A guide to the live-action comic book TV shows
Over the past six years, the adapting of comic book characters for the small screen has become a major commodity for networks. The amount of comic book TV shows is increasing every year, with some series even having hit the 100-episode mark. With so many adaptations currently airing across seemingly every corner of media, let’s take a look and break down the live-action comic book TV shows currently on the air.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Following the increasing success of their cinematic universe, Marvel decided, with the help of Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon, to expand the series to television with its first entry, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with Clark Gregg’s character Phil Coulson being resurrected from the dead to lead a team of agents dealing with unusual cases and super-powered villains, including Hydra and the Inhumans. While only a moderate success in its debut season, receiving modest ratings and generally positive reviews, the series has become both a bigger success and failure as it has gone on, earning more rave reviews with each subsequent season while also drawing in lower overall ratings.
Marvel might be absolutely dominating the big screen, but DC Comics were the first to get their TV universe up and running and control the comic book series field with their debut series Arrow on The CW. Working as a new origin story that turns into his seasoned career of crime fighting, the series follows billionaire playboy Oliver Queen who, after being shipwrecked on an island for years, returns to his home trained in martial arts and archery and acts as the vigilante initially known as the Hood before eventually becoming the Green Arrow. Currently on its sixth season, the series has been a huge success, drawing in large ratings and largely positive reviews from critics and audiences, aside from negative reviews from audiences in its fourth season.
The atmosphere in America has become heated in terms of racial inequality and prejudices (once again), so the writers and producers in Hollywood have continued finding new ways to bring these stories to television in believable and powerful ways. But one of the most surprising has been the recent debut of The CW’s Black Lightning. Set nine years after having retired from the superhero world due to the negative effects it had on his family, audiences watch as Jefferson Pierce, a high school principal, must don the suit of the titular character once again when his family and the community comes under the threat of rising gang, the 100. The series has earned rave reviews from critics, holding a rare 100 percent “Certified Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is not only a major feat for a television show, but also for any comic book series, many critics praising the deep social commentary regarding race, social class and sexuality as honest and intelligent. While no announcement has been made as to whether or not the series will get a second season, the combination of its reviews and modest ratings in its Tuesday night time slot should drive The CW to want more Black Lightning.
After spending years in developmental hell after the mild success of the first film and failed spin-off, the rights to the character Daredevil reverted back to Marvel Studios, with writer/director Drew Goddard expressing interest in making a film true to the dark and gritty nature of the comics. However, after initially being rejected by Marvel, the studio would later make a deal with Netflix to develop and release an original series based on various characters from their comics history that would eventually lead to the team-up show, Marvel’s The Defenders. And their first was 2015’s Daredevil, in which Goddard served as consultant and executive producer. While its second season didn’t receive nearly as high of reviews as the first, it has proven to be a large success for both Netflix and Marvel Studios and helped establish faith in developing and producing further adaptations. The series follows Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer operating out of Hell’s Kitchen in New York who acts as the vigilante Daredevil in the night and exposes multiple criminal organizations, including Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin and The Hand.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
Though audiences finally got to see the big-screen team-up of their favorite DC Comics characters in November, they have been treated to a different set of heroes teaming up to save the world for just under two years prior. Did I call them heroes? My mistake. They’re legends. More specifically, the Legends of Tomorrow, the ultimate crossover show between both The Flash and Arrow as the team is made up of characters belonging to both universes as they travel through time fixing historical anomalies, known as aberrations, before they dramatically change the future. It’s certainly have not been The CW’s biggest hit with their DC Comics’ universe, initially earning mixed reviews from critics and only moderate ratings in its first season, but it has since seen a combination of steadying ratings and improved reviews, with its current season earning the best reviews yet.
The End of the F***ing World
The End of the F***ing World, the internationally British dark-comedy series, has only been on the air in America for less than a month, but it has already become one of the most talked about and critically-acclaimed shows of the new year. Its bizarre story and fantastic performances drawing viewers both unfamiliar with the source material and long-time fans in. Though its overarching story of a pair of teenagers running away from their tumultuous home lives is familiar, it’s been the little details and character studies that have fascinated readers since the novel’s release five years ago. Namely the fact the male protagonist is a budding psychopath whose initial motivations for going on the road trip adventure with the female protagonist is the intention of making her his first human victim. While the creator of the television series hopes for another season of the adaptation, many fans feel the first season ended on a perfect note, and given its still fresh release, news of whether or not the show will be renewed will most likely not be announced for a while.
Fear the Walking Dead
After three successful seasons for the network, a companion series to their zombie anchor series was ordered by AMC in hopes of recreating their profitable franchise;. and after audiences gave it a rough start in its debut season, Fear the Walking Dead has slowly worked its way into fans’ hearts. Beginning as a prequel to its predecessor, the series follows a family of Angeleans fighting for survival as an unknown virus begins sweeping through the metropolitan area and turns people into flesh-eating killers. As the series has progressed through its three seasons, the characters have not only shown outstanding development and depth, but they have also slowly progressed east even as they head south of the border, and though they are still a good distance away from the Atlanta survivors, their timelines are slowly catching up to each other. Not only will its fourth season see the characters separated and in search of each other, but it will also see the first crossover between the series as Lennie James’ character Morgan Jones joins the main cast, adding up to an exciting chapter in the prequel show.
After being introduced in their debut series and receiving rave reviews from critics and audiences alike, The CW saw the potential gold of Barry Allen and his future as the Scarlet Speedster and decided to green light the first of technically three spin-offs, The Flash. After being struck by lightning during a particle accelerator explosion in his hometown Central City, CSI Barry Allen gains super-human speed and fights the various metahumans that have sprung up in his town following the explosion, as well as certain villains seeking to eliminate The Flash completely. In its four-season run on The CW, it has been both the highest-rated and highest-reviewed comic book series for the primetime network.
2017 was the year of X-Men related TV shows, beginning with FX’s Legion and ending with Fox’s The Gifted, which is set in an alternate universe where the popular team of superheroes has disappeared and the government has begun outlawing and imprisoning mutants. The series follows a family whose idyllic lives are sent into chaos when they are forced to go on the run after discovering the children have mutant abilities, joining up with members of the mutant underground movement to get their children to safety and support those on the run from the government. The series’ first season received positive reviews from both critics and audiences for its social commentary that still connects to today, and for the performances of its large cast, while also receiving some criticism for its mindless action sequences amidst its stories. Thanks to these positive reviews and solid prime time ratings, Fox has given the greenlight for a second season of the series.
While developing original stories for previously-created characters is never as easy as bringing their published stories to life, it’s even harder to try and bring these characters to life in an origin story that audiences have not seen before. And Fox’s Batman prequel Gotham has proven to be one of the more quality efforts that might have polarized audiences for four seasons, but it’s wowed critics in bigger and bigger ways since the start. Originally set around James Gordon’s early days in the Gotham City Police Department as a detective and his introduction to Bruce Wayne when his parents are murdered in a mugging, the series has developed and evolved into a combination of Gordon’s and Wayne’s origins in their careers, with the current season seeing Bruce finally evolving into the vigilante he is destined to become. Though some of Batman’s villain origins have received mixed reception from fans over the timeline inconsistencies with Bruce, it has proven to be a modest ratings success and has received ever-increasing reviews from critics.
Violence, drugs, booze, sex, the mafia, an ex-cop and a talking unicorn. Who better to develop the bizarre and celebrated graphic novel, Happy!, than the co-director of the Crank franchise. The series follows Nick Sax (Meloni), an ex-cop-turned-mafia-hitman left for dead during a job who begins seeing a mini flying blue unicorn named Happy (Oswalt), as he teams up with the unicorn to help save his real friend, a little girl named Hailey who has been kidnapped by a deranged Santa Clause. It’s only five out of its eight episodes into to its first season, but it has already blown both critics and audiences away for its gritty plot points, oddball story, profane humor and stellar performances form its two leads, and with solid ratings for the cable network, fans can hold some hope that Syfy will give the series a second season.
Take every criticism applied to Netflix’s Iron Fist, double it and increase the budget on the show by a considerable amount of money, including an IMAX premiere, and you have ABC’s Inhumans. Set around a royal family living on a secret world on the Moon and their fight for survival after a military coup occurs, the series was not only critically panned by both audiences and reviewers, but also received very low ratings in its Friday night time slot. Having only been two months since its finale, it’s clear ABC is still considering all of their options as to whether or not to bring the series back, but with all of these negative elements working against the series, chances are it will receive the big axe.
As stellar as they’ve been up to this point, many franchises do have the weak link in their chain, and Marvel/Netflix’s Iron Fist was certainly the weakest of the links. The series followed Danny Rand, the billionaire heir to his family’s company after his parents are killed in a plane crash where was also presumed dead for 15 years, as he returns from “the dead” to reclaim his family’s company from his childhood friends and detects a threat related to an ancient crime organization that only he can take down. Does the series’ plot sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re right, just scroll to the top of the page and you’ll find the exact same show that not only has been on the air longer, but also received far better reviews than this one. Critics demolished the first season not only for its lack of originality, but also for its ultra-slow pacing and poorly-executed action sequences, some noting the slow-moving punches thrown by both its titular hero and villains. Despite these reviews, however, the audience viewership was large enough for the streaming service to greenlight a second season that began production in December and is currently rumored to premiere in 2019.
Though most shows based on a comic book series see their source material as an ongoing basis for stories, The CW’s fantasy comedy iZombie is the rare series in which the comic counterpart finished before production on the small screen adaptation started. Taking a looser approach to adapting its comic series, the show follows Olivia “Liv” Moore, a Seattle medical resident who becomes a zombie after being attacked at a boat party and begins working for her local morgue to help satiate her appetite for brains by feasting on those already dead, which in turn gives her a temporary inheritance of their personality traits and flashbacks of their lives. She uses these flashbacks to help the police solve murders with the claim she is a psychic, and with the help of her boss and best friend, she works to keep her zombie state a secret and work towards finding a cure for her curse. The series might not be a huge ratings hit for the network, but it has received rave reviews from both audiences and critics since its first season, with many citing its comedic and casual take on the zombie genre and performance from lead McIver as highlights for every season, and with the fourth season set to premiere at the end of next month, viewers can look forward to the next chapter in the life of the young zombie crime fighter.
The most recently-created character of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jessica Jones has quickly become one of the highest-regarded and talked about heroes not only in comics, but also in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A former superhero who opens up her own private detective agency, Netflix’s Jessica Jones was both a thrilling bit of comic storytelling and deeply intelligent character study, which earned it rave reviews from critics and viewers for its bold new approach to a superhero series. After a year-and-a-half wait, she will finally be returning with a second season this March.
In the first live-action series connected to the X-Men universe, showrunner Noah Hawley sought to deliver a fresh take on the superhero genre by taking a character well-known for his primarily villainous qualities and deconstruct him and show his more positive aspects and heroic nature in the form of David Haller, better known as Legion. The series follows young Haller as he goes from various psychiatric hospitals due to his schizophrenia and after falling in love with another patient, he discovers he possesses abilities he didn’t realize he previously had. Thanks to its combination of surreal storytelling, unreliable narration, stylish imagery and compelling performance from Stevens, the first season received rave reviews from critics and earned ten-episode renewal that is set to finally premiere in April.
Though the majority of Fox’s comic-related TV series have been part of the X-Men franchise of late, one of their first and most successful for their ratings has been the adaptation of the DC Comics/Vertigo character, Lucifer Morningstar, better known by some as The Devil himself. Deciding to take a vacation from ruling Hell, Lucifer (Ellis) travels to Los Angeles and opens a nightclub, enjoying the high life of LA parties while also assisting the LAPD in solving crimes by using his ability to draw out people’s inner most desires to help track down criminals. Though its first season received criticism for its reliance on the police procedural format, the subsequent seasons have received rave reviews, with most highlighting the performance of lead Ellis as the charismatic, evil yet conflicted antihero. In an interesting move last season, network Fox decided to move its final four episodes from its second season to its third, resulting in an elongated third season with the potential to run for nearly a whole year.
It holds the second-highest reviewed first season of every Marvel Cinematic Universe series from all corners of the TV empire, and yet it’s one of the most underrated of the Netflix adaptations. It’s name? Luke Cage. Following its titular character in his quest to save his hometown neighborhood of Harlem from the crime families running the area, the series’ blend of blaxploitation and modern political social commentary proved to be a marvel (wink, wink) for critics, but a little off-putting for some audiences. However, with a story entertaining from start to finish and a charming lead performance from Coulter that took his already fascinating character from the previous Jessica Jones and gave him the proper focus, this show proved to be a hit and earned a second season renewal just over two months after its release, which is set to premiere sometime in mid-late 2018.
Robert Kirkman has made a name for himself in the comic book industry as one of the most prolific writers of the modern generation, creating some of the most highly-celebrated franchises in the industry, including his most recent and thrilling horror series, Outcast. Following Kyle Barnes, a troubled man abused by his demonically possessed mother as a child, the show followed him as he and his town’s local priest fight against multiple possessions around town, as well as a menacing supernatural conspiracy occurring involving a mysterious man. The series earned largely positive reviews from critics and audiences upon release for its brooding atmosphere, outright shocks and chilling character development, and though it was renewed for a second season that has already premiered in the United Kingdom, American audiences have been on edge waiting for the return of the characters after its cliffhanger season one finale. The long-awaited premiere will finally hit the domestic airwaves sometime in July 2018, with the network’s executives stating that although the contracts on the actors have long lapsed, they are still hopeful for future seasons.
Frank Castle (a.k.a. The Punisher) always been one of the most fascinating and debated characters in Marvel’s hero catalogue, as his motives have always been noble in seeking to protect innocent people from criminals that deserved to be punished. Castle’s methods have always drawn criticism for their over-the-top violence and brutality, deeming himself judge, jury and executioner rather than let the justice system work. This moral debate was thoroughly explored in the character’s MCU introduction in the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil, and was explored even moreso in his solo series The Punisher. Following Frank Castle (Bernthal), the series picks up after he has seemingly exacted revenge on those responsible for his wife and child’s death, but soon he discovers a conspiracy that involves both the murder of his family and far bigger consequences for those around him. The series’ slow-burning first half was a focus of criticism contributing to its overall mixed reviews from critics, but the series did receive praise for its stylish action and performances from its cast, namely Bernthal in the titular role, as well as Barnes for his work on the evolving and developing character Billy Russo, who will later go on to become the popular villain Jigsaw. While its mixed critical reviews may have thrown some off from watching the series, Netflix announced it was indeed a ratings success and renewed the show for a second season.
A chain-smoking, alcoholic reverend possessed by a half-demon/half-angel granting him the power to command anyone to do what he says, a hundred-year-old vampire with an affinity for every drug ever discovered and all the booze in the world, and an ex/current girlfriend that can’t move on and wants to get back to their life of crime. It must be Preacher. The series follows this group of characters as they search for why the titular character (Cooper) is merged with this entity, as well as where God has gone after learning from two angels that the has abandoned his throne in Heaven. Its source material was certainly a bizarre and off-the-wall journey that would be a difficult one to bring to the screen, whether big or small, but thanks to its developers Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Sam Catlin, as well as its talented writers room and perfect casting, the show has remained thoroughly faithful to the comics and delivered a gleefully gory, over-the-top, funny and visually stellar ride for audiences, with two seasons receiving rave reviews from critics and audiences and has earned a third season from the cable network.
The announcement that a re-imagining of the long-running Archie Comics as a teen drama and murder mystery had initially sparked controversy and distaste amongst its fans, as the comic series had always had a lighter tone and straightforward stories. But when The CW’s Riverdale finally premiered in January of 2017, critics and audiences were blown away by the surprisingly faithful and fresh take on the comics that also proved to be thoroughly addicting for anyone watching it. Set around Archie Andrews and his group of friends and family living in the fictional small town, the series quickly gained a large fan base for its murder mystery that proved nearly impossible to solve for every viewer and has been a ratings hit for the network, earning it two seasons and even finding Netflix ordering a spin-off centered around Sabrina the Teenage Witch which itself has earned a two-season order.
So many comic television shows on the air today focus on adult characters who have not only discovered their abilities, but have also successfully built a life around these abilities and their goal of bringing justice to the public, so for a comic series to not only focus on teenagers struggling with these powers, but also to have to face off against their parents, is a unique and interesting change in formula, and Marvel/Hulu‘s Runaways captured this different take. Following six teenagers from different backgrounds who discover their parents make up a collective criminal supervillain group known as the Pride, the series received rave reviews from both critics and audiences for its faithfulness to the comics, fun tone and powerful performances from its diverse cast, which gave streaming service Hulu plenty of faith in renewing the show for a second season.
The live-action realm of DC Comics’ mainstay hero’s cousin has been a rough one, with her film debut back in 1984 opening to horrible reviews and a box office failure, and though her television debut in 2007 on The CW’s first superhero hit Smallville received generally positive reviews, her first hit live-action hit wouldn’t arrive for another eight years. In an interesting twist many didn’t see coming, CBS picked up the Kryptonian pilot to series with the initial plan to carry the series as its own with little connections to CW’s Arrowverse, aside from the crossover with The Flash late in their first season. Despite largely positive reviews and solid ratings, CBS was not impressed with the results for the money they were putting in and cancelled the series, with The CW finally picking up the series for a second season a little over two months following the cancellation. Since its move to the network carrying the other Arrowverse series, Supergirl has seen much better reviews from audiences and critics and is currently in its third season delivering solid ratings for the network.
Today’s audiences might be too young to know about, or even appreciate, the first attempt to bring the mighty blue hero to the small screen with Patrick Warburton in the lead role, but after years following its cancellation by Fox, Amazon decided to give the series a go at rebooting the franchise for the small screen with 2016’s The Tick. Gifted with the powers of super strength and nigh-invulnerability, the blue bug of justice (Serafanowicz) helps combat crime in The City (yes, it’s really called that) and determine whether his old nemesis The Terror is the figure behind the city’s underworld or if someone else is pulling the strings. Very much in line with its predecessor adaptation, the series has earned largely positive reviews from critics for its tongue-in-cheek humor, thrilling action and warm-hearted storytelling.
The Walking Dead
Despite a couple of roughly-reviewed recent seasons, its large fan base and impressive ratings for a cable network has carried The Walking Dead to eight current seasons and a ninth season planned for a late 2018 debut. Set in post-apocalyptic southern states and east coast in America, the series follows a group of survivors, led by former sheriff Rick Grimes, in a zombie-infested world as they struggle to not only live in a safe place, but also fight other groups more dangerous than the walkers. Over the course of its eight-year run, it has been one of the highest-rated cable series in television history and while its more deliberate pacing in the past couple of seasons has divided fans, its gruesome action, breathtaking performances and faithfulness to its source material has made it a huge hit.
The monster-hunting formula in a TV series is definitely one that has become well-worn in recent times, with the return of Fox’s The X-Files bringing back the original monster hunters, FBI Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, while The CW’s Supernatural has offered modern audiences a more grounded and connectable pair with the Winchester brothers, Sam and Dean. Though there have been other series that have attempted to recreate the success of these hits, the one that has lasted for a solid amount of time so far and been a strong hit has been Wynonna Earp, Syfy’s adaptation of the hit comic character. The great-great-granddaughter of the famous 1800s lawman is tasked with battling revenants and other supernatural beings using her ancestor’s 16-inch barrel “Peacemaker” revolver that can kill these supernatural enemies. Not only has the series received increasingly positive reviews from critics, but its audience fan base has progressively grown larger and helped to actually raise the ratings in its second season, which series creator Emily Andras credits as the reason behind the decision to renew the supernatural western horror for a third season.