Three Things DC Should Learn From The Success Of Its Television Crossovers
On Monday something very fun happened on CBS’s Supergirl; Barry Allen aka The Flash from the CW show turned up for a brief crossover event. The exact way that Barry crossed into the show is a little complicated but the writers managed to make it work fairly easily. Barry and Kara clicked and they both seemed to find each other fascinating in a way a four year old might. The episode has been almost universally praised and gave Supergirl a bit of a bump in viewers.
This isn’t the first time that a DC television show has found success in crossing the streams. Over the last two years Arrow and The Flash have crossed over at least once during each of their seasons and the episodes are always one of the stronger episodes. Earlier this year Arrow brought Matt Ryan’s Constantine over from the canceled NBC show of the same name for a one off episode that left fans clamouring for more of the character. The entire premise behind Legends of Tomorrow is teaming up heroes and villains from the DC television universe. The mid season finale of Arrow brought in Vixen from her animated mini episodes and now there are talks that she might be the one to join the cast of Legends of Tomorrow in season two. The talk about DC’s television shows is almost always positive.
This is compared to the previous weekend where the second DC Cinematic Universe movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was completely slaughtered by critics and some fans alike. This is the movie universe that has basically said it is too good to bring any of the characters from its television shows into its movies. That is a fine way of looking at it, and now that The Flash has introduced the idea of parallel universes there isn’t anything stopping DC from basically saying that it all exists in the same multiverse but won’t crossover. How is it that DC can dominate the television world but they can’t seem to stick the landing for its movies? Perhaps DC should take a look at why its television shows work and learn some lessons.
1. The Importance of Character Dynamics
One of the reasons that people love crossovers events is that they get to see different characters, sometimes from different genres, interact. The thing that the television shows do that the movies don’t is give the characters time to establish themselves as individuals before they interact with each other. Barry Allen was introduced before he became The Flash in an Arrow episode but it wasn’t until halfway through the first season of The Flash that they really crossed the two series over. Supergirl is nearly done with her first season and Constantine, while canceled, still had a season to develop. The DC movies are in such a rush to implement their cinematic universe that no one has had time to develop as individual characters. I was excited to see Barry and Kara interact in Supergirl because I know their personalities and can see how they would play against each other. I have no idea what the Barry Allen in the Justice League movie is going to be like butting heads with Aquaman because I haven’t met either of them. The characters haven’t had time to develop as individuals so I can appreciate conflicting personalities when they team up.
2. Different Genres Makes For Interesting Tonal Shifts
Arrow has been billed as the more serious and grounded of the DC television shows. It was the one that kicked this off so it didn’t embrace its comic book origins until it became obvious that viewers were willing to accept that. The Flash is more fantastical and lighter hearted but still very geared at the teen demographic. Supergirl is a bright and fun family show that seems more eager to bring a younger audience. All of the DC shows are very different tone wise and that shift is what makes the team ups interesting; Barry calling Oliver out for using the various tragedies in his life for being a downer, Kara being super excited when Barry zips away to demonstrate his speed and returns with ice cream and John Constantine and his magic butting heads with the much more grounded Oliver. All of these interactions are interesting because they are all so different. The tone of the DC movies has, thus far, all felt the same; very serious and almost depressing. Now perhaps the solo Wonder Woman or Flash or Aquaman movies will feel very different from each other but we only get the Wonder Woman movie before the Justice League. If the movies all end up feeling the same tone then there isn’t going to be any reason to look forward to the meshing of genres that comes with crossovers and team ups.
3. Your Television Universe Works So Stop Disregarding It
I’m not saying that DC should follow the same model as Marvel and have everything take place in the same universe. It’s fine that DC is keeping their movies and television shows separate but they are doing so in a very odd way. As I said they have introduced the idea of the multiverse in The Flash and when Barry arrived on Supergirl he was in a different universe. The episode didn’t feel contrived or confusing because of that connection. Barry spent a few minutes explaining it in the episodes and then everyone moved on because this is a world where aliens exist so parallel universes isn’t the strangest thing. The Flash first acknowledged this connection by showing Supergirl as he was passing through to Earth-2. Why can’t DC do the same with its movies? They seem to be going out of their way to keep the two of them separate when they can just claim the multiverse and stop kneecapping its television series for its movies. For example Arrow and The Flash have been dropping easter eggs for Green Lantern for awhile now, but they won’t bring him in because they are eventually bringing the lanterns into the movie universe. Arrow had to kill off their version of the Suicide Squad and several characters because the movie is coming out. Why not just say the movies are yet another Earth in the multiverse and stop hurting the shows that work? It gives fans something to look forward to should DC decide to do something like the Crisis on Infinite Earths plotline from the comics and bring in everyone from the various Earths. The general public has been receptive of stranger concepts, so if DC would just admit that these are different universes connected by the multiverse and let them each do their own thing everyone would benefit from it. You’re already going to have Flash in the movies and the television so why not two Green Lanterns? Or Deadshots? All DC is doing is saying that their movies are more important when it’s the television shows that are the things that people are loving.
DC is in the interesting position of having a better presence on television, at least critically, than they do in movies. While I understand that DC wants to keep their universes separate they would be foolish not to look at why everyone loves their television shows and not apply some of that to their movies. The fact that everyone thought the team up episode of Supergirl on CBS was better and more well received than your 200 million dollar movie should create a pause for contemplation if nothing else