Can comic-book TV shows please the fanboys (and fangirls)?
Television • ‘The Flash,’ ‘Gotham’ and ‘Constantine’ will face their toughest critics.

By Scott D. Pierce

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: August 28, 2014 10:35AM
Updated: August 30, 2014 08:57AM
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Robin Lord Taylor, Jada Pinkett Smith, guest star Cory Michael Smith, guest star Clare Foley, Donal Logue, Ben McKenzie, Camren Bicondova, David Mazouz and Sean Pertwee in ìGotham.î Courtesy Fox

Comic-book superheroes are coming to television faster than attention-starved reality-show contestants, which poses an interesting dilemma.

TV shows are not comic books. So how much do you try to make a show look like a graphic novel?

Geoff Johns, the chief creative officer of DC Comics, said the new CW series “The Flash” is “probably the most faithful DC Comics adaptation ever.”

Self-described comic-book fanboy David S. Goyer (“Man of Steel,” “The Dark Knight Rises”), the executive producer of NBC’s “Constantine,” deliberately went after that DC Comics character because he “felt like it was someone that would sort of translate into television without us having to change the core DNA of the character.”

On the other hand, Bruno Heller (“Rome,” “The Mentalist”), the executive producer of Fox’s “Batman” prequel, “Gotham,” readily confesses, “I wasn’t a fanboy,” and his show quite clearly plays with the Batman mythology in a way that deviates from its many prior incarnations in comic books and on the screen.

Even in this age when comic-book geeks have never been so well-represented on TV and in the movies, it’s sort of a love-hate dynamic. The geeks get excited when one of their heroes is translated to TV, then they complain if it isn’t the exact version of their hero they were hoping to see.

“Smallville” suffered the slings and arrows of disgruntled fanboys (and fangirls) for 10 seasons.

And the producers of the three new DC Comics-inspired series this fall are all aware that they’ve got a persnickety audience to please.

Particularly Heller, because “Gotham” is not about Batman — it’s about Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), the future police commissioner. And about the origins of various future supervillains such as the Penguin, Catwoman and Poison Ivy.

“Will the fanboys back away from it? I don’t think so,” Heller said. “Because I think the really interesting parts of these stories is the origin stories. As you’re into the capes and costumes, it’s less interesting than seeing how they got there.”

It might be a tough sell that seeing how Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) became Catwoman is more interesting than seeing Batman fight crime … but that’s the task Heller has undertaken.

Goyer, however, is a fanboy himself. With little prompting, he will tell you about Constantine’s comic-book history, and he’ll tell you that, when he was a teenager, he “actually had a letter printed” in the comic book that introduced the character.

The man has fanboy credentials.

For those of you less familiar with Constantine, he headlined the DC Comics series “Hellblazer.” The character (played by Matt Ryan in the TV series) is a sardonic demon hunter who may already be damned to hell himself.

Like the characters in “Gotham,” Constantine does not have superpowers.

“He was just a working class bloke,” Goyer said. “He had a wicked sense of humor. And so, recently, after the Batman and Superman films, I met with Warners TV, and they said, ‘Will you do a DC TV project? You can kind of have any one.’ And I said, ‘I want Constantine.’ ”

Fanboy or not, questions have arisen about how true the TV show will be to the comic book. Will Constantine smoke?

“He is a smoker in the show,” Goyer said. “We’re not shying away from it, but we’re not glorifying it.”

Will he be bisexual?

Goyer said that in the three decades of Constantine comics, “there might have been one or two issues where he’s seen getting out of the bed of a man. … But there are no immediate plans” to make the TV character bisexual.

Johns — who is a writer/producer on “The Flash” and consults on “Constantine,” “Gotham” and “Arrow” — hears that sort of thing a lot. And he’s comfortable that comic-book fans will feel right at home with “The Flash.”

“We’ve incorporated almost everything from the mythology into it and added a whole new backstory with S.T.A.R. Labs and that team,” said Johns.

There have been other accommodations, such as casting Iris (Candice Patton) and Detective West (Jesse L. Martin) as African Americans.

“We really wanted the show to be more reflective of the world that we live in,” said executive producer Andrew Kreisberg.

Johns wrote the most recent comic-book version of “The Flash,” adding a plotline about the murder of Barry’s mother and his father’s implication in that crime. That carries over directly into the TV series.

“When I wrote the comic, it was really about giving him an emotional anchor that would hold him back,” Johns said. “He could have easily become a Batman-like character, but Barry Allen’s an optimist and having that hope — of keeping hold of that hope despite the tragedy in his past — makes him an even better hero.”

“You’re right,” said Greg Berlanti, executive producer of “The Flash” (and “Arrow”), who’s been a big “Flash” fan since he was about 12. “That part of the character’s life in rebirth. And I always thought that was a great place to sort of start with the show.”

Speaking of fanboys, Berlanti and Kreisberg — who also helm “Arrow” — are right up there with the best of them.

Tom Cavanagh, who co-stars in “Flash” as Harrison Wells, said he’s been into comic books since he was a kid and thought he knew a lot about them “until I met these guys. … I used to think I knew stuff, and now I realize I know nothing.”

There are, however, fans out there who know everything about the comic books. Or who think they do.

Ryan said he has a friend who’s “a huge comic-book fan” who has been talking to him about Constantine “for years.”

“Then when the audition came around, he sat me down and he was, like, ‘It’s got to be like this. John’s got to be like this.’ So I’ve kind of got this fan who’s going to be my harshest critic of the show, kind of keeping me in [line].”

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.

Premiere dates

“Gotham” is scheduled to premiere Monday, Sept. 22, at 8 p.m. on Fox/Ch. 13.

“The Flash” is scheduled to premiere Monday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m. on CW/Ch. 30.

“Constantine” is scheduled to premiere Friday, Oct. 24, at 9 p.m. on NBC/Ch. 5.