Comic Book Critical Mass: Inside TV’s Biggest Bet

This Fall, TV has opened its arms wide to comic book characters, especially superheroes, as much as – if not more, in our humble opinion – films have. So, um, what’s that mean for the medium anyway? Oh, and for us?

by Lesley Goldberg

comic_book_critical_mass_illoFor years, superheroes have reigned supreme over movies. Now they’ve set their sights on dominating TV, too.

This fall, the broadcast networks will feature five first-year shows based on DC and Marvel comics characters: Fox’s Batman prequel Gotham; NBC’s Constantine, based on the Hellblazer comic about a demon hunter from DC’s Vertigo label; The CW’s Arrowspinoff, The Flash, and iZombie, based on another Vertigo comic; and ABC’s Marvel adaptation Agent Carter. They join a roster that includes AMC’s hit The Walking Dead, ABC’s Agents of SHIELD and Arrow.

In the pipeline, Netflix has four shows and a miniseries based on Marvel characters starting with Daredevil; Sony’s PlayStation recently greenlighted Powers, based on a graphic novel, straight to series; and AMC has a Walking Dead companion series for 2015. Also joining the party are AMC (Preacher), WGN America (Scalped), Cinemax (Outcast), Syfy (RoninClone) and TNT (Titans).

Ask producers behind the shows why the small screen has seen such an influx of new heroes, and they cite the built-in brand equity of DC and Marvel properties and the fact that visual effects work now enables fantastical storylines on a TV-sized budget.

“It’s a perfect confluence of zeitgeist and the actual ability to do it and do it well,” says Arrow executive producer Marc Guggenheim, who also is writing Marvel’s all-female X-Men comic. “A big part of it is the technology is finally here that allows these characters to be realized in TV and film.”

That much is clear with CW’s VFX-heavy Flash, which bows Oct. 7. Warner Bros. TV president Peter Roth — who has made it a priority to mine the studio’s DC division — says comics heroes provide “good, positive messages.” But SHIELD executive producerJeff Bell also acknowledges that familiar characters and storylines are a big part of the allure, especially because viewers are used to seeing Marvel and DC comics heroes on the big screen. “People like hearing the same story in new ways,” he says.

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