The Current State of Comic Book TV


With the growing popularity of comic book culture, one of the greatest benefits is the huge amount of comic book related television shows. I guess you could say that that they’ve been around for a long time, dating back to the George Reeves “Superman” show. But it’s only been very recently that they have really hit their stride and become a huge part of popular culture.

As far as modern comic book TV goes, I suppose you have to start with “The Walking Dead.” The show was not really so much recognized for the source material as it was for the popularization of zombie culture. But for any true fans of the genre, it was the first of the modern hit comic book TV shows.

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Image Credit: telltalegames.com

Admittedly, the quality of the show has been a roller coaster ride. The production value and storytelling have gone downhill after season one. But that’s understandable to a degree. AMC had no way of knowing that the show was going to be the phenomenon it became. And they wrestled a lot of control away from Frank Darabont before and during the first half of the second season. Glen Mazzara never treated the characters with the respect that they deserved, and he seemed to be more concerned about leaving his own personal stamp on the show than he was about producing quality television. As a result, the quality of the show dipped dramatically, and several important characters were wasted.

The show has somewhat regained its stride under the watch of Scott Gimple, but again, Gimple seems to be more concerned about imprinting his personal style than he is about telling a cohesive story. We are getting more developed characters, but it seems that any amount of character development for smaller roles immediately leads to the death of said character. The story tends to drag for episodes at a time and then explode into a single, action filled episode. This often leaves the audience feeling cold, and knowing that they are in store for several boring weeks of “The Walking Dead” before the story comes to a head again.

That being said, “The Walking Dead” does have some of the more popular characters in television today. Rick Grimes, Daryl Dixon, and Michonne have become pop culture icons. The show has also thrived in the portrayal of some truly memorable villains like Shane, The Governor, and Gareth. And of course, there’s everyone’s favorite anti-hero, Merle Dixon.

But again, “The Walking Dead” is considered to be more of a zombie show than a comic book show. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” and “Arrow” were the first two of the modern shows to really embrace the traditional comic book culture. Both shows have entertainment value in their own rights, but the quality and themes vary greatly.

I guess I should start with AoS, because it had less overall impact. It definitely pandered more toward fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe than to the traditional comic book fan. The show failed greatly early on with the 90’s “Monster of the Week” format. This format worked for shows like “The X-Files” and “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” because it made sense to the story. And both shows were still able to use that format to create a slow burn to a big payoff. That’s not to say that AoS did not have a big payoff, but it seemed to come out of nowhere, rather than being a result of a season’s worth of build-up.

The acting is solid, if unspectacular. The always charming Clark Gregg really carried the show during season one. The supporting cast was fairly weak, even bordering on unlikable in a lot of cases. This seems to have been somewhat rectified in season 2, but the show is still too uneven and inconsistent to enjoy regularly.

“Arrow” on the other hand has delivered on a fairly consistent basis. The acting started off rough, and some of the actors have never improved. But that’s not unexpected from a CW show. The dark, gritty feel of the show often feels too much like a rip-off of Chris Nolan’s Batman universe. But again, that’s not entirely unexpected.

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Image Credit: hulu.com

Stephen Amell has transformed from a shaky actor into a bona fide leading man over the course of the three seasons. He has benefited greatly from some very strong supporting performances over the years. First and foremost, Paul Blackthorne has been phenomenal from day one as Quinten Lance. David Ramsey as John Diggle has been the perfect counterpart to Oliver Queen. And John Barrowman as Malcom Merlyn and Manu Bennett as Slade Wilson have played some of the better TV villains in recent memory.

You can’t talk about “Arrow” without talking about its spin-off show, “The Flash.” I was as surprised as anyone with the strong performance that Grant Gustin turned in as Barry Allen. Unlike “Arrow” and “Agents of SHIELD,” “The Flash” seems to truly embrace the source material. It helps that The Flash has one of the richest rogues galleries to draw from. But it’s also nice to see a comic book show that isn’t embarrassed by its comic book roots.

“The Flash” is able to balance campy, lighthearted humor with action and gravity. It obviously has the melodrama that’s essential to CW programming, but it also is packed with some fairly badass action. Again, the acting can be fairly rough at times. But it’s also only in its first season. “Arrow” didn’t really hit its stride until the second season. AoS still hasn’t hit a consistent stride. Out of all of the established shows, “The Flash” may have the most overall potential.

And that brings us to the piece of serialized perfection that is “Daredevil.” The quality of the show is definitely helped by the freedom provided by being broadcast on Netflix. They are able to go places that no other show has been able to touch. The bigger budget allowed for a very high production value. And no other comic book show has shown as much respect for the source material.

The acting has been extremely solid overall. Charlie Cox had an absolutely star-making turn as Matt Murdock. He would definitely not be out of place on the same screen as Robert Downey Jr. The supporting cast was strong, and even spectacular in some cases. Vincent D’Onofrio pretty much stole the show as Wilson Fisk. His performance was every bit as strong as Cox’s. He was able to bring a menacing presence to the screen along with a surprisingly human vulnerability. He portrayed a larger than life character with all of the grace and nuance required and then some. If not for Tom Hiddleston’s iconic turn as Loki, D’Onofrio’s Kingpin would reign supreme among Marvel Cinematic Universe villains.

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Image Credit: netflix.com

That brings me to the dark horse of the genre, “Constantine.” This show is nipping right at the heels of “Daredevil” as being the best of the lot. Unfortunately, it just lacked commercial appeal and may end after just one season. This would be a “Firefly” level tragedy. The character development was amazing. The acting was solid across the board. And the storytelling was top notch.

But for every “Daredevil” there have been duds like “Gotham” and “Agent Carter.” Both shows have some entertainment value. Robin Lord Taylor has been a bright spot in “Gotham.” His portrayal of Oswald Cobblepot has been nothing short of show-stealing. He has been so good, that I can’t help but think that he deserves better than the material he has been given. And Hayley Atwell was again strong in her turn as Peggy Carter. Unfortunately, the producers and writers seemed to forget who Peggy Carter was.

Overall, given the steady rise in quality of comic book TV shows, the future looks bright. With future Marvel properties “AKA Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist,” and “The Defenders” already slated to be released over the next few years, another spin-off show from the “Arrow” universe, and the returns of many of the existing shows; we can be assured of plenty of comic book related entertainment on the small screen for at least the next several years.

The success of “Daredevil” has proven that street-level heroes can thrive on television with more of a serialized format. So we could potentially see heroes like The Punisher, Cloak and Dagger, and Moon Knight hit the small screen in the future. This will only serve to bolster the already strong roster in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If these shows are successful, and the acting is strong enough, they could potentially build future movie franchises from these shows.

And even though DC has chosen to separate their TV properties from their cinematic universe, it gives fans something to gravitate towards in between Hollywood blockbusters. And it gives lesser known heroes like The Atom, Black Canary, and Arsenal a chance to shine.

So, long story short, it’s a great time to be a comic book nerd.

 

Thanks for playing along…

 

– Ron George

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