In the wake of Batman v Superman’s dark night, how can you avoid comparing the stark contrast of CBS and the CW’s unprecedented cross network comic book TV crossover between Supergirl and Flash? While it’s easy to walk away from the absolutely delightful Supergirl x Flash and say THAT is how DC Comics should be done, I think it’s more true that there’s room for both approaches in the DC Universe.
A Spoil of Riches
Frankly, we’re spoiled. Had you told me ten years ago I could walk out of a disappointing Batman v Superman movie on Saturday, and turn around and watch a joyous Supergirl and Flash on Monday, I would have assumed you meant cartoons. Even then, it would have been hard to believe this would be appointment viewing for anything other than DC Comics obsessives.
Yet here we are, my unmet desire to see the World’s Finest duo satisfyingly meet on the big screen suddenly met on the small screen by perhaps the World’s Second Most Finest.
Make no mistake: I enjoyed Supergirl x Flash immeasurably more than Batman v Superman, and more than the average episode of either TV series individually. The comic book tv crossover hyped up the cross-network meeting, and then went above and beyond to deliver a seamless, DCU experience that rose to the occassion.
TV certainly has advantages in The Flash meeting Supergirl, as we have established relationships with these characters and excitement over their first meet. Every interaction between Barry Allen and Kara Danvers was heartwarming, and I believed in the certainty of their friendship within minutes. Whether it’s Kara reacting to Barry getting her ice cream, Cat Grant’s jokes slaying with a sharpness they’ve never had, or Flash and Supergirl team-whirlwinding villains at the same time, I haven’t smiled this happily at live action DC entertainment since Heath Ledger’s Joker (different kinds of smiles, to be certain).
As if to put the dot in the exclamation point, Supergirl and Flash determine the only way to get Flash off Earth-CBS and back to the Earth-CW is to both run as fast as they possibly can together.
In the sun.
They race in the sun.
I’ll stop smiling when that stops being beautiful.
Dark Knight of the Soul
Elsewhere, we have the morose Doomsday of Batman v Superman. Again, it would be very easy to sit here and proclaim, “See, that was fun! Have fun Batman and Superman! What is wrong with you debby downers?!”
There’s some truth there, but it’s also overlooking all the advantages of the Batman v Superman approach. There is room for taking comic book movies seriously, and striving for the artsy gravitas of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. That film may set an unattainable goal, much like early 90’s comics creators striving for the “high-art” of Watchmen and delivering mindless violence and crime, but as goals go, it’s admirable. The Dark Knight isn’t just good, it darn well redefined the Oscar nomination rules. Comic book movies do NOT have a role in the Oscars, and here we have a Batman film redefining the nomination rules and garnering a win for Heath Ledger’s Joker (R.I.P.). I will never fault a film for trying to reach those heights.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice does not come anywhere close unfortunately, and that’s why it fails. Nonetheless, if you took some of the corniness and, yes, CAMP from Supergirl x Flash and put it in a DCU movie, it would be a disaster. The villains in the Supergirl episode are unbearably one note, and the electricity powered Livewire has one liners like “Zap!” and “I Hate Helicopters!” If these bits of dialogue came out of a DCU movie, I’d ether walk out of the theater or expect the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang to show up any minute.
There’s a balance to these approaches that can make for some truly great DC stories. We shouldn’t just advocate one or the other, but the best elements of both. Yes, Flash x Supergirl is wonderful, and my favorite, but the flaws are quite clear. I certainly don’t take the story or the threats seriously, whereas the production of Batman v Superman takes everything too seriously. There’s an in between state that would help in future DC movie installments.
End of the day, there’s no one right way to treat the DC Universe, and there’s no one right approach to any particular character. We’re lucky that we get to see the DCU breath in different ways, and hopefully the creators of both mediums will channel the lessons of the other into ever improving features.