Are the TV Super Heroes of the Past Still Relevant?
Are the TV Super Heroes of the Past Still Relevant?
by Daniel Pike
Scattered across the small screen, viewers have been able to watch many of their four color heroes take shape and have some of their favorite stories pop off the page into live action television series. This trend has been one that has been taking shape since The Adventures of Superman (1952-58), one of the more popular series at that time, where we saw the Man of Steel combating thugs and villains in black and white on the small screen. They had started as movie shorts in the theater, and this proved to producers that they could be popular to viewers. This was before DVR and before VHS, so the episodes played on television had to be watched at the time they were scheduled (I know, strange, right?)
As time went on, the things people enjoyed changed, and where The Adventures of Superman had been pseudo serious, the times changed the content. More and more series were produced featuring characters and plotlines from fan favorite comics. Kids could cough up a dime for their favorite issues, and then once a week, sit down and watch actors play on television what they played with their friends. It was fantasy come to life. This hasn’t ended either – as the times changed, so did the shows, the costumes, the sets – getting more and more funding, more dedication and more fandom.
Let’s discuss the past for a moment, going over some of the larger scale attempts at bringing heroes to the silver screen. Some of the bigger titles over the years include, but are not limited to: The Adventures of Superman (1952-58), a series that was essentially just like the audio stories from the prior decades, but in video form. You can still find some of these on the internet, but they are very rarely shown as presented originally, on television. Batman (1966-68) was the original Adam West, Burt Ward run. This series took the idea of Batman and added the flair expected from America in the late 60s. It was silly and often ridiculous, but it never claimed to be anything else. It was good, and you can often find the Movie on Netflix (a full length feature based on the television show, something that is still pretty unheard of). Wonder Woman (1975-79), led by the magnificent Linda Carter, showed how powerful a woman superhero could be. Though sometimes (often) the plots were far-fetched, it was still a really good representation during an era of burgeoning female independence. This is a series that hasn’t yet come to instant media, though I hope that will change. The late 70s brought about shows like The Amazing Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk, both found themselves well-liked by viewers, though The Incredible Hulk really beat the competition at the time, running a total of 83 episodes and 3 made for TV movies.
The Hulk is still held as a standard for some superhero dramas. Though the episodes were often nearly identical (Bruce Banner has a drama problem, then insert physical issue, Hulk fights and beats the issue, Banner figures out the drama, then he hits the road), it was still entertaining to watch. The 90’s saw more attempts at the genre, with many failures, but some of the successes include: The Flash (1990-91), starring John Wesley Shipp, with Mark Hamill as ‘The Trickster’, not to be confused with the current run of The Flash (but more on that in future installments). The 90s also gave us Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman with Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain as the titular characters. This show was steeped in the the Superhero Drama genre, often dealing with personal relationships as often as they combatted the bad guys. This opened the door for shows like Smallville to really get a foothold into primetime television slots (It had 10 Seasons, 11 if you count the comic book series, you heard me right, a television show, based on a comic book, ended and then had a comic book that continued its story. Art imitates art imitates art?)
This brings us to today, 2016. Thanks to all those that came before them, we have never before had so many shows about super heroes (many of them based on comics, but not all (See Heroes/Heroes Reborn) airing at the same time. The best part about this? Many of them aren’t bad. Each of these shows is different and special in it’s own way. I will be going more in depth on these shows in the coming weeks, but for now, a simple synopsis will have to do.
I’ll start with Marvel. We have seen a couple of shows crop up over the last few years. One of the best thing about these series is that they exist, hand in hand, within the Marvel cinematic universe. You read that right, each of the series being produced exists in the same universe with the movies; the popular billion dollar movies that we all watch and love. While this doesn’t mean we have our favorite movie actors/actresses showing up on a weekly basis, it does mean that the stories mesh into what is happening in the movies. This is especially true of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (AoS). AoS has a pretty remarkable cast which includes characters from the Marvel Universe (Comics) as well as a few actors who have been in a couple of the movies. The Show tackles some of the same issues that are being handled within the movies (Captain America Winter Soldier/Avengers: Age of Ultron).
There is also Agent Carter, a period drama taking place between the first Captain America and the modern era, following Agent Peggy Carter as she tackles supernatural threats in the 40’s. Then, there is the Netflix series of series.
The two already produced, Daredevil and Jessica Jones are dark and gritty, tackling reluctant heroes who do their part to protect their small sections of New York. One of the better parts of these series is that they are visceral, dark, and sometimes painful. This isn’t because they are bad…at all, but because some of the natures of the things they are tackling can be deeply personal. Daredevil covers a blind lawyer trying to use his training and abilities to make Hell’s Kitchen, his crime filled borough, a safer place to live. Jessica Jones is a “Gifted” hero turned PI after a powerful villain got in her head. These series alone are worth paying for a month of Netflix to check them out. ((**Parental Warning: where most of these series would be okay to watch with children who understand that they are not real, these last two series are not for children**))
DC Comics has a full Line up as well, with the Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Gotham, iZombie, and Lucifer. It is important to note that these shows DO NOT exist within the same universe as the current run of DC Movies. DC Comics have stated that the properties exist within the same *Multiverse* but that really only helps the truly nerdy that know that term and how it works with DC Comics as a whole. ((Think parallel universe theory, and apply it to DC Comic books)). As a quick synopsis, Arrow is about the Green Arrow, though the show is exceptionally dark for a superhero drama and many consider it to be more of a Superhero show than a Crime Drama. The Flash (which exists in the same universe, there have been crossovers and everything) is essentially its opposite. Where the Arrow is dark and sometimes its plots are convoluted, the Flash tends to be more upbeat with well written plot points, and tons of fan service (in a good way).
The Arrow, the Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow even have crossover episodes.
Legends of Tomorrow is also within the same universe as The Arrow and The Flash (The titular heroes, friends and enemies make up the cast) and follows a group of “Time Bandits” trying to track and stop an ancient foe.
Supergirl is a valiant effort for CBS to make a Superhero Drama headlining a powerful superheroine (More on this in a different article) It has also been shown, somewhat recently, that Supergirl also exists in the same TV universe as Arrow and Flash, albeit not the same “Earth”.
Gotham has been a ratings boon since its pilot, and takes place early in Commissioner Gordon’s police career, before Batman and Arkham. While some argue that the premise is silly for the show, it has proven, through good writing and some great acting, that it can make a strong run for best series of the genre on cable. Some of the folks I work with that don’t share my fanaticism over the genre watch this title as if it were Game of Thrones.
Lastly iZombie and Lucifer; the former, a “murder or the week” series where a zombie medical examiner needs to use her abilities to solve murders. The latter, Lucifer, is a series that takes place in the modern era, when the prince of darkness decides he needs a vacation from hell, returns to Earth as a handsome 30-something, and helps a young cop solve crimes while using his powers of darkness and keeping things under wraps.
Independent Comics are even breaking into the space; there is the SONY produced Powers that you can watch via the Playstation Network; season 1 had some effects quality issues, but the writing was on point, the cast was great, and season 2 looks to be better – with a bigger budget and returning cast.
There are so many shows to watch on television today, catering to so many individuals, so many different genres playing to fans of all types, Superhero shows are no exception. There are different reasons to like/dislike all of them, and there are more on the horizon. Love them or hate them, they are here to stay.
If you haven’t had the chance to see them, most of the above shows have at least their first season on Netflix, many of the others (including the older series) are available for purchase through Amazon.
While this was meant as more of an editorial, there is still plenty of room for agreement/disagreement. Hit up the comments below.