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Saturday, 8 November 2014

DC's killing it on TV, if not in comics

Despite my blog post a few weeks ago asking where all the good comics have gone, I have recently found myself consuming a lot of superhero-based TV. I mentioned at the time that the offerings were pretty hit-or-miss, and they are, but I'm starting to see the balance shift toward the positives rather than the negatives.

The main bright spot for me is the Flash, on the CW. The Flash has always been one of my favorite characters (ie, I've always wanted super-speed), and if this current incarnation has all the trappings of the CW, in the form of a ridiculously young and photogenic cast, it also reminds me of the Flash comics I used to read in high school, specifically from the years that Mark Waid was writing it. I can think of no higher compliment for a comics adaptation.

Specifically, when Waid wrote the character, there was a nice balance of the fantastic with the mundane, as we saw Wally West (who'd taken over from Barry Allen, but the distinction doesn't truly matter, does it?) balancing his superhero life with his personal life. A big part of Waid's run dealt with Wally living up to Barry's legacy, but he also did a good job of fleshing out the world around Wally, including the city he lived in and all the other heroes he interacted with regularly.

That's probably not a coincidence, as one of the people who developed the show is Geoff Johns, the writer who took over the comic after Mark Waid left. I never read Johns's run, but I know he doubled down on developing the setting, including turning Central City into a working-class, industrial city.

With Johns as one of the people guiding the ship, they've put together a nice ensemble cast (and much quicker than happened on Arrow), and there are enough nods to the comics to keep me curious about how they'll deal with characters like the Reverse Flash and other members of the Rogues Gallery.

Arrow's another one that I've grown to appreciate more as it's gone on - it frequently feels a lot sillier than the Flash, in a bad way, but like its spinoff, it's done a nice job of presenting minor characters from the comics as a way to keep the readers interested (for example, the most recent episode I saw featured a boxer named Ted Grant, who was, of course, also the superhero named the Wildcat).

Another one I've enjoyed so far was Constantine, which - at least in its first episode - does a good job of capturing the feel of the early Hellblazer comics written by Jamie Delano. John Constantine is probably the ideal character for a TV show, especially now that you can show a lot more gore than you could in the past, and I think that drawing on those early issues is a good choice by the TV show's creators.

I've been a little less impressed with Gotham, though. I was actually pretty excited by the idea of a pre-Batman police procedural, but I feel like the continuity actually weighs the story down in this case (I've gotten through the first four episodes, but have now given up). We've been shown a bunch of characters from the comics and the movies, but the fact that ten-year-old Bruce Wayne is present in every episode shows how long we have to go before we get to the good stuff.

I can't help thinking that they should have set it about a decade later, to just before Batman showed up. That was one of the strengths of what I saw of Smallville: we weren't actually that far off from the known history shown in the comics, but there was just enough progression each episode that you could see Clark Kent developing into Superman. There's no such feeling of forward motion in Gotham.

All of the shows referenced above are based on DC characters, which I find kind of funny. Marvel's done a better job transferring its characters to the movies, while DC's movies have mostly been disappointing (except for the Dark Knight, of course). On TV, by contrast, I stuck with Agents of SHIELD throughout most of the first season, but even the reveal about Ward and all the fallout from Captain America 2 couldn't persuade me to catch the season finale.

Thinking about it, I have a feeling that's because Agents of SHIELD draws on either much older or much newer material than I'm familiar with, whereas the DC shows seem to be referencing a lot more from when I read those comics. My favorite DC era being the late 80s, I was really excited to see the Suicide Squad pop up on Arrow last season, for instance.

In any case, I'm feeling a little more positive now than when I wrote my previous post, although my initial complaint still stands, in part because DC recently announced yet another giant crossover, called Convergence. I think they should just rename it "Constant Crisis", run it in place of all their comics, and just have done with it. At the very least, the TV properties aren't doing the same - yet.