With the announcement that the CW is expanding its superhero show roster with an Atom/Firestorm/Black Canary team-up show, it looks like we might finally be getting something Smallville tried (and ultimately failed) to do: Create the Justice League on television. But this time, it might actually work.
Aside from their connections having been born out of The Flash and Arrow, if you delve into the comic-book histories of these three characters, their only real connections lie as members of the Justice League over the years — not on the same level as Batman and Superman, sure, but in this instance they don't really have to be. Unlike Smallville, which rushed in to adding Bart Allen, Arthur Curry, Oliver Queen and Victor Stone as quickly as they could, this new opportunity, focusing on what at first might seem like secondary character,s means that DC and the CW are free to try something a little different. This time, it doesn't feel forced, and that means it stands a good chance of sticking and creating a new paradigm in superhero TV.
One of the key reasons this new League might work is that it doesn't have to be beholden to whatever happens in Batman V. Superman. Although we might look to Marvel and lament that DC doesn't try to tie their excellent shows to their movie's shared universe, in this case it's actually a benefit to the company.
The movies are untested ground — we don't know if Batman V. Superman and its successors will hit it off yet, so hooking the already successful TV shows to that bandwagon could have been risky. However, by keeping the two branches of adaptations separate, yet allowing them to crossover among themselves. means DC essentially gets to have its cake and eat it, too. They get the benefit of a shared universe on both film and TV, unified projects that have granted the folks at Marvel huge success so far, but they also don't get the problems that shared storytelling can bring — a problem Marvel has already faced, when Agents of SHIELD was stuck grinding its heels and taking flak from fans until it could pull its "Aha!" moment with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. With two separate shared universes for different formats, DC is free to do what they want without one being beholden to the other.
Of course, there's always the chance you could cross them over as different realities in the Multiverse as well, but let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
If we're honest though, this TV Justice League doesn't really need a connection to the heavy-hitting Justice League members we're getting on the big screen. Its equivalents are already the big stars of shows we currently have: You've got Ollie as your Batman stand-in, the darker hero grounded in realism, while Barry represents the more outlandish and the superpowered antics of the likes of Superman. With their own series to themselves, they've had time to get established, to become the main figureheads of this new universe.
And that, unlike Smallville's approach, is another string to this new series' bow (Green Arrow pun unintended, but I'll take it): We've had time to get to know these characters and see them on their own before they're brought together. Smallville rushed to introduce, establish, and then muster its Justice League within a single season of TV, and then essentially promptly forgot about it. Here, we've actually had time to get to know Black Canary, Atom and Firestorm over the course of their appearances in Arrow and Flash before we see them come together. In a way, it's an approach even more careful than the one DC's movie universe is taking (one of the many criticisms thrown at Batman V Superman being that it seems too sudden to go from Man of Steel to establishing the League over the course of a single movie). We don't need to spend time introducing these characters and what they're about, because they'll be entering the show as fully formed characters already.
And the fact that they're established already means the three new heroes mentioned in the initial reports as joining the team — whoever they are — will hopefully get the time they need to be established as they can be anchored by the presence of these already well known heroes.
DC's gotten a lot of flack for essentially being a bit copycat when it comes to their live-action stuff. The decision to forgo Man of Steel 2 for a team-up movie led to many accusations that they were merely chasing the money made by The Avengers, but while in this instance the idea is inherently the same, no one else, and certainly not Marvel at the moment, are trying to do something like this superhero team-up on television. For once, DC is breaking a little bit of new ground — even if it is admittedly something they tried and failed to do with Smallville.
"But what about Agent Carter flashbacks in SHIELD?!" you cry. Yes, Marvel's TV shows are connected to each other through the wider umbrella of the MCU, but in terms of actually crossing over, that's not happening any time soon. SHIELD is largely on its own outside of connecting up with the movies and slowly establishing the Inhumans. Agent Carter was an isolated story. Even today, we've had word from Jeph Loeb not to expect Daredevil, A.K.A. Jessica Jones or Defenders to be crossing over among themselves or the rest of the MCU for a while. This new DC show would be an amalgam of all these crossovers and connections between Arrow and The Flash with the addition of more DC Comics characters thrown into the mix — and unlike anything else we're currently seeing from superhero TV: A fully established team of superheroes, kicking ass and taking names on the small screen. That's an incredibly interesting idea, and it's exciting that we could be starting to see a small taste of what we're getting at the movies in a weekly show.
The "Flash vs. Arrow" and "Brave and the Bold" episodes sparked the beginning of something rather special for DC's television ventures with the CW. And although it's highly unlikely they this new show will inherit the Justice League title while the movies are around, let's hope that whatever this new team-up show ends up being, it can be worthy of being the League in all but name.