Marvel vs. DC TV: Agents of SHIELD and The Flash

It’s no secret, but we are lucky enough to have more comic book TV than ever before. I wouldn’t quite call it a golden age, but it’s certainly a budgetary surplus, and with gems like iZombie, Daredevil, and, suddenly, The Walking Dead, there’s a lot of genuinely great TV based on comics.

Agents of SHIELD and The Flash fall somewhere in the middle; frequently good, rarely great. They very much fall in the old model of television, back when 20-plus episodes of relatively satisfying escapism was the norm. If you’re looking for “The Suitcase,” “Ozymandias,” or the hallway fight scene from Daredevil, you certainly won’t find that here. More and more, I’m deciding that’s ok.

It’s been my opinion that DC’s network TV game has been the best in class for the better part of this decade. Arrow and the CW set the bar for what comic book TV could do in an Avengers world, and now the Flash and Supergirl are carrying on that legacy. DC’s big screen woes have been a blessing on the small, as DC Universe limitations are few. No, we won’t see Batman and Superman on an episode of Arrow, but we can see Supe’s older female cousin, as well as a whole Legends of Tomorrow squad including Rip Hunter, Hawkgirl, and Black Canary (and oh by the way, they’ll be hunting Vandal Savage.)

Agents of SHIELD on the other hand is defined by its limitations. The fact that SHIELD is ostensibly tied into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is both the best and the worst thing about the show’s ceiling. When it clicks, it offers an enhancement to the movies so many love. When it doesn’t, the movies present a barrier to growth, or simply a ham-fisted plot insertion. Agents of SHIELD can’t grow in the fan-service department in the same ways as any DC TV, and while that may be a cheap ticket to good graces, it’s also effective. You don’t have a Daredevil TV show running around without Foggy Nelson or the Kingpin, but you do have a SHIELD TV show running around without Nick Fury, Dum Dum Dugan, or La Contessa Valentina Allegra De Fontaine. These are MCU limitations AoS has to fight to overcome every episode. They have to manufacture their own cool, every time out.

Given that struggle, I think it’s darn impressive how consistent Agents of SHIELD has grown in its third season. There’s been a lot of talk ever since Season One Episode 17 that AoS has “found its groove,” but I hadn’t really believed that until last night. The previews teased the episode as the “May and Andrew relationship showdown,” and I assumed it would be fairly skippable. It was anything but. Agents of SHIELD S3 E7 was gripping from start to finish, while deftly maneuvering between an ensemble of characters that now numbers over a dozen. Impressively, everyone got screen time last night, and the episode didn’t suffer for it. There was psychological and emotional fallout from another Inhuman discovery, as well as another subtle reference to the growing Civil War discussion happening in Washington.

More than anything, last night’s Agents of SHIELD was consistent, which is what the show has grown to become. The Flash on the other hand, was nowhere near as gripping for the first 40 minutes. I enjoyed season one quite a bit, but by the latter third of the series it had become increasingly formulaic and repetitive. How many times can the fastest man alive run up to a villain, announce his presence, and allot them time to strike him? For a lab full of the smartest humans on earth, how can Cisco fall for the oldest “my cell’s empty!” trick in the book!

Simply put, the Flash can be infuriatingly full of all the CW’s worst characteristics. Cheesy heart-on-sleeve dialogue and brainless actions. It’s a second screen view in every sense.

At least until those last 10 minutes hit.

The final fight scene between Barry and Earth-2’s Zoom (finally revealed) was beyond great. Zoom is appropriately menacing, separating himself from season one’s Reverse-Flash, and not only that, but he kicked Barry’s little buns. He clobbered the hero! You rarely really see a hero like the Flash get completely demolished, but that’s what happened last night and it was riveting, especially with the surprise twist ending.

If that wasn’t enough, Flash still had one more trick up its sleeve: a tease for next week’s episode featuring Gorilla Grodd. There will never come a time in my life when I’m not grateful for the CW and the producers of the Flash for giving us an actual live-action Gorilla, and I’m extremely excited for next week’s episode.

At the end of the day, I can’t help but feel like the higher highs of the Flash are still winning out, even though Agents of SHIELD is more consistent – and frankly, just doing more – throughout it’s full episode. In the Packers vs. Seahawks NFC championship game last year, it didn’t matter that the Packers owned the majority of the game – the exciting finish belonged to the Seahawks. That’s why right now I love the heights The Flash can get to, and really wonder at what point Agents of SHIELD might reach for the same.

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