Superheroes have solidified themselves as yearly box office hits at the multiplex. Now, the masked vigilantes are aiming to conquer television. Are superheroes poised to dominate TV? Or are we all headed for a breaking point that could give superhero stories a bad reputation?
With the success of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the ever-expanding Marvel universe, an incredible number of films are lined up for the next several years. Just about every obscure superhero you can think of is getting airtime in a feature film. But never fear, there’s always more to toss on television. Currently there’s “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Gotham” and “Constantine” hitting the airwaves. Does that sound like a lot? Well, we’re just getting started. “Supergirl” is now in production. A “Captain America”-related show called “Agent Carter” is in the works. TNT is busy at work on a drama surrounding three of the younger superheroes in the DC universe, and the Syfy channel has taken on three superheroes as well. Did I mention that Netflix is developing shows for “Daredevil,” “Luke Cage,” “Jessica Jones” and “Iron Fist?” I am getting that uneasy feeling I get when I eat too much movie-theater popcorn.
Years ago, folks like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates were considered geeks and superhero films were considered geek culture and while that might still be true, geeks run the world and superhero films and television are doing better than ever. It seems the world just can’t get enough spandex.
Granted, the superhero saga is a great storytelling toolbox filled with some excellent possibilities. But a superfan never wants the storylines that they love to grow so tired, and mimicked, and parodied that they’ll stop tuning in. The era of the anti-hero is drawing to a close. The Walter Whites and Tony Sopranos of television had their time and made their mark and we as viewers have since looked on. But does this mean that masked crusaders will take up their mantle? Superheroes and their shows are extremely watchable — not just for their colorful costumes, but for their moral battles that can often play out internally. The difficulty will be differentiating the superhero narrative from the pack. After all, many have common threads: The tragedy and the birth of the alter-ego, the battle to get close and yet keep a distance from the ones they love, the trial-and-error that ensues as they learn to use their powers. This trial-and-error will also mark the many shows that air in the days to come.
When Christopher Nolan was making the Dark Knight films, he took breaks between each installment and created incredible features like Inception and The Prestige. I mention this because I feel he made an excellent choice drawing out the trilogy and allowing the films to span several years. Why? Because time alone can turn a well-liked story into a fever-pitch frenzy among fans. So does Nolan’s penchant for secrecy. Likewise, I feel that television should do the same. Stagger the release of their numerous superhero titles in order to prolong the excitement for superheroes that is so vibrant in pop culture today. Avoid creating a glut of troubled masked leads that could lead to an exhausted viewership. As this golden age of superhero TV gets underway, we’ll see which heroes are truly super, and which will soon be hanging up their capes.