Jumping Genres: A Guide to Comics on Television!

 

Here are breakdowns of most of the comic book shows on television right now. The opinions expressed are mine and by no means definitive, but hopefully they will help guide some of you who are overwhelmed with all the comic stuff flooding the small screen.

 

#1. Arrow

1. Arrow

Overview:

The show that kicked off the Berlanti-verse (Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl). This series got a rough start with many of the trademark CW melodramatic moments–love triangles, will-they won’t-they, unrequited/doomed romances—but over the five seasons of its run, Arrow has found a groove. Stephen Amell’s charm might be the only reason this show has stuck around for as long as it has.

From the Comics:

Arrow pulls many tropes and characters from the world of Batman, which is understandable since Green Arrow was created in 1941 to play off of the popularity of the Caped Crusader. He started as a billionaire playboy that had an Arrowcar, Arrow-Cave, Arrow-Signal, and a teenage sidekick. Not many of the story-lines are accurate to the comics, but the main character remains faithful in his actions, if not in his facial hair.

Recommended Reading:

Green Lantern/Green Arrow by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams

Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell

Quiver by Kevin Smith, Phil Hester, and Ande Parks

Final Opinion:

Worth watching if you’re trying to keep up on the crossovers with Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. Still ripe with a semi-tolerable amount of eye-rolling melodrama.


#2. The Flash

2. Flash

Overview:

The Flash has never been afraid to be what it is—a show based on a comic book. The creators’ formula has been related to Heart, Humor, and Spectacle. This shines through regardless of the stories. There are some great actors and an amazing rouge’s gallery. The faults this show has are minor and forgivable when held up to its light.

From the Comics:

Like Arrow, The Flash relies heavily on original story-telling, but remains true to the main characters. Many of the villains and plot lines actually come from the period of time that Wally West was the Flash throughout the 90’s, which was a popular stretch of that character’s history. The ties to the comics are most often broken in the identities of several key characters. This can be frustrating for fans, but keeps viewers guessing about the motives and secrets of the show’s big bads.

Recommended Reading:

Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Perez

The Flash (vol. 2) #62-159 by Mark Waid, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, and others.

Flashpoint by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert

Final Opinion:

This is one of the best comic book shows on television. It is lighthearted, fun, and unapologetic about its comic roots.


#3. Legends of Tomorrow

3. Legends of Tomorrow

Overview:

This is a venue for the growing cast of Flash and Arrow to stretch their legs. Legends benefits from the ensemble cast, which, along with the time-traveling aspect, gives it a diversity in story-telling not possible in its progenitors. Aside from Victor Garber, none of the actors are exactly Shakespearian, but they have personality, and that’s really the heart of the show.

From the Comics:

Almost nothing from Legends is taken from comics. Jefferson Jackson, Sara Lance, and Jonas Hunter are original characters to the show, and the backgrounds of almost all of the characters barely resemble their comic book counterparts. The Atom also does not have Iron Man armor. The saving throw is that, because of the time travel motif, these stories occur mostly outside of the other shows’ continuity.

Recommended Reading:

            Rip Hunter…Time Master (1961-1965) by Will Ely and others

Time Masters , Lewis Shiner, Tim Truman, and Art Thibert

            52 by Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen and others

Final Opinion:

Legends is still young and I am interested in seeing where the first season goes. Although it is entertaining, I’m hoping season two will have steadier footing, but I’m on board.


#4. Supergirl

4. Supergirl

Overview:

Supergirl has a lot of the same charms of Greg Berlanti’s other shows (Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow). They make sure to beat you over the head with the fact that she doesn’t need Superman to save her, while dangling the carrot for fans that he might someday appear to save her. Melissa Benoist is very charming and does a great job of balancing the dorky alter-ego and the bad-ass powerhouse. The inclusion of Martian Manhunter caused my fanboy heart to skip and makes up for Calista Flockhart chewing the scenery every episode.

From the Comics:

TV Supergirl’s origin is accurate to the most accepted origin of comic Supergirl (there are several) aside from her secret identity being Kara Danvers instead of Linda Danvers. Cat Grant’s superiority complex is accurate. They have been pitting Kara against most of the female enemies of Superman as well as villains from different runs of her own series. J’onn J’onzz, Sam Lane, and Maxwell Lord are very well cast and written with the essence of the comic characters. James Olsen is another story. I don’t understand the decision to cast Jimmy Olsen as a chiseled heartthrob and write him as a leading ladies’ man. I’m fine with choosing a different ethnicity, but at least write for the character you’re portraying from the source material.

Recommended Reading:

Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Perez

Supergirl (1996) by Peter David

Supergirl and The Legion of Superheroes by Mark Waid and Tony Bedard

Final Opinion:

Supergirl is fun and has a lot of good moments and characters. Kara’s personal life is mostly annoying, but the superhero stuff more than makes up for it. The show is better than a majority of Supergirl comics.


#5. Gotham

5. Gotham

Overview:

This show attempts to give us stories of Gotham City before the appearance of Batman. After a first season of Jada Pinkett Smith gnawing through her lines, they’ve attempted to over-correct by adding a ton of villains to the second season. This has only made for a temporary hook, due to bad acting and shallow, forced plots.

From the Comics:

Almost nothing is from the comics aside from the names of the characters. None of the stories, origins, characterizations, or histories add up to anything resembling the comics. Fans hoped to get Gotham Central, a comic depicting life at the Gotham City Police Department, following Renee Montoya, Crispus Allen, Harvey Bullock, Maggie Sawyer, and others as they fought to maintain order in a city where a vigilante rules the night. That is not what we got. Grow a mustache, Gordon!

Recommended Reading:

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli

Batman: Officer Downby Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Chuck Dixon, and others

            Gotham Central by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, and Michael Lark

Final Opinion:

Skip it. Gotham doesn’t really know whether it wants to be a police procedural, a crime drama, or a comic book show, and it fails on all fronts.


#6. Lucifer

6. Lucifer

Overview:

Lucifer is charming, or rather, Tom Ellis is charming. But, so far, this show is another police drama in the vein of The Mentalist, Bones, Castle, Elementary, Sleepy Hollow, Rosewood, Psych, Hannibal, and a dozen more shows where a quirky non-police person helps police solve crimes.

From the Comics:

Lucifer himself comes from the pages of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. His solo series has Amenadiel and Mazikeen in it, but Chloe Decker is a TV original. Lucifer quits Hell and opens a nightclub called Lux in both the show and the book. That’s pretty much the extent of the likenesses. The comic is very much not about him helping police solve crimes for some kind of existential satisfaction.

Recommended Reading:

Sandman: Season of Mists (and the rest of Sandman) by Neil Gaiman

Lucifer by Mike Carey and others

Lucifer (vol. 2) by Holly Black and Lee Garbett

Final Opinion:

Lucifer is not a bad show, but it is a bad comic book show. If you’re watching because you’re a fan of the comics, you’ll be disappointed.


#7. iZombie

7. iZombie

Overview:

iZombie has an interesting hook. I was worried at the beginning that the premise would get very thin, very quickly. Shows get a first season on a premise, they get a fifth season on story and characters. But the cast is charming enough to keep me interested, and the second season has broken out of the formulaic police procedural premise enough to hold my attention.

From the Comics:

The show doesn’t really have much to do with the comics at all, other than the main plot device of eating brains and gaining the traits and memories of its former owner. Not one of the characters or even the city it takes place in are taken from the book.

Recommended Reading:

iZOMBIE by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred

Final Opinion:

I can recommend this show based on the cast, and the story is intriguing, but as a comic based television property, it really just steals the name and premise from the source material.


#8. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

8. S.H.I.E.L.D. Overview:

The amount of tenacity this show has is impressive. It is a rare example of a corporate mandate being embraced to positive effect. Phil Coulson was killed in The Avengers, but everyone liked the character and Clark Gregg so much, they brought him back in his own show. The first season suffered greatly due to having to treading water until Captain America: Winter Soldier was released in theaters, but it has found its footing since. The show works best when it works with the movies as opposed to operating as a separate entity.

From the Comics:

None of the main characters are initially from the comics. Sky has been retconned to be Daisy Johnson, Quake, who was Nick Fury’s pet project for a short time in the comics. Coulson has since been added to the comic universe due to his popularity. The show has to follow very strict guidelines about which characters and stories it can use, so that it doesn’t step on the movies’ shoes, but they do a decent job of incorporating some recognizable figures and easter eggs.

Recommended Reading:

S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jim Steranko

Secret War by Brian Michael Bendis and Gabriele Dell’Otto

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. By Marc Guggenheim and German Peralta

Final Opinion:

If you are a fan of the movies, it is worth watching. If you are a fan of the comics, there are an increasing number of things in this show to be excited about.


#9. Marvel’s Agent Carter

 9. Agent Carter

Overview:

This is what a strong female lead looks like. The second season may not have been as enthralling as the first, but Hayley Atwell still brings a believable performance. Agent Carter gives us a look at the roots of organizations we see in other Marvel properties, such as the Roxxon Corporation and S.H.I.E.L.D. And we get to see a live action Jarvis, which I’ve wanted since the Iron Man movie.

From the Comics:

Not much of this show is directly from the pages of the comics. There have, however, been stories retconned into the comics to make them closer to the movie properties. Peggy Carter is Captain America’s love interest during WWII, but Cap settles for Sharon Carter later on. Sharon has been written as Peggy’s younger sister, niece, daughter, and grand daughter in various stories as necessary due to Marvel’s sliding timeline and Steve Rogers originally being thawed out in the early 60’s.

Recommended Reading:

Tales of Suspense #77 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Captain America: Peggy Carter, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by various

            Agent Carter: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary by Kathryn Immonen and Rich Ellis

Final Opinion:

The first season is excellent and worth your time. The second season is less so, but still enjoyable.


#10. Daredevil

10. Daredevil

Overview:

Daredevil is how street-level superheroes need to be depicted. Take away the Hollywood budget and CGI factory and—Just. Tell. Stories! This show brings realism to the medium without being ashamed of its comic roots. The addition of so many supporting characters only strengthens its merit.

From the Comics:

Most of the story is from Frank Miller’s various runs on the original title and his Daredevil: The Man Without Fear mini-series. The rooftop encounter between Punisher and Daredevil is taken from Garth Ennis’ Punisher: Welcome Home Frank series. Almost every character and most of the stories are from the books. The look and feel of this show is straight off the panel.

Recommended Reading:

Daredevil by Frank Miller

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.

Daredevil vs. Punisher: Means and Endsby David Lapham

Final Opinion:

Daredevil is one of the best episodic comic adaptations out there. It contains the best of both the television and the comic world.


#11. Jessica Jones

11. Jessica Jones

Overview:

Jessica Jones introduces us to Luke Cage, which is worth the watch. Krysten Ritter, while not bad, doesn’t embody Jessica Jones for me. I enjoyed this series, but would have been much happier with Heroes for Hire or Luke Cage/Iron Fist instead. David Tennant was a great Purple Man, even though he was neither referred to as such, nor was he purple. The writers seemed afraid to embrace the comic roots of this show, and that is where is was less successful than Daredevil for me.

From the Comics:

Jones is a very marginal character in the comics, and was a last minute substitution for a Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman) story that Brian Michael Bendis wanted to tell, but was told he couldn’t use that character. She had a Marvel Max series, which is Marvel’s adult imprint. Jones is never actually raped by the Purple Man in the books. He forces her to love him with all her heart, then cuckolds her for several months, which, Jessica says in the book, is worse. Jessica is, however, drunkenly sodomized (consensually) by Luke Cage.

Recommended Reading:

Alias #24-28 by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos

The Pulse by Brian Michael Bendis and others

Night Nurse by Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev and others

Final Opinion:

            Jessica Jones is a pretty good show with some very slow parts. The satisfaction comes from knowing it is leading to other things.

 


#12. The Walking Dead

 12. Walking Dead

Overview:

This is a show about the break down of civilization more than it is about zombies. Character development is the core of Walking Dead. It is difficult to judge the extreme actions of these people while asking yourself what you would do in their shoes. That is the key for me—Walking Dead makes you ask yourself hard questions, and regardless of any other factors, that makes successful fiction.

From the Comics:

Robert Kirkman, the writer of the comic series, is in the writers’ room for the show, and that is a rare thing in comic adaptations. The show follows the comic’s major events pretty closely, but takes a lot of liberties with the details. Kirkman has said this is deliberate in order to keep fans guessing and keep the show fresh. As a fan, this strategy can be equally effective and annoying. Most of the characters are spot on to their comic counterparts except Carol, Tyreese, and the Governor, who barely resemble the comic versions. Daryl and Merle have never been in the comics.

Recommended Reading:

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard

Final Opinion:

This show is a must watch for comic fans and non-comic readers alike. It is simply great television.


#13. Powers

13. Powers 

Overview:

This is a show based on a Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming comic. Kind of. The acting is really bad all around from everyone except Eddie Izzard. I found very little to like about this show. I can’t honestly say I’ll be watching any of the upcoming second season.

From the Comics:

The show takes some of the characters from the book, but the story is very different. The first arc is called Who Killed Retro Girl? So, Retro Girl is dead for the entirety of the series. I have not read every issue of Powers, so I don’t know whether there are flashbacks in the later issues that explore her, Wolfe, and Johnny Royalle, but they are not major players in the comics I have read and don’t last very long.

Recommended Reading:

Powers by Brian Michael Bendis

Final Opinion:

This is one of the worst current comic adaptations. If you have read the comics, don’t watch this. If you have not read the comics, definitely don’t watch this.


There are other comic properties on television such as Wynonna Earp, but I felt it was too early in the series to give a fair review. If I have missed any of the others, it’s because I have not watched or read them, so I wouldn’t be able to make any educated comments about them. Hopefully this was helpful in deciding which shows to choose in your busy life and which to avoid. It makes me happy that there are so many comic book shows to choose from, and that so many of them are being made with such quality and heart by earnest creators that have the same love for comics that we do.

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