Superheroes Should Skip Hollywood Cinema for TV Instead

By Tom Pritchard on at

These days a large number of people are talking about superhero fatigue, the idea that there are too many films based on comics right now and people are sick of them. That idea is rubbish – I'll happily plonk myself in front of Avengers 17: Hulk vs the Zimmerframe Gang when it inevitably hits cinemas in 2064. But it does relate to a similar point: the belief that superheroes should be skipping the silver screen and jumping straight into the world of television (and on-demand streaming).

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What's so great about TV?

It's not such a stupid idea when you think about it. Adapting a comic is completely different from adapting a book. A book is (usually) its own self-contained story and, unless it's George RR Martin length, it's relatively simple to adapt the pages onto the silver screen. Thanks to their serialised nature, it's not quite so easy to do that with comics. Sure you can adapt individual story arcs, but comics never really end.

Ongoing series are the soap operas of the literary world. Characters may come and go, but the stories just keep coming. But as amazing as a daily superhero soap sounds, it probably wouldn't work. The next best thing would be an ongoing TV series.

When you're dealing with adapting comic series that have been in print for decades, you're never short of material to work with. Spider-Man has been running since the '60s, and the five films we've had in recent memory haven't even begun to scratch the surface of what the comics have to offer. No Sinister Six, no Kingpin, no decent portrayal of Venom, no Miles Morales, no Carnage, no clones, and so on.

When you're dealing with TV, you need to fill 13-24 episodes a year with content. That's about 10-18 hours per year, and that means the people in charge can pull in a lot more than they would if that character/franchise was only getting put into a new film every 2-3 years.

It's not just about the content either. The fact that you've got so much time to spend with characters means that there's no need to rush. Daredevil, for instance, allowed the showrunners to go deep into the backgrounds of both Daredevil and the Kingpin. When you've got to squeeze your film down into 90-ish minutes, you have to make sacrifices and all too often films end up with shallow vapid antagonists. To put it another way, we've spent about 26 hours getting to know Charlie Cox's Matt Murdock since this time last year, but since 2008 we've only spent 11 hours with Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark. 13 1/2 if you count the upcoming Civil War.

daredevil season 1 recap

Let's not forget, it's hardly as if superheroes and comics don't work on TV. Smallville lasted an entire decade, The Flash never fails to disappoint, The Incredible Hulk had a huge cultural impact, and while it's not as strong as it was Arrow is still going strong. Plenty of absolute shite may have been broadcast over the years, but the same is true for superheroes in the cinema.

TV can also give a bit more of a safety net to certain franchises. If a film completely bombs at the box office (like Dredd), then that's basically a death sentence. A particularly bad week in the ratings doesn't always mean the death of a programme, and even if they don't seem to perform well over the course of the year (like Agent Carter) it's not the end of the world. Then again, this isn't a perfect system either and great programmes with a loyal fanbase end up cancelled (like Firefly, Futurama, Star Trek, and Arrested Development).

TV is also the place you can take risks. There's less money involved, so you can put something together that has a 50/50 chance of being successful. Constantine is one good example of that, even if the series didn't take off in the way fans hoped. while people often criticise Hollywood for recycling the same old stuff because it's safe, TV is a place you can experiment. Would something as bizarre as Rick and Morty have worked as a film? Hell no. But it's thriving on TV. TV really is a great place to try new and interesting ideas.

It's also somewhere that comic franchises can slowly push new ideas onto the audience. The Inhumans might not be heading to the big screen until 2019, but they've already been on Agents of SHIELD for a year. DC was always adamant that the Flash never got his own film because higher-ups were worried that people wouldn't recognise the character. Then they launched him on TV, and it's doing amazingly well – with Ezra Miller now set to feature as Mr Speedy in the Justice League. Marvel may be worried about introducing the Miles Morales Spider-Man on the big screen, so why not give him a TV series and see how that goes? It can't hurt to give it a try!

Plus, as programmes like Game of Thrones have shown, there aren't always restrictions on violent and adult content on TV. So all the adult comics out there don't have to miss out. Though, thanks to the success of Deadpool, we're bound to see a lot more of them on the big screen, too.

The cinema isn't the greatest

While we all love heading to the cinema to see the latest blockbuster, there's something great about watching in your own home. You don't have to queue up to buy overpriced tickets or snacks that require a second mortgage, and you can pause it whenever you like on the off chance that you have had a few too many beers beforehand. Plus you have the option of watching in your pants, and getting completely wasted without being asked to leave.

Plus, thanks to the availability of digital TV recording, streaming, and catch-up services, people don't have to sift through the TV guide to make sure they'll be in whenever the newest episode of their favourite programmes air. Or scrambling to make sure they see the repeat before it's lost in the depths of broadcast hell forever. In the 21st century, nothing gets lost for good.

So creature comforts are great, but it's not like you can't watch films at home anyway. Sure you have to wait a few months before they arrive on Blu-ray and in streaming libraries, but if you don't want to go to the cinema you don't have to.

TV does have its downsides...

The ridiculous thing about TV is that people in charge of the programmes are terrified people aren't going to tune in to the first episode of the next series. So what do they do? They write in an enormous cliffhanger to draw them back in, and then resolve it in the first few minutes of the new series. So there's never any sort of closure, and that gets especially irritating if the programme gets cancelled, meaning fans never get to find out what happens. All they can do is pray for a spin-off film (a la Serenity), or make do with comic-based sequels (Firefly, Buffy, Angel, Jericho, etc).

The other downside is that TV programmes are very different when money is concerned. While we never really get to see how much money gets pumped into them, you can be damn sure Agents of Shield cost a heck of a lot less than the $280 million it took to make Avengers: Age of Ultron. That does present a fair few challenges, and means that more extravagant things can't happen. Could you have had a fully-CG motion capture character like the Hulk or Ultron on TV? It's unlikely – CGI isn't all that cheap.

One other downside, at least one that effects the system as it is now, is that studios are very controlling about which characters can or can't appear on TV. If the film side of things have plans for a character on the big screen, then it's out of bounds for the TV shows. One very good example is that Arrow was forbidden from using Harley Quinn in their Suicide Squad arc, because of the upcoming film. In the end she was reduced to a brief faceless cameo. That said, if superheroes ditch the cinemas of the world in favour of the living room, this becomes far less of a problem. When you think about it like this, though, it's a bit surprising Barry Allen's Flash was allowed to have his own TV series.

It's hardly a surprise that TV is seeing an awful lot of comic-adaptations. On TV at the moment we have the likes of Arrow, The Walking Dead, The Flash, Gotham, Lucifer, Agents of SHIELD, Daredevil, and Powers, with shows like Preacher, Y The Last Man, Legion, Luke Cage, and Krypton on the way. A  lot of franchises have ditched the silver screen for the sequel/reboot treatment altogether, including Minority Report, Limitless, Hannibal, Fargo, and Ash vs Evil Dead.

Plus, there have been a lot of talented filmmakers who crossed over into TV,  including Sam Raimi (Ash vs Evil Dead), David Fincher (House of Cards), Martin Scorsese (Boardwalk Empire), and Stephen Spielberg (Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and a heck of a lot more) to name a few. And it's always worth remembering that there are a lot of amazing people already creating some epic TV shows.

So come on Hollywood. Leave the heroes alone. Let's get them onto the TV screen where they can thrive.