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Many people are talking about the new season of DC Comics shows on the CW – Arrow, The Flash, and the new series Legends of Tomorrow. However, although it has flown under the radar somewhat, there is another show in the DC-CW partnership – Vixen, about the former Justice Leaguer Mari McCabe (who can adapt powers from various animals). If you haven’t heard about it, there are probably two reasons: it’s on “Seed,” the CW web platform rather than TV, and it’s an animated show. It’s one example of the versatility of animated shows today.
The producers of the DC-CW shows (Marc Guggenheim probably most importantly) have realized that their audience craves DC superhero content. By developing Vixen, they have given hardcore DC fans another series. Additionally, although it is an animated series, the series fits into the universe of the DC-CW shows, meaning that the stories in Vixen happen in the same world as those in Arrow and The Flash. Likewise, The Flash and Arrow are guest stars in Vixen’s show.
It’s not just DC that is exploring animation. Since Marvel Comics was bought by Disney, they have gotten a prime slot on the Disney XD channel. Initially, there was only an Avengers series, but currently Disney XD has Avengers Assemble, Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors, Hulk: Agents of S.M.A.S.H., and the new Guardians of the Galaxy. So Marvel now has a big presence on the channel, and perhaps the largest number of fully animated series Marvel has had in their history.
So why are animated shows so big right now? Well, if you haven’t noticed, comic book adaptations are everywhere. What began in movies has expanded exponentially and spilled over into live action TV. However, shows that incorporate super powers need special effects as well as costumes, elaborate sets and often large casts. In other words, they can be expensive to make. The cost of animation, on the other hand, is relatively flat. It doesn’t cost that much more to create elaborate animation action than it does any type of animation.
So while both Marvel and DC like the affordability of animation, they are utilizing different strategies with their animated shows. Vixen brings viewers to CW’s website and is primarily an adult audience. Marvel’s animated shows on Disney XD are much more kid-centric (contrasted with their live-action dramas on ABC and Netflix). DC does also have Teen Titans Go, but that is unrelated to the core of their TV shows – though it does get them a kids audience.
For a while, both DC and Marvel released animated movies as well. DC has created many more of these, such as the recent Justice League: Gods and Monsters, and seems to have developed a good audience. Some of the releases are better received than others, but as long as they are profitable, direct-to-DVD animated movies will likely have a role in DC Entertainment.
Animation, whether on Saturday mornings, after school or in prime time, has been a presence for Marvel and DC for most of their histories. Now there is more animated content being produced and on many different platforms. While it appeals to many fans, the vast majority of those who go to comic book movies will not watch most (or any) of the animated shows. Animation’s relative affordability makes it possible for those smaller audiences to still be profitable. Whether for kids or adults, comic book-based animation will likely be big for as long as Marvel and DC characters are visible in pop culture.