10 secrets to a great superhero show | Virgin Media
10 secrets to a great superhero show

10 secrets to a great superhero show



Superhero TV shows are, like, so hot right now. You literally can't move for superhero shows on the TV schedules. It's fair to say, however, that some superhero shows are distinctly better than others, with the likes of The Flash and Arrow leading the way. WithSupergirl having just started on Sky and Jessica Jones about to debut on Netflix, here's 10 secrets to a good superhero show, as exemplified by the scarlet speedster and the emerald archer.


1. Actively celebrating that they're a superhero show

The Flash leads the way in this regard. Even Arrow, its successful sibling show, used to occasionally feel like it was a bit embarrassed to be a superhero show in its first season, keeping the costumed appearances to a minimum and shying away from super-powers. The Flash, however, gleefully exploits its superhero show status for maximum enjoyment, most notably in the way that it keeps showing off different aspects of Barry's powers, from the ability to make whirly-arm hurricanes to running on water.

2.  Understanding that not every superhero show has to be Batman

Christopher Nolan has a lot to answer for. Arrow already struggled with its similarities to the Caped Crusader, in that both had billionaire playboy alter-egos, with giant corporations to their name. Accordingly, the first season of Arrow was all doom and gloom and violent vigilantism, though the joyful atmosphere of The Flash has now essentially spilled over into Arrow too, with a much lighter tone, both in the way the show looks and in the characters themselves. Arguably, Daredevil has something of a Batman problem too, while Gotham is in the tricky situation of trying not to be Batman while surrounded by Batman characters.

3. Embracing their comic book heritage

Famously, Smallville went 10 seasons without ever saying the word "Superman", with newspapers resorting to calling whoever was doing all that saving "The Blur". Admittedly, Arrow struggled with that idea too – Oliver Queen's superhero identity was "The Hood" and then "The Arrow" for two seasons before finally becoming Green Arrow. The Flash, however, got in there relatively early with the correct name, though even he was "The Streak" for a couple of episodes. Ditto Daredevil, who was "The Man In Black" for a while. Just say the damn name, people!

4. Inventive, visually exciting action sequences

Rather than resort to generic, badly choreographed punch-ups (something even the Batman movies get horribly wrong), the makers of The Flash and Arrow come up with visually inventive ways to deliver their action sequences and frequently attempt to show you something you haven't seen before, whether it's The Flash taking a city-wide run-up to deliver a knock-out punch or, in Arrow's most biggest fan-pleasing moment to date, Oliver sticking a boxing glove on the end of an arrow and knocking someone out with it.

5. Dealing with the secret identity issue

One of the biggest problems faced by superhero TV shows is the secret identity issue, with supporting characters quickly becoming frustrating if they're not in on the central secret of the hero's costumed alter-ego. Over the course of their various seasons, Arrow and The Flash have both struggled with this issue, but have belatedly realised that it's better to ditch the secret identity idea, at least as far as the supporting cast are concerned – the character of Iris on The Flash has improved greatly as a result of being let in on Barry's secret, for example.

6. Colourful villains

Likeable lead characters and an engaging supporting cast are a big part of the success of any show and the superhero genre is no exception. However, Arrow and The Flash have all realised that one of the main attractions of comic books is the colourful array of supervillains. In the comics, The Flash's legion of bad guys are known as The Rogues Gallery, and the show has a lot of fun in that respect – in the space of two seasons they've already given us talking gorilla Grodd and half-man, half-shark King Shark.

7. Acknowledging the importance of fan service but not over-doing it

Superhero shows often struggle to find the balance between catering to a new audience who may never have picked up a comic book and pleasing the legions of existing comic book fans. Arrow, The Flash and Daredevil have all managed to strike that balance, usually with the simple act of name-dropping, which provides little easter-egg-style thrills for fans (e.g. Daredevil's suit-designer was Melvin Potter, the alter-ego of one of his main villains, Gladiator) without alienating comics-averse viewers. Names are hugely important in Arrow and The Flash, to the point where it's always worth a trip to Wikipedia whenever a new name is mentioned.

8. A commitment to costumes

It's easy to see why superhero shows can be wary of embracing the whole costume idea. For one thing, they almost never look as good in real life as they do on the printed page, while they are also often impractical – the Batman movies, for example, have never really nailed the costume issue. The Flash has thrown caution to the wind in that regard, allowing its hero and villains to sport colourful, outlandish costumes, although even there, they've toned down the bright red from the comics. Meanwhile, Daredevil withheld its costume till the very last episode, so it remains to be seen whether they'll pull that off in season two.

9. A willingness to learn from their mistakes

One of the best things about Arrow has been its ability to actively learn from its mistakes, something that's sorely lacking from, say, Agents of SHIELD or Gotham. In its first season, Arrow suffered from an extremely dark tone (Oliver essentially killed bad guys every week) and a lead character who had something of a perma-frown. However, latter seasons have addressed those problems head-on, with Oliver seeking to atone for his violent past and a corresponding lightening of the tone of the show. The Flash has shown a similar propensity to addressing its problems, acknowledging that the Barry/Iris comics-dictated love story wasn't working and effectively re-purposing the Iris character.

10. Including some actual laughs

Part of the lightness of tone on both Arrow and The Flash comes from the fact that the skilful writing provides some genuine laughs on a weekly basis. In both cases, this has stemmed largely from having one wise-cracking character in particular (Emily Bett Rickards' Felicity Smoak on Arrow, Carlos Valdes' Cisco Ramon on Arrow), often allowing for the sort of meta-joke that comments on the show itself, e.g. the running gag of Cisco naming all the supervillains.

Has all of this given you a taste for some superpowered antics? Don't forget you can catch up with the latest episodes The Flash, Arrow and Supergirl. Just click on the links below.

The Flash is on every Tuesday at 8pm on Sky 1

Arrow is on every Wednesday at 8pm on Sky 1

Supergirl is on every Thursday at 8pm on Sky 1

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