The Era Of Superheroes: TV’s Dominating Genre
Billowing capes, spandex costumes, powers beyond imagination. Welcome to the world of superheroes. If you don’t know them, you will soon learn. Our movie screens are already filled with the tales of those heroes who put on a mask and fight the evil in our world, many with a tragic story to motivate them. Don’t get me wrong, I love superhero movies, and now that they are coming to the small screen there is a lot to look forward to.
Superheroes have been present in our TV’s since it first began broadcasting. Originally there were the live action versions of The Incredible Hulk, Superman and Spider-man that enthralled their audiences. Most of these occurred in the seventies, coming after the golden age of the comics. In an article from the history detectives at PBS it was stated that the Golden Age of comics ended with the second world war, with comics not gathering as much interest as it had been. The seventies seemed to be a decade of superhero shows which drew upon this previous comic book hype. A source of this could be that during the Golden Age comics were read by children and teens, and by the seventies they were adults and these shows reminded them of their childhood and/or presented their favourite childhood characters to them in a more grown-up medium.
After the seventies passed, not many superhero films were present until the new century began , then the superhero genre really stepped up and adapted for today’s audiences. Smallville set the standards for superheroes on TV in the modern era, its ten-year run making it what many believe to be one of the most successful superhero shows. The re-envisioning of Superman before he was Superman intrigued audiences and as the story developed DC was able to bring more of its popular characters to the viewers. Now on TV we have the CW hit Arrow and just recently Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This is just the beginning of the new phase of superheroes we are about to see hit the small screen. This year we have had Arrow return for its second season, the aforementioned Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D premiering to large ratings, as well as shows like The Tomorrow People, which while not exactly being about superheroes, still deals with people with powers.
Over the past few years we have had some superhero shows that have been cut short before their time. The Cape is a fine example of this. The show was set up as though each episode was segmented into comic issues and had a real comic book vibe about it. Their was also Alphas, which dealt with powered individuals working with the government on cases that involved other powered people and also was cut short after just two seasons. Then, of course, there is the elephant in the room: Heroes. This show had a great first season, then over the next three seasons lost a lot of its viewership until it too was cancelled. These shows have added to the dominance the superhero genre has had over our TV in the past years, and now a new wave is entering our TV screens.
Of course their are flaws and reasons why these shows were cancelled and why some never got off the ground in the first place. As mentioned above some shows like Heroes just lost viewers. In this case, some of the seasons relied heavily on knowledge of previous seasons, thus not allowing new viewers in. Others are only allowed a small budget and because of this aren’t made to the quality they wanted, and are eventually axed due to this. In some cases like The Cape both of these reasons apply. As Screenrant details about The Cape “NBC cut down the 13-episode order to ten” due to low viewership and because “the poor production value and eclectic writing left viewers unimpressed”. However despite all the challenges each show faces many still make it through with mediocre ratings.
On top of all these current shows both Marvel and DC have unveiled new shows premiering in the next couple of years. Marvel is bringing its interconnected cinematic universe to the home whilst DC is beginning to bring some of its bigger named characters to the small screen. Although these are on different mediums the superhero genre is starting to become a dominant entry in TV.
Marvel has another six new shows coming out, on top of the new Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. However not all of these are coming to the TV, most of these new series are going to be uploaded straight to Netflix. Of the six of these, one has been speculated to be about Agent Peggy Carter, as stated by IGN, and will be spinning off from the Captain America film and the Marvel One-Shot. The other five series are all going to be somewhat connected. IGN states “Daredevil will come first in 2015, followed by Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage.” The fifth program is The Defenders which will premiere after all these programs, and be a team up of all four. This will stretch over many years and will provide Marvel with a more interconnected live action universe.
On the TV front, DC is also bringing many of its franchises to viewers. Arrow is already in its second season and going strong and now DC is bringing more of its big name characters to the small screen. The Flash is in plans for a new series beginning next year, originally spinning off from an episode in Arrow, but now getting an official pilot. As well as this DC is creating a show based around their bestselling Batman franchise. The show won’t have any connection to the Christopher Nolan films, but instead will be about Detective Gordon and his cases before he meets Batman. As IGN states DC is also creating a show about Hourman, a superhero who can see events an hour in the future, in collaboration with the CW. Also they are having Constantine developed at NBC as yet another comic book adaption.
For Marvel and DC, TV is a great format for bringing the superhero drama to new viewers. Not only can the TV format fit nicely with the comic source layout, but it allows new and old fans alike to see what their favourite characters would look like in real life. However the main source of popularity for the superhero genre stems from their stories. The highs and lows they face whilst hiding their face from the public and the struggles faced whilst treading the fine line that is the law. With more and more of these shows coming to our screens, directors and writers have to find more creative and unique ways of portraying each superhero and their story. This means each superhero drama varies from the next, creating many different experiences when watching these pieces.
The true power of the superhero genre, though, is to apply everyday issues and problems, that the viewer’s experience, to these superhuman characters. By slipping these into the midst of their other problems, viewers feel like they can connect to these characters. They feel empathy and sympathy for these people; they experience the tragedy in their lives as well as the happy and exciting moment for their characters. That is what makes these programs so enjoyable.
In addition to all this there are a few shows dealing with people who have powers, but are not directly about superheroes or comic- based characters. These include The Tomorrow People, an adaptation of the original British series as well as long running shows like Haven and Misfits. These all may not be counted traditionally as the superhero genre however they all deal with super-powered individuals in many different ways.
After this there is of course all the animated shows aimed towards children that play on Disney XD and other channels of the sorts. These animated shows are what start viewers on the superhero genre. As kids we are introduced to these amazing characters and stories, then when we get older we are given these live action versions to once again enthrall us, in all new ways. The genre dominates the small screen, continuing to be popular and remaining strong in all age groups. We are now truly in the era of superheroes.
‘The Cape’ Gets Defeated: Series Finale Cut; Will Air Online, www.screenrant.com, 2011
The CW’s Adapting Hourman for TV, www.IGN.com, November 5th 2013
Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones TV Series Coming to Netflix; Leading into the Defenders Miniseries, www.IGN.com, November 7th 2013
The Golden Age of Comics, www.pbs.org
Hero Worship: What DC’s New TV Slate Means for a Shared Universe, www.IGN.com, September 27 2013
What do you think? Leave a comment.
I remember the Generation X TV pilot, which was so awful it convinced me a hero show could never be done justice on the small screen. How about the scene where the “villain” used a subliminal suggestion to make all the board members of a company belch simultaneously? Simply brilliant. /sarcasm
I haven’t actually watched Gen X but it sounds like it is terrible from what you just said.
I still believe a Bruce Wayne origin series would 100% work. But a sh*tty Smallville approach won’t do. The series would need to be taken seriously like on a cable network like FX. Bruce would need to be globe-trotting, learning new skills in each episode, and pre-versions of many rouges could still appear. Forensics (Riddler), Ninjitsu in Japan (Lady Shiva), hunting in Africa, (Killer Croc, maybe?). I can see more use for varying love interests (Silver St Cloud, Julie Madison, etc) He learned to use the blow gun in Brazil- Bane come on down!
That actually sounds like it would work really well. But fans are also something that can impact upon a show, so if it was to be made the creators would have to please fans of the comics as well. But it does sound like a good idea.
If they do a show about Bruce Wayne, and they want to smart about it, it shouldn’t have anything to do with his heroism or violence or learning different skills to become Batman. That’s played out.
It should be a show about dealing with grief and everything from the moment his parents are shot in the alleyway to right before he starts to learn his skills.
Wayne is an incredibly interesting character, but the most interesting parts about him aren’t often shown. He’s basically a guy who goes around fighting criminals in a costume because he doesn’t have any other way to deal with his parents’ murder. I think a series that dealt with his psychological problems exclusively would be fascinating.
Uh, I wouldn’t consider the CAPE cut “before its time.” Frankly, its time was up 20 minutes into the first episode. So bad…
I had heard it was absolutely terrible but I decided to watch it. In my opinion I found it not as bad as everybody had said it was. I read a review that said it was to be taken with certain amounts of ridiculousness and that is true, if taken seriously it would have been absolutely dreadful. But taken with that it wasn’t as bad as everyone detailed. But that is just how I saw it in the couple of episodes I have watched. Compared to other successful shows of the genre though, it doesn’t stand out.
Misfits is the best show ever!!!! Must admit, when my friend told me what it was about when it first came out; “super heros with random powers”, I thought it sounded pretty weak, like a Heros rip, but a few minutes into the first episode, totally hooked! Brilliant show!
Disappointingly it is in its last season. I binged watched the first 4 seasons this year and really liked it.
This was an awesome article! Just as a note, in case you’re interested, but after the Golden Age of Comics ended, the ‘fifties saw a resurgence after a few years where nobody seemed interested in the characters. This is when the (rather predictably named) Silver Age of Comics began, and it’s where a large amount of the characters comic fans know and love have their origins – the Flash’s iconic costume, for example, was a product of the Silver Age. You could say the Silver Age is the reason these movies and TV shows even exist, given that the characters they market are mostly Silver Age creations!
Thats interesting. I didn’t know that, thanks for that.
I feel that although there is a real need for a bigger imagination and a some new ideas on our TV screens, there is still some nice room to move some superhero characters from the big screen, to the TV screen. As long as the right hands are in charge!
That is true, superheroes have stood the test of time and because of this their is the room for more adaptations, as you say.
I was really surprised by how good CW’s Arrow ended up being. It has some of the best action and fight choreography on TV right now.
As many people have said the new season has been keeping up with the level the finale had, which is excellent to see, and the show is running more smoothly, getting even better i would say.
I agree with everything in this article, and I look forward to watching the new superhero shows that are coming out next fall!