Grant Gustin stars in the series premiere for The Flash. Credit: The CW/ DC Entertainment.

Time Warner (TWX) adds another element to the DC television universe tonight when The Flash premieres at 8 p.m. Eastern on The CW. Arrow returns for season 3 tomorrow night, adding to a DC Comics-influenced television lineup that already features Gotham on Fox. A fourth show, Constantine, is scheduled to premiere on Friday, Oct. 24, on NBC.

Interestingly, the build out isn’t confined to TV. DC is also tightly integrating its programming with its comics. Whereas Marvel is winning mainstream audiences, DC is profiting by appealing directly to fanboys and fangirls.

A strategy straight out of the comic books
This isn’t luck of the draw so much as a business strategy at work. While Disney (DIS 1.09%) is betting on Marvel Studios to produce action movies with mass market appeal, Warner is taking an integrated DC universe straight to comic book fans with the help of Arrow co-creators Andrew Kreisberg and Marc Guggenheim.

Kreisberg is writing Green Arrow with Ben Sokolowski. He also co-wrote the three-part The Flash: Season Zero miniseries, a digital prequel to tonight’s premiere. Guggenheim scripted Arrow: Season 2.5, another three-part digital prequel. In a press release issued last week, DC said the titles “launched to great fanfare and sales” (via Comic Book Resources).

Marvel didn’t release a similar preview for Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, which earned lukewarm ratings in returning two weeks ago. Specifically, SHIELD debuted to 5.98 million live viewers and a 2.1 rating in the key age 18-49 demographic -- in each case, sharp declines from last year’s series premiere. Episode 2, “Heavy Is the Head,” drew 5.05 million viewers for ABC.

By contrast, Nielsen said season 2 of Arrow pulled in an average of 3.28 million viewers to The CW, numbers that could improve when season 3 begins on Wednesday night. Social data puts Arrow second behind The Walking Dead on the comic book TV buzz-meter:

Mighty Marvel’s strength is also its weakness
Why isn't Marvel using comics to boost Agents of SHIELD? Probably because Disney doesn't need AoS to be anything more than a marketing vehicle, as it was for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. A follow-up tie-in to Avengers: Age of Ultron seems likely, further fueling a franchise that has produced over $7 billion in worldwide theater ticket sales and an estimated $1.5 billion in gross profit. DC can't touch those numbers.

And yet I’m not sure it matters. After all, DC’s television strategy is to use Arrow and The Flash to introduce a whole range of characters who exist in the DC universe but haven't enjoyed much (or any) screen time. Robbie Amell, brother of Arrow star Stephen Amell, will bring Firestorm to The Flash. Brandon Routh will bring the Atom to Arrow, which is also due for a movie tie-in of sorts when the assassin Ra’s al Ghul makes an appearance. (Liam Neeson played the role in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises.)

For DC and Warner, the variety of introductions could inform new stories that extend into the comics and boost sales there. At the very least, it creates an interconnected experience that is bound to be appealing to readers like me.

Look at Arrow. Last year, writer Jeff Lemire inserted actor David Ramsey’s character, John Diggle, into the Green Arrow comic series. Kreisberg and Sokolowski introduced Emily Bett Rickards’ character, Felicity Smoak, in the latest issue. Don’t be surprised if DC follows up by announcing new comic book tie-ins to Gotham and Constantine at New York Comic Con, which starts Thursday at the Javits Center in Manhattan.

Disney and Marvel deserve all the kudos they’re getting right now. But this is DC’s week, and by the looks of it, it’s going to be a big one.

Arrow, The CW’s highest-rated show, kicks off season 3 on Wednesday night. Credit: The CW.