It’s a great time to be a superhero comics fan! Especially if you like seeing live-action versions, too!
I’m not even talking about the movies; though, with the current output both DC and Marvel have planned, the next few years are going to (hopefully) be uncannily, incredibly, amazingly super-awesome! (Did I overdo that just a bit?) I’m actually just referring to the many TV series. (For my purposes here, I mean all “small screen” productions, including from regular TV, cable, Netflix, and Playstation.) Animated series aside, we have only had a few shows — mostly of marginal quality or faithfulness to source material — over the past decades. There were, of course, early serials from the 1940s and 1950s, as well as the campy fun of the 1960s “Batman” series. But, let’s jump to the 1970s….
The TV version of “The Incredible Hulk” (1978-1982) was arguably the best done and most successful of Marvel’s shows. (Loved it, despite the much smaller Hulk and several aspects that differed a lot from the comics.) That show also tried unsuccessfully to spin off Daredevil and the Mighty Thor in later TV movies. There were 14 sporadic episodes of “The Amazing Spider-Man” (1977-1979). Dr. Strange got a campy TV movie in 1978. In 1979, Captain America got two TV movies that I enjoyed. DC’s “Wonder Woman” (1975-1979) was their big hit, with star Lynda Carter becoming an icon and idol of little fan-boys and girls everywhere. (I had such a crush!) Of course, we can’t forget the Saturday morning “Shazam!” show (1974-1976), either. I have to admit, I was a fan of them all. (Though, I’m not sure I saw all of the Dr. Strange movie, and I’m sort of glad that Daredevil and Thor didn’t spin off. They were pretty bad.)
“Superboy” (1988-1992) was fairly popular, though I don’t think I ever watched it myself. The 1990s brought us the first “The Flash” TV show (1990-1991), which was pretty cool but short-lived. We saw DC’s Swamp-Thing get a TV series (1990-1993), and “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” (1993-1997) was a lot of fun. The less said about the “Justice League of America” TV movie pilot from 1997, the better. Marvel produced a poorly-executed and (generally) poorly-received “Nick Fury: Agent of Shield” TV movie in 1998, starring David Hasselhoff. (Another failed pilot.) I can’t remember anything else by Marvel during this time, but I may be forgetting one or two. (UPDATE: There was a rather disappointing “Generation X” TV movie in 1996, which also failed as a pilot, despite having Matt Frewer as the villain.)
The 2000s introduced a new era of comic-based TV shows, beginning with DC’s “Smallville”, which gave us 10 years (2001-2011) of pre-Superman Clark Kent and friends. An unaired pilot was produced for a new “Wonder Woman” series in 2011, starring Adrianne Palicki (aka Lady Jaye, aka Agent Bobbi Morse). But, it’s the new crop of shows that seem to be popping up left & right that have us excited. The fan-favorite “Arrow” debuted in Oct. 2012. Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” spun out of the first Avengers movie, landing on our TV screens in Sept. 2013. DC gave us three new shows in 2014, with “Gotham” kicking off in September, followed by “The Flash” and “Constantine” in October. Meanwhile, a year prior Marvel and Netflix announced a partnership that would be producing series based on the Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist characters, culminating in a “Defenders” mini-series. (The first one, “Daredevil”, is due out in May 2015.) Also, with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on mid-season break right now, the “Agent Carter” mini-series will start it’s 2-month run in January.
Outside of Marvel and DC properties, let’s not forget the “Powers” series based on the Bendis/Oeming comic of the same name. (Technically, it is published by a Marvel imprint, but they don’t own it.) There are 10 episodes being produced for streaming on Playstation. Originally, it was to debut this month, but it has been postponed until sometime in Winter 2015. I don’t own a PS, and I’ve already written about my frustration with their casting choices, but I may give it a look sometime down the road. And, of course, there is the well-done and very popular “The Walking Dead” series that debuted in 2010 and is already in its 5th season!
So far, DC has the most shows and best track record, but “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has improved a lot, and Marvel’s upcoming shows — what little we’ve heard/seen — sound and look like they could be pretty darn good. But, if you’ve been paying attention as I have, you know that DC isn’t resting on its laurels, either. In September, they announced both a new “Supergirl” series and a live-action “Titans”. (Technically, the first one is as yet unnamed, though we are assured it will not be called “Supergirl”. Still, I have to call it something.)
The “Supergirl” series is being developed by Greg Berlanti (“Arrow”, “The Flash”) and Ali Adler (“Chuck”, “The New Normal”). They will write — with Adler writing the pilot — and co-executive produce with Sarah Schechter. DC’s Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns, will also be involved, and Warner Bros TV will produce. The show was originally pitched to The CW (who are enjoying success with “Arrow” and “The Flash”), but they declined. It has since been picked up by CBS (part-owner of The CW with Warner Bros.). There is already a 13-episode commitment, and the pilot will likely air in the Fall. Though the probability of crossover was originally cautioned against, a recent interview in Entertainment Weekly quotes Berlanti as saying it’s quite possible Supergirl will share a continuity/universe with Arrow and The Flash. Whether Superman will be specifically referenced or depicted in the show, however, is unknown. (I’m guessing not.)
Initial rumors reported by Deadline said the series would be a “new interpretation of the Supergirl character and her story.” This was a bit worrisome to me. I really want a fairly faithful version of Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin who shares his Kryptonian powers, rather than someone else in the costume or different powers or different origins. Official reports now say that the show will indeed follow the adventures of Kara Zor-el, who escaped the planet Krypton at age 12. She was adopted by the Danvers family, who encouraged her to hide her powers. But, now at age 24, she “is forced to use her powers to stop an unexpected disaster” and “begins embracing her abilities in the name of helping the people of her city.” That sounds close enough to modern comics continuity to satisfy me. Also, Kara’s brainy and slightly jealous, adoptive sister, Alex, now “works for a secret government organization and, alongside her heroic sis, will face many challenges, both mundane and super.”
The “Titans” series will be an action-packed drama, reportedly loosely based on Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s The New Teen Titans comic series, with the sidekicks of the big guns “adopt[ing] personalities and identities of their own”. It has been pointed out that the “teen” aspect is intentionally being left out, since the idea is to take a more “grown-up” approach, despite the heroes being “younger”. According to Entertainment Weekly, “In the pilot, former Robin Dick Grayson “emerges from the shadow of Batman to become Nightwing, the leader of a fearless band of new Super Heroes including Starfire, Raven and many others.”” Note that this indicates the roster won’t be limited to (former) sidekicks. Cyborg was named specifically in an earlier report (in the Wall Street Journal), though that may change if DC decides it doesn’t want both a small-screen version and a large-screen version (a la the announced Cyborg movie). On the other hand, with Ezra Miller cast as Barry Allen for the The Flash movie (2018), they’ve proven they aren’t averse to having two separate, live-action versions. Speaking of Flash(es), word is that the current “The Flash” series will be introducing a version of Wally West / Kid Flash at some point. It would be great if he and Arsenal (from “Arrow”) could cross over to “Titans”; but, given that the new show won’t be on The CW (see below), it’s doubtful.
Somehow, I don’t think they will perfectly reproduce any particular line-up from the comics. But, as long as it includes several classic characters and assuming they get those characters’ personalities and the group dynamic right, I’ll be satisfied. (Well, also assuming decent plots, acting, directing, F/X, etc.) Also, in case you’re wondering, the series is being developed for TNT via Warner Horizon Television. Akiva Goldsman (“Fringe”, I Am Legend) will be writing and executive producing, with Marc Haimes co-executive producing. Goldsman’s reputation is not good when it comes to sticking closely to source material, so here’s hoping he surprises us….
But, the fun doesn’t stop there! Earlier this month (Dec. 2014), DC announced a series titled “Krypton”. Rumored back in October, this SyFy series is being developed and exec-produced by David Goyer and Ian Goldberg (“Once Upon a Time”, “FlashForward”). Very few details, or even a timetable, are known at this point. It will probably be similar to “Gotham”, in that it will be a prequel of sorts to all of the superheroics. I’m sure the House of El will be major players, if not central to the story. It has been suggested that we may get to see the beginnings of legendary Kryptonian tech/characters like Brainiac, The Eradicator, and Doomsday. There may even be contact with other worlds. It isn’t clear how much of the sterile-looking, “scientific” environment Goyer helped create for Krypton in the Man of Steel movie — itself inspired by John Byrne’s reboot of Superman’s origins in The Man of Steel comic (1986), as well as his World of Krypton miniseries — will make it into the new series. If it’s there, it will likely have to be on a much smaller scale to be within budget. Personally, I think they could probably manage with a dozen or so well-done, establishing shots and keep the rest of the money for interiors. SyFy isn’t known for high-quality productions, but there’s always a first time….
Happy New Year, everyone! Looks like 2015 is shaping up to be a crazy-fun year for fans of live-action superheroics (and associated material)!