DC Rising; the Success of DC’s Television Universe

By Joe Strange


I have a confession; I am a Marvel fanboy, without a doubt, I’d take Captain Marvel over Superman, Ironman over Batman, and there’s no question that Mr Fantastic wins out over Plastic Man. I just find Marvel’s characters more appealing, to me Marvel was always about the people, not the powers.

So you can imagine my surprise when I realised that I’d much rather watch a DC show than a Marvel one. While Agents of SHIELD has had its ups and downs, DC’s television Universe has gone from strength to strength, and with two very good mid season finales behind us, I thought it would be a good time to talk about the ride that led us to The Man in the Yellow Suit and The Climb.

Those that have read my Watch List on Arrow will know that I was recommended this show by fellow writer Sara, so I didn’t search out DC’s Oliver Queen on my own volition. She pointed me in direction just as season 2 was kicking off, so I had a whole season to catch up on, and if there’s one way to get me into a show it’s to give me 20 episodes to binge in a weekend. And get into it I did.

So Arrow was always a grounded approach to the superhero genre, in the first season there was nothing out of the ordinary with regards to villains; all of the rogues we were introduced to were realistic re-imaginings, but most of all they seemed like actual people, not crazed maniacs.

The first season also showed some great development for Oliver, especially towards the end where he realises that to help people he probably shouldn’t be turning everyone in town into his own pin cushion and by the start of season 2 he’s well and truly on the classic ‘superheroes don’t kill’ train, (even though a lot of the time things would be SO much easier if they did).

The realistic approach to the subject matter, I think, was the best thing for Arrow, it allowed the audience to buy into the dark world of Starling City and the politics and characters behind it all without also having to get on board with ridiculous superpowers and the like. This made it a lot more approachable, even if the acting was kind of stiff and the characters underdeveloped (which is understandable, it was the first season, they needed to be fleshed out).

Season 2 was a risk; with the introduction of the Mirakuru serum, a compound that makes the subject super strong and resilient but also prone to mild cases of severe insanity (and death), Arrow took a significantly more comic book-y approach to the show. We also saw the introduction of the Suicide Squad, the League of Assassins and our first look at Barry Allen and Central City.

Before I take on the future Flash, the introduction of these ingredients; the super serum and the classic comic book factions, were a proclamation that the show was comfortable with its audience, comfortable enough to finally announce ‘we are a comic book show, we hope that’s okay, but we totally understand if it’s not’.

It’s the TV show equivalent of showing someone you’re dating your massive game collection and saying ‘oh, just so you know, I’m a huge nerd’, in the end this worked because the audience was more than comfortable with the characters and the world after a whole season that we kind of trusted the show, and let’s face it, it was going in a really cool direction at an agreeable pace.

Speaking of pace, season 2’s promise of the Flash was a ballsy move. Up to this point, even the Mirakuru was kind of believable in a weird major suspension of disbelief way, because drugs are drugs and they can do weird stuff, like we’d seen with Vertigo in season 1 (see what I mean with Arrow testing the waters first?) but the Flash? Superpowers? Well that’s a different kettle of Aquamen.

With the Flash the CW did something very smart; while Arrow was dark and brooding, its characters severe and unforgiving, the Flash is fun, it’s colourful and vibrant and the characters are a heap of fun without the cynicism that even Arrow’s brightest have.

What this means is that people who are more on board with superhero shows, regular everyday comic book fans, can jump into the flash and enjoy it separately without having to dive into the alleyways of Arrow, much like a certain comic artist has done. It also allows DC to have two shows a week that have two very different atmospheres, one that’s heavy and one that’s light, which prevents the overloading of brooding that two Arrows a week would cause.

What this all amounts to, is that through a very gradual introduction of ideas that curve more and more towards the comic book genre, Arrow has essentially tricked non readers into the world of superheroes and villains, while simultaneously treating fans by nodding to known characters and giving us some really cool takes on series staples.

If DC keep this quality up, especially after the two phenomenal mid season finales, then while Marvel may rule to big screen, there’ll be no touching DC’s midweek domination. This will ring even truer if the Supergirl series both ties into the pre-existing universe and offeres up something different again.

The Flash returns to screens on the 20th of January, while Arrow returns on the 21st and keep an eye on Axby for our mid season finale run down before then.

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