Comic book tv shows

‘The Flash’ further questions the Gritty vs Lighter tone debate

the flash tv show dc

The general consensus is that live action DC properties = gritty, and live action Disney-Marvel properties = lighter. The point being is that there is an obvious difference in the tone these properties choose to take. The question is, which one is better? And does The Flash conflict with this consensus?

Really there is no correct answer, it all comes down to personal preference, however there are pros and cons to both sides. I bet by now you have heard of that rumour, that rumour that suggested WB/DC had a ‘no jokes’ policy for their cinematic universe. Clearly that rumour was ridiculous because well WB aren’t idiots, however we do know that overall WB/DC are aiming for a more grounded ‘grittier’ approach to their live action universe. That strategy clearly worked wonders for them with The Dark Knight trilogy. Nolan was able to take a fantastical world filled with men who dress up as bats and a city full of lunatics, to a more realistic level, removing some of the ‘comic-bookness’ of the Batman mythology.

The Dark Knight trilogy showed that comic book movies could be serious and were more than just campy, stupid fun (however X-Men had already showed that before The Dark Knight trilogy but i digress). It was successful for Warner Bros, giving them 2 movies that grossed over $1 billion, BUT, that doesn’t mean we need to keep seeing that same approach. When you have a story about an extremely psychologically disjointed man who dresses up as a bat, there’s only so much realism you can portray.

Now let’s flip over to the other side of the coin, Marvel’s lighter approach. Speaking purely on visuals, comparing the Disney Marvel movies to the recent DC movies (not including Green Lantern obvs) you can see that Marvel is clearly taking a different approach with their story telling. They more than DC embrace their comic-bookness, and take a less grounded/realistic approach compared to DC (i mean there is no way Captain America could live in a normal apartment with a public identity, without a million fanboys/girls outside his door huh). Marvel seems to have more fun with their movies, with humour being a major device in many of their movies (e.g. Guardians of the Galaxy).

This lighter tone is also brought across to Agents of Shield, with flying cars and quirky European characters, the term ‘campy’ can almost be used. But at the very least, compared to DC’s live action offerings (e.g. Arrow) it is definitely taking a lighter approach. Even with Hydra shit going on, they can always manage to crack a couple of jokes.

agents of shield flying car

Gritty flying car hmmm?

However sometimes Marvel’s offerings can venture into the ‘campy’ area, with some saying their live action properties fail to tell a compelling story with the constant humour and ridiculous nature of some of story. I mean look at how many people were pissed at the Mandarin twist in Iron Man 3!

So really you can see that either approach has its positives and negatives. But that’s not to say that DC will stick with gritty and Marvel will stick with lighter tones. Let’s look at The Flash now.

The Flash just premiered and if you watched it then you’ll see that it hardly is gritty. Compared to the show it spun off, Arrow, the tone (and colour scheme) is completely different. Barry Allen has never been a dark gritty character, so it’s only fitting they create a lighter show for him. The Flash pilot was filled with lighter moments, and a lot of humour (lightning gave me abs?), proving that live action DC properties weren’t going to follow that ridiculous ‘no jokes’ policy. The lighter tone of The Flash pilot worked for the character and at the end of the day, the only thing DC and Marvel can do, is look at their characters and see what works for them.

Even though Arrow follows a dark, gritty tone, that doesn’t mean The Flash has to as well. The Flash is a lovable guy, who loves his life and work, and doesn’t see being a superhero as a burden, but as a gift. He has ridiculous villains that are psychic gorillas and boomerang throwing Aussies, the lighter tone works for his character, a gritty tone doesn’t.

Comic book universes don’t need to be constrained to one specific tone. DC is making a Shazam! movie. They would be pretty stupid to make that a dark, gritty movie, ew. The Flash has shown that DC are willing to take a page out of Marvel’s book, and slightly move away from grittiness/realism, and produce a live action property that isn’t afraid to make jokes and showcase the ridiculous nature of comic book characters without trying to ground them in a reality with ‘no superpowers’. The Flash reminds me of Smallville with the way these meta-humans received their superpowers, so hopefully like Smallville, The Flash will fully explore the DC Comic Book universe and all it’s characters.

So what do you think about gritty live action superhero properties? Think they are necessary? Let me know!

12 replies »

  1. This is actually a summary of what I think is pretty great about the tonal shifts between each property. I think to make a film darker would require a stronger subtext that defines why the approach to a darker humanized world is appropriate. What modern “dark” films seem to be doing is making it darker to reinforce the vulnerability of the situations taking place. The Dark Knight executed the idea of a world that is darker due to political corruption perfectly but I felt it was tonally deaf in The Dark Knight Rises. I for one am a big supporter in the “lighter” shade of the storytelling because it reinforces what I love about superheroes. They are strong and their sole responsibility is to save people and represent courage that is not seen in the real world. This courage is utilized in a lighter setting that appeals in a more comfortable and enlightening way that allows the viewer to relate a bit more. It seems that typically in most properties that have focused on this darker approach seem to be doing it completely wrong (example: The Amazing Spider-Man). In some of the older comic book films that took this same approach like Dick Tracy, Batman & Batman Returns, there was something charming about the characters and the setting but it is never a disregard of the context. I saw The Flash and I thought it fits into the mold of what Smallville was in its first few seasons.
    Very cool post!


    • Thanks for the comment, and great summary! yeah i love how these comic book adaptions are able to find a balance between the different tones as well (maybe not so much with amazing spider man 2), the darker tones perpetuates the narrative and allows the audience to emotionally confront the danger these characters face, but the lighter moments are needed for relief among the tension. I think The Flash may be able to handle that really well!


      • Yeah definitely, it really shows a bit of a balance that I enjoyed a lot more than what I have seen with a show like Gotham. It’s a bit problematic to approach these shows with the same conventions a theatrical release would. I would recommend the current season of Agents of Shield because it really is trying much darker aspects. It’s really working for it and I think it’s really what the show always needed.


      • yeah i have been keeping up with agents of shield and it’s really improved since the captain america episodes! loving the new season so far


  2. I think it is high time for DC to get away from “gritty”, at least the way the interpret the term. For one, it doesn’t work for every hero they have…it was certainly the wrong choice for Superman and I can’t see it working with The Flash either. And two, people are just tired of the ever brooding hero. DC needs to find a new approach. Plus, you can be gritty without being totally bleak. That’s what I like about the new Spider-man movies. They are not afraid to regularly beat the main character up and to make him suffer the consequences of his actions (and sometimes simply suffer because life is hard), but they also have a hopeful tone to it, an element “it’s bad, but there will be good times, too”. And that’s what the audience currently needs. Real life is already depressing enough with the economic struggling, nobody wants to see even more suffering on screen.


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