The internet has been ablaze in recent weeks with news out of DC Entertainment regarding its quickly-expanding collection of live-action offerings. After an early leak of the pilot episode of The Flash, news began to break regarding casting of Brandon Routh (Superman Returns, Chuck) as Ray “The Atom” Palmer and Robbie Amell (Tomorrow People) as Ronnie “Firestorm” Raymond, both to be recurring roles on the highly anticipated spin-off of Arrow. In keeping with the formula the well-performing CW series established in its second season, all signs point to The Flash being a showcase (ironic, considering the name of the title where the character first appeared) for those characters from the DC Comics lexicon whose powers originate in the realm of super-science.
Alongside the exponential expansion in scope of DCE’s television offerings has been a steadily quickening stream of details regarding their burgeoning cinematic universe, which began with 2012’s Man of Steel. Much has been made of Warner Brothers’ need to “catch up” with the well-underway Marvel Cinematic Universe owned by its largest multimedia competitor, Disney. This has understandably led to a growing chorus of fans wondering if Warner Brothers, which owns both DC Entertainment and the CW, will seek to compete on even footing by connecting its television properties with its cinematic ones, much in the same way Marvel Studios spun the success of its Avengers franchise into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which completed its first season this past year.
Arrow has hewed close to the ground, using characters such as Bronze Tiger, Deadshot, Huntress, and Red Arrow/Arsenal, but has shown that it is possible to successfully deploy a wide selection of characters without compromising the integrity of the show’s core storylines or the evolving dynamics between it’s central actors. It is likely that the same formula will be employed in The Flash, where it seems that the establishment of a world where the impossible is possible has thrown the doors wide open for The CW network to make use of the complete array of DC Entertainment’s collection of intellectual property, comprising over twenty thousand different characters.
Warner Brothers has traditionally done very well in the television arena, with Smallville having run ten (albeit mixed in quality) seasons on The CW and cornerstone franchise Supernatural entering its tenth this fall. This speaks to the network’s ability to create properties with both longevity and avid fan followings. In the more specific realm of super-hero properties, Arrow has established itself as the network’s top-rated show in the last two years and has garnered awards for writing, cinematography, and nods for star Stephen Amell. Despite the show’s success, however, it continues to lag the critically-panned Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by nearly five million viewers per episode, on average (Nielsen). While some of this can be attributed to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airing on ABC, one of the powerhouse networks of television, it should speak volumes on the benefits of connectivity. The entirety of the show’s massive debut audience was a owed to the box-office success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ratings immediately tanked after that debut, as evidenced by the final numbers for the season, but Warner Brothers should take this as a green light rather than a caution flag.
The major criticism of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. throughout the first half of the season was that it did too little to showcase the massive library of characters from the Marvel library. Rather than appearances by The Wrecking Crew or Thor, weekly viewers were left with a Sif cameo and a half-hearted version of Deathlok as the show focused on the interpersonal dramas of its core cast of mundane human agents.
This is an area where Warners, should they choose to tie things together, is prepared to blow the competition away. The casting announcements to this point indicate not just a willingness but a commitment to mining the intellectual property cache for all its worth, something which has been a core mission for DCE President Diane Nelson since she arrived at the company. Continuing to do so would help such an endeavor avoid the pitfalls of Disney/Marvel’s effort while offering the same opportunity for weekly promotion of the major moneymaker (the feature films) when the next offering arrives in 2016.
Arrow and The Flash already exist in the same world, and that world contains Firestorm, the Atom, Deathstroke, Black Canary, the Huntress, Amanda Waller, and ARGUS. DCE is obviously putting a great deal of faith into the small screen. That faith will only be further rewarded if they pull out all the stops and create a comprehensive, connected DC Cinematic Universe when Batman V Superman hits theaters.