With the releases of X-Men (2000) and Spiderman (2002), Comic Book properties began the slow but steady takeover of the movie industry. Nobody can deny that when we talk about event movies today, we are almost certainly referring to a comic book property. Comic Books have had a presence on Television as well, though the growth wasn’t quite as exponential. Until now. This year, comic book properties on Television are set to explode, with high profile series from giants DC and Marvel as well as smaller players, across nearly every network. Today we will take a look at some of these properties and share our hopes and expectations for them.
Comic Book properties are not new to television, and in actuality, many comic book and comic book inspired properties have been shaping TV since its early days. Superman and Batman both had well known and important series dating back to the 1950s which each spurred copycats. The 1970s and 80s marked a very large presence for Marvel in the TV space with Spiderman, Captain America, Thor, and perhaps most notably The Incredible Hulk. Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie brought comic books back to Television again, mostly in the form of beloved (to this day) cartoons like Batman: the Animated Series and X-Men. Later the comic book inspired Buffy the Vampire Slayer brought a resurgence of high concept live action TV series, which of course meant a resurgence of Live Action comic book property adaptations. Smallville, which acted as a Superman origin story, ran for 10 seasons and was instrumental in the development of 2 networks: the WB and later the CW. Currently, there are only 3 high profile comic book series on TV, The Walking Dead, Arrow, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This however is about to change.
Lets start with Network Television. The upcoming Fall and Winter seasons are bringing 5 new comic book properties to 4 of the 5 major networks.
NBC has acquired the rights to Hellblazer which had previously been released as a Movie starring Keanu Reeves that was retitled Constantine. The NBC series is taking the same name, but otherwise returning to the roots of the comics by keeping the British nationality of the title character. Constantine will star Matt Ryan (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag) as John Constantine, a “master” of the dark arts who is damned to hell. The series comes to us from producers David S. Goyer (the Blade trilogy, the Nolan Batman movies, Man of Steel) and Daniel Cerone (Dexter), the pilot episode was directed by Neil Marshall (Game of Thrones epic season 2 penultimate “Blackwater” episode). The trailer for the show appears to nail the tone of the comic book perfectly, with a good balance of comedy and drama.
ABC is bringing a new Marvel series into the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. time slot to fill in the gap between the 2 halves of its second season. Their choice of property is a series based on Agent Carter, Captain America’s love interest from the first Captain America movie, and one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Carter will take place in the late 1940s and will likely parallel events in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. giving us past context to present events, including the formation of S.H.I.E.L.D. Dominic Cooper has been confirmed to return for the show as Iron Man’s father Howard Stark, who will be giving Agent Carter covert missions throughout the course of the series. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ended it’s first season with a guest appearance by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, perhaps a Tommy Lee Jones (Captain America) guest spot in Agent Carter isn’t out of the question.
Quickly becoming the de facto home of genre television, The CW has picked up 2 new comic book properties. The Flash, will act as a spin-off to their current hit Arrow, which had a backdoor pilot for the show and it’s central character Barry Allen this season. The Flash will see Barry Allen donning the red suit and taking on evil in Central City with the aide of Star Labs. Stephen Amell (Oliver Queen/Arrow) made an appearance in the first trailer for the Flash, and other characters are likely to cross over as well. Personally, though, I am more excited about the CW’s second pick-up, iZombie. iZombie is a loose adaption of a comic book by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred about a girl who must eat a brain every month in order to keep herself from becoming a mindless zombie. IZombie is being brought to the screen by Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars, Party Down) who has proven himself adept at writing strong and witty female characters, and who, as a writer, has drawn comparisons to beloved writer/director Joss Whedon.
Most notable of the 5 new network properties is of course Gotham. Fox is bringing the series which follows a young Jim Gordon to the small screen. Gotham begins with the killing of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and explores the early origins of key figures in the Batman universe. The first trailer for the show gives us glimpses of what will one day become Penguin, the Riddler, Poison Ivy, Cat Woman, and of course Bat Man. Showrunner Bruno Heller has also hinted at an appearance by the man who will one day become the Joker. Boasting a strong cast, including Benjamin McKenzie (the OC), Donal Logue (Blade, Sons of Anarchy, Terriers, Vikings), and Jada Pinkett Smith (The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions), Gotham will dwell in the choices made by characters and the consequences of those choices that shape the infamous city of Gotham.
Away from network television, AMC is brewing up 2 gritty apocalyptic comic book shows. Robert Kirkman has been developing a spin-off to The Walking Dead which has quickly risen to the most watched show on cable television. They are also developing a TV adaptation of the beloved western fantasy comic book series Preacher which is being produced by actor Seth Rogen. AMC is exploring many other projects with Robert Kirkman including another of his comic book properties Thief of Thieves. Other cable networks have been flirting with various other comic book properties as well including Chew, and League of Extraordinary Gentleman, but these projects are still a ways off.
Powers was developed over at FX who declined to move forward. Recently, it was picked up by Sony as an exclusive for their PSN service which provides various types of content to Playstation owners. Powers follows 2 homicide detectives who investigate crimes related to super powers. One of the detectives has powers himself and a backstory that stretches back to the dawn of mankind. The original pilot for FX starred Jason Patrick (The Lost Boys, NARC) and Lucy Punch (Hot Fuzz). A new pilot has been written for the PSN version of the show, and no cast has yet been revealed, but just yesterday it was confirmed that the show will stream this December on PSN.
Lastly, but perhaps most interesting, is a deal struck between Marvel and Netflix to bring The Defenders to the streaming service as a mini series. What makes this interesting is that Marvel is re-creating the process they used for The Avengers but with a television format. Netflix has actually ordered 4 other Marvel series which will build up to The Defenders. In the same way that Marvel used Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America to set up The Avenngers, Netflix has ordered full seasons of Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist, to build up to The Defenders. The Defenders is a small team of Superheroes based in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City. Daredevil, who will be played by British actor Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire) , is a blind attorney who uses his other heightened senses to fight crime. Luke Cage has an origin story that is tied to Captain America, and was one of the first African American Super Heroes. Jessica Jones’ story is based largely on her relationships with other key figures in the Marvel universe. She developed powers after a tragic car accident that killed her family. Iron Fist is a martial artist who trained in the mystical arts of the K’un L’un in order to avenge his father’s murder. The Defenders will bring these 4 together towards some unknown end (to defend something?).
With more new projects considered practically every day, and the expansion of content creation to networks and services that had not explored it before, the Comic Book presence on Television is set to rapidly expand with no end yet in sight. As a fan of high concept genre television, this is good news for me. What are your thoughts? Join the discussion in our comments.