Arrow and Agents Of Shield: Big Heroes on the Small Screen

arrow-tv-show-wallpaper-16216-16216THERE have always been two big names in comics: Marvel and DC. There have been times when they’ve collaborated but, for the most part, these two companies have been in battle like, well, superheroes. Television has always seemed like a good place for superheroes; pretty much anyone can sit down and enjoy an hour of the world being saved. Currently on television, Marvel has Agents of Shield and DC has Arrow. While it is possible to enjoy both shows, something about it seems appropriate to ask the timeless question: Which one is better?

Arrow at first seemed like it was going to be like most other CW television – six packs first and plots later – but somehow it became one of my favourite television programmes. It took a simple idea: What if you made a television show akin to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy but made on a lower budget with a different superhero? The superhero in question is Green Arrow AKA Oliver Queen, millionaire, bachelor and no he isn’t just Batman and Hawkeye mixed. The series takes its roots in a combination of the kinetic, action-driven storytelling of a good superhero yarn with the complex, family-driven drama of a good soap opera (yes I hear some of you scoffing at the thought but it is possible). It doesn’t aspire to be high art but manages to find enough truth in what it is that it somehow works.

The writers seem to fully understand their characters. Characters like Felicity, who in Series One seemed like an irritating, one-note series of awkward tics, has developed into a multi-faceted character capable of sustaining a plot line without it having to involve romance. In fact, despite the obvious need for romances, it’s good network television but it’s still network television, and every character works outside of their required pairings. Well, almost every character.  Despite her destined status as a love interest for Oliver Queen, it seems like the writers have never fully understood Laurel Lance, stranding her with often tenuous or unnecessary story lines. She feels like a forced element in a show that has other interests.  Even with the occasional dud plot, the show is capable of greatness with the first season finale (despite being a television episode) still ranks as my favourite superhero film of last year. It was bold, thrilling, surprising at times and engaging; it was everything good entertainment should be.

marvel_shield_a_lAgents Of Shield, on the other hand has always felt like wasted potential. It had all the right elements of a fun procedural in the vein of Chuck with the involvement of Joss Whedon, a healthy dose of Disney money behind it and, with the addition of Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, an active tie to the Marvel films. But for me, it’s never felt good enough. All I ever wanted from it was faintly interesting characters, good dialogue and good action; the action has never felt exciting, the dialogue rarely that witty and the characters bland and often irritating. I never wanted it to be more than a bit of fun but even that seems to be a stretch for the show sometimes. The most recent episode (yet to air on Channel 4) really plays into the central mystery of how Agent Coulson cheated death and despite some ‘cool moments’ it never really finds an emotional resonance in the rest of the cast’s quest to find Coulson.

It’s struggled so far to build a threatening villain through the mysterious Centipede organisation yet it’s only a few steps away from maybe not great but good-ness. It still has enough to keep me watching; I like Clark Gregg’s performance and some of the guest stars have been fun. Perhaps the problem is an attempt to evoke the same sense of wonders that the movies do while also being firmly stuck in the format of episodic television. It’s not a hopeless case but it’s still a flawed experience. I will say it still feels like the show is getting to know itself and as a result I’m willing to keep watching and I am willing it to be better. It just needs to get into gear.

It should be acknowledged that Agents of Shield is only half way through its first season and Arrow  its second. If we take the pilots of each, there was as much potential in both if not slightly more in  Shield. It could get better and I’m hoping it does but for now, it seems that in terms of televised heroism, DC is winning this one.