FEATURE: Are Comic Book TV Shows Being Undermined By Their Big Screen Counterparts?

FEATURE: Are Comic Book TV Shows Being Undermined By Their Big Screen Counterparts?

FEATURE: Are Comic Book TV Shows Being Undermined By Their Big Screen Counterparts?

It's an exciting time to be a comic book fan, with plenty of our favorite characters appearing across multiple media platforms. But can these different adaptations have a negative effect on one another - and which ones are the most important? Hit the jump for my take on the subject!

It’s becoming increasingly clear that we are living in a ‘golden age’ of comic book adaptations, with over forty superhero films set to be released over the next six years. This success has trickled down into television as well - as shown this season, where there were no less than ten adaptations on the small screen. Given the number of future projects in the pipeline, it's hard to imagine that this era of superhero dominance across multiple platforms is about to end anytime soon.

Part of the novelty of these small screen adaptations is their ability to bring to life heroes who would never get a chance to feature in their own movies. Green Arrow, The Atom and Quake are just a few examples of characters that have benefitted from this. On paper, it’s a perfect system – handing the A-Lister’s the spotlight in Hollywood, while giving the ‘lesser-known’ characters their own time to shine elsewhere. And yet, over the last year or so, a few cracks have begun to appear in the relationship between the two mediums.

In 2013, Marvel Studios expanded into television, with the arrival of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D on ABC. Contrary to fan expectations, the show was widely panned during its early stages - heavily criticised for its weak storytelling, bland characters, and numerous unsubtle MCU references. However, following a dramatic change in direction at the end of Season 1, the series has since gone from strength-to-strength, finally evolving into the show that fans had once hoped to see.

And yet, despite S.H.I.E.L.D.’s remarkable turnaround in quality, the show still appears to be viewed as the ‘black sheep’ of the Marvel Studios family. The publicity tour ahead of Age Of Ultron’s release last month serves as a great example of this. There were several moments during interviews or on talk shows where key figures like Kevin Feige, Joss Whedon and even a few of The Avengers appeared to brush off any association with it.

Perhaps most striking were Whedon’s claims that there have may even been a little tension between Marvel’s film and television camps at one point:

“I think actually the movie people were a little bit cross about the TV show. They were sort of like ‘Well you can have this but not this. And this but not that.’ It’s complicated enough as it is without me adding another layer of complication. We also created a TV show called S.H.I.E.L.D. right before they made a movie where they destroyed S.H.I.E.L.D.. So everybody’s having a GREAT time!”

Given how poorly Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was initially received, It’s easy to argue that Marvel were justifiably keen to cut-off any association with the show. However, having watched it perform such an impressive critical U-Turn, why wouldn’t they embrace the new-and-improved series? Instead, the show has been left in a creative limbo – still attached to the overall MCU, but unable to influence it in any meaningful way.

A more interesting case is Marvel’s recent team-up with Netflix. Praised for its talented ensemble, exhilarating fight sequences and outstanding production value, Daredevil was a huge hit with TV binge-watchers worldwide. Its success has prompted many calls for Matt Murdock’s inclusion in the wider MCU. And yet, ironically, some would call this a ‘step-down’ for the character – at least thematically. Daredevil’s dark, violent tone was one of the show’s greatest strengths. Would the character still have the same appeal in a PG-13 environment like Civil War?

Given Daredevil’s incompatibility with the MCU, along with the creative restrictions imposed on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., is it fair to say that DC’s approach to their television properties has been the more successful model? The assumption was that by isolating their DCTV properties, the writers would be given the freedom to tell whatever tales they pleased - within their own universe.

Except, they haven’t…

Arrow’s early seasons served as a platform for many fan favourite DC comics characters, including Deathstroke, Amanda Waller and The Suicide Squad. These were all plot threads that had to be abandoned in Season 3, as a result of Warner Bros’ upcoming Suicide Squad film. The reason for this? So that general audiences wouldn’t be confused by multiple versions of the characters onscreen - as if the world couldn't tell the difference between Will Smith and Michael Rowe...

Many would argue however, that The Flash has still continued to flourish in spite of these 'restrictions'. The 
spin-off of Arrow delivered a fantastic debut season, and has rapidly become one of the most popular genre shows on TV. The writers’ willingness to embrace the source material (no matter how corny or complex it may have been) helped to drive the show to new heights. All of a sudden, The CW had a ratings smash on their hands.

The Flash’s overwhelming popularity has allowed for its continued existence. Had Greg Berlanti and his team waited until this summer to develop the show, it seems likely that DC/WB would have stopped it from going ahead – due to the Untitled Flash Film currently in the works for 2018. For the moment, however, the show appears to be fairly untouchable, and probably won't have to step aside creatively in the same manner as Arrow did.

This raises an important question: should the movies really be allowed to have that much of an effect on the TV shows? In order to be the best adaptation it can be, The Flash will require access to all of the key characters from the Scarlet Speedster's rich comic book history – including his family, friends, allies and, of course, his entire Rogues gallery. But with a Flash feauture film on the way, will DC/WB continue to allow for this to happen? I suppose only time will tell.

By now I’m sure you’re wondering where this is all going. The point of this article wasn't to criticise comic book movies, but instead to highlight the potentially negative effects they may have on other adaptations. Had Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. not made so many forced references to the MCU and concentrated on perfecting its story in its first season, its weekly viewership would be much higher. Additionally, shows like S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow and The Flash ought to have the freedom to tell their own stories without fear of clashing with or angering the big movie studios.

At the end of the day though, the movies are always going to win this battle. They receive the most funding, sign-on the biggest stars and feature the most iconic comic book heroes. This seems fair, as they do attract a much larger target audience. That said, if companies like DC and Marvel hope to achieve similar success on the small screen, it’s time they started treating those adaptations with a little more respect.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between comic book movies and television? Do you think they should all be connected across both formats, or would you rather see them kept separate? Let me your thoughts on this topic – I’m sure most of you will completely disagree with me! Be sure to sound off in the comments below!

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