For some time now I have been watching and reviewing various DC Comics-based live-action television series from a number of different sources. Although a few series, including notable ones, pre-date what eventually became known as the Arrowverse, the CW’s DC shows really started this trend of high-quality television shows based on DC Comics.
There are three broad categories of DC Comics shows: The Arrowverse, DC Universe, and Other. Also, some shows that would be considered other, such as Constantine have been retroactively folded into the Arrowverse. And Crisis on Infinite Earths actually implied that many earlier classic DC shows, such as the Adam West and Burt Ward Batman series (aka “Batman ’66”) take place in the same multiverse but on different Earths. So DC is big, it’s complicated and there’s a lot. And while I don’t profess to have seen every single DC show out there, I have seen many. So this post hopes to clear up some of the confusion and provide links to my previous reviews in one big post.
Starting on the CW network in 2012 with Arrow, the Arrowverse has grown to include seven ongoing series and counting. and although Arrow itself ended in 2020, the universe spun off from it continues to grow and grow. A Superman series starring Clark and Lois and their children is now planned for 2021, and Arrow itself hinted in the final two episodes of Season 8 for a possible Green Lantern or Green Lantern Corps series and a possible Birds of Prey. And, Spoiler Alert, Crisis on Infinite Earths laid the ground work for a possible Justice League series. So the Arrowverse is not ending, despite it’s flagship ending after eight seasons.
Based on Green Arrow, but modernized, Arrow follows millionaire Oliver Queen who returns to his home, Starling (later Star) City after being presumed dead for five years. The series saw several other DC characters both heroes and villains making appearances as regulars, semi-regulars, or in one-off and two-off appearances. The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow spun off directly from Arrow.
Read my Review of Arrow Season 1
Read my Review of Arrow Season 2
Read my Review of Arrow Season 3
Read my Review of Arrow Season 4
Read my Review of Arrow Season 5
Read my Review of Arrow Season 6
Read my Review of Arrow Season 7
Read my Review of Arrow Season 8
Spun off directly from Arrow, The Flash features CSI Barry Allen who becomes a speedster after being hit by lightning during the Particle Accelerator accident in Central City. Barry uses his newfound ability for super speed to fight crime, stop evil metahumans, and help good metahumans. He works with his friends and teammates at Star Labs and continues to work at the Central City PD as a CSI. Like Arrow, The Flash brings in a number of DC Characters both as regulars and as usually one-off villains of the week.
Read my Review of The Flash Season 1
Read my Review of The Flash Season 2
Read my Review of The Flash Season 3
Read my Review of The Flash Season 4
Read my Review of The Flash Season 5
Read my Review of The Flash Season 6
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (aka “Legends of Tomorrow” or simply “Legends”)
Also spun off directly from Arrow and The Flash in a two-part back-door pilot, Legends is an original series, bringing together a number of characters that had previously appeared on either The Flash or Arrow as well as new characters from DC Comics. Not only is Legends a team show, but the cast routinely rotates as new characters are added and older ones leave. The cast is different for each season. The general premise of Legends of Tomorrow is that a group of “B-list” and “screw-ups” who time travel for a purpose that, in general, changes each season. Their ship is the Waverider and it’s integrated AI is Gideon.
Read my Review of Legends of Tomorrow Season 1
Read my Review of Legends of Tomorrow Season 2
Read my Review of Legends of Tomorrow Season 3
Read my Review of Legends of Tomorrow Season 4
Read my Review of Legends of Tomorrow Season 5
The first season of Supergirl actually aired on CBS not The CW but it had one of the same producers (Greg Berlanti) as the previous CW Arrowverse series, and even it’s first season had crossover episodes with The Flash. Since the second season, Supergirl has been on the CW. Supergirl is Kara Zor-El, cousin of Superman (Kal-el, aka Clark Kent). When Krypton was about to be destroyed Kara’s parents but her in a pod (a small spaceship) to go to Earth to watch over baby Kal-el. But Kara’s pod was “knocked off course” (and stuck in the Phantom Zone) for a while before finally being freed. When Kara finally landed on Earth, Clark was all grown-up and unable to care for a teenaged girl. He arranged for Kara to be raised by the Danvers family. And even though Jeremiah Danvers disappeared and was presumed dead for years, Kara found herself being raised by the foster family of the Danvers including mother, Eliza, and sister, Alex. We join Kara in Central City, a young adult, and intern at Catco Worldwide Media, whereas her sister Alex works for the DEO. As with other Arrowverse series, a number of DC characters are introduced in Supergirl, including Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz) who becomes a regular.
Initially thought by many to be “separate” from the Arrowverse despite airing on the CW, the producers did say it was in the same general universe. With Jefferson Pierce (Black Lightning) appearing in Crisis on Infinite Earths the show is now officially part of the Arrowverse. Black Lightning was stated to take place on a different Earth. It’s not clear if Freeland has been re-located to Earth Prime like National City or if it is on one of the Earths that were spared like the DC Universe shows. Once upon a time, Jefferson Pierce was Black Lightning, an African-American superhero in the city of Freeland. But when he was injured too often, his wife divorced him, and he found himself raising two young daughters – Jefferson figuratively hung up his cape. Several years later, Jefferson again becomes Black Lighting. Over the course of two seasons, it becomes clear his daughters also have superpowers, with the older daughter, Anissa becoming Thunder and the younger daughter, Jennifer, slowly coming to terms with having powers. Black Lightning Season 3 aired in 2019-2020.
Batwoman is Kate Kane, Bruce Wayne’s cousin. She is a lesbian who is out and proud, but being outed at West Point torpedoed her dream of a military career. She returns to Gotham City, where Bruce has been missing for three years. Although initially hesitant like many superheroes on the CW, Kate becomes Batwoman and faces off against a season-long villain. Batwoman definitely takes place in the same universe as Arrow, Legends, The Flash, and Supergirl as Kate/Batwoman (Ruby Rose) has appeared in the Elseworlds and Crisis on Infinite Earths crossovers. The initial storyline is based on the graphic novel, Elegy by Greg Rucka. Unfortunately, due to the Pandemic Season 1 wasn’t completed. Ruby Rose, the lead actor, has left the series. The title role of Batwoman has been re-cast. It isn’t known yet if the new actress will play Kate and they will ignore the fact that it’s someone new or if she will be playing a new character. However, Season 2 will run on the CW in 2021.
Read my Review of Batwoman Season 1
Stargirl was originally transmitted on DC Comics streaming service, DC Universe, but also aired the same time (well, the day after) on the CW. The series is a transitional one, belonging to both DC Universe and the CW. In Crisis on Infinite Earths, Stargirl, Doom Patrol, Titans, and Swamp Thing were all shown to take place on their own individual Earths.
Stargirl follows Courtney, a teenaged girl in a blended family who has recently moved to Blue Valley Nebraska from California. Courtney discovers the Cosmic Staff which belonged to the deceased Justice Society of America hero, Starman. Courtney’s step-father was Starman’s sidekick, Stripey. Courtney and her friends from high school, over the course of the first season, become members of a junior JSA and face-off against the Injustice Society.
Read my Review of Stargirl Season 1
Doom Patrol is one of the strangest and most surreal television shows I’ve ever watched. It’s not your average television show. The series also addresses psychological health conditions in a fairly direct manner. The team all have serious issues that go beyond their special abilities. In many ways, the only way to truly understand this team show is to watch it. Doom Patrol was transmitted on DC Comics streaming service, DC Universe. Future seasons will air on HBO Max.
Read my Review of Doom Patrol Season 1
Swamp Thing originally was transmitted on DC Comics streaming service, DC Universe. In the Summer/Fall of 2020 it was rerun on the CW network. The character of Swamp Thing started in Vertigo Comics, DC’s original “mature readers” imprint before being brought into the DC Universe proper. Dr. Abby Arcane is an infectious disease specialist for the CDC who is sent to the small town of Marais in Louisiana to investigate a new, dangerous, and possibly deadly disease they call the “green flu”. Abby meets Dr. Alec Holland, a discredited botanist, who is studying the local swamp for a businessman named Avery Sunderland. Holland needs to rebuild his reputation. But Avery sends his goon squad after Holland, causing him to fall into the swamp and become the half-Alec, half-walking, talking, living plant and Guardian of the Green. Swamp Thing is a horror series, but it’s also a Beauty and the Beast tale and in many ways, a mystery series – as everyone in Marais is hiding dark secrets, including Abby. Unfortunately, the series was canceled early in its first season. However, it gained fan and critical acclaim on DC Universe and it is doing well on the CW. With many scripted series on hiatus due to Corvid19, there is always a possibility that the CW or HBO Max will bring the show back.
Titans was transmitted on DC Comics streaming service, DC Universe. Future seasons will be on HBO Max. Titans is a more grown-up, darker, and grittier version of the Teen Titans animated series. In DC Comics both titles Teen Titans and Titans have been used for this team (as well as New Teen Titans). Led by Dick Greyson who eventually claims the superhero name of Nightwing, Titans also features Raven, Beast Boy, Jason Todd’s Robin, and Starfire. However, especially in the first season, this series is about building a team and the characters becoming the characters we know they will eventually be – which is why when we first see Dick, he’s a police officer, and when we meet Raven – she’s a runaway. I also felt like the two seasons actually felt like one long season. Titans is definitely worth watching but it does require some patience – don’t expect a team that’s worked together for years from episode one, but they are getting there.
Batman (aka “Batman 1966”)
Batman starting Adam West and Burt Ward was the extremely popular 1960s series shot in Technicolor with two half-hour episodes (the first ending on a cliffhanger) forming each story. The show is bright and colorful, has a somewhat campy style but not quite as much as one might think. It’s also a very formula-driven show. Still, it’s a classic.
Read my Review of Batman (1966) Season 1
Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey is loosely based on the various DC Comics comic book series about an all-female superhero team headed by Barbara Gordon. This series is set in New Gotham and features Barbara Gordon (Oracle), Helena Kyle (Huntress), and Black Canary’s teenaged daughter, Dinah, who is starting to develop her own powers. This series follows Dinah learning about her powers, Helena learning to control her metahuman abilities, and Oracle not only running the Birds of Prey. Oracle is a computer expert, hacker, and tactical expert, but she is an awesome fighter herself. Unfortunately, the series only lasted one season.
The character of John Constantine comes from Vertigo Comics where he was first introduced in Swamp Thing. He was popular enough to be imported into regular mainstream DC Comics in various series (Constantine, Hellblazer, John Constantine Hellblazer, as a lead character in Justice League Dark, etc.). And although Constantine the series was originally on NBC for one short season, the CW brought the actor (Mark Ryan) and character back, first in a guest role in Arrow, then in a featured guest (semi-regular) role on Legends of Tomorrow, and finally as a regular on Legends. So, this is a character who is so popular he keeps coming back. John Constantine is a magician, spellcaster, exorcist, magic-user, and con man. He also tends to be very unlucky – magic always has a price and for John that often means losing the people he cares about, thus his rather gruff manner. The original Constantine series establishes who Constantine is, what he does, and explores his world. But it ends much too early.
The Flash (1990)
This series aired on CBS and was the first attempt to build a show around the character of The Flash as a weekly television series that I know of and despite a good cast, the series watched now, definitely has its flaws. However, the lead actor, John Wesley Shipp, has been a regular on the modern The Flash series on the CW, playing that Barry Allen’s father, Henry Allen (an admirable character) as well as characters from various other Earths. Also, the Flash of “Earth-90” was an important character in Crisis on Infinite Earths, so in a way, this version of The Flash has been folded into the Arrowverse retroactively. On its own, though, this series is about the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, a police scientist who gains his super-speed in a lab accident and from a lightning strike. The first half of the series has Barry catching regular criminals and the second half introduces more supervillain type characters.
How did Bruce Wayne become Batman? Gotham attempts to answer that question, introducing Bruce as a young boy who has just lost his parents to a violent crime and is now being raised by Alfred Pennyworth. But the series quickly becomes about some of the most famous villains in the Batman canon and how they came to be who they are. And it’s the story of a time and a place, the story of a city – the city of Gotham. Gotham is stylishly directed – the show looks gorgeous and weaves together the old and the modern seamlessly (everything tends to look very historical – yet the characters carry cell phones). Gotham is also very much set in a different universe, with no connections to the Arrowverse or anything other than the next series on my list, Pennyworth.
Pennyworth is the story of Alfred before he was Alfred. That is, this is a young Alfred Pennyworth, just out of the army and the SAS. The series was created, produced, and largely written by Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon who developed Gotham and I consider Pennyworth to be a prequel to Gotham. It’s set in an alternate universe (World War II appears to be ongoing, even though it’s also the 1960s, we assume). Pennyworth is at times dark and violent, but I absolutely loved it, as I had really liked Gotham. Alfred Pennyworth is trying to make a name for himself, wants to start his own security business, ends-up working for Martha Kane (not yet married to Thomas), and meets Thomas Wayne though he doesn’t get along with Thomas at first. Alfred also seems to fall into situations that cause him to have to do the opposite of what he says he wants to do. That is, for a man who keeps saying he wants nothing more to do with violence and that he doesn’t want to work for spies or special operatives – he ends up doing precisely that. The show was brilliant.
Lois and Clark
“Superman as a romantic comedy? Yeah, let’s do that,” is pretty much how this show seemed to come about. But it’s also incredibly fun, with a light romantic touch combined with SF plots that show a great amount of originality and fun. Lois and Clark is light, fun, enjoyable, funny, and full of high adventure. Even when they try to be serious, this show just has that feel-good, everything will work out feeling of a good romantic film.
It’s hard to remember just how important this series was. At the time it was made, there were no other female superheroes on television or in the movies. And there were few other superhero shows at all. The Wonder Woman series, starring Lynda Carter, taught a generation of women they could be heroes too – and that being a hero didn’t mean you couldn’t be kind. Diana is strong, principled, and more than anything, she is kind. And even though it looks a bit dated now, and the stories are largely stand-alone, it’s still something to see.
And that’s everything up to this point for live-action DC Shows. I’m waiting for the DVD/Blu-Ray releases of Black Lightning Season 3, Doom Patrol Season 2 and Pennyworth Season 2. The Arrowverse shows will not air until 2021. Titans is apparently just starting to film again and moves to HBO Max.