By my count, we’ll have 10 live-action shows derived from comic books to watch in 2014-2015 — three from Marvel, five from DC/Vertigo and two based on Robert Kirkman’s indie hit “The Walking Dead.”
Even to a fan like me, this seems like a lot. Much as we might like them to, it seems unlikely that all will prosper. Here are a few thoughts on which ones are likely to do well and what might make them click.
Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ (ABC)
At first, this show came as a letdown to many fans who didn’t see enough of the Marvel Cinematic Universe reflected in the content and found the first stories bland and generic. But spokesmen for the show like Clark Gregg (who stars as Agent Phil Coulson) said, in essence, “Stick around, we’re building to something,” and damned if they weren’t.
Over time, the show gave us Asgardians, Blackout, Graviton, Deathlok and finally, piggybacking on the events of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the gut-punch revelation that Hydra not only still existed but had thoroughly infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. At this point, the stakes are high, the stories suspenseful and I’m far more interested to see what happens in Season 2 than I would have expected a few months back. I suspect I’m not alone.
Marvel’s ‘Agent Carter’ (ABC)
In this one, Peggy Carter, Captain America’s love interest from the movies, becomes, in effect, the first S.H.I.E.L.D. field op in 1946. I’m not so sure how this one will fare. Network TV tends to steer clear of period drama, and maybe it knows what it’s doing. But shows like “The Americans” and “Hell on Wheels” have connected with audiences on cable, so maybe not, too.
At any rate, I’d like to see this one succeed. Hayley Atwell is good as Agent Carter, and the Marvel Universe in the years immediately following World War II is largely unexplored territory even in the comics. And when things get tense, we won’t have that little voice in the back of our minds asking, “Well, can’t the Avengers just come and fix this?” (Although there are some interesting characters like Ulysses Bloodstone wandering around in the period who Peggy could meet.)
Daredevil’s arguably not quite an A-list character, but he’s an interesting one who’s been a Marvel mainstay since 1964, and as a street-level superhero fighting psychopaths and gangsters in Hell’s Kitchen, he’ll show us a side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe we haven’t yet seen. Given the quality of other Netflix original offerings like “House of Cards” and “Hemlock Grove,” I expect this will be another success, especially if the creators use the best villains from Daredevil’s Rogues Gallery. The Kingpin and Bullseye are probably safe bets, but I’d also like to see the Gladiator and the Owl. (Stilt-Man and Leap-Frog, not so much.)
‘Arrow’ (The CW)
Arrow was fun right from the start and has only become more so over the course of Season 2. The show mixes intense action with surprises, a number of appealing characters (especially Felicity Smoak, portrayed by Emily Bett Rickards), and (usually) the right amount of angst and soap opera to balance out the crime fighting. It brings in tons of material from the DC Universe, too, including Professor Ivo, Deathstroke the Terminator, Brother Blood, the Huntress, Deadshot and the Suicide Squad, just to name a few. I’m optimistic that it will stay good in Season 3.
‘The Flash’ (The CW)
This is another show I’m not entirely confident about. While Green Arrow (or the Arrow, if you must) is a Batman-level character, the Flash is a true superhero, and only high-powered villains like Grodd, the Mirror Master and Abra Kadabra pose a challenge. We’ll have to see if the show can make such battles compelling and convincing week after week on a TV schedule and budget. I hope the creators don’t take the “Smallville” out, which was to delay the big super-powered confrontations as long as possible and then have them occur quickly and sometimes primarily off camera. “Smallville” somehow got away with that disappointing ploy, but I don’t see it working in “The Flash,” which, if it’s to be at all true to its source material, needs a fast pace and plenty of spectacular sci-fi action.
One thing the show has going for it is the casting of Grant Gustin in the title role. Introduced on “Arrow” this season (in a story set before his character acquires his powers), he was dead-on perfect as Barry Allen.
‘iZombie’ (The CW)
Confession time. I never read the comic. But from what I’ve been able to glean, the show’s about a zombie who maintains her basic humanity (including a human appearance) by eating human brains once a month. Since she works in a coroner’s office, she doesn’t have a lot of trouble getting them, but when she consumes the gray matter of a murder victim, she absorbs some of the victim’s memories and then feels compelled to bring his or her killer to justice.
Aside from the gross-out factor, that doesn’t sound all that different from previous shows like “Medium,” and it’s not enough to interest me or to make me optimistic about the show’s success. But I gather that in the comic, there are other supernatural creatures besides zombies, and the protagonist and her sidekicks square off against a variety of supernatural threats. If it turns out the show is going that route, I’ll be more intrigued. You never know. This could be the new “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
When written properly, John Constantine is a very anti sort of antihero, and his adventures are dark and disturbing. I’m not sure American network TV is up to the challenge of translating the source material without watering it down to make the character easier to like. That, after all, is what just happened when Fox made an American version of the Australian series “Rake,” and the adaptation only lasted a season.
But if NBC does give us a Constantine as cynical and Machiavellian as the Vertigo original, though, the results could be awesome. Keeping him an Englishman wouldn’t hurt, either.
At first glance, the premise here is intriguing. How does Gotham City get to be the hellhole it is before the Dark Knight starts patrolling it? Still, I’m not sure this is going to work. Partly because “Birds of Prey,” the previous kind-of-a-Batman-show-only-without-Batman, failed to find an audience.
And partly because there’s a basic storytelling problem built into the concept, which is a young James Gordon squaring off against the criminals who will become the Penguin, the Riddler and the rest of Batman’s enemies. Gordon can’t consistently lose, or the series will be a downer. But if Gordon can defeat these adversaries, then does Gotham City really need Bruce Wayne to do all that martial arts training, invent all those gadgets and then dress up like a bat? If not, that undermines the whole Batman mythos.
But despite my misgivings, I’ll certainly give this one a look, if only because Donal Logue plays Harvey Bullock, Gordon’s partner. Logue is always good (and I’m still pissed off at FX for canceling “Terriers.”)
‘The Walking Dead’ (AMC)
There’s little doubt this hit show will continue to attract an audience in its next season and even less doubt that I’ll be one of them, even though I’m a little zombie-apocalypsed out and I sometimes find the episodes slow and repetitive. Like “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “The Walking Dead” plays a long game and delivers the goods if you stick with it. Toward the end of each season, the show serves up genuine suspense, shocks, tragedy and a finale that makes you eager to find out what happens next.
‘The Walking Dead’ spinoff (AMC)
If “The Walking Dead” is good, it stands to reason that the spinoff, also created by Kirkman, will be good, too, right?
Well, maybe. Like I said, I mostly have a been-there-done-that feeling about the zombie apocalypse, and that may be why I suspect a second “Walking Dead” show is one more than we really need. I do find it somewhat promising that this show will feature all new characters and locales and show us aspects of the disaster we haven’t seen before. It’s also encouraging that “Sons of Anarchy” producer Dave Erickson is going to be an executive producer and co-write the show. If you haven’t seen it, “Sons of Anarchy” is brilliant.
So, those are my thoughts. Which comic-based shows are you guys looking forward to, and why?