Ever since fans got a look at the success and possibilities of Marvel's shared superhero universe, they've wondered when DC Comics would follow suit. But as Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. move forward in launching their shared Justice League universe, it's an entirely different story on TV.
The CW and DC Entertainment were first to bring a superhero to TV with Arrow, followed soon after by its spinoff, The Flash - a move that signaled a flood of DC adaptations. With Supergirl headed to CBS, Gotham at home on Fox, and Titans coming to TNT (so far), fans are all asking the same question: is a single 'shared universe' for DC's TV heroes being planned - or even possible?
We've already offered our opinion of why shared universes on film may be as much of a curse as a blessing, but on television, the common assumptions about what a shared universe actually means, or how it should be demonstrated, is so confusing that we're hoping to straighten a few things out.
Where It All Started
Few could have guessed just how effective The CW's plans for spinning forensic scientist Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) off of Arrow and onto his own series would prove, making it clear from the start that the two shows would form a linked, overlapping, and permeable world on the network.
When DC Comics heroes like Black Canary (Katie Cassidy), Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) and Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell) were added to the mix, it seemed Stephen Amell was right to assume that WB was embracing its head start by creating a Justice League on TV. And following the spinoff success, it seemed The CW had plenty more to heroes to bolster their ranks.
When It All Changed
The TV side of the DC universe took on a new shape when Fox announced its own DC Comics series in Gotham, a police drama set years before Batman. Given the absence of the city's vigilante, it made sense for WB to hand the more colorful (read: off-putting) character to a separate network. Then came Constantine, NBC's horror series with enough Vertigo Comics mythology to draw from to make crossovers seem unlikely.
Unfortunately, the arrival of Supergirl has made things a bit more... complicated. Kara Zor-El is a full-blown DC Comics "Justice League" superhero, after all - the kind fans would have expected The CW to keep a hold of, being that she's the exact same age and, presumably, hits a similar target audience as their other shows.
The surprise announcement that a Supergirl series was being pitched by DC and Warner Bros. was followed soon after by the confirmation that producer of both Arrow and The Flash Greg Berlanti would be heading the project. Speculation that The CW's team was looking to add a third DC hero to its lineup was quickly shot down, but The CW put their full support behind the show on another network.
Kara Zor-El would eventually land at CBS, yet the rumors of a crossover with Arrow and Flash persisted, despite some claiming a shared DC TV universe was already impossible now that WB and DC had scattered their heroes to multiple networks. That notion was further reinforced when Titans was announced for TNT, bringing more youthful heroes out of contention for the network's Arrow/Flash universe.
But the conversation now dominating discussion of these shows, their larger fiction, and the unlikelihood of crossovers seems based on some seriously faulty thinking (or at the very least, unconfirmed).
The most important question being the one least asked: just what does 'shared universe' actually mean?