This is without doubt a golden age of comic book adaptations to the screen. But which has done a better job: film or television?
The first major comic book film was 1978’s Superman: The Movie. It proved that a comic book character could be brought to life on the silver screen. In this case not just any character but one of the biggest! The first comic book TV series that was a hit was Batman in the 1960’s. Even though very camp and silly, it showed these characters could occupy the small screen with great entertainment.
In 1989 Batman got his first shot at the movies. It was a smash hit with critics and fans. The next instalment was also excellent but unfortunately the two following films were a great disappointment. It wasn’t until 2000 when Bryan Singer brought the X-Men to cineplexes that people once again took notice and realized what could be done with this kind of material. There have been many films since for pretty much every major Marvel character but not so much DC.
The Flash landed on television screens in the early 90’s. It was a very popular show and who could forget Mark Hamill’s take on The Trickster! It only lasted one season. I guess the network and some people watching at home were not ready for it. Then came Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Weak villains and some poor writing undermined the show but it was the chemistry between Dean Cain’s Superman and Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane that kept it alive for four years. In 2001 a pilot episode of a show aired that would be a blue print for future superhero hero shows; especially how to not get it wrong! That show was Smallville; the early life of Clark Kent on his journey to becoming the man of steel.
Flash forward to 2008 and Iron Man arrived on the big screen. The start of something special was about to happen: a comic book cinematic universe was about to be created. The Avengers got their own films before they would eventually meet in the blockbuster team up movie. Nothing like this had ever been done before and fans were in awe of it all. Despite an excellent Batman trilogy, DC were lagging behind after a failed Superman reboot and a poor attempt to have Green Lantern wow us at the cinema.
Enter Mr Oliver Queen AKA Green Arrow. In 2012 a superhero show kick started a small screen renaissance. Arrow quickly established itself as a game changer. It was dark, it was violent and it wasn’t afraid to bring all manner of DC villains to the fold. It was well cast and written. They didn’t stop there. They dared to introduce a hero with actual super powers. Arrow’s creators and show runners decided to give us The Flash! The show took off quicker than you can say Zoom! Excellent casting once again and quality writing. People were starting to realize that it wasn’t just the big screen that could offer superhero action and fantastic characters. Now we have Supergirl and DC Legends of Tomorrow from the same masterminds. There was also the brilliant Constantine that sadly got cancelled by NBC after only one season. Luckily the people over at Arrow brought him over into their world!
Marvel were kicking DC’s ass on the big screen but what about the small one? Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was the first comic book TV show to tie in with the films. Unfortunately, it has only been a passable series to date. Sure it’s had Lady Sif from Thor on it and even Nick Fury himself has made appearances. Overall it’s lacked any real punch or bite.
Then came Daredevil on Netflix. Not only extremely well written and cast, it allowed the characters to be developed over 13 episodes. Both Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk were given time to breathe and naturally progress in the world they inhabit; something that is very difficult to do in a two hour movie run time. Like Arrow, Daredevil has been uncompromising in its violence and dark tone. There is no other way to do Daredevil but the way this show has done it.
Jessica Jones was next up for Marvel and proved to be another success. Even though this show and Daredevil exist in the same world as the cinematic one, they don’t let that dominate. Jessica Jones plays out more like a detective series than anything superhero related. Again there are references to the larger Marvel world but the writers managed to create something more contained and interesting. It’s been argued that Kilgrave is the best villain Marvel have committed to screen yet. Would people be saying this if the character hadn’t been given 13 episodes to truly get under our skins? Would Kilgrave have been as good in a two hour film?
On the horizon is Iron Fist and Luke Cage. Even though DC are well ahead with their television universe, what makes this Netflix one so special is that all four characters will come together to form The Defenders. They will officially be part of Marvel’s cinematic universe and may even appear in future films! In DC’s case there is another Flash that has been cast for the film version and there are no plans to bring the film and TV universes together.
It can be said that both film and TV has something to offer to comic book universes. On TV you get to see these charterers grow and change more naturally. You can also get stronger storylines as there is more time to utilize. In terms of the movies you get bigger action and set pieces, bigger characters and more bang for your buck.
Is film better suited to this genre or is television? That’s down to you the viewers to decide below!