Rex Tyler is your average genius pharmaceutical analyst. He’s got a steady job, an estranged ex-wife and son, and a few latent desires to sneak out at night punch evildoers in the face. So when Rex realizes that the visions he’s had since childhood are actually a form of superpower – he’s actually been seeing events that will occur one hour into the future – he dons a nifty hooded cloak and christens himself “Hourman.” Chances are, you’ve never heard of Hourman, and neither has the vast majority of the civilized world. Not surprising, considering that the DC superhero’s popularity peaked during WWII and hasn’t shown any signs of recovery in the last seventy years.
Until now, apparently. The Hollywood Reporter has news that The CW is developing an Hourman series to fall in alongside the network’s Arrow and the upcoming The Flash, with Michael Caleo (writer for The Sopranos and Ironside) working on the script and executive producing. This is significant news for The CW – Hourman means the network is secure enough in its superhero properties to start taking chances with a character nobody (excluding devoted comic readers and octogenarians) have ever heard of. As well, Hourman seems to mark the beginnings of an interconnected TV superhero world, not unlike what Marvel’s been doing in film for the past decade or so.
Every other television network on Earth has apparently had the same idea. NBC is working up its own superhero drama with Constantine, Fox already ordered a full season of the Commissioner Gordon-centric series Gotham, and The CW also had a Wonder Woman series, Amazon, that was shoved to the back of the line to make room for The Flash.
And that’s just the DC heroes; alongside Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, the Avengers are getting their own anime series in Japan. The latter two may or may not be a part of Marvel’s upcoming four TV shows and a miniseries, which are also currently in development. If not, that puts Marvel at a whopping total of eleven TV offerings, including three cartoons currently airing on Disney XD.
Comic books are more than secure in their status as Hollywood’s latest obsession. 2014 offers up eleven different comic book films, and the number leaps far higher after taking into account foreign comic films and a near-constant stream of manga adaptations from Japan. This year’s Palme d’Or winner, Blue is the Warmest Colour, is based off a graphic novel. Hell, in the past week we’ve seen three more comic adaptations thrown onto the pile – the Bigfoot versus werewolves thriller Savage, a sequel to this summer’s The Wolverine, and a revival of the cancelled Vince Vaughn action flick Term Life.
Television now provides ample opportunity to catch any comic book movie spillover, and it’s DC – and Warner Bros. — that have been churning out comic book TV fare like it’s going out of style (as everyone involved crosses their fingers and prays that’ll never happen). Unlike Marvel, WB has been hesitant to funnel money into any big-screen property that’s not Batman or Superman; likely because every time they’ve tried otherwise, the result has been an unmitigated disaster (case in point: Catwoman, Green Lantern, Jonah Hex). As a fun bonus, this also explains just why the middling talent of Zack Snyder was vaulted up to the head honcho position for WB’s superhero films: his 300 and Watchmen were some of the only non-Christopher Nolan comic successes the studio has had in nearly a decade.
Judging from the amount of comic book films that crashed and burned this year alone – Kick-Ass 2, R.I.P.D. and Bullet to the Head to name a few – we may be seeing the WB strategy become the norm. Everything that’s guaranteed money (and there is no better moneymaking guarantee than a man prancing around in a bat costume) is rewarded with a $500m production budget; anything below that is crammed into next year’s pilot season.
Of course, the biggest mystery in all this is just why comic adaptations are so popular in the first place. If comic book movies are the most popular kid in school, actual comic books are that weird kid who sits in the corner wearing a trench coat. The latest comic chart-topper, DC’s Forever Evil (which saw Earth under siege by an alternate-universe Justice League) sold 139,00 copies in September. Whereas Man of Steel, if you were to divide its worldwide gross ($662,845,518) by the average ticket price ($8.38), leaves you with a rough estimate of 79 million tickets sold. The latest episode of The Walking Dead pulled in 13.3m views; the latest issue of the comic had but 70,000. Even R.I.P.D’s sales figures tower over any top-selling comic book.
Comics themselves may be gasping for air, but their legacy lives on. Hollywood is already swamped with comic this and comic that; TV is soon to follow suit. What’s next? Comic book music? Comic book restaurants? If we’re lucky, the next new development will be real-life versions of famous superheroes. I hope Superman’s as friendly in person as he is in his movies.