Let’s Get This Straight: Television and Comics Are Not the Same

One of the amazing things about the modern entertainment world we live in is that there are so many different mediums through which we get our entertainment. Movies, television, books, you name it. Wonderful stories are brought to life through these different forms, and we get to escape our reality and are encapsulated in a world of fiction.

Sometimes we’re even lucky enough to get to see different takes on our favorite stories. Whether it’s books being adapted for film or television; or film or television being adapted to books; or film to television; or vice versa. But one of the things that makes that exciting is that it’s never a carbon copy of the original. Because let’s face it, that would just be boring to watch the same story play out in the exact same way again and again and again.

Over the past couple of years our society has undergone a superhero/comic book renaissance of sorts beginning with film and then making its way to television. We’ve watched as superheroes or comic characters have come to life on screen bringing with them a bulk of expectations. For the most part those expectations are warranted – like a superhero’s name or what they’re known for – but then there’s also a little thing we like to call free reign and adaptation where the writers of said superhero property build a world around this known hero and craft their own story.

So why is it that we still have fans clamoring that television shows, mainly, aren’t doing right by the comics? Or, my favorite: “But in the comics…!”


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Here’s the simple, fact-of-the-matter reality: television shows based on comic book characters are not the comic books. They are not a carbon copy of their original source material. They are not bound by said source material. They are based on preexisting characters, yes, but the writers that take on these shows or films are granted free reign on the story they tell.

The fact that I even have to write an article explaining why television shows are not the comic books is baffling and a little scary. But this issue deals more with television than film as television shows have more time and more story to tell – nearly 23 hours of story versus nearly three.

Television and comics are two very different things, we can all agree on that? Television is a live-action portrayal of a story that runs typically between 30 minutes and one hour. Comic books are stories told through words and pictures that run relatively short with single issues. Both are ever-changing mediums. Both are not the same.

There’s a term that irks me to no end called “fan service,” which some of these diehard comic fans that can’t distinguish comics from television/film as the writers or such television/film cater to a certain audience. Let’s get one thing straight: fan service is not a thing. And the laughable thing is that those crying, “Fan service!” are actually the ones instigating said fan service. “Write what I want!” they scream. “Or it’s fan service because you’re not catering to my personal desire!”

But the thing that is most baffling is that this recent clamoring for “comic canon” has to do more with romantic inclinations than anything, as most recently noted with Arrow. This isn’t something new either. There has been a certain assumption that because in some versions of comics Green Arrow and Black Canary are romantically involved that they would be destined to be together on the show. While that might’ve been the show’s original intention, things change. Why do things change? Because when you initially plan for something you can’t always account for chemistry (or lack thereof), as well as where the story ultimately ends up taking these characters.

That’s the thing with stories: you can’t force them. Stories evolve organically due to what’s best for the characters in the minds of the writers. Hell, take comic books into account. Comics are never the same. That’s what makes them so interesting is that there are different stories for everyone to enjoy. In some versions of comics certain characters that are “canon” don’t even know each other. Comics in it of themselves are different. That’s what makes the term “comic canon” null and void.

But there’s also been an unfair amount of criticism – sorry, let’s call it what it is, hate – on Arrow when in fact all of these superhero shows on television are playing by their own rules. It’s also important to note that most of the showrunners and producers on these superhero shows have worked on or are fans of comic books. Do you see what I’m trying to get at here?

Arrow has never tried to disguise itself as something that it’s not. It’s never been bound by comic canon as it’s introduced characters that either were dead (Moira), existed in other comics (Felicity Smoak), or didn’t exist at all (Diggle, Thea), all the while adding spins on existing characters that were well know, as with Oliver and Laurel as separate entities.

But this unfair criticism has been angled at a romantic pairing that the show caught lightning in a bottle with: Oliver and Felicity. Some of the comic fans are mad that the show has chosen to go that route stating that Green Arrow and Black Canary are romantically intertwined in the comics. But that’s where they fail to acknowledge the obvious fact of the matter that this television show is not the comic books. It never has claimed to be. The words “based on” are exactly as they say: based on, that is, not 100 percent faithful. But then again none of the superhero shows on television abide by said “comic canon.”

When it comes to superhero shows on television there is none met with such acclaim as The Flash, which in its defense is probably the most faithful of shows to the source material. But even then The Flash isn’t bound to comic canon. It’s telling it’s own version of Barry Allen’s story. Whether it’s subtle changes, like Iris being an African American woman – which isn’t a big deal, and yet before the show was released and even now some people complain about – or taking a character like Eddie Thawne, who in the comics is Reverse Flash but on the show didn’t assume that identity before his character met a tragic end. Or take into account this season with the introduction of Jay Garrick. He became an entirely different character than the show set out for him to be in the beginning. But they did that with the intent to bring a little suspense and surprise to the story.

Then you have shows like DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl and Gotham that are known for their heroes but the story around them is entirely different. The only thing recognizable is the heroes themselves and the city – or times – in which they exist. Everything else around them is crafted from the writers’ minds.

That’s what these superhero television shows do. They take these preexisting characters and give them their own unique spin. They let them exist in this world they’ve created while honoring the character to a certain respect but not being held to a concrete set of standards. Because what’s the point in making something that people have already experienced?

But you also need to consider the audience. These television shows aren’t being aimed solely at the comic book fans. Television is aimed at all audiences, including those that haven’t read the comics. So a superhero television show isn’t there to please the comic book purists, it’s there to tell a compelling story that keeps the audience coming back year after year.

When it comes to television and comic books, both are different creative mediums that serve to bring fantastical stories to life. Here’s the thing: If you don’t like something, you can stop watching or reading. You have that power. It’s that easy.

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