Today is a sad day for superhero fans. After the final episode of The Flash’s ninth season, the future of The CW’s series is in doubt. After more than a decade without ceasing to release weekly episodes, there are no plans to continue with DC Comics superheroes on the channel, and it seems that everything is going to be centralized in the universe devised by James Gunn.
This was, in fact, a matter of time. With The Flash movie about to come out and the intention of unifying the entire universe as Marvel Studios did at the time, it is clear that the craziness of The CW could not last forever. However, it is still a bit sad that the universe has been closed in this way, since it was the first to open the doors to a superheroic television universe.
Arrow: the cornerstone of a universe made by chance
The biggest problem with Warner’s DC Comics movies in recent years has been their lack of planning. While Marvel Studios decided to release their movies one by one, introducing the characters and then bringing them together in the big events that are now commonplace, DC did things in a hurry and looking for the big phenomenon. Before we met Batman alone, we already saw him face Superman. And this, added to the quality of the scripts, caused the public debacle we have already seen.
However, Warner only had to look at The CW, the small teen network with some of the rights to its characters, to know which way to go. It all started in 2012, when producers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg teamed up to make Arrow, the adaptation of DC’s most famous archer.
At the time, he was a fairly unknown character, but Berlanti and company knew what they were doing. They wanted to basically copy what Christopher Nolan had just done in cinema. It made sense: it was time for darkness, superheroic realism and technology in the service of spectacle. So they took the character who most resembled Batman in all of DC and made him their protagonist. Oliver Queen was a billionaire, had a traumatic past and had spent the last few years on a desert island learning how to fight. He had it all to be a little Batman.
Thanks to an approach in keeping with the times and a solid script that mixed an attractive but charismatic protagonist with a top-notch villain (Tommy Merlyn), the first season worked like a shot and made it clear that superheroes also worked on the small screen.
However, the formula began to grow, it’s not clear if it was the producer’s own decision or the public’s affection, through its secondary characters. John Diggle and Felicity Smoak, its right-hand men, managed to conquer the public, and soon Laurel Lance did too. And what would a good comic do in this situation? Turn everyone into heroes, of course.
With a second season that greatly improved on the first thanks to Deathstroke as the villain, the series began to make it clear that anyone could be a hero here. And, as the seasons progressed, The CW took off the Nolanian complex and began to let heroes like Atom, who is basically DC’s Ant-Man, come to the series. And it gave way, of course, to The Flash: a much brighter series that would soon become the flagship of this universe.
The Flash: anything is possible
If there’s one thing that comics have, and that television is learning more and more, it’s that superheroes give a lot… and for many. In Arrow, a somewhat sober series that wanted to look like the Dark Knight, soon heroes began to emerge from under the stones… so you can imagine what happened with The Flash.
The series starring a Grant Gustin in a state of grace managed to be an unparalleled success as far as superheroic fictions are concerned, and before the Marvel heroes arrived at Netflix, all the geek eyes were placed on Flash. If Arrow was the Batman of the Arrowverse, Flash was the Superman. It was the light that their universe needed, and although its special effects were not the most for the moment, it laid the foundations of what could be a great superhero series.
Finally, the dark tone of Nolan had been left aside, and without complexes began a series that has brought us bizarre villains, crazy script twists and scientific games taken to the maximum exponent. The Flash was like watching, for real, the comics adapted to the small screen. And although the budget wasn’t the most important thing, it quickly took a back seat.
Supergirl: Upping the Ante
Arrow and The Flash continued to move forward by spinning their plots and making the Arrowverse look more and more like a comic book universe. But Berlanti and company weren’t going to stop there. They were having unparalleled success for series on The CW, so they had to keep exploring a formula that had worked for them.
But, now that they had their own Batman and their own Superman… what could they do? They quickly came to the conclusion: take a heroine as a protagonist, and if she could be more famous than the previous ones, all the better. Supergirl arrived in 2015 to make it clear that heroes were not just a male thing, and it did so by recovering the spirit of Richard Donner’s films: if The Flash had heart, this series came to double its bet.
Supergirl, in fact, achieved the improbable: to break the ban that the production company had with the greatest icons of DC Comics. The series introduced a classic Superman played by Tyler Hoechlin, and the public liked him so much that it gave rise to Superman & Lois, a 2021 series that has reached our year and has shown that the best Superman is not Snyder’s psychopath, but the one who just tries to be a normal citizen.
The CW had managed, little by little and almost unintentionally, to have its own superheroic universe. And yes, it was still far from competing against Marvel Studios, but that was not their intention either. With their own audience and their small series full of good intentions, they managed to conquer their own audience.
Legends of Tomorrow: between Doctor Who and Suicide Squad
The other big bet The CW made at this time was to form its own group of superheroes. With Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl, they had the three legs they needed to welcome the entire teenage audience, so they only had to do something a bit riskier: a series starring a group of heroes.
Thus, while the Avengers triumphed in the cinema and Zack Snyder was preparing his Justice League, The CW brought about its own superheroic ensemble… although very different from what we might expect. Legends of Tomorrow mixed some of the production company’s most curious supporting characters, from Atom to Constantine to White Canary. And their mission consisted of something very comic booky: time travel to fix past and future problems.
As if it were a heroic Doctor Who, this is one of the series in which the geek and authorial vein of the producers is most noticeable. They no longer told only the adventures of a hero in his respective city, but now the scenario was absolutely the whole space-time. This made the stories more and more crazy, fun and full of possibilities. And it also proved something that seemed not so clear at the time: that all kinds of stories fit into a superheroic universe.
Thanks to Legends of Tomorrow, the Arrowverse went from being seen as a set of similar series with different protagonists to a real universe where everything was linked but where each series had its own tone. In fact, it was the precursor to the major events that would follow, including the massive Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was adapted to the screen for the first time.
Black Lightning and Batwoman: endless possibilities
With the goose that laid the golden egg found, The CW continued to expand its universe. It was no longer just that all the series converged with each other, but also that there were more and more places to appear. The Arrowverse was getting bigger and bigger, and the good audience it had meant that the producers did not stop innovating in it.
The studio still had a great African-American hero left, and Black Lightning was the answer they needed. With a more serialized vocation than the rest, and without so much intention of connecting with the rest of the universe, this fiction managed to catch an audience that was not yet fully represented in The CW series, and also provided it with an epic tone, more similar to Arrow, which was more in line with the dark story that was intended to be told.
On the other hand, there is the Batwoman case. If with Supergirl they had done well, it was obvious that the same would happen with Batman’s female counterpart. Batwoman is one of The CW’s most eventful series, even having to change the main character (Ruby Rose) after the first season.
Even so, it once again accomplished what they were looking for: to get as close as possible to the best comic book stories in their own way. And, of course, there was a cameo by Batman. Stone by stone and through the most recondite corners of DC, The CW shaped its own universe in a way that was as original as it was a copy of what already worked. And so it has lasted until today, when, with the uncertain future of the Arrowverse, its most iconic series says goodbye.
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