Having taken over the multiplexes, comic-book superheroes and fantasy figures are now upping their grip on prime time with an array of prequels, spin-offs and crossovers. Dominic Corry reports from Los Angeles on the masked mass invasion.

Gotham

With live-action comic book adaptations continuing to dominate the box office, television appears to be finally over its skittish feelings towards such enterprises and is embracing the genre like never before.

In addition to returning hits Arrow and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the TV season heralds no less than four new series featuring comic-book properties.

And the most highly anticipated of the bunch is a Batman show without Batman. Gotham is set in the Dark Knight's beloved city before its bat-themed protector came into being. Beginning with the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents, the young Batman-to-be will feature, but the main protagonist is rookie detective James Gordon, played by Ben McKenzie (The O.C. and Southland). He will eventually become one of Batman's closest allies as Commissioner Gordon (played by Gary Oldman in the Dark Knight trilogy), but in Gotham he's merely one honest cop taking on a corrupt city.

"The larger world around him is filled with people lacking in a moral compass," McKenzie tells TimeOut. "He does not lack that compass. He has a very firm, rigid idea of what's wrong. And that will be tested."

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Although a veteran of two long-running TV series, McKenzie gets a little awe-struck talking about getting to play in the world of such an iconic character, enjoying his 75th anniversary this year. "It's an honour and it's so strange I have to pinch myself. Often. Because it just feels so bizarre and wonderful.

"To be able to add just a little bit to the mythology that's already so rich and so developed, is a true luxury. I hope the deep fanbase that exists will not only appreciate it, but allow themselves to really indulge their love of this world through a serialised experience where you can watch week after week and understand these characters in a deeper way than you may have been able to before."

In this version of the Batman mythos, the young Jim Gordon becomes a mentor to the orphaned Bruce Wayne, played by 13-year-old David Mazouz, the young star of Touch.

"Their relationship will be very complicated," says McKenzie. "One of the beautiful things about the conceit that [show creator] Bruno Heller came up with is that Jim himself suffered a tragedy similar to Bruce - when he was a young man he lost his father.

So, in Bruce, Jim sees himself and he is trying, from a more seasoned perspective, to give him guidance."

McKenzie doesn't think the foregone result of this guidance neuters any of the drama. "Of course, you can see the ultimate result, but it's fascinating to watch, and the conversations that they can have can allude to the larger philosophical questions of what is right and what is wrong in a world in which there are no easy answers. A world where standing on your high horse is not going to do any good.

"You gotta get in the muck, and get dirty."

It's up to Gordon and his world-weary partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) to take on the filth, and the Caped Crusader's legendary villains gallery is giving Gotham a lot to work with.

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Watch the trailer for the TV show Gotham:

Check out the first trailer for Gotham, an origin story of the great DC Comics Super-Villains and vigilantes that reveals an entirely new chapter that has never been told.

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In addition to a pre-Catwoman Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), Gotham will feature a pre-Penguin Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) and a pre-Riddler Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), among other supervillains-in-training, many of whom are a bit further along in their development than young master Wayne, and will thus provide much of Gotham's marquee brand name recognition.

But still, a Batman show without Batman? Heller (creator of The Mentalist), says that's what makes it a story worth telling: "How do you deal with crime of this level when there are no superheroes? When there's just ordinary, mortal men and women trying to solve these issues? It's as much about the hope and the struggle that they're engaged in as it is about waiting for a saviour. It's about men and women, not about superheroes, and to me that's the more interesting story."

Although the characters may be the stuff of fantasy, the city of the title has a real-life influence.

"Me and [director] Danny Cannon talked a lot about New York in the 70s as a kind of tone poem for what Gotham is," Heller says. "That was a time when the city was falling apart. I remember going there and it was precisely the decay and the decadence and the anarchy that was, at the same time, joyous and thrilling and exciting and scary and sexy. There is something about a great city as it falls apart that you are compelled to watch. So, yeah, it's a story of downfall, but it's also a story of a sort of explosive growth and excitement."

Gotham premieres on Sunday, September 28, at 8.30pm on TV2

Constantine

Better known to DC Comics readers as "Hellblazer", demon hunter John Constantine was previously the subject of a lacklustre Keanu Reeves film from 2005. Renamed to avoid association with the Hellraiser horror franchise, the film was attacked for casting the sultry Reeves as a character whose look was inspired by the way Sting appeared in The Who's 1979 film Quadrophenia - pale and wiry, with spiky bleached blond hair.

Pale, wiry Welsh actor Matt Ryan (pictured) is a much better fit for the character (post-bleaching of course), and will be facing a raft of dark supernatural forces in the new live-action drama series.

"I hope the audience is scared, but we've also got a really good balance of humour as well, because the character has this cynical, dry wit." Ryan tells TimeOut. "What we're really trying to do is bring scary to network television."

Watch the trailer for the TV show Constantine:

Watch the trailer for Constantine, the series based on the popular DC Comics series Hellblazer.

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The show's driving creative force is David S. Goyer, who as co-writer of Man of Steel and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, knows a thing or two about successfully adapting comic books. "The thing I always love about Constantine is that in a world of superheroes and demons and angels, he was just a complete smart-ass.

"He didn't have any superpowers, he was just a working-class bloke. I also felt like it was someone that would translate into television without us having to change the core DNA of the character."

Constantine will be available on TVNZ Ondemand in late October.

The Flash

With the success of Arrow having paved the way for this spin-off series, DC Comics is getting in on the shared universe game rivals Marvel have perfected.

The lithe Grant Gustin appeared over a couple of episodes of Arrow's latest season as Barry Allen, a crime scene analyst from nearby Central City. In the first episode of his own show, a chemical accident turns Allen into the Fastest Man Alive.

The new series was developed by Arrow producer Greg Berlanti, who tells TimeOut where superhero adaptations that fail go wrong.

"I think they don't embrace what works about the character. It's not that their capes are a certain length or their boots are a certain colour, it's why these characters have endured for 75 years. When they don't capture that it doesn't work."

Watch the trailer for the TV show The Flash:

Check out this first look at The Flash, a new television series from the CW network.

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Lighter in tone than Arrow, The Flash is full of inside references to the character's deep mythology, all of which Berlanti promises will be subsequently addressed. "Everything we put in there is in there for a reason. It's probably the most faithful DC Comics adaptation ever."

In another nod to the character's history, John Wesley Shipp, who played The Flash in the 1990 live action TV show (and Dawson's doomed dad in Dawson's Creek, also produced by Berlanti), will recur in the series as this Barry Allen's father.

The Flash premieres on Thursday, October 9, at 8.30pm on TV2, followed by season three of Arrow at 9.30pm

Agent Carter

There have been calls for several years now for Marvel to make a movie with a female lead character, but the TV division of the hugely successful studio is getting there first. Introduced as a no-nonsense ally-turned- unconsummated-love-interest in 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter very much held her own on screen against Chris Evans' Star-Spangled Man.

Modern-day scenes featuring an aged version of the character were filmed and subsequently form The Avengers, but it was Carter's "Marvel One-Shot" that sealed her fate as a future TV star.

Provided as an extra on the Iron Man III Bluray, the Agent Carter short film showed the character taking on workplace sexual discrimination in the post-World War II era before being asked to help set-up S.H.I.E.L.D.

"Disney chief executive Bob Iger saw the one-shot and thought 'Here's a show'," executive producer Tara Butters (Resurrection) told TimeOut, "which is exactly what happened with S.H.I.E.L.D. Iger saw that one-shot ('Item 47' on The Avengers Bluray) and said 'that's a show too'."

Before her eponymous series debuts, Agent Carter's 1940s incarnation will be showing up in the season opener of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., giving viewers an early taste of Agent Carter the show, notable for being a rare network drama with a period setting.

Co-executive producer Michelle Fazekas: "There have been period network shows in the past, but nothing recently. It is a challenge.

"I think Cap One did an amazing job of portraying the time period and that's what we have to live up to."

Agent Carter will screen on TVNZ early next year.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

In the latter half of its first season, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did something that viewers of the tepidly received first half probably wouldn't have predicted - the show flipped its premise on its head, and suddenly became five times more awesome.

In an unprecedented degree of narrative interaction between a movie and a TV show, Marvel's box-office hit Captain America: The Winter Soldier revealed super spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. to be rotten to the core and staffed by traitors.

The world-shattering revelations affected the rookie TV show directly, bringing down its entire framework and turning its lead characters into fugitives.

In the process, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. suddenly began living up to its initial promise. As the season came to a close, while still technically on the run, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) was tasked by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) with rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. from the ground up with the help of a mysterious cube "toolbox".

TimeOut cornered the three show-runners - Jed Whedon (younger brother of Avengers director Joss), Maurissa Tancharoen and Jeffrey Bell - to talk about the challenges of rebuilding the show from the ground up for season two, which includes the cast addition of local legend Lucy Lawless to the show as Agent Isabel Hartley.

But first things first. Why does everything in the Marvel Universe boil down to a mysterious cube?

"They're inexpensive," says Bell.

The cataclysmic events of the first season showed just how much the Marvel TV Universe is affected by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so how much freedom do the makers of S.H.I.E.L.D feel like they have in recreating the world of the show for season two?

"Obviously everything is run up the flagpole and we're in constant communications with features," says Whedon. "But in season one it was difficult to keep that secret hidden and to work around [Captain America: The Winter Soldier]. But it did clean the slate in a fun way for us to sort of create it in our own way and do what we want, which is a lot of what we'll get to see in season two -- what does it mean when you hand Coulson that toolbox?

A whole new S.H.I.E.L.D one imagines. But what form will it take?

"That's the big question of season two." is all Bell will offer up. "Marvel is very excited about the idea of us having 'nothing'."

Co-creator Joss Whedon has little to do with the show day-to-day. Are his fellow creators, Jed Whedon and Tancharoen (Jed's wife), simply trying to emulate the elder Whedon's signature style?

"A huge part of why all of us have worked so well with Joss is that, instantly we already sort of shared a common voice," says Tancharoen. "So coming in, we established the show with Joss, then he felt comfortable enough to go off and do the many things he is doing. I feel like what Joss has established over the years is definitely a very big part of our show."

So "the Joss Whedon style" ... ?

"I like to think of it more as 'the Whedon style'," counters Jed.

Season two of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. begins on Sunday, September 28, at 9.30pm on TV2.

- TimeOut