Arrow, Flash, Gotham: Does A 'DC Comics Tone' Even Exist?

DC Comics Tone on TV Questions

It was a belief that began with Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, and driven home by Zack Snyder's Man of Steel: movies based on DC Comics heroes are portrayed 'seriously,' not as action-packed, fantastic blockbusters (an area charted by Marvel). That notion was cemented as Warner Bros.' preference when even The CW's Arrow was built in Batman Begins-esque fashion.

But as WB and DC have begun branching out, cracks in that belief have started to appear. With The Flash now aired, promising a far more faithful 'comic book' superhero, Gotham doubling down on its offbeat crime story, and the arrival of Ray Palmer a.k.a. The Atom on Arrow lightening the mood, the notion of a 'DC style' - if it ever existed - seems to have disappeared.

For those who missed out on The Flash's series premiere (read our full review here), suffice to say that it was about as light-hearted, fantastic, and superhero a story as a comic fan can get. The fact that it was the exact same creative team which brought the grounded, grim Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) to audiences is testament to their talent, but there's no mistaking that Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) will be swapping laughs for serious risks in the coming weeks; as evidenced by the new 'Heroic' trailer teasing upcoming episodes (and villains):

The themes which were established in The Flash's first episode - family, love, hope, heroism, and sacrifice - all seem to be fashioning the road map the series will walk. So where is the dark, doubtful, inner turmoil-y that apparently lets viewers know they're seeing a 'no-jokes' DC Comic in action?

Since that's what has attracted viewers to Arrow's action for two seasons, it's no surprise to see it alive and well, with a new preview of the Season 3 premiere promising not just danger, but an even more urgent call for Oliver Queen to decide on his real identity once and for all:

There's that signature DC style! Weighty questions, perpetual darkness, and most importantly, a hero that takes his gifts and life seriously. However, it seems the producers are also aware at the at-times oppressive tone of Oliver Queen's series - and trying to break it. That's the thinking behind the addition of Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), promised to lighten the mood while giving fan-favorite character Felicity Smoak a new romantic suitor.

In truth, the fact that Arrow's producers are planning on taking themselves less serious while removing comic book-y superpowers shows the two aren't mutually exclusive. And as the first clip of Palmer in action as Queen Consolidated's new boss (courtesy of EW) shows, it's going to be even harder to nail down the tone or humor of Arrow going forward:

The real culprit here seems to be that fans, critics, and casual viewers tend to be a little too quick to label comic book properties. Arrow is following in the footsteps of a darker Batman, but given the character's backstory, that's not surprising. Oliver Queen was stranded on an island, tortured, and forced to survive, and returning home only to save a city on the brink of collapse. All things considered, it seems telling that story in a serious way is the right direction to take.

But as Flash viewers learned in the series premiere, having Barry Allen walk (or run) into Oliver Queen's world was just as easy said as done. In an age where superhero crossovers are seen as monumental challenges - matching tones, cast chemistry, and a justification for them to join forces - that's saying quite a bit. Mainly, that the production team of Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg and Geoff Johns have convincingly introduced two Justice League members who share a great deal in common, but inhabit distinct environments.

That being said, the arrival of Ray Palmer's lighter mood, and the apparent wealth of humor found in the upcoming Flash/Arrow crossover makes the case that these shows aren't trying for 'different tones' as some sort of DC Comics strategy; merely deciding the best attitude and style to tell their respective stories. And in that regard, Fox's Gotham proves that breaking off from a prescribed tone isn't limited to The CW's own DC Comics shows, either.

Although the initial pitch and marketing surrounding Gotham may have promised a dark and gritty series akin to what DC fans were expecting from Batman adaptations (and the show's tale of a good man in a dark place mirrors Arrow in particular), what viewers have gotten is something surprisingly distinct. And despite the wealth of villains and iconic characters being (bluntly) teased, the show has made its purpose clear: to tell an underworld story of power, betrayal, and corruption.

But as a new set of clips show, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) has come to embody the combination of humor, power, and overflowing attitude that is slowly coming to define the series - even more than the comic book characters being re-imagined in the process:

As it stands, DC and WB's push to get their properties to as many different audiences as possible is only set to grow, with NBC's Constantine taking aim at the Supernatural vein, and CBS' Supergirl series a virtual unknown. But when seeing them alongside one another, it becomes clear how difficult it is to paint them with a single brush - especially since most readers are sure to have favorites among them. And what similarities remain seem to have as much to do with their target audiences, not the comic book publisher they're tied to.

It's unlikely to be just a DC phenomenon going forward, either. As Captain America: The Winter Soldier showed, Marvel has an interest in making 'serious' films as well. It's expected that the slate of Netflix series from Marvel will vary in tone as well, meaning the days of drawing a line between DC and Marvel properties may be coming to an end. But in terms of DC's TV universe, it appears the line is already blurred, if not erased completely.

Gotham airs Mondays @8pm, The Flash airs Tuesdays @8pm, and Arrow airs Wednesdays @8pm.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce for updates on The Flash as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Source: EW, Stephen Amell

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