Super Small Screen: Fall’s Comic Book Adventures

This fall, superhero TV shows appeal to the nerd in us all


There isn’t anything more cruel than what’s happening to the classic American bully: beset on all sides by anti-bullying groups, mocked mercilessly in a 2006 eponymous video game and blamed for everything from anxiety to smoking to poor academic performance and worse. Not to mention the terminal loss of ill-gained lunch money they’ve suffered from this crackdown.

At the same time, the rise of nerd culture has left the endangered bully with an embarrassingly target-rich environment. The most beloved movie of the summer, Guardians of the Galaxy, is an ode to space misfits and will make a generation of teens huge fans of a tech-savvy talking raccoon. Nerd is well past the new normal. Nerd is mandatory.

What are the jerky, unnecessarily belligerent youth of today supposed to do? By coming down so hard on the bully’s chosen method of expression, society has become, collectively, the asshole kids in every Trix commercial—eating all that delicious cereal, forever denying the rabbit a bite.

What seemed like peak nerd just a month ago—again, talking space raccoon—proves to be just the warm-up for this fall’s slate of television. Superheroes aren’t confined to the big screen anymore. Last year’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was just the start. The full-on superhero invasion begins this month, and promises to blow up into inescapable ubiquity once Netflix’s line of Marvel series bows in 2015.

With no pressure release valve, if the bullies of tomorrow go into full-on Joker mode, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. In the meantime, let’s see just how the groundwork is being laid for a dark future where Batman T-shirts will serve as school uniforms with the new shows of 2014.

(Premieres 8 p.m. Sept. 22, Fox)

You know we’re starting to lose the plot when supporting characters are getting their own origin series. In this case, Southland’s Ben McKenzie plays a young Jim Gordon in his pre-commissioner days. It will, of course, deal with the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, but the show also concerns the origins of Catwoman, Riddler and the Penguin.

Superhero origin story: Just the GCPD police academy, I guess. Not even any super soldier serum or anything. Maybe we’ll get to see the incredibly harrowing week that convinces Gordon to grow his mustache, to strike fear in the hearts of criminals by making them vaguely feel like they disappointed their dad.

The Flash
(8 p.m., Oct. 7, CW)

Smallville sort of begat Arrow (it wasn’t a direct spinoff, but they shared the character) which in turn begat The Flash, the second go-round for the scarlet speedster on television. (The first was the amazingly cheeseball 1990 series that featured Mark Hamill as a villain.) Grant Gustin (Glee) plays the titular Flash. The tragicomic part of all this is that despite the fact that DC has been planning this show forever, Marvel beat them to the punch with really cool super-speed effects in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Superhero origin story: A particle-accelerator explosion gives Flash his super speed. Which is not nearly as cool as the comic book origin where the Flash got hit by lightning while mixing chemicals. And even that wasn’t remotely as cool as the original, Golden Age Flash origin story where he got super speed by smoking around “hard water.” (Not even heavy water.) See kids? Smoking really is cool.

(10 p.m., Oct. 24, NBC)

John Constantine has a long, convoluted history in the DC universe, but he’s still a fairly unknown character to mainstream audiences. Or at least those mainstream audience members who didn’t see Keanu Reeves’ 2005 movie Constantine. So, all of the mainstream audience then. But the best way to sum up the character to the uninitiated would be: magic-using douchebag. Dude smokes so much one of his most famous stories involves making a deal with the devil to cure his lung cancer, yet NBC won’t let him be shown with cigarettes. Let the Internet-fueled nerd fury begin.

Superhero origin story: You’d think smoking would factor in here, too, but no. It’s unclear how the show will explain his wizardry, but in the comics he (stupidly) comes from a long line of (stupid) demon-tricking magicians, and takes up the family business. Which is stupid.

(10 p.m., Sept. 22, ABC)

It’s Quincy, M.E. meets South Park as Ioan Gruffudd plays a medical examiner who can’t die. Well, he can die, but he keeps coming back. Just like Kenny. (“You killed Ioan Gruffudd: You bastard!” Just doesn’t have the same ring.)

Superhero origin story: That’s the central mystery of the show, but my bold prediction is that this is a backdoor pilot for Highlander: The Next Generation.

(9 p.m., Sept. 22, CBS)

A ragtag team of geeks gets together to solve the world’s most complex problems through the power of computer hacking and a plucky, can-do attitude. But didn’t movies about keyboard jockeys teach us that the only time they can really capture the public imagination is if they star a young Angelina Jolie or are about creating Kelly LeBrock out of thin air?

Superhero origin story: A 2400-baud modem and a Prodigy account in 1990.

(8 p.m., Sept. 30, ABC)

It’s yet another spin on the Pygmalion legend, except that instead of turning into a Victorian class farce, this one stars Karen Gillan as Eliza Dooley trying to get Internet famous by hiring John Cho’s Henry Higenbottam to polish her up.

Superhero origin story: While the show itself doesn’t contain anything comic booky, you can’t tell us some producer’s superpower isn’t “getting obviously millennial-baiting, trend-chasing horseshit on a major network’s fall schedule.”

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