We are living in a golden age of television. One no longer has to be sat infront of their television set awaiting their favourite show. Instead, we can watch what we want, when we want and for as long as we want. Television has evolved. Like television itself, superhero shows have also evolved. We can reminisce about the golden years of Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman and Adam West's Batman but we also look to what TV has to offer us today in the superhero department: Arrow, The Flash, Daredevil etc. Today, there are no shortage of superhero shows. In fact, one could argue that the superhero is becoming a genre in itself. Populating nearly every major TV network as well as online streaming services, the last decade has produced some of the greatest comic book television that we've ever seen. So, it's obvious that the superhero genre is popular, but what make's it so great? What makes a great superhero show?
What draws you to any show? It's usually the characters that make you want to come back for another episode. The superhero genre is no different - in fact, the lead character in a superhero show is perhaps the most vital component. While they don't necessarily have to be likeable, there has to be an emotional depth to character - a reason for them to become their true self. While appearing superhuman to the villain, almost all superheroes have their flaws. Batman's parents were murdered, The Flash was struck by lightening, Daredevil was blinded as a child, Peggy Carter lost the love of her life etc. We all know the backstory, but it;s how it is portrayed onscreen that makes us want to come back.
The actor in the role
To fully believe in what we are buying into, the superhero needs to be played by an actor that fits the role. I'm sure we all remember cringing at the thought of Nicholas Cage as Superman, so before we look at script or storyline, the most important thing is the actor. What makes Grant Gustin the perfect Flash? What made Lynda Carter the perfect Wonder Woman? The actor not only has to look the part, but they have to believable. We, as viewers, are expected to form a relationship with the character, so the choice of actor has to be perfect. When we watch the shows, that actor is not an actor, they become the superhero.
As with any show, the script must be compelling enough to make us want to return for another episode. Obviously, the levels of content covered in the scriptwriting will vary, depending on target audiences (discussed later). In somewhat of a throwback to the classic Batman & Wonder Woman series', the current DC shows feature straight forward 'villain-of-the-week' formats with an overarching storyline on the side, that will climax in the mid/season finale. Marvel's Agent Carter and Marvel's Daredevil stray from this formula, instead focusing on a complex, occasionally hard to follow, storyline that play out over the course of the season, before culminating in an explosive finale. The latter is perhaps taking off, becoming the new, preferred format. Many have praised Daredevil for it's intelligent level of adult scriptwriting.
Adaptability & Target Audience
What is so great about the superhero genre is that it evolves with every generation - it's adaptable. The show must adapt to the current environment, for example, Adam West was the perfect Batman in the 1960's - the series and feature film starring West was campy and full of colour, very much like the comic books at the time and very much representative of life in the sixties. However, as perfect as West's Batman is, would that formula work now? Obviously not, as we saw a replication of the campy tone in 1997's Batman and Robin, which was universally panned. Today, we see more of a dark Batman, in both comic and film. Gotham carries the modern, dark tone also. Furthermore, when producing a show, you have to be aware of the target audience. Is it targeted toward teenagers or adults? Arrow carries a rather dark, gothic tone whereas it's spin off series The Flash carries a more light, family friendly tone. Supergirl has an even lighter tone than The Flash, carrying an important female independence message, clearly targeted at younger girls. Similarly, Marvel are often associated with their bright, blockbuster superhero films, targeted at teenagers and adults, yet their Netflix series Daredevil is of a much darker tone. Daredevil is the darkest superhero show available, very much intended for an adult audience.
The person; not the power
As well as having a strong, powerful character, it's important to clarify the hero as a human being too. In fact, some heroes aren't superhuman e.g. Batman. Marvel's Agent Carter follows Peggy Carter - the series makes her more than Captain American's love interest, highlighting her struggles living in a male dominated society. Carter has no power at all, yet she is one of the strongest characters on television. Similarly, The Flash focuses a lot of screen time on Barry Allen doing normal things - by doing this, the show runners are creating a relationship between the viewer and Barry Allen, the human being. We talk of Barry's adventures, we don't simply refer to him as The Flash.
The world of superheroes is a magical place. But it's even better when executed with the above points. Whether you prefer the light, family-friendly tone of Supergirl or the dark, gritty tone of Daredevil, as long as the show possesses the above characteristics, then we can enjoy them all for decades to come.