The superheroes who soared and crashed on TV in 2018

In 2018, some superheroes went up, some went up, up, and some just went away.

Superhero stories are as mainstream as apple pie and baseball. Just ask Marvel, which has minted billions of dollars for Disney, and every five-year-old in a Batman t-shirt.

Even as superhero films continue to flood your local multiplex like a comic-book shop writ large, the story on television is a less successful one that leaves fans and experts with little cartoon question marks coming out of their heads. In a year when there were more superhero series than ever, there were also more super-fails.

An incomplete list of the superhero TV shows that aired new episodes in 2018 includes “Black Lightning,” “Krypton,” “Cloak & Dagger,” “Supergirl,” “The Flash,” “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist,” “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” “Arrow,” “Titans,” “The Gifted,” “Legion,” “Daredevil,” “Gotham,” and a four-way crossover between CW series called “Elseworlds.” Hulu’s Marvel series “Runaways” got in under the wire with a second season on Dec. 21.

But the genre is also starting to contract. The iron fist (pun intended) of cancellation has pummeled even the strongest series. And many that remain are no longer essential viewing, even for the most devoted fans. Simply put, 2018 in superhero TV wasn’t all that super.

For years, CW has aired a delightfully solid if not superb slate of DC Comics-inspired shows. The network was riding high in late 2017 on the heels of a great annual crossover event between “Supergirl,” “Arrow,” “Flash” and “Legends,” and started 2018 with the lauded “Black Lightning.” But over the course of the year, “Supergirl” and “Lightning” fell victim to the same problems “Arrow” and “Flash” had: Too many heroes and too much complication. The 2018 crossover was just OK. “Riverdale,” based on the Archie comics, has surpassed all five series as CW’s buzziest. “Legends” remains the sole comic-book bright spot for the network, the only show to embrace chaos instead of collapsing under it, even though it started off messy in 2016.

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