So the new DC Comics-based show 'Arrow' is approaching us quickly, it got me thinking of the show that Warner Bros. was initially going to make before canning it even in the pre-planning stages. This one was a show based on the teenage years of Dick Grayson, "DJ" in the show, called 'the Graysons'. Needless to say, the amount of ire directed towards 'Smallville' naturally caused something of a lack of goodwill towards even the every idea of a similar show centred on the Batverse, but really, I think that it could have had a lot of potential for a number of reasons...
- A more grounded setting than 'Smallville'...
The thing about the Batman comics is, that despite everything, they are basically meant to be set in a universe not that far removed from reality. So despite the occasional immortal head of a society of ninjas, shape shifting mud creature, or a half-man half-bat mutant, the majority of the stories basically involve various crimes involving gangsters, thieves, murderers and the like.
The idea of a crime show with the occasional super criminal twist could make for interesting viewing, especially considering the success of shows such as Fringe which in managed to combine detective work with super science in a mostly believable way, could potentially have been interesting. If the show had a more firm footing in reality than 'Smallville', which had to take greater and greater leaps in the audience's suspension of disbelief in order to justify Clark's involvement ('Fast and the Furious' full-plot reference with cars using Kryptonite-infused nitrus oxide, for example), it might make the show a sminge cheaper to produce (saving money for the things that would require more funding, like Mr Freeze etc.) and less distracting.
- An opportunity for cameos that actually made sense...
The problem with 'Smallville', a show based prior to Clark Kent becoming Superman, is that the amount of cameos became increasingly silly considering the time scale that was meant to be involved. So before he even started becoming a superhero, he'd pretty much met every single member of his rogues gallery, including the New Gods, Metallo, Mxyzplk, Doomsday etc. etc. In a show centred around Dick Grayson, the issue of premature cameos wouldn't necessarily be a problem, as the only characters that he impacts are the Robins that follow him.
So if they were to have a show based in Gotham, then they'd have the opportunity for not only members of the Gotham Villain Set to show up, but also characters from the frankly huge supporting cast of the Batman comics from days gone by. There's the members of the GCPD, who it's likely Dick would have to interact with during or after his adventures, which gives the opportunity for people like Harvey Bullock, Renee Montoya and the rest of the Major Crimes Unit to show up. If they decide that Dick goes to an established high school in Gotham, then there's the opportunity for characters like Barbara Gordon, and by extension her father.
There's tons of characters for story arcs or one shot episodes, such as Anarky, Ragman, Alan Scott if they wanted to add some history to the show... What I'm saying is that it's easier to justify characters showing up within one major US city, especially one with such a high cast of supporting characters, then it is to come up with reasons why all these people keep showing up in a small town in the middle of Kansas.
- A chance for an expanded 'verse, complete with the possibility of more spin-offs in the future...
If they decide that, rather than being based in Gotham City, they take advantage of the roaming nature of Haley's Circus, they could use it as an opportunity to explore the DCU more than in previous live-action adaptions. As with the huge supporting cast in the Batman comics, there is a wide range of locations and characters outside of Gotham that Dick can visit without them having to wander into his backyard.
So one week they could be in Gotham, and establish things there by introducing Bruce Wayne or Barbara or whatever. Then the next they go to Metropolis and meet either Superman or his supporting cast. And the the next they go to Opal City and meet Jack Knight. Or Hub City and fight corruption with the Question. Maybe the seeds of the Teen Titans could be sown by him meeting various superpowered teenagers are he's travelling around the country, calling them in if something becomes too tough for him to handle alone? Roaming genre shows such as 'Supernatural' so that such a thing could be done, and if they could do a similar thing but with a superhero twist, characters that become popular with fans could invite the possibility of their own live action spin-off in the future.
If they were to go with the Dennis O'Neil version of the Question, for example, the idea of a dilapidated Detriot-esque city ravaged by crime and severe economic depression could be easily reworked for current Great Recession times. Add to the fact that it's about a crusading journalist who fights crime with just a mask, a deceptively fast car and a sarcastic sense of humour, and they could potentially be on to a winner. Especially if they wanted to mix it up a little by adding the conspiracy theorist angle that was introduced to the 'Justice League Unlimited' version of the character.
- Greater opportunity for stories, not just ones in the superhero or science fiction genre...
Bob Kane, the co-creator of Batman, once said something along the lines of Batman's main strength is that he can be adapted to fit almost any setting or any genre. And despite Kane's various legal jiggery-pokery to claim credit for things he didn't create, that statement is at least true, Batman and his cast are nothing if not adaptable. Want to make the story in a faux 1940s setting? Go ahead, 'Batman: the Animated Series', 'Batman: Death by Design' and a host of other comics are there are precedent. What a detective story? Ditto. Horror? There's at least two Gotham based stories by the creator of '30 Days of Night', Steven Niles. Gritty realism. Science fiction. Conspiracy thriller. Batman as a character is one that works in almost any genre or setting you can think of, possibly better than Superman can.
What I mean is, that despite Superman's, and by extent 'Smallville's', problem is, is that although the character works damn well as a superhero, space-faring explorer, etc. etc. when it comes to telling other kinds of story, a lot of the time it falls kind of flat. Superman can work as a teen drama, as there was precedent for it with the Superboy comics etc. but when it comes to mysteries, horror etc. the character rarely works without greatly changing the character to fit it. For example, depowering Superman in a crossover with the aliens from 'Predator' to make it less one sided. Plus the excuses they had to come up with for people to cameo got increasingly bizarre as the who went on, for example, Jimmy Olsen isn't Jimmy Olsen, he's his twin brother who one of the cast members is dating, and assumes his identity after he's killed by Doomsday
Similarly, there is precedent for a teenage era Batman-verse story in the form of 'Batman Beyond'. It might be animation and faced criticisms that it was similar to Spider-Man (because all teenage urban superheroes are the same, right?), but it does in the very least introduce a basis from what a possible Dick Grayson show could be constructed. If 'the Graysons' wanted to keep Dick's parents around up until his teenage years, fine, it doesn't mean that he can't meet Bruce, become aware of Batman and start superheroic prior to becoming Robin/Nightwing. Bruce being a friend of the family, maybe knowing the elder Graysons from his time touring the work collecting the skills he needed to become Batman, could argueably justify him taking Dick in after his parent's murder more than if he just randomly adopted him just because he happened to be rich and present.
I know at the end of the day, the show has gone the way of that proposed tv adaption of James Robinson's 'Starman', disappearing into the mist, never to see the light of day. And I know that due to how notoriously the DC legal department is when it comes to using characters in certain works at once, for example, Wonder Woman for the longest time couldn't appear unless she had equal footing to the main character while Batman was barred from appearing in 'Smallville' in case the conflicting idea of what Bruce got up to as a teenager confused the audience. But really, in another universe, we might actually have had something kind of special if this was handled by the right people. Oh well. *sigh*