Now that the DC cinematic universe is fully committed to nose-diving straight into the ground, with rumours of Ben Affleck itching to abandon the world of Batman and Mel “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” GIbson being courted to direct Suicide Squad 2, we take a look at a safe space for beleaguered fans of the caped crusader and his heroic chums.
It doesn’t take a brainiac to realise that comic books have a more obvious link with TV than they do with film. The serial nature of television mirrors the world of comics so perfectly that it just seems like a natural fit. So in many ways it’s no surprise that DC do their best work on TV, reaching heights they haven’t quite managed to attain in their cinematic universe (or the DCEU, which I’ll be refusing to call it from now on).
Arguably, DC have produced some of the best superhero movies of all time – well okay, let’s be slightly more honest – a handful of awesome Batman movies and one good Superman. It’s as if they’re scrambling desperately to catch up with Marvel’s complete and deserved supremacy of the big screen. No matter what they try, DC can’t seem to do a damn thing about it. Man of Steel, Batman Vs Superman, Suicide Squad are all pallid outputs lacking even a sliver of warmth or humour.
Having said all that, DC did get in early with perhaps the first modern, successful comic book TV series with Smallville (in fact we could even go back as far as Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) so DC has some early experience, way before Marvel or Netflix jumped on the bandwagon. And in terms of 21st century superhero screen antics, DC got in there nice and early again with the Arrow television series.
Arrow has all the hallmarks of something created in a time of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. It’s often more violent and brutal than its later DC TV companions, and has gone for a darker tone from the outset. It deals with the uncommon idea of a superhero who is also straight up killer, but we spend a lot of the first season understanding his decision to step into the more well trodden ‘I’m separate from the bad guys because I don’t kill people’ trope.
It’s not perfect – it’s certainly no Dark Knight or Batman Begins. It is however, fun and entertaining. Arrow uses its modest TV budget well, and its slowly blossoming lead actors create a genuinely enjoyable experience. It’s silly and there are obvious plot holes, but it embraces what the DC has yet to achieve: a bit of fun.
The success of Arrow was the start of a whole array of live action and animated TV shows forming the Arrowverse on CW, helmed primarily by Greg Berlanti. Elsewhere in the Arrowverse (or Berlanti-verse) there’s The Flash. My god The Flash is fun. It seemed unlikely that we could have a genuinely fun DC superhero show absolutely chocked full of humour and, best of all, hope. A hero who has lost a parent, at a young age but who doesn’t wallow in a bleak world of anger. Instead we get a fun-loving, dopey but lovable young man.
Barry Allen is the antithesis to both Batman and Arrow. Flash has the Buffy style monster-of-the-week set up – complete with silly comic book names and costumes (see ‘Weather Wizard and Captain Cold’). It also shares with Buffy the palpable joy of cramming pop culture references into as much of the dialogue as it can, creating something close to nerd heaven. Flash is also renowned for its ability to reduce Kevin Smith to floods of tears, which he lovingly YouTubes.
It’s such a pleasant surprise that DC manages to find their humour, their heart and their true connection to the world of comics in Flash. There’s something for everyone here too. It’s the perfect antidote to BvS.
As popularity soared – the world expanded further and we were gifted DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. In many ways this is my favourite of the lot. It’s an incredibly ridiculous, super-enjoyable sci-fi thrill ride. Time travel, spaceships, laser guns and nerds arguing about Star Wars. It really is a delight. It’s not perfect, it’s certainly cheesy, but Legends of Tomorrow treads a nice line between Doctor Who and Firefly. Especially with its mixture of funny dialogue, thrilling adventure and a lovely family dynamic that makes it a pleasure to sit and spend an hour with.
The Berlanti-verse embraces diversity in a much more positive way than either Marvel or DC have managed in film. We’ve got bisexual girls, as many female heroes as men, black characters who are also gay. With women taking control of the main ensemble pieces (Legends of Tomorrow) and Supergirl joining in with an excellent female led show – it’s all looking good.
The only thing that seems completely unbelievable is that DC would spend years developing a fanbase and familiarising viewers with lesser known characters and stories and then not transfer them over to the film universe. Instead they’ve redone Suicide Squad (Arrow’s Deadshot is more believable and loyal to the comic than Suicide Squad’s ever will be) and recently they’ve cast a brand new Flash for the Justice League movie. So it looks like the film and TV universes are just going to travel further away from one another, which seems an awful shame. Although Nerds of Color does have some very interesting things to say about how the DCEU and TV worlds should embrace the Multiverse.
So, feeling depressed with the state of the world? Want a bit of joy – a bit of fun, a bit of silliness? Come join us in the Arrowverse – it’s where DC left their heart.