Tavern Queue: Superhero television
Today, I answer your questions about superhero television.
I’m not sure you can beat Batman: The Animated Series. That cartoon kicked off the entire DC Animated Universe, bringing superheroes to an entire generation of kids. While it may not have been my favorite superhero show as a kid, all of those shows owe their existence to the success of Batman: TAS.
Harley Quinn has certainly had the most lasting impact on comic/superhero mythos. She was created specifically for Batman: The Animated Series and has become an integral part of the Batman rogues gallery — and has extended into the greater DC universe. As I said in my question post, my disclaimer here is I’m more familiar with cartoons and TV than the comic books, but I’ve seen comic pages where Harley Quinn is interacting with characters such as Black Canary (who is easily my favorite hero). My impression has been you need to be a pretty darn popular/important character to break out of an individual hero’s rogues gallery into the greater Justice League universe. Harley Quinn made the cut.
Superheroes will wax and wane. I don’t think there will ever be a point where we’re “done” with superheroes. They’ve been around for a long, long time. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is still going strong and doesn’t seem to be slowing down — but inevitably, it will. There will still be superhero movies, just less of them. There will still be cartoons and comics. And often, when one superhero medium is slowing down, another one picks up popularity.
Take the cartoons, for example. What I’d consider the golden age of superhero cartoons — from the mid 90s to early 00s — happened when superhero movies were not the best. There were some Batman films and … what else? Nothing, really. The DC Animated Universe was the cartoon version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They were fantastic, a sprawling superhero universe which all fit together. Not only did you have the Justice League mixed up in there, but a look at the future through Batman Beyond and Static Shock, all part of one universe. And you had the Marvel cartoons like X-Men and Spider-Man which was all amazing, too.
When the cartoons started to fade, superhero films kicked off again, eventually leading to the current wave of Marvel and DC movies. And while the movies are big, look at the current Marvel cartoons: every single one is made with the Cinematic Universe in mind. They all incorporate elements of the film, but kid-ified to ease children into the Cinematic Universe. Spider-Man cartoons don’t stand on their own anymore. They have to bring in Agent Coulson as his principal, they need to include SHIELD, and so many other Avengers elements pulled directly from the Cinematic Universe. If the movies ever start to fade, the cartoons will need to carry their own weight again.
I’ve been watching superhero stuff my entire life. Cartoons, TV, movies, whatever. I’m still not sick of them. I only get sick of them if they suck. If they continue making good movies, good shows, good whatever … I don’t know why I’d suddenly stop enjoying them.
Spoilers for Legends of Tomorrow in the next question!
Did you watch Legends of Tomorrow? If you’re asking this, I assume you did. Legends of Tomorrow‘s plot made no sense in a spectacularly fun way. Yeah, they can bring Captain Cold back, because Legends of Tomorrow doesn’t care about paradox or plothole or anything. Legends of Tomorrow messed with the timeline all day and night until it became plot relevant for someone to say “don’t mess with the timeline!”
If you’re going to die in a comic book universe, dying while messing with time is the best possible way to go. You’ll be back. Captain Cold could show up with no explanation other than I got better and it would fit just fine into both Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash.
A great portion of the geek audience views Batman vs. Superman as a flop, but the film grossed $166 million dollars in North America alone in its opening weekend. Globally, it hit $422 million that weekend. That’s incredible. It quickly dropped off, but that’s still an amazing opening week. In general, though, I think DC tries too hard to make their movies super dark and gritty — or at least market them that way. The marketing for every DC film tends to look the same: dark, drab, edgy. I think there’s room for that, but DC seems to look the same every single time.
As an interesting anecdote, my mom — who isn’t a nerd in any way — hated the Dark Knight trilogy of Batman films. They were too dark, too serious, too violent. She didn’t recognize that Batman. The Batman she knows is from The Animated Series, the Michael Keaton Batman, and reruns of the Adam West Batman TV series. She wanted that Batman — a Batman who’s still a little darker than most superheroes, but still has fun and doesn’t revel in its violence. That’s what she expects when she watches something with superheroes. Marvel is delivering that. DC isn’t.
DC is getting it right with most of their TV offerings, but not their films.
As for your second question, I have no preference for live-action or cartoon. I enjoy them both. That said, I prefer a running series to a movie. Movies, I think, don’t last long enough for me to get really invested. The ongoing experience of a strong season/series is great. Movies hang around for two hours and then they’re gone — or you wait 2-3 years to potentially see those characters again.
Comic books are pretty dumb but whether or not that’s groanworthy to me is how they treat it. Is there an awareness of it being bizarre? Do they play it straight? Do they expect you to take something hilariously awful as super-serious? It all depends. Sometimes something which should be dumb ends up being really compelling — and sometimes something they expect you to take seriously is so bad you just can’t do it. Superheroes are fundamentally dumb at face value, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyable. Batman is a grown man who dresses up like a bat to scare people. That’s absurd. How can you take that seriously? You can’t — unless it’s well-written. If it’s well-written, the ridiculousness of it doesn’t matter so much. You accept it.
Grodd in particular is something I can’t take seriously, though. He’s apparently a big-deal villain because he’s shown up in the cartoons as a rival to people like Lex Luthor, but it’s just so… silly. It’s the gorilla thing. I don’t get the obsession. Smart monkeys is a running theme in all kinds of fiction and I just don’t get the appeal. Winston in Overwatch is my least favorite character for that reason. He’s Good Guy Grodd.
Does Arrow want to be saved? I don’t enjoy Arrow anymore, but it’s clear there are people who do. The dilemma, then, is whether I want to keep arguing Arrow should return to being a show I like — or whether to let it continue to be a show for those who like it as it is now. Arrow could easily get back to its season 1 and season 2 roots: street-level criminals, an emphasis on Oliver as hero/anti-hero, all of that.
But the show doesn’t seem to want to be that anymore. It’s a romantic drama with an ensemble cast set in the DC universe. The show’s recent seasons have gone out of their way to cut ties with the comic book universe by killing Black Canary and bringing in a greater number of original characters. (And, Black Canary being my favorite ever, her death marked the end of my caring about Arrow at all.) There are people who enjoy it. If that’s what Arrow wants to be, so be it. However, if that’s what Arrow wants to be, they probably need to respect they’ve lost their position as the big dog in the greater CW DC universe — in terms of story, if not viewership. Oliver Queen from season 1 and 2 made perfect sense as the de facto leader of the CW heroes when the shows crossed over. He was competent, experienced, dedicated, focused. Oliver Queen from season 3 and 4 definitely does not deserve that position. He’s … something else. The other characters have eclipsed him due to the focus of his show. Personally, I think Sara Lance deserves the position of leadership after Legends of Tomorrow, but that’s not likely to happen.
That depends on what you enjoyed about Teen Titans. The humor? Storytelling? All of the above? I’d suggest giving Young Justice a try, but be warned there are only two seasons. Young Justice got canned, too. Young Justice doesn’t have as large of a humor element, but it’s similar in that it focuses on younger heroes, sidekicks, and that sort of thing coming into their own rather than focusing on Batman/Superman/Whatever again.
Teen Titans Go! is actually really good if you can get over your heartbreak and accept it as something new/different. It can be genuinely funny and is willing to crack jokes at the general DC universe. When’s the last time you saw the Wonder Twins?
Troy Baker did a good Mark Hamill As The Joker impression the one time he played the role. There are some Jokers I like, but only when they’re doing their own version of The Joker rather than Hamill’s Joker. John DiMaggio’s Joker in Under the Red Hood is more of a gangster than Hamill’s Joker. When you look at him that way — a little less madcap, a little more thug — it’s a really good performance.
I definitely would not put Young Justice in the “solely young children” category. Young Justice was amazing and absolutely on par with your first list. Many cartoon fans viewed it as the second coming of the DC Animated Universe. Young Justice even had more mature themes/storytelling than Justice League did. The word “young” in the title doesn’t mean it was an immature show. Unfortunately, even Young Justice got canned to make way for the new wave of superhero cartoons.
The problem is cartoons aren’t simply made for the sake of making good cartoons. They are, and have always been, fuel for merchandising. Cartoons are made to appeal to children in specific ways. They want to sell you action figures, clothes, games, and anything else they can come up with. Nowadays, the people who fund these cartoons have decided grownups will dump their money into movies and movie merchandise, so they need to go after the youngest possible audience — and as I mentioned in an earlier question, not only sell to those young kids, but also introduce them to elements from the movies. They’re training kids to enjoy the MCU.
Young Justice got canceled because it didn’t hit the right demographic — that is, young boys. Because they want boy shows to sell boys boy toys and they want girl shows to sell girls their girl toys. They don’t want girls buying boy toys, because then the girls won’t buy the girl toys. So if a cartoon is good and popular and successful, they’ll still cancel it if it isn’t hitting the right demographic. This isn’t a joke or speculation — this was the real issue and why cartoons get canceled.
The current wave of cartoons fits their demographic: young boys who’ll get their parents to buy Marvel boy toys, including MCU merchandise. If girls like it, or even if both girls and boy like it, they’ll cancel it. It’s horrendous.
I would disagree with this! In recent memory, I enjoyed more live-action superhero shows than movies. It’s going to come down to personal opinion, isn’t it? Off the top of my head, I enjoyed The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Agents of Shield, Daredevil, and Jessica Jones. I enjoyed the first two seasons of Arrow and the first season of Agent Carter. I didn’t get to watch Supergirl due to CBS’s web player being the worst I’ve seen in years. On the flipside, I find the Thor movies terrible and the Avengers films are 100% spectacle.
I don’t feel strongly enough to agree or disagree, but I’m glad Squirrel Girl has had staying power. There aren’t many characters from the Great Lakes Avengers who’ve stuck around. The original Great Lakes Avengers cast members were … uh … questionable at best. Of the GLA’s later recruits, there’s Squirrel Girl and technically Deadpool. I feel like the Midwest is criminally underutilized in superhero material (or any other form of media), so if there’s even one character with ties to the Midwest still rockin’ around out there, I’ll call it a win.
Obviously, there’s a special place in my heart for Milwaukee, but I can understand why nobody sets anything in Milwaukee. Nobody knows anything about it. (That’s why Lady Superior is set in Milwaukee.) But come on, what about Chicago? Nobody can think of cool stories to put in Chicago? It’s Chicago. If you (royal you) don’t think Chicago is worthy of awesome stories, you have no imagination.
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