!!Warning. This contains some minor spoilers!!
With Marvel dominating the big screen as they continue to build and grown their cinematic universe, DC seem to have their work cut out to keep up, yes Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel have all done well, but Marvel really seem to have hit a winning formula with the MCU going from strength to strength.
With the success of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (Dir, Zack Snyder, 2016) not guarenteed, DC have to make do with success on the small screen, where they seem to be faring a little better than their rivals. Arrow, Flash, Constantine and Gotham have all appeared on our screens over the last few years, with (mostly) great success.
So, why is it working? I will look at Gotham, Arrow and The Flash, I am sorry to say that I haven’t seen Constantine, to see what they are doing right and what is going wrong. In my opinion at least.
Focusing on the Commissioner Gordon character, this is one big origin story. Starting with a young detective Jim Gordon newly arriving in Gotham City, paired with veteran detective Harvey Bullock to solve the high-profile murder of socialites Thomas and Martha Wayne.
It features a young Bruce Wayne and several of Batman’s rouges gallery of villains, before they were, well, villainous.
So, the good first. It is exceptionally well cast (for the most part). Ben McKenzie makes a solid lead, as the moralistic Gordon. The only honest man in a den of thieves, he makes the main character very easy to like and root for. Donal Logue is also spot on as the gruff and old school Bullock (a favourite character of mine from the comics), the stand out though is Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot, the perfect mixture of awkward misfit, evil genius and brutal killer. I am also a fan of Sean Pertwee and love his portrayal of Alfred.
Gotham City itself looks great, having retained just enough of the gothic feel from Tim Burton’s vision, but modernising it just enough, while retaining the feel of the comics.
When is it good, it is very good. “Spirit of The Goat” was a stand out episode and the closing Ogre arc really picked things up, the problem is that these episodes are few and far between. Most episodes are, well, just a bit rubbish.
The main problem is that it is just a bit of a mess. I don’t think the show knows what it wants to be. Is it a police procedural? Is it a Batman origin story? A comic book anthology? (akin to Sin City) or an ensemble drama? It is trying to be all of these things and it is suffering for it. They also seem to be trying to cram so much into one season. A good example of this would be the Flying Grayson’s fleeting appearance, it was brief and felt totally pointless.
Another major problem for me is Jada Pinkett Smith as the gangster Fish Mooney. With such a huge back catalogue of villains, super or otherwise, I was baffled as to why this character was written especially for the show. While Pinkett Smith is fine and brings some genuine menace to the character, she just doesn’t fit, and particularly in the later episodes, during the dollmaker arc, her scenes feel like an unwanted distraction (much like the Arrow flasbacks, but more on that later)
The show has gotten better in the last quarter of season 1, and I am hoping that this will continue as we head into its second year. Will they learn from the mistakes of the first season? It looks like Fish Mooney wont be returning, so that is a start, and it looks like Edward Nygma’s story is about to take an interesting turn, this along with Bruce’s discovery hints at some interesting times ahead. I hope they try to take their time a bit and hold off trying to cram in so much.
A second season is on the way, but I fear if they don’t learn from their mistakes, it could be the last.
When it arrived in 2012, I was very sceptical. I was and remain a massive fan of Smallville, which ran from 2001-2011 and in particular Justin Hartley’s portrayal of Oliver Queen/Green Arrow. His introduction as a guest star in season 6 and promotion to the regular cast in season 8 really revitalised the show, so while I was happy that they were filming one of my favourite DC heroes, I was frustrated that they had decided to recast rather than retain Justin Hartley in the role.
I watched it regardless and was actually pleasantly surprised. Lets be realistic, the show is made be the CW, so it is always to be a little bit tweeny, however, it wasnt as bad as I feared. The soap opera elements were there though, the pathetic hero, best friend, girl friend love triangle, the annoying little sister and more, the show was grittier and more realistic than I was expecting.
Billed as taking a realistic look at the origin of the Green Arrow, realistic meaning, no super powers, the shows narrative is split between Oliver returning to his home town after being lost for 5 years as the hooded vigilante trying to save his city and flashbacks to what he went though during his 5 year exile.
Let’s start with the good bits. It looks really cool, there is no denying that, Stephen Amell is good as the brooding, damaged hero. Evolving over the shows 3 seasons from a cold-blooded killer to a noble hero trying to make a difference. The fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed. The supporting Team Arrow are great too, in particular David Ramsey as John Diggle, going from Ollie’s bodyguard to Arrow’s trusted side kick and in Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak Arrow has found it’s Chole Sullivan, she is the heart of Team Arrow and provides some truly great comic moments.
Like Smallville, they have replicated some characters from the comics, but changing them to fit into the Arrow world, this works well for the most part. Brother Blood reimagined as a local councillor Sebastian Blood in Season 2 is a good example.
Now, on to the bad. The flashbacks, god the flashbacks. Tedious, over long and totally boring, I have almost checked out on more than one occasion. In the shows defense however, they seem to learned their lesson in season 3, while they still retain the flashback format, the sequences are short and much more interesting as they move Ollie off the island and incorporate Argus.
Another problem is that there are just too many characters with not enough to do. Tommy Merlin in season 1, Moria Queen in season 2 and Thea Queen, well all the way through. Laurel Lance was in danger of out staying her welcome, but her transition into The Black Canary has worked really well. It is Thea, not Laurel that is in danger of becoming Arrow’s Lana Lang. Turning her from spoiled little rich kid to trained killer and eventually part of Team Arrow feels forced, it just doesnt work.
A few things that, as a comic book fan really bothers me. While I am fine with changes for the most part, you have to change and adapt the source material when transferring something to a new medium, I get that, but I can’t wrap my head around why Star City has become Starling City…if you are going to rename the place, then change to something real like Seattle, it seems like a daft change to me, the other is why Laurel Lance and not Dinah?
Season 3 was coasting along very nicely with Brandon Routh making a brilliant addition as Ray Palmer aka The Atom, but it has really lost its way in the last quarter of the season with the ridiculous Ra’s Ah Guul arc, which has resulted in 6 episodes sitting untouched on my planner. A 4th season is coming, but given the way it headed it is difficult to see where they are going to go with. Let’s wait and see.
While sharing the same universe as Arrow, The Flash could not be more different. Where Arrow dark and brooding, The Flash is much more light-hearted and fun. Arrow is strictly no powers,, The Flash embraces them. A massive lab accident is the catalyst for the introduction of Metahumans.
A great cast again here, Grant Gustin is a good mix of awkward and heroic and Tom Cavanagh as Dr Wells is by far the most interesting character.
The Flash is great, it is so much fun and while it suffers ever so slightly from the freak of the week format, it works mainly due to the fact that they play their joker card in the first episode. Dr Harrison Wells was not the mentor we are initially led to believe, but actually the over arching antagonist and hinting at the possible Flashpoint or Infinite Crisis story line to come?
There have been some great moments in this first season, John Wesley Shipp, who played The Flash in the short-lived 90s TV series appears as Barry’s dad, also from that series Amanda Pays appears as (in name at least) the same character she played in the 90s. Mark Hamill reprises his role as The Trickster and actually sharing the screen with Shipp was a nice touch.
Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell appearing together again as Cpt Cold and Heatwave great too, and then there is Grood!!
It is not without its faults however, there are just one too many Barry and Joe heart to hearts from my liking and then there is Iris West…why oh why can’t we get the female love interest right on these shows. She is just annoying and has nothing to do beyond getting in the heroes way.
Small problems though, the show is great fun and I am really looking forward to seeing what is ahead for Barry Allen and co in season 2.
With the both Flash and Arrow existing in the same universe, characters have crossed over and it works really well and The Flash vs Arrow episodes were series highlights. With a third show in this universe on the way, the future looks bright for DC, on the small screen at least.
So what has gone right? I think both Fox and The CW have managed to adapt the source material and reach beyond the comic book fans, something that it looks like Constaintine has failed to do.
Gotham in particular seems to be the furthest away from the source material, and people are still watching, so it has have found away to reach a broader audience.
The CW have essentially cast a bunch of beautiful people and included some soap opera elements to the comic book roots and they seem to have hit a winning formula.
As far as this writer is concerned, I am just happy that networks are telling stories about characters I love, in what ever form. If it encourages people to go out and buy a comic book, then all the better.
Thanks for reading folks x