We are currently seeing a drastic evolution in superheroes on the small-screen similar to what we saw happen to superhero movies nearly ten years ago. This will likely change the way superhero television works for the foreseeable future. Let’s take a look at what has caused that. The first part of this post will briefly explain the state of Superhero movies leading up to their change in 2008. If you already know this history or don’t care about my opinion of it, please skip to the section titled “The Rise of Superhero Television”.
The Early to Mid-2000’s:
I will be the first to admit that the first portion of the 2000’s had some good Superhero movies. The first two Spider-Man movies were some of the most amazing movies of my childhood, the X-Men trilogy was also incredible in my opinion. I know that those series are not flawless, and there are reasons each series has been rebooted, but for the first 6 years of to 2000’s they were the best superhero movies outside of “Batman Begins” which set up one of the most iconic superhero series of all time. In fact, it is arguably the most iconic, and possibly the best superhero series ever. (But more on that later.)
This time period, however, also had some serious failures in the superhero genre. Here are some of the movies we saw:
- “Blade II”
- “The Punisher”
- “Blade: Trinity”
- “Fantastic Four”
- “Superman Returns”
- “Ghost Rider”
- “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer”
- “Spider-Man 3”
All of these movies had good moments, but just aren’t as good as we want superhero movies to be. The popularity, and fanfare of these movies, however, set up the rebirth of the genre in 2008.
While there have certainly been failures in the genre since 2008, the year was groundbreaking because of three movies that were released. “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” marked the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a comprehensive connected universe spanning over more than 20 movies and over 12 years. That is only what is confirmed. Additionally, “The Dark Knight” was released in 2008. The sequel to “Batman Begins” confirmed Christopher Nolan’s series of movies to be among the best ever in the superhero genre, a fact that was further proven with the release of “The Dark Knight Rises” four years later. In the 8+ years since, Marvel has had a significantly better run than DC.
As of 2017, though, both companies are preparing to release highly anticipated movies as they flesh out their versions of shared universes. The mere thought of some of the peripheral movies we see on both Marvel and DC’s dockets could not have been dreamed about ten years ago. We needed Nolan’s gritty Batman trilogy, and Feige’s confidence in an Avengers project. 2008 just happened to be a significant year for that.
The Rise of Superhero Television:
DC and Marvel, the warring giants in the Superhero world, are naturally at the forefront of the rise to prominence of Superhero television.
The show that truly deserves the recognition for creating this rise is Smallville. Smallville ran for 10 seasons (from 2001 to 2010), which no other live-action Marvel or DC show has ever accomplished. in 2012, the same network that ran Smallville, The CW (Formerly The WB) began airing “Arrow” based on The Green Arrow. The show has received mixed reviews over the course of it’s five season run, but I believe that it was, and is, an incredible TV show.
The “Arrowverse” covers 4 currently running shows on The CW. In addition to “Arrow”, “The Flash” was introduced in 2014, “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” was released in 2015, and, in 2016, “Supergirl” moved from it’s CBS home to become a full-fledged part of the Arrowverse on The CW. I cover these shows weekly on this website, and I’m in love with what they are all doing this season. I won’t dwell much on these shows though.
DC also saw the release of Gotham in 2014. The show is seamlessly balancing three incredible storylines. The rise of James Gordon through the ranks of the Gotham Police Department, the development of Bruce Wayne in the years after his parents death, and the origin of many Batman villains. I will admit that I only just started watching the series on Netflix, but what I’ve seen has been promising. I have similarly heard good things about the other DC show on Fox, Lucifer, though I have not started watching that show.
In an effort to expand on the success of the MCU, “Agents of SHIELD” launched in 2013 on ABC, led by Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson. There was a short-lived series “Agent Carter” that filled in the time-slot during the winter break of Seasons 2 & 3 of “Agents of SHIELD”. That series followed Captain America love interest Peggy Carter as she made her way up the ranks in the United States, and would have led to explaining the creation of SHIELD, had it not been cancelled.
Marvel has also had a lot of success in a partnership with Netflix. In 2015 the two teamed to release “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones”. “Luke Cage” was released in 2016 after a 2nd season of “Daredevil” was released earlier in that year. In the four total seasons between the three shows, I truly believe the quality has improved every single time.
Superhero TV in 2017:
All of this leads up to the current year. I am writing this now, because we have seen a new TV show from each group released in the last two weeks, and we could have more to come.
“Legion” was released just this past week on FX. It is gritty and complex, just like the Marvel Netflix shows. I really like the pilot, and I’m interested in the potential crossover it could create. The X-Men franchise, although a Marvel property, is not a part of the MCU. The franchise, however, has been rebooted to feature younger versions of all of the heroes. Legion centers around the son of Charles Xavier, although it is unclear if the show is set to be a stand-alone series, a continuation of the original X-Men movies, or if it is a connection to the new X-Men timeline. In addition to Legion, Fox has ordered a pilot for a show linked directly to the X-Men franchise. We don’t know much about it, but if it’s anything like Legion, I expect good things.
Marvel is marching ahead at full speed with it’s streaming partnerships. Next month, we get the fourth Netflix series “Iron Fist”. I am incredibly excited for the show, based solely on the success of the previous ones. These shows have been building toward the release of the miniseries “The Defenders”. This show will feature all four of the Netflix heroes, and many of the side characters from their shows, working to save New York City. The miniseries is expected to be released sometime this year. If Netflix wasn’t already spoiling us enough, they decided to fast-track “The Punisher”. Jon Bernthal captivated audiences in the role during season 2 of “Daredevil. The rumor that he would lead his own series formed quickly, and they sure as hell jumped on that train.
Marvel can’t stop spoiling us, though. In September, ABC is adding a new series. Inhumans will begin with a 2 episode premiere in IMAX theaters. We don’t know much about the series yet. It could, however, be connected to the Inhumans in Agents of SHIELD. However the series is framed, Marvel made this show because the Inhumans movie didn’t work out. That means they like the concept, so I would expect very good things.
Lastly, Marvel is creating two more new shows, expected to be released in 2018. “Cloak and Dagger” will be a teenage drama on Freeform that focuses on two young superheroes whose powers increase when they are together. Hulu’s “Runaways” will follow the children of super-villains who run away to make a point. Marvel is also working on a handful of other shows, because they just can’t stop.
DC is fleshing out a number of shows as well. They have 3 shows, with pilots ordered, on 3 separate networks. They also have 9 shows in development with 6 networks. None of these shows seem to have the anticipation, or the connected universes that make the MCU and Arrowverse work as well as they do. However, if they all work out, DC will have 21 shows on 9 networks (6 of the shows would be on The CW).
The big thing that ties DC into the historic nature of the year, however, is “Powerless”. It’s possible that I am a bigger fan of this show than most. I have loved Danny Pudi since I watched him on “Community”, Vanessa Hudgens was one of my first celebrity crushes, and the rest of the main cast is hilarious! I desperately want this show to do well, because it will allow the superhero genre to survive as a sitcom. Really, “Powerless” is not a superhero movie. It is a workplace comedy set in a world where heroes exist. The main cast works for a branch of Wayne industries, and DC superheroes are mentioned like celebrities would be mentioned in other shows. I will watch “Powerless” weekly, and I suggest that fans of superheroes and sitcoms do the same.
My Excitement Level:
Here is a list of, confirmed, shows that either have already begun, or that will debut in 2017 or 2018. I will rank my excitement from 1 to 5. And I will write 1 to 2 sentences explaining what I think of the show:
- “Powerless”: As I just said, I need this show to succeed. If Sitcoms and Superheroes are going to work together, this is the best chance. 5
- “Legion”: It is a dark and gritty TV show, and it is amazing! Whether it is a standalone series, or a part of the X-Men timeline, it should be among the best superhero shows. 5
- “Iron Fist”: It will add to the roster of Netflix shows, and finish setting up “The Defenders”. Iron Fist is less interesting than the other Netflix heroes, though. 4
- “The Defenders”: The grouping of the Netflix heroes the way “The Avengers” did for movies in 2012. Enough Said. 6 (I can break my own scale if I need to.)
- “The Punisher”: If he is as interesting as he was in “Daredevil”, the show has the potential to be the best of the Netflix productions by a long shot. 5
- “Inhumans”: This depends on the way they shape the series. “As a continuation of Agents of SHIELD” or as a stand-alone story tied to the idea of Inhumans in general. 4 or 3 respectively.
- “Cloak & Dagger”: It has an interesting concept, with some fairly talented young actors. The show may be less impressive than the rest of Marvel’s releases, though. 3
- “Runaways”: Hulu is not on the same level as Netflix in original production in my opinion. They do a good job, though, and it’s hard to miss with a Marvel idea that almost became a phase-3 movie. 4
Do you have an opinion on the shows coming out in 2017 and beyond? Let me know in the comments section below.