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The Death of the Superhero Genre?

Now I am a super, super hero fan. I have loved all these movies and great TV shows depicting some great comic book superhero characters, Marvel and DC alike. However, even I have to admit the market for both TV and movies is saturated with superhero themed adaptations and historically this has always been the natural progression towards the end of a film or TV genre. Every genre has had a golden age for when it was popular and profitable and maybe we are coming to the end of the age of superheroes. I say this in response to the season finales of both Flash, Arrow and previously Supergirl. Now…I know that these three all concern adaptations of DC characters and are only television shows, but they are best placed to really monitor the progression and change in attitudes towards a particular genre as they continue over a long period of time and carry many of the same themes that movies and other TV shows rely on. I also admit that I am trying to be a bit ahead of the curve on this one but I honestly believe that these shows have started a downward spiral for the entire genre…so hear me out.

The Flash has been an incredible show. I love it. Grant Gustin has been perfect, the depictions of the main antagonist for each season have been brilliantly done and there has been some terrific storytelling whilst dipping into the comic book universe. The show has achieved some very impressive ratings and viewing figures, with only Game of Thrones really outperforming it in the main. However, we are seeing some very repetitive themes being drawn into the show, and some very frustrating ones at that. I am talking mainly about the concept of time. Let’s focus on this concept, putting aside any concerns about dodgy acting and repetitive episode structure, this theme is what the audience will notice is playing a very strong role in the show. The whole first season was building to a moment where Barry Allen would travel back to, he has travelled back to reverse the fortunes of a particular episode twice already, although one was in the Arrow series, whilst travelling back in time for separate reasons in others. We have been introduced to the concept of time remnants and time wraiths for whom some are still struggling to get their heads around and there is no shame in that. The basic point is; I hate the concept of time travel, for two reasons; first that it can be incredibly confusing and secondly it is a cop out and it makes it easy to change mistakes and rewrite what has already happened, devaluing previous episodes or movies…ahem…X-Men: Days of Future Past (I am still struggling to understand how Professor X came back from his disintegration).

This is more important as, for those who have seen the Flash Season 2 finale, [Spoilers][Spoilers][Spoilers], its seems to be introducing the ‘Flashpoint’ storyline. For those who are unfamiliar, this is where Barry prevents his mother’s death and this sends a shockwave throughout the multiverse which changes the fortunes of all the major Justice League characters. This is where I foresee issues for the show and probably all the characters in the shared universe. If events progress along the same lines as they do in ‘Flashpoint’ it will basically wipe the slate clean and I hate that idea! So all the villains he has dealt with up until this point will be free, the character arcs will be cast aside and its is conceivable that we will have to start from scratch in all relationships that have been forged and this could be the same for all characters across the shared universe and which means that we could be experiencing the same issues across all the shows. This is just frustrating to an audience member, it makes me wonder why should we get emotionally invested with these characters when they could be gone one minute and back the next. I presume that his father’s dramatic death will now become meaningless if he is alive in this new present Barry will create. All the events and the major decisions in Season One will have been undermined and this is a major frustration that will make audiences call into question why they are spending time watching the show, which means that there may be a few heads turning away from the series in the near future.

There are a few qualifications to outline here too, in that they may not change everything. The Reverse-Flash may still be motivated to get Barry Allen his powers back, but does that mean we are going to have to suffer through more threats to his family or friends from a familiar character and the death of another character, or even one who already has died? Every member of his inner circle has been threatened or killed at some point in the show and there is a huge risk of repetition here even if they do not go the whole hog with the ‘Flashpoint’ storyline, which will just frustrate audience members and cause it to lose ratings. The second benefit of having a Flashpoint storyline is that it can actually have positive impacts on the other characters in the proposed shared universe of Arrow, Flash and now, recently announced, Supergirl. However, this is closely linked another reason why I think the genre is on the decline.

Arrow is on its last legs. It has had four seasons and they have ventured down most, if not all, the potential storylines that are open to them…generally speaking. There have been city wide destructions, super-soldier serums, secret assassins, rogue governments factions, worldwide threat of nuclear disaster and, of course, magic (which should never be combined with a character such as Green Arrow, it just conflicts with the very nature of the character). It massively needs an injection of something creative and to wipe the slate clean could do it a world of good as it has one last swing at dragging up falling ratings and viewing figures. However, this just makes us feel like we have wasted four years of our lives watching what came before because it will, most likely, be erased from history. It will also, presumably, bring back Laurel Lance aka the Black Canary? Making us question what was really so special about her death?

Additionally, there is the question of Supergirl. Supergirl had some nice ideas but it really didn’t appeal. It had a very happy and positive vibe, which is in-keeping with the character but really limits the longevity of the show as it never truly conveys the gravity of the threat that the villains pose when there is this overwhelmingly light feel, which is quite sad to say I know. A clean slate allows the producers to now change the mood a little, although keeping the mood positive I hope, and make the show a little more suspenseful and able to keep viewers motivated to come back next week. Supergirl was arguably lucky to even get a second season as it hasn’t exactly ‘season of steel’ with the critics nor the viewers but this way, like Arrow, they have the opportunity for one last swing to get the audience on side.

In summary, there are two shows in the extended universe that are really struggling anyway, even lucky to get another season, but to wipe the slate clean would significantly diminish the legacy of the shows and would lose the faith of a lot of audience members and fans of the individual shows and the franchise itself. The Flash has been one of the best shows out there in any genre but its constant playing with time and rewriting what it has already done is not just going to confuse the audience but risks making the show repetitive, not just in its themes like all shows, but in its characters and plots.

So there is my two cents on the matter of the ending of the superhero genre in the popular media, I hope it is of value to you. I know that these are only DC TV shows but the general shift in attitude, the frustrating themes that are being utilised and the high risk of repetition in a market that is saturated for both movies and television leads me to foresee that the end of the superhero genre could be well on the way. What do you think? Do you think the shows will find a second wind and recover? What would you like to see in the next season of any of these shows? When do you think the end will really come? Let me know your perspective.

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