Superhero television is now an incredibly saturated corner of the entertainment market, but that was not always the case. Even though the vast selection of MCU television shows on Disney + dominates the cultural attention, there was an age when shows like Smallville were championing the transition of superhero media to the silver screen. In the early 2010s, Arrow took the genre by storm, blending melodrama and high-octane action to appeal to a huge audience.
Since then, the CW has expanded its superhero television show selection into what is now known as the “Arrowverse,” consisting of shows like The Flash, Black Lightning, Legends of Tomorrow, and more. Each of these have grown into their own unique identities over the years, and all of them have experienced significant high moments along with significant low moments. Here’s how all of The CW’s Arrowverse series stack up against each other.
Batwoman was already demonized by critics and ratings before Ruby Rose departed the show and had to be recast for its second season. Javicia Leslie, cast as the new Batwoman, injects some welcome energy and depth into the role, which makes the second season stronger than the first. There’s a sense of style that carries the series through its three season run, but uneven writing and pacing can make some of these episodes a slog. When the series works, it combines impressive action with smartly written drama to great appeal. Leslie’s Batwoman is an interesting, complex figure, and also a huge step forward for LGBTQ + representation in media.
Supergirl is another case of these television shows delivering bold visions, burdened by some of the excessive melodrama that characterizes the entire CW network. Melissa Benoist is uncommonly good at balancing her wide-eyed, overworked woman persona with her burgeoning superhero identity. When the series isn’t leaning too deeply into soap opera territory, its drama and action makes this a story worth experiencing. The show ran for six seasons, concluding with a two-part finale in 2021. The show also created its own spin-off featuring a Superman played by Tyler Hoechlin.
5 Superman & Lois
In a surprise twist, Superman & Lois presents an incredibly intimate superhero story, grounded in the reality of parenthood, economic distress, and difficult mental health issues. Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch portray a heroic duo turned parents that struggle with the same issues as parents and people in real life. Superman is a famously difficult character to adapt, but the series nails a specific, optimistic tone that’s enhanced by Hoechlin’s portrayal of the character. It takes a while for the “Lois” part of the title to become fully realized, but when it does, Superman & Lois becomes some of the smartest and most interesting superhero media to date.
4 The Flash
The Flash was The CW’s first spin-off following the character’s introduction in Arrow. A strong first two seasons establish the character of Barry Allen, his team, and his enemies in a dynamic that felt genuinely fresh for its time. A few standout performances, particularly Jesse Martin as Joe West, make the extended cast feel like much more of a dynamic entity than in other series that downplay the importance of characters without superpowers. As the show struggled to incorporate different villains and different plotlines, it soon became unable to reach the heights of the first two seasons with its vibrant villains and storylines. The series is currently planned to return for a ninth season.
3 Legends of Tomorrow
This is the CW’s expected “team-up” series, but thanks to a unique, zany sense of style, it’s anything but tired. Pulling together a rotating cast of characters from other CW superhero properties, Legends of Tomorrow frees itself from the overdone grittiness of other superhero television to indulge in non-stop hilarity and a freedom of creative direction. Using time travel as a primary plot device, these heroes travel to different places and tackle different threats with good wit and good humor. Season 7 of the series comes to Netflix in March 2022.
2 Black Lightning
Weaving together a compelling family dynamic and deftly incorporated discourse on social issues, Black Lightning succeeds on the strength of its ideas for most of its run. Critics praised its unique identity among other superhero shows, some of which were largely following the same tropes and storylines. Its focus on older superheroes and their legacies allows the show to escape the origin story narrative that threatens to become rote in other superhero stories. Though the series came to an end after four seasons, the titular character may return for future appearances in the Arrowverse.
As the first CW superhero show, Arrow laid all the foundation work for what came after it. Though it suffers from the same issue of excessive melodrama at times, its presentation of a crime-ridden city and a dishonored billionaire trying to address wealth disparity was briefly lightning in a bottle. Arrow burned incredibly bright for a short period – its later seasons would repeat previous plotlines and indulge in ideas that distracted from its original vision. Still, during that brief, magical period, Arrow had the most compelling plotlines to offer of all The CW Arrowverse series.
CORE activist Sean Penn is on the ground in Ukraine for a documentary with Vice Studios about the Russian invasion.
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