Currently I’m trying to keep up with three TV shows, which is a lot for me. It should be no surprise that all of them are based on comics.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – I continue to love this show. I was hooked from its slow and rocky beginnings, when I considered it the Coulson and May show and couldn’t even remember Agent Pretty-Boy’s name. My how things have changed. Ward has become one of my favorite villains and the additions to the cast have been excellent. The guest stars haven’t hurt either and they are taking full advantage of their connections to the greater Marvel cinematic universe. That’s something most shows can’t draw upon and I’m glad to see them leverage it for all it’s worth. It also helps that since the ending of last season they’ve kicked the pacing into high gear.
I like the characters, I like the setting, I like the action, and I like the twisty plots. I’m also very glad that they’re moving ahead with the central mystery. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the show I’m most invested in and I love it.
The Flash – Wow, a DC superhero property that manages not to suck all the fun out of comic characters? Could it be that they’re finally catching on that “grim and gritty” is not the only way to present heroes?
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had pacing problems when it started. Appropriately enough that has not been an issue for The Flash, which dove straight into superheroic action. Giving Barry Allen a healthy dose of Peter Parker-like luck and background hasn’t hurt the story either, making Barry Allen more relateable and interesting. Another interesting difference is that while S.H.I.E.L.D. hides the major plot twists to surprise the viewer, The Flash is telegraphing them. The audience already knows who the evil mastermind is and we get to enjoy watching the chess game between him and the unaware good guys.
They’ve also done a good job of putting Flash up against a strong stable of his classic Rogues Gallery. One of my biggest complaints about a lot of past superhero TV shows is that they lacked supervillains. The Flash does not have this problem, with Barry squaring off against new metahuman challenges each week.
However I still have some complaints. The first is that they keep killing off their villains. This has improved somewhat by the introduction of the metahuman prison under the ruins of STAR Labs, but they’ve still killed off most of the villains they introduced. The prison also introduces an ethical question that hasn’t been touched on. Our heroes are imprisoning people indefinitely and denying them any due process. I wish they would at least address this, make it an ethical dilemma, and let them argue about it. Instead they ignore it, and that bugs me.
They’re fallen into “Villain of the Week” syndrome. I do love that they have so many super battles, but so far each villain has been neatly dealt with in one episode. They could stand to have a two-part episode once in a while, or a villain who escapes to come back later. Also they waited way too long before they gave the titular hero his correct name. Until the most recent episode they were calling him “The Streak”. Why they waited this long to call him Flash is beyond me.
Of course we need to have a love triangle, which is a plot cliche I have no interest in. Though I am happy that the other guy is a good character. I like him and I don’t think he’s going to turn evil, which means he’ll probably die.
Constantine – Back when Vertigo Comics first launched, John Constantine’s Hellblazer was the title that I latched onto and couldn’t stop reading. I was a teenager and the anti-hero in Constantine blew me away. He was a jackass, he had crushing self-doubt that he covered with bravado, he would win but take so much of a beating that it didn’t seem like a victory. The plots were graphic, dark, raw, and more explicit than what I was used to seeing in comics. It was also very much a product of the late 80’s and early 90’s, channeling the feel of the black magic horror movies tof the time. Movies like The Serpent and the Rainbow, The Prophecy, and Prince of Darkness.
When I heard they were bringing Constantine to TV I had my doubts. I wondered how well it would translate to television.
As it turns out, not too bad. First off, they nailed the look. From how the actor talks and dresses to the colors that they use, John Constantine looks like he walked out of a comic book. The atmosphere is fatalistic, with foul rituals and dark magic at every turn. Many classic characters from Hellblazer have shown up, including Chas, Zed, and Papa Midnight. John is a jackass, full of himself and milking a reputation that is far more fearsome than his actual abilities. Despite the dark and horrific nature of the world, they also manage to inject a sense of the absurd and dark humor.
Constantine is also not without a few flaws. Stories feel rushed and the characters feel a bit unnatural. I never quite forget that I’m watching actors when I should be connecting with the characters. I also worry that the show might turn modern audiences off due to its irreverent take on various religions, which gives me concerns about its future. There are things you can get away with in a niche comic that won’t fly in the mass media. We’ll see what happens.
That’s what I’m watching, and for me that’s a lot. I’m getting good mileage out of the superhero boom and I can’t remember when we’ve had so many good non-animated genre shows on the air. Honorable mention also goes to Doctor Who, which I don’t so much follow as DVR and binge-watch once the season is over.
What have you been watching?