Say what you want about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — and I can’t say much, because it left my Hulu queue some time ago as it just wasn’t holding my interest anymore — but at least it feels like a part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, that becomes a little more obvious around the times Marvel has a movie coming out, but if you watch S.H.I.E.L.D., you’re clearly watching something of a piece with Iron Man and Captain America.
Which is more than can be said for how DC is treating its television offerings. If you needed proof that live-action DC is a rudderless ship, just look at how its movie arm and its TV arm have no idea what each other are doing. And nowhere was that more apparent than in the last two TV episodes to air this week.
How did Supergirl save the day? By inspiring hope. How did the Flash save a life? By giving up his powers. There was no grim navel-gazing about whether such actions are worth it, whether you’ll just flood somebody else’s farm. It was heroes being heroic because it was the right thing to do.
It’s telling that Supergirl has been so coy in showing her more famous cousin. While I’m sure it’s more a case of DC deeming Superman too important for mere television, you can’t help but think the morose, brooding cinematic version of the character would be so out of place on the sunnier, more optimistic TV show that the producers would rather not invite the comparison. Besides, can you imagine the humble, helpful Clark Kent Kara exchanges instant messages with being the same guy whose first though after destroying half of Metropolis and killing a man with his bare hands was to make out with his girlfriend amidst the rubble?
And of course we’re getting a different Flash in the upcoming Justice League movie. Because the earnest, decent character of the TV show would take one look at his teammates and ask to go home. Granted, we’ve not seen enough of the cinematic Flash to get a bead on his character, but you know there’s no way the bright, colorful traditional suit of the show isn’t going to get muted for the dull, realistic world the films are creating.
That’s the real difference between the films and the shows. The films — and this even goes back to Christopher Nolan’s Batman films — want to try so hard to show us what super-heroes would be like if they existed in our world. They don’t want you to believe a man can fly, they want to ground him. But the shows have embraced the spirit of their roots, giving us shape-shifting Martians and super-intelligent gorillas and alternate Earths. There was more joy in the meeting of Supergirl and the Flash in their cross-over episode than there has been in the DC films since 1978.
But Zack Snyder still has the cinematic keys to the kingdom. It’s still the cynical view of heroes that’s going to rule the big screen. Even as DC desperately tries to bring their greatest heroes together on-screen, they’re creating a world where most of them would wonder, “Why bother?” I’ll stick to the small screen, thanks very much. That’s world worth saving. And heroes worthy of saving it.
I know I’m leaving out Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, but I’m simply not as up on either of those shows as the other two. But from what I’ve seen, they’re of a kind with Flash and Supergirl.