A guide to the TV shows reinventing comic icons
Including Gotham, Arrow, The Flash, Constantine, Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter and Daredevil
Henry Northmore throws away his mask and cape to look at the new kind of comic icons making their way to TV
After the massive popularity of superhero movies at the worldwide box-office, it should come as no surprise that TV producers have now sat up and taken proper notice. While many viewers still have fond memories of Adam West and the biff! pow! capers of the original 60s Batman TV series or Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno's dual starring role in The Incredible Hulk, there's a new breed of superhero heading to the small screen.
Christopher Nolan was the first director to really take Batman seriously, and while Gotham (Channel 5, Oct) isn't directly linked to his Dark Knight trilogy, it shares the same DNA. Set several years before Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, it follows Commissioner Gordon when he was just a young detective (played by Ben McKenzie) hitting the streets in America's most notorious fictional city. There he battles corruption and crime, going up against early versions of Catwoman, the Riddler and the Penguin.
The show is aiming for a grittier take on superheroes and the world that spawned them. 'My 12-year-old son suggested Commissioner Gordon as a decent character without superpowers to write the show around,' explains executive producer Bruno Heller. ‘That got me thinking: "What if Gordon was the cop that originally investigated the Wayne murders?" This gave us a starting point and allowed us to tell the saga from a much earlier point than before, without ever having to get into a cape and cowl. And without having to worry about superpowers.'
So while Bruce Wayne will be a background character (played by David Mazouz), the action will focus on Gordon and his belligerent partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). 'I liked it because it has a Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy quality to it,' says Logue. 'I always like the noir-ish part of American society, the urban underbelly. It feels like Gotham can be used as a descriptive term for the seedier side of any big metropolitan centre. That’s what drew me to the show, and that’s what we’re playing up with the show. It feels a bit like the movie Chinatown.'
Gotham is just the tip of an almighty iceberg. Other series ripped from the pages of the DC Universe include the second season of Arrow (Sky 1, 20 Oct, tbc), a modernised teen-friendly take on Green Arrow, alongside spin-off series The Flash (Sky 1, 20 Oct, tbc) starring Grant Gustin as the scarlet speedster. Lurking on the darker fringes of the DCU, Constantine concerns the trials and tribulations of the shabby occult detective and con man John Constantine (Matt Ryan). Unfortunately, no UK air date has been confirmed as yet.
Never one to miss a trick, Marvel were actually first out of the traps with Agents of SHIELD (series two returns to Channel 4 this October). Devised by geek godhead Joss Whedon, it's a likeable action romp headlined by Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson and picks up on plot threads from the Thor, Iron Man and Avengers movies.
'Joss is amazing; even though he's working on Avengers 2 [Age of Ultron] at the moment, he's very involved in the show,' explains Iain De Caestecker who plays Fitz, a scientific genius and core component of Coulson's crack team. 'We are in the boundaries of a TV show, so there are certain limitations, but we’re aiming very high with a lot of special effects and scale. The whole premise of the show is that we're living in a world where superheroes exist, but we are ordinary human beings: that instantly raises the stakes.'
Marvel have also commissioned new spin-off Agent Carter to plug the gap when Agents of SHIELD takes its customary mid-season break. Hayley Atwell takes the title role in this espionage thriller set after World War II (no UK channel confirmed as yet but we're assuming Channel 4 will snap it up). Unlike DC, Marvel have integrated all their TV and film content into one huge interrelated universe. Unfortunately, after years of rumours, Guillermo del Toro's TV reboot of The Hulk has come to nought; but looking to the future, Marvel are expanding onto Netflix.
Focusing on their 'street level heroes' (superheroes who deal with real-world crime rather than extraterrestrial Armageddon), the first collaboration will be Daredevil starring Charlie Cox as the blind lawyer turned vigilante (available from May 2015). This will be followed by Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist before they all team up in The Defenders.
'I think comics have always been the most natural fit for television because they have constantly evolving storylines,' adds Logue. 'They are literally storyboarded the way a director of photography would storyboard them; they are all drawn out with bits of dialogue attached to them. It’s harder to adapt novels because there’s so much internal dialogue, but comics are really cinematic. I think there’s room for everybody.'