines around each other beautifully. 

We have been hearing rumors that the new Supergirl series may also be linked with Arrow and Flash and that is all good in my book.  If DC can handle this universe on TV as well as it has up to this point, it will be successful.  Now it may become too crowded on these shows (does everyone become a superhero?) and of course not everyone is going to get a spin-off series (is Firestorm next?) but if DC continues to get this right, anything is possible.

On the flip side, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has been one of the best series on TV since May of 2014.  It too is wrapped up into Marvel’s own universe but on the big screen.  This and the upcoming Agent Carter are great supplemental viewing for The Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man and Thor.  It is a part of that universe as any other movie in the series.  What the series did in reaction to the Captain America – Winter Soldier movie was perfect.

Now Agents of SHIELD did not start off that great.  It lacked direction and conviction and could not hold audience’s attention. Despite turning it around toward the end of the first season, it has never gained back the ratings it had in its opening weeks in 2013.  This is unfortunate, especially when so many people online know it has gotten better but they just haven’t found room on their DVRS for it.

Agents of SHIELD is also about secondary characters in the Marvel universe while DC is dealing with primary heroes.  This makes the Marvel series less appealing.  Obviously if Iron Man were to have a cameo in one of those episodes, it would do well in the ratings. 

Unlike Marvel, DC has elected to keep its TV and movie products separate.  They have nothing to do with one another.  This will create an awkward situation once the movies start rolling in.  It already has created some friction betweenthe TV and movie versions.  Virtually every character in Arrow and Flash already has a movie counterpart lined up for an appearance or movie.  This basically creates yet another universe with its own plots, own origins and own characters.  This makes for a messy universe and will create comparisons.  The movies will have to live up to at least the TV level of quality in some people’s minds.  I do recall thinking that Superman Returns was a failure, especially compared to what Smallville had done up to that point.
For the casual viewer I would expect the DC universe to get confusing. “Wait, didn’t Captain Boomerang die, oh, wait, that was the series.”  Perhaps the Flash movie will boost the series ratings, you never know.  Still, we are a ways away from the DC movies from seeing the light of day but all of their series are doing well right now.

I remain skeptical of the DC movies, only because I think DC might be thinking too hard and trying to get cute with their franchises.  The Batman movies are a great start but Man of Steel left some people worried that the rest of the movies won’t live up to expectations.  I am more confident in their TV presence and like what I see.  Not sure if comic fans like this type of thing and for the casual viewer, will bringing in too many characters turn them away?  While I would love to see a three night crossover event with Flash, Arrow and Supergirl, is that just too much?

And what of DC’s other successful TV series Constantine and Gotham.  I have yet to see Constantine and really don’t even know if that is in the same universe.  Certainly Gotham is but since Bruce Wayne is just a kid, we are either back in time a bit or in another reality since it appears to take place in present day.  When I first heard of Gotham I felt that this was another one of those series that would almost be about the hero, but not quite.  It has been more interesting than I thought it would and I like the acting a lot.  Doubtful it would be serious considered to be in the same universe as Flash and Arrow but that is fine.

All of these DC shows are doing pretty good and will all be renewed (not sure about Constantine) but the expectations on Agents of SHIELD has been higher to start with and it has not quite gotten there.  It will be interesting to see what Agent Carter can do and whether the Avengers: Age of Ultron will have any bearing on Agents of SHIELD’s story arc or ratings.  My money is on DC when it comes to television – for now.

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