Reel time for Super Heroes

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Reel time for Super Heroes

The world of the comic book has invaded all popular fiction, TV and the movies

By Vir Sanghvi

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Published: Fri 31 Oct 2014, 2:11 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 10:56 PM

Smallville

Smallville

So the Flash has his own TV show (again)! I’m writing this from New York and the streets are full of buses and taxis adorned with posters for the new show. As of this writing, they’ve only aired three episodes but the response has been uniformly positive. The chances are that this version of The Flash on TV will last — unlike the 1990 Flash series which was cancelled after one season.

And the Flash is not alone. Green Arrow continues to haunt our screens in Arrow. A new show called Gotham premiered this season and deals with Batman’s city before Batman turned up (like Smallville dealt with Clark Kent before he became Superman). A new Supergirl series is in the works. Constantine, based on the DC character, is on US TV now.

Then there’s the new Batman versus Superman movie (with Henry Cavill reprising his Superman and Ben Affleck playing Batman) which should be out next year or so. They are talking about a Justice League movie to take on The Avengers. And a new Green Lantern, perhaps?

Marvel is in full flow. Robert Downey Jr has suggested that Iron Man will be back in his own movie. Captain America has fought The Winter Soldier. Scarlett Johansson is talking about a full movie for her Avengers character. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. graces our TV screens. The Guardians got their own picture.

What is going on? Has the world of the comic book invaded all popular fiction, TV and the movies? I’m beginning to think it has.

It was okay in the beginning. Batman and Superman are two of the greatest heroes in the comic pantheon, have had successful TV shows of their own (Superman in the Fifties, Batman in the Sixties), and so it made sense when they hit the big screen. But I’m guessing that the real breakthrough came with Iron Man, who was never one of Marvel’s A-list characters. Nobody was surprised when Spiderman got his own franchise and various actors and directors have tried to make The Hulk come to life. But nobody imagined that the Iron Man movies would make so much money.

Since then, producers have been searching for other superheroes who can get their own franchise (Thor, Captain America, and even Green Lantern). Experience has shown that with the right casting and expensive special effects, any superhero movie can become a money-spinner.

But the TV breakthrough was Smallville. The likes of DC and Marvel decided that they were not going to waste their major characters on TV. So Smallville, which was set in the Superman universe but had no Superman demonstrated that you could make 
superhero shows for TV in a scaled-down version. The second break-through was Arrow because it kept the Oliver Queen character but changed the name of the hero and his costume. By setting the story in a (sort of) realistic setting, Arrow re-invented his superhero TV show.

I have yet to see the new Flash show but it is made by the team behind Arrow and, no doubt, they will update the character for today’s audiences.

But there is a larger question here. Sales of comics are at a historic low. So why do the comic book heroes still continue to flourish?

My answer is that the heroes have transcended the medium that created them. The comic book is a medium in the slide. (I knew the end was nigh when people started using that idiotic term ‘graphic novel’.) But the heroes have a life of their own. Nobody who saw the Tarzan movies bothered to read the books. Similarly, James 
Bond movies fans will find the Ian Fleming books boring. Likewise with Sherlock Holmes.

Once great fictional characters are created, they can move from medium to medium depending on public tastes and preferences. So even if comics are dying, there are other media: TV, movies, games, etc. And the heroes will flourish.

Speaking for myself though, I think that the movies, with their big budgets and special effects are the right medium for superheroes. So, good luck to The Flash. But I’m going to wait for the Batman-Superman movie.



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