For the last few years, a lot of attention has been on Marvel expanding to TV. They dominate on Netflix with six series while ABC has given us Agents of SHIELD. They’re now moving to Hulu with Runaways and there are plans for shows on Freeform next year.
It looks good overall, but there are some concerns. Iron Fist was a serious letdown while Inhumans was a massive flop. Marvel may dominate on the big screen, but they have trouble matching that on TV. Ironically, DC is the opposite case as their big-screen outings are rough. However, the CW has allowed DC to create their own universe. It all began with Arrow which clicked better than expected with comic book action. That led to The Flash which offered better comic book story-telling and was a huge hit. Soon, characters from both shows were mixed into Legends of Tomorrow, which throws time travel into the story. Supergirl was on CBS but moved to the CW as part of their universe as well.
Not to mention animated series like Vixen and The Ray which tie in, and this winter brings Black Lightning into the mix. The shows boast a terrific vibe, linking classic comic books with modern-day action and effects, while plots can range from battling bad guys to heartfelt human issues. The Arrowverse (as it’s known) is genius; making it all work and doing a far better job of comic book storytelling than Marvel does on TV. Indeed, some of their efforts can reach the level of the Marvel movies and show some spectacular action. Here are 15 ways the Arrowverse is much better than Marvel’s TV efforts and why DC rules on the small screen.
15 Diversity Of Casts
Changing the ethnicity of a comic book character can be a cr*pshoot. Sometimes it works (Coleen Wing was more Asian in Iron Fist) and other times it doesn’t (The Human Torch as black in the last Fantastic Four movie). The Arrowverse has managed to make such changes not only work but pull it off wonderfully to make the shows feel more diverse. Arrow has long had John Diggle as Ollie’s best friend and aide with no talk of his race being an issue, while Wild Dog does bring up how he’s had a harder life as a Latino in Star City. Iris West was changed to African-American for Flash, but she and Barry are still an amazing couple.
A notable bit on Supergirl was the Martian Manhunter mentioning how prejudiced humans could be and saying he learned it not as an alien but posing as a black man on Earth for years. A powerful scene was Maggie Sawyer’s dad raking her on the racism he’s faced in his life only for her to turn it around on how he was just as prejudiced about her being gay. Making James Olsen black seemed odd but it worked out as he became the hero, Guardian. There’s also how Felicity Smoak and Martin Stein are proud of their Jewish roots and Zari is Muslim. Thus, in terms of more diversity in casts, the Arrowverse clearly has it over the Marvel shows.
14 It’s Varied In Tone
Look at Marvel’s Netflix lineup and what do you see? Six shows all about street-level people with very few powers (aside from super strength and senses) taking on bad guys in what amounts to long fights. Agents of SHIELD is more about espionage while Inhumans…forget it. The Arrowverse, on the other hand, offers a very intriguing slate that boasts some terrific options depending on what type of super-hero adventure you’d like. If you want that sort of street-level stuff, turn to Arrow which can also get into epic fighting if need be. If you want wild comic book adventure, go to Flash which also works in regular sci-fi stuff from time travel to the assorted ways science is used to take down villains. Supergirl is a classic superhero adventure with the added benefit of a female lead to pull you in. And Legends is just pure and utter fun, hilarious in humor but amazingly heartfelt drama at times with plots that can be crazy. Thus, it really is something for everyone and far more varied than what you’d expect from what Marvel puts out.
13 They Take Their Time
Some have noted it might have been better if Iron Fist had shown up on Luke Cage first before his own show to get the kinks of the character out. Indeed, Arrow did great introducing Barry Allen in an episode and fans responded, so that was built into his own show. Inhumans was far too rushed; put on the air in just a few months and the results spoke for themselves. Meanwhile, the CW announced Legends of Tomorrow in May of 2015 but didn’t premiere it for another eight months, giving plenty of time to prepare and make sure it all worked. Vixen was introduced in an online animated series to be a success and then a live-action version of Arrow. And when the actress wasn’t available for Legends, they just had time travel to explain her young grandmother joining up.
The care taken is obvious as well as how they plan things out (Supergirl had an episode devoted to flashbacks of Kara and Alex as teens so the actresses could be in the big crossover event) and such. It’s clear the producers of these shows are able to set things up and not rush like Marvel does to make things work.
12 Respect For The Material
Marvel seems to be a bit wary of making their shows look too “comic book.” They keep things gritty and realistic, stay away from costumes, and present science-leaning explanations for things. In contrast, the Arrowverse wears its comic roots proudly on its sleeve. They’re completely frank about how this is a world where people can get super-powers and go wild with them, often in crazy costumes and make it work. The Flash is the best, using the long legacy of the character with notes on his past history like Jay Garrick and others. Supergirl shows its love for the Silver Age in its characters and one of the best presentations of Superman in years.
There are also clever in-jokes regarding some of the cast. For example, when meeting Supergirl, the Atom (played for former big-screen Superman Brandon Routh) mentions she “looks like a cousin of mine.” Victor Garber had a fun line regarding the Titanic. The best is in the “Earth-X” event where Supergirl confronts her evil double with “General, would you care to step outside?” Overall, it shows the creators love the comics and want to do justice making them work for viewers.
11 Epic Team-Ups
The Defenders got attention for bringing together four heroes. The Arrowverse fans just scoffed at how low-key that was. It all started with a crossover event with Flash and Arrow going at it, including Barry briefly turned evil to fight his friend. Another team-up paved the way for Legends of Tomorrow and the shows continue to be interconnected with stars cameoing back and forth. Arrow had a nice touch of Matt Ryan reprising his role from the canceled Constantine series to link those shows up.
A big one was the Flash showing up on Supergirl (which was on CBS at the time) to show they were linked via different Earths. This led to a 2016 crossover of the four shows taking on an alien invasion. Even wilder was a Flash-Supergirl crossover that was a full-blown musical. The biggest was the epic “Crisis on Earth-X,” bringing the four shows together in a stunning clash with a world of Nazis, including evil doubles of Arrow and Supergirl and stunning fight scenes. The Marvel shows can try but the Arrowverse makes team-ups feel like big-screen epics.
10 Better Baddies
The Netflix shows started off strong with the Kingpin, a powerful force on Daredevil, while Killgrave on Jessica Jones was outright terrifying. But after that, the bad guys aren’t that compelling. Many feel Luke Cage lost something when Cottonmouth was killed off midway through the season and Sigourney Weaver’s casting on The Defenders was a letdown. In contrast, the Arrowverse has been offering a slew of fantastic bad guys. Malcolm Merlyn began it all; a twisted figure who truly thinks he’s doing what’s right and John Barrowman’s performance was so good that the character kept coming back for years. Damien Darkh matched him as a wickedly funny but insane fanatic.
Legends had the immortal conqueror Vandal Savage in its first season but far better was in season two when Reverse Flash, Merlyn and Darkh formed a Legion of Doom. Supergirl has her tangling with evil Kryptonians and Teri Hatcher a wicked evil alien queen while currently, Reign is basically Supergirl’s dark mirror who beats her to a pulp. Arrow right now has Michael Emerson as the brilliant Cayden James, working with Black Siren and others for a plot to take on the city. That’s not counting slews of intriguing foes like Prometheus, Max Lord, and others. DC has always boasted some fantastic enemies and the Arrowverse is great showing how fun they can be.
9 Not Beholden To The Movies
On paper, linking to the highly successful MCU should be a benefit for TV shows. However, in some cases, it’s limiting as well. Agents of SHIELD’s first season had a rough go as they had to wait for Captain America: The Winter Soldier to open and use the reveal of Hydra controlling SHIELD. They also do links to some movies that are little more than forgettable bits. Worse was how they had to devote much of their time to building up the Inhumans for a planned movie, only for that to be turned into a flop series. The Netflix shows seem to have a weird rule where they can’t really openly say things about the movies (the alien invasion from Avengers is called “The Incident”) and not making cameos in any of the films either.
In contrast, the Arrowverse is not connected to the DCCU at all… and most will say that’s a great thing. They don’t have to plan out stuff to match the movies but go their own way and most will agree they do more justice to the DC characters than the movies have. They can have a totally different version of the Suicide Squad or aliens and most agree the TV Flash is far better than his movie counterpart. Thus, not having to work with the movies frees the Arrowverse up to even better than anything Warner Bros has put out yet.
8 Great FX
Probably a reason why Netflix prefers doing “street-level” Marvel characters is that their budget can’t handle huge FX stuff. Agents of SHIELD has some characters with powers but they prefer staying low-key while the effects on Inhumans were laughable. Arrow didn’t need fancy effects at first but has grown nicely with stuff like the Canary’s sonic cry. Obviously, Flash is the best with the fantastic effects for the super-speed sequences and other bits. They actually managed to make Gorilla Grodd work beautifully via CGI. Legends matches it with time travel antics, various meta-human powers, and even aliens. Supergirl does the usual flying effects and heat vision but also cool powers from the Martian Manhunter’s shape-changing to battling evil Martians. A key reason the fight scenes in the “Earth-X” crossover were so amazing was how well the FX handled everything from two Supergirls battling it out to a variety of fire/ice/laser beams firing about, Killer Frost on an ice slide and more. In many ways, the shows boast better FX than some movies and make this comic book world explode to life.
If you’re going to do a superhero show, you should have costumes. Marvel seems to be ignoring that. Of course, you can make the argument it’s better as the outfits on Inhumans were bad. It took Daredevil until his first season finale to don his outfit while Luke Cage openly made fun of the character’s old look. The Arrowverse has openly embraced costumes from the start as Oliver Queen went out as the Hood, a dark Robin Hood character. The Flash had to have that iconic costume and the show has done well making it work as a heroic symbol. The Atom has his cool armor while others on Team Arrow have their own costumes to work out. The first Black Canary outfit enhanced sexiness while the second was more combat-efficient and the third mixing both together. Legends gets into it as well with the team in their outfits and doing a great job matching the original comic book sources but looking realistic for viewers. Supergirl showcases how important costumes are for these types of shows and the Arrowverse great making it work.
6 The Multiverse
There’s something about alternate realities that pulls at people. SHIELD briefly touched on that with some characters put in a “Framework” simulation of a world where Hydra ruled. But that was blatantly not real. The Arrowverse has excelled, pulling off the complex idea of a multiverse; Earths where things take different paths. It began on The Flash with Earth-2, where Barry is a nerdy tech, Iris is a cop and Cisco and Caitlin are pure villains. Indeed, Danielle Panabaker’s turn as Killer Frost was so well received that they had to turn the Earth-1 Caitlin to Frost. It also gave Tom Cavanaugh a chance to show off as the Harrison Wells of different Earths, one a smug genius, the other a goofball to help the team out.
We’ve seen other Earths like one where the elder Jay Garrick is the Flash and versions of Wells from a Mad Max-like setting to a German Steve Jobs type. The big one was revealing Supergirl’s Earth was one linked to Earth-1 with the ability to bounce between places. That set up the huge Earth-X crossover involving a world ruled by Nazis with evil versions of some heroes. It gives the writers a great bit to play with and expands on these comic book worlds.
5 Girl Power
Okay, there is Jessica Jones, and Agents of SHIELD has May and Quake. But after that, the pickings of strong female characters on Marvel TV turn rather slim. The Arrowverse does not have that problem as it’s bursting with amazing women in strong roles. Legends has always boasted Sara Lance as a tough fighter who’s also taken over as a team leader. They also have the animal-powered Vixen and tough future fighter Zari with one ep showing the trio easily taking down some baddies on their own. The Flash has allowed Caitlin Snow to become the ice-controlling Killer Frost to show her stuff and Gypsy is a cool presence too. Obviously, the title character soars on Supergirl, but her sister Alex is just as capable and tough and does it without the benefit of super-powers. And Team Arrow has the Black Canary to help while Thea Queen can become the red-clad Arsenal if need be to match her brother in archery.
It’s not just the ladies in costume, either. Felicity Smoak has been a popular figure on Arrow with her hacking skills and quirky humor. Meanwhile, Iris West has risen to a leadership role on the Flash and more than willing to put herself on the line. That’s not counting the various awesome “bad girls” of these shows. Arrow has given us Talia and Nyssa al Ghul (the Daughters of the Demon) while Katee Sackhoff is currently stealing the show on Flash as the metal-controlling Amunet.
4 Fan Fave Casting
Yes, the Marvel shows can have some cool casting like Sigourney Weaver as the baddie in The Defenders. But the Arrowverse boasts not just great cast choices but clever ways to pay tribute to past comic book shows. The Flash is the obvious choice with John Wesley Shipp (who starred in the 1990s TV show) as Barry’s dad and later the elder Flash of another Earth. Also, Mark Hamill reprised his own role from that show as the wild Trickster. Legends has had nice touches such as Victor Garber’s former Titanic co-star Billy Zane as P.T. Barnum.
Supergirl has to be the best. Former Superman Dean Cain and big-screen Supergirl Helen Slater play the Danvers’ parents; Carl Lumbly (who voiced the Martian Manhunter in the Justice League cartoon) is the Manhunter’s dad; Lynda Carter (forever Wonder Woman to so many) is the President of the United States; Smallville’s Supergirl, Laura Vandervoort, as a baddie; and both former TV Lois Lanes (Teri Hatcher and Erica Durance) have recurring roles. While the MCU on TV has some nice casting, the Arrowverse has it all over them in terms of great choices to make fans happy.
3 LGBT Love
Marvel may try to be “all access” and such, but some have noted a disturbing trend of them to back off from gay/lesbian issues. A famous bit is how Valkyrie in Thor Ragnarok had a female lover, but that was cut out and likewise, the TV shows seem to shy away from that. In contrast, the Arrowverse has fully embraced that. Sara Lance was shown to be bisexual, with her relationships with Nyssa al Ghul and Oliver Queen to entice fans. It’s continued on Legends of Tomorrow, with Sara having a variety of relationships (even with the Queen of France) and proud of who she is.
Meanwhile, Supergirl won raves in its second season for Alex coming out and understanding she was gay. Her relationship with cop Maggie was very well done and faced issues such as Maggie confronting her homophobic father on being who she was. Sadly, Florina Lima chose to leave the show but rather than kill the character off, the series took a better turn. The decision over whether to have kids caused them to realize they had differences and broke up on good terms.
2 Not Afraid To Get Silly
In one episode, the Legends have to distract NASA mission control in 1970. Their solution? Have Stein sing “Day-O” in the middle of the control room…and it works. The Marvel shows tend to be grounded and even gritty whereas the Arrowverse is not afraid to be fun as hell in wild ways. The Flash has a nice goofy humor as shown by the recent arrival of the Elongated Man whose stretching powers are silly but work out well. Likewise, Legends has some crazy stuff with the gang in time. What other show presents Helen of Troy becoming a 1930s movie star or Vikings getting inspired by a talking bear doll to conquer North America?
One acclaimed crossover had the Flash and Supergirl stuck in a world based on a movie musical and thus need to sing and dance their way to freedom. There’s also how Marvel insists on “science is everything” but Arrowverse is blatant in how magic is not only a thing but easily used by heroes and villains alike. Put it all together and the Arrowverse is willing to embrace the goofiness of comics in a way Marvel just doesn’t and that makes them a hell of a lot more fun to watch.
1 More In-Depth
There are fewer shows in the Arrowverse, but they are able to get more in-depth for their characters than the Marvel shows do. The Netflix shows are only 13 episodes in each series and most have noted the issues they have with pacing. Each Arrowverse show has 22 or 23 in a season, giving the writers plenty of time to dig in. There’s also the “course correction” issue. A key flaw of Netflix is that releasing an entire season in one go means they can’t make corrections for plots that don’t work. The first half of Arrow’s first season was overly dark and pushed Ollie as a one-man crusade. Fans weren’t as sure of that so at the halfway point, the writers elevated Felicity and Diggle to good helpers and added some light humor. Several of the shows have noted what wasn’t working and made other corrections (Legends realizing it was better to focus on time travel adventures than fighting one evil guy).
This also means more time to delve into the characters. Indeed, it’s astounding to see how vastly different many characters are from when they started. Thea Queen was a spoiled brat but is now a top fighter and heroine, while Iris West has gone from “the girlfriend” to a team leader. Sara Lance has become the captain of the Legends and so many other characters have evolved into more complex people.