Superheroes have good reason for their similarity: They started off as a pretty narrow genre within comic books. For the most part, Superman took the idea of costumed heroes, added the secret sauce of invincibility, and other artists and writers spent decades trying to build their own knock-offs with shades of difference. As comic books became an increasingly broad medium, superheroes branched out, with smaller publishers and independent artists now bringing unprecedented diversity. But even today, there is a treasure trove of themes, tropes, and cliches that superheroes can draw from, either to reinforce or subvert. So let’s not kid ourselves; superheroes generally have a lot in common.
That hasn’t stopped the The Daily Dot from arriving to shine the bright light of justice on the nefarious genre of superhero-themed television. Television shows are saddled with the dual-baggage of superhero comics’ formulaic legacy and the historically limited structure of television serials. While our Mad Mens, House Of Cards’, and Louies have broken out with shows that are redefining television, that change hasn’t exactly made its way downtown to superhero shows yet. To drive the point home, they’ve provided an infographic (which are the utility-belt of editorial superheroes) courtesy of Bea Yuen.
The infographic points out what we already recognize: many of these shows are largely the same. For the most part, that’s because they are shows featuring matured heroes who were created decades ago to be similar to their super-colleagues. They’re also highly serialized, and have similarly modest budgets. So a white guy in costume is going to get into fisticuffs with a rotating org-chart of bad guys, primarily in dimly lit alleyways and warehouses. Despite not being the greatest pop-culture revelation of 2015, the infographic’s categories are worth checking out, and perhaps most interesting, Gotham holds a dot in nearly every category, despite it only having a single season of material to prove its adherence to the genre. That “inexplicable leather catsuit costume” checkbox is probably going to get ticked off by a non-Catwoman character pretty soon.
The article makes a good case for more original superhero programming (such as a show that parallels Matt Fraction’s current run on Hawkeye’s non-Avenger escapades), but it also seems to be pining for more comic-book-inspired programming beyond superheroes. Of course, by definition, those shows would fall outside of this categorical comparison (which the article acknowledges with a reference to The Walking Dead). The argument also does some cherry-picking, failing to include older shows that don’t line up so neatly, such as The Tick adaptation, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman, and the terrible train wreck of superhero tropes that was NBC’s Heroes. Still, a small screen adaptation of a masked superhero that had the narrative ambition and network support of a Breaking Bad or Game Of Thrones definitely would be a good thing.