The Year DC Took Over A Network

Greetings and salutations, Geeks! Today we are incredibly excited and proud to bring you our very first guest writer. Please give some love to Michelle H. Take it away, Michelle! –J.J.

Anyone who knows anything about me knows (if not entirely understands) my love for superheroes. One of very first movies I ever recall seeing was Superman: The Movie; all these years later it has stuck with me. You name it, I’ve probably watched it, particularly on the television side. As I type this, I can see the complete run of Smallville and Lois and Clark in my DVD cabinet, in addition to more comic books movies than I can count. So when the CW ended Smallville after ten seasons and announced that were making a show about Oliver Queen, I was stoked.

Now it’s five years later and the CW will populate their fall line up with five shows based on a DC comic: Arrow, The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, and iZombie. This is extraordinary because the CW only has TEN hours of programming total. Supergirl is the proverbial new kid on the block; its first season aired on CBS (which everyone now realizes was a huge mistake, way to go, Les Moonves!). Now comic based franchises always come with a built in audience; however, that audience is relatively small (despite the claims of pearl clutching fanboys). For the CW to continue to go to the DC well, they must feel that it’s worth while. The bean counters must have explained that, despite not being ratings juggernauts like NCIS or Scandal, these shows give them the best chance to survive as a viable network. That’s an impressive vote of confidence.

And this year, it may turn into a logistic nightmare.

For the purpose of this discussion, I have to leave iZombie out. The main reason is that it is the only show that does not fall under the Berlanti producing umbrella. Rob Thomas (the writer, not the singer) produces that show; therefore it’s not considered to be in the same universe. So Liv will not be turning up in National City or on the Waverider. Sorry. The other reason is that I quit watching it after season one; I never got over the writers killing Lowell. Lowell and Liv forever!

Right, so superheroes. Green Arrow, the Flash, Supergirl, the Atom, Firestorm, White Canary, Captain Cold. I could keep going. Almost anyone who is not Batman, Wonder Woman or Superman can (and frequently does) turn up. Berlanti and his team of showrunners LOVE their easter eggs. It’s plainly obvious that they love the source material, however it is equally clear that they are not slaves to it. As Marc Guggenheim (producer/writer for Arrow) often says: these shows are inspired by the comics, they are not straight page to screen adaptations. I love that. For those brave enough to face Twitter, it’s clear that not everyone does. But you know what? THAT’S LIFE.

To those people I say: if I wanted the comic story, I would just READ THE COMIC. I love comics; they are a great medium and tell great stories. But comics are not television, just like a book is not a movie. Different mediums require different kinds of storytelling and I believe that—by and large—the Berlanti verse gives me versions of these classic characters that I enjoy watching. Are there flaws? You betcha, massive ones. But they do not come from not including your pet side plot. Sorry.

Let’s begin with the senior show, Arrow. We’re going into the fifth season; this is the show that started it all. If Arrow had failed, none of the other shows would exist. For those of you who don’t know, Arrow chronicles the life and adventures of Oliver Queen, aka the Green Arrow. He’s a billionaire playboy who gets shipwrecked on an island, learns to survive, comes home after 5 years, then uses his new skills to save his city. Sound familiar? Oliver’s only a couple years younger as a character than a certain caped brooder we all know and love. Now Arrow has had its share of growing pains: season 1 was seen as okay, season 2 spectacular, while season 3 and 4 are a wash depending on who you ask. One flaw almost all fans can agree on is the use of flashbacks. In the beginning, flashbacks were used to connect the present timeline with Oliver’s life on the island. But as the years pass, it’s become increasingly obvious that the writers are struggling connecting the two stories. Oliver was on the island for 5 years; this upcoming season should mean the end of this plot device (I live in hope, even though I am finally getting Bratva!Oliver). The other fan debate stems from Oliver’s romance with Felicity, or Olicity in fandom parlance. Full disclosure, I am an Olicity shipper. I came into the show wanting to ship Oliver with his “canon” love interest, Laurel Lance, however the actors’ chemistry and the backstory given to them by the writers made it impossible for me to do so. I didn’t even know if I wanted to continue watching the show before Felicity put the first real smile on Oliver’s face in 1.03. Oliver came back from the island very badly emotionally scarred, PTSD, etc. The writers made it very clear that it was inspired by Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. The trilogy eventually turned me off (there is such a thing as too dark and gritty; the guy dresses up like a BAT for crying out loud!), so I was hoping Arrow would lighten the tone. Enter Felicity. Computer genius and general ray of sunshine. I latched on to them very quickly, not even daring to hope they could happen in canon. Lo and behold, THEY DID. Despite my quibbles with how their arc has been handled, I maintain the show is better for it. Why? Because Olicity gives Oliver HUMANITY. He was little more than a killing machine when the show began, but through Felicity and the rest of Team Arrow, we see Oliver grow as a person and not fall back into bad habits like he did with Laurel. They made me care about Oliver and that’s all I can ask.

The season four finale left us with a scattered Team Arrow, Oliver as mayor of Star City and new battles on the horizon. I’m cautiously optimistic about where we go from here. But that is complicated by what happened on Arrow’s little brother, The Flash.

I love The Flash. Barry Allen is peppy and optimistic where Oliver is dark and brooding. At least he was in the first season. The second season seemed to double down on the angsty brooding thing and the show became a lot less fun. And I love Flash because it’s FUN. Short run down: Barry Allen got caught in a particle accelerator explosion, which combined with some funky chemicals, gave him access to the Speedforce. He’s in a coma for 9 months, then woke up with with powers. He can run really fast. Like Really Fast. Faster than a speeding bullet fast. The show spends a lot of time developing Barry’s powers, giving him new uses for it, including time travel (my personal favorite is Barry running on water, just cuz). It’s that last one that has the potential to turn the entire Berlanti verse upside down, because at the end of season 2 Barry went back in time and saved his mother from dying. It’s the starting point for a very famous comic storyline called Flashpoint. Barry’s career as a forensic scientist comes from trying to solve his mother’s murder, a crime his father was convicted of when Barry was a child. The loss of his mother looms over Barry; it’s referenced over and over again in the show, but despite this, Barry’s not Oliver. He’s a pretty well adjusted person, in large part by being raised by his best friend’s dad, Joe West. The death of his mother actually winds up giving Barry a never ending stream of father figures: his father Henry Allen, the aforementioned Joe and Barry’s Star Labs mentor, Harrison Wells. Ironically, it’s the loss of those people (through various plot shenanigans) that propels Barry to reverse his choice from the season 1 finale (to not interfere in Nora’s death at the hands of Reverse Flash) in the season 2 finale, creating the TV version of Flashpoint.

How is Flashpoint going to affect the rest of the Berlanti verse? We don’t know. The writers on all the shows have been coy about this in large part. I suspect that is because it would be far too complicated to sort out across four hours of television over multiple weeks. My theory is that Arrow and Flash will be the most directly affected, with Flashpoint resolved fairly early in the season. However, their sister show DC’s Legends of Tomorrow should be relatively safe from the aftermath of Flashpoint.

Legends is an odd duck. It seems to have been created for the sole purpose of throwing a bunch of characters together who would not hang out together otherwise. The first season revolves around a misfit bunch of heroes and villains gathered together by Time Lord (sorry, Time Master) Rory Williams (sorry, Rip Hunter) to stop classic DC villain Vandal Savage. Full disclosure, Vandal is one of my favorite DC villains. That said, live action Vandal Savage kind of sucked. Rip’s ship is called the Waverider; his erstwhile crew consists of Ray Palmer (the Atom), Sara Lance (White Canary), Leonard Snart (Captain Cold), Mick Rory (Heat Wave), Martin Stein, Jax Jackson (together they make Firestorm), and Kendra Saunders (Hawkgirl). This ragtag crew travels through time trying to stop Vandal from taking over the world and killing Rip’s family in the future. They spend more time fighting each other and getting into various scrapes, but the show’s entertaining enough if you don’t think too hard. Time travel is so difficult to get “right” because there is no real “right” way! By the end of the first season, they do manage to defeat Vandal Savage, but not everyone makes it to season two. Leonard sacrificed himself to save the others (to be resurrected by Flashpoint?) and Kendra leaves with a resurrected Carter Hall to live a Vandal free life. But fear not, a Hour Man has arrived from…some time to push the plot forward! Time travel being part of the essential DNA of the show should keep it safe from the effects of Flashpoint.

In theory, the new kid, Supergirl, should be safe as well. Why? Because they established in season 1 that Supergirl takes place in another universe. Flash opened up the television audience to the DC multiverse, a concept well know to comics readers. The multiverse is infinite universes lined up next to each other where little changes, small choices, can create a whole new world. The original universe established via Arrow has no Superman or any real mention of aliens. Supergirl, of course, is Superman’s cousin and very much an alien. Again, brief rundown: Kara Zor-El is sent to Earth at the same time as her famous cousin, but her pod gets caught in the Phantom Zone. Years later, her pod is freed and she lands on Earth to find a fully grown Superman. Clark places Kara with a human family, the Danvers, who raise her and help her hide her powers. Trying to find her place in the world, she has to use her powers to save her sister Alex (and a plane full of people), officially coming out to the world as Supergirl. Season one is filled with the usual shenanigans: Kara juggling her dual identity, learning to hone her powers, interacting with the government department in charge of alien containment (where her sister works!). Supergirl really doubles down in the alien aspect of the DCU with the inclusion of J’onn Jones aka Martian Manhunter. This, combined with the alternate universe aspect, will make it difficult to cross Supergirl over into the already established prime universe. However, steps have already taken place to ease the transition, with Barry actually accidentally stumbling into Kara’s Earth while testing a piece of equipment. He literally ran into it. That episode was probably the most fun I’ve had watching television all year!

At the CW’s May upfront presentation, one of the first questions Mark Pedowitz (head of the network) faced was: would there be a four way crossover for the network’s DC shows. His answer? ABSOLUTELY. Logistically, all four shows now film in Vancouver (Supergirl spent season 1 in LA), putting all the actors and crews in one place. If the writers across the four shows can make a compelling story, it has the chance of being a huge success. The ratings for all the shows jump when there is a crossover. Arrow and The Flash have done crossovers for two years; they are highly anticipated events. Juggling so many characters and storylines will no doubt be tricky but I am very interested in what they come up with. If, as I suspect, Flashpoint is largely resolved, it will have to be another threat to bring all these people together. The crossovers also bring new eyes to characters they may not have been interested in, potentially drawing them to that character’s mother show.

The entire enterprise is almost unprecedented for television. Marvel has their “it’s all connected” mantra, where the television shows and the movies are—at least in theory—all connected by a shared universe. DC/WB has gone another way, deliberately keeping the movie universe begun by Man of Steel separate from the television shows. This allowed the PTB at Supergirl to finally bring Clark Kent back to TV, in season 2 of that show. It’s exciting and frightening, with a high degree of difficulty. Can these writers meet the expectations? Should they try? Or should they just focus on telling a good story, while remaining true to the characters they’ve created? If they succeed, the CW will essentially be set for the next several years. A crossover is what the fans want and the CW has predicated their entire business model on that fact. We shall see if they hitched their cart to the right horse.

Up, up and away!

[Michelle is a Pennsylvania geek born and bred. Currently living in Tennessee, she spends her free time writing, reading and geeking out about her favorite things: military history, OUAT, superheroes, Star Wars, Star Trek, Tolkien, and LOST among many others.]

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