Dennis O’Neil: Superhero Family Focus
There is a bottomless pit and you have fallen into it and you plunge ever downward and you despair of ever seeing the light again…
What we’re talking about, here, is the light that issues from your television screen when you’re watching a superhero show. Well, be at peace. Things aren’t so bad. It’s true that the dying season’s two weekly shows derived from comic books are already into their summer hiatuses, but you can sustain yourself with reruns or maybe just sit in a twilit room and anticipate next season’s Flash. Orconsider what has happened to those shows that have bidden a fond and temporary farewell.
Of course you know I refer to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Arrow (and, as we did last week, we are from here on doing without the periods in the Marvel acronym, which, for those who don’t know and yet give a hoot, stands for Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate and yes, that is a mouthful and no, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, but hey, buster…you’re the one giving a hoot.)
Someone savvier than me might enumerate the ways in which the comics versions of these entertainments varies from their television adaptations, but let’s focus on just one. In comics, years – nay, decades– would pass with no significant changes in the premise or the main characters of the series. That was then. Now: SHIELD killed off a main character and, within a month, changed from being a story about a secret spy outfit with a lot of swell toys to a story about a bunch of good guys on the run to, as it inches toward a new season in the fall, a story about the resurrection of the aforementioned super spy outfit. Granted, the slain character was a villain, but he was the villain, one played by a major actor.
Arrow sustained similar alterations when the hero’s mother died – arguably a more important than the demise of SHIELD’s heavy because well, she was his mom and she was central to a lot of the past season’s plots. Another central character left the scene, presumably to return to a life as an international assassin though, of course, she could always abandon that trade and return. And the main stalwart, our own Oliver Queen, the very Arrow himself, has undergone some adjustment. He has stopped killing people and has voiced regret at ever having done so – relic from an earlier age that I am, I’m glad – and he is no longer rich. No invite to the Koch brothers’s next soiree for him!
Despite these alterations, both SHIELD and Arrow continue adhering to what seems to be series fiction’s Prime Directive: it must be about family. Not always biological family, but family structure: a parental figure, siblings, often a cute younger brother or sister, all of whom, despite occasional spats, are loyal and care deeply about each other. All the cop shows, all the spy shows, all the sitcoms – all familial.
Wonder what kind of family next season’s Flash will find himself in.