10 Best Live-Action Shows Based on Comic Books - Mania.com

Agents of SHIELD Feature

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10 Best Live-Action Shows Based on Comic Books

Can SHIELD Compete?

By Michael Henley     September 19, 2013
Source: Mania.com

It seems such a natural fit. Comic books are well-known for their ensemble of colorful characters, long-form storytelling, soapy twists, cool visuals and sometimes endless continuity. In other words, comic books feel like they could easily be adapted for television, especially within the new television model where every show is serialized and lends itself to obsessive detail-tracking and binge-watching. As Joss Whedon  and co. are about to embark on an exciting journey called Agents of SHIELD, we wish them luck…and also remember some of the better live-action TV shows that were born out of the funny pages.
The Adventures of Superman (Syndicated. 1952-1958)

The Adventures of Superman hasn’t aged completely well. The flying scenes wouldn’t wow anyone these days, and the series shuns most of Supe’s rogues gallery in favor of boilerplate bank robbers, burglars, and so on. And some may have zero interest in a Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates, then replaced by Noel Neill) who is spunky and brassy in a very quaint, 1950’s-style way. But beneath it all is a genuine attempt to capture the essence of the world’s most sincere and square-jawed superhero, anchored by a phenomenal performance by George Reeves. 
Batman (NBC. 1966-1968)

There are two types of Batman fans: those who can appreciate the campy swagger of the 60’s TV series, and those who can’t. To be sure, the televised exploits of the dynamic duo Batman and Robin (Adam West, Burt Ward) couldn’t be more different than the gritty tales of the Dark Knight that have now become preferred. But history has taught us there is room for multiple interpretations of Batman, and if you can get into the spirit of it all, the classic TV series is a hoot, brimming with satire and comedy (plus some light innuendo for the adults), and providing memorable turns for much of Batman’s colorful, expansive rogues gallery.
The Incredible Hulk (CBS. 1977-1982)

The Incredible Hulk was a series that permeated the pop culture consciousness, and with good reason. Blending the story of Bruce Banner and his green counterpart with the structure of the classic series The Fugitive (wanted man goes from town to town and helps out, while being pursued), Incredible Hulk was family-friendly entertainment that was bolstered by two great performances: Bill Bixby as Bruce Banner, and wrestler Lou Ferrigno as The Hulk himself. Plus, Incredible Hulk once even featured a guest appearance by the Asgardian Thor, giving us a taste of a true superhero team-up. At the time, that was as good as we thought we would get.
Tales from the Crypt (HBO. 1989-1996)

An anthology series for the HBO era with heavy dollops of gore and nudity (based on the EC comics series printed in the 1950’s), Tales from the Crypt is like a grotesque mirror of the clean-cut Eisenhower-era Twilight Zone, where Rod Serling is replaced with a sneering, cackling rotting corpse (The Cryptkeeper), who tells us bizarre stories that channel the depths of human (and supernatural) perversion and indecency. Featuring a who’s-who of guest stars (either celebrities then or celebrities to be) and a roster of behind the scenes talent that included Richard Donner, Robert Zemeckis, Tobe Hooper, William Friedkin, John Frankenheimer and more, Tales from the Crypt was a cult sensation, and the Cryptkeeper became an icon, perhaps because beneath his horrific visage and groan-worthy pun dialogue, he best represented Tales from the Crypt’s deeply twisted—but still sincere—morality.
The Flash (CBS. 1990-1991)

Heavily indebted to the previous year’s triumphant release of Tim Burton’s Batman in theaters, The Flash had style, not-bad special effects, and a winning pair of leads in John Wesley Shipp and Amanda Pays (as the CSI-tech-turned-superhero and the scientist who monitors his changing biology). Plus, it wasn’t afraid to celebrate the goofier aspects of the character and get crazy villains in on the action, including Mark Hamill as the foppish psychopath magician known as The Trickster. Also, check out Shirley Walker’s terrific musical score, which builds upon a spectacular title theme by Danny Elfman. Currently, a new Flash series is in development, and while the original isn’t exactly hard to top, it’s far too much of a fascinating time capsule to even try to imitate.
Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (ABC. 1993-1997)

This romantic comedy-styled retelling of Superman began so well, taking a light approach to the Man of Steel and featuring spectacular chemistry between star Dean Cain and up-and-comer Teri Hatcher. And it also gave us John Shea’s deliciously slimy performance as corporate CEO Lex Luthor, and some neat superhero theatrics (the flying scenes, by the way…still not good). Then the series slowly dissolved into silly stuff, needlessly postponing Lois and Clark’s marriage and throwing in ludicrous twists just because. But at its best, it was frothy comic book entertainment of a high order.
Smallville (The WB/The CW 2001-2011)

And here’s another Superman series (boy, networks just never tire of Kal-El, do they?) The longest-living series on this list, Smallville borrowed the premise of the 1988 series Superboy, focusing on Clark Kent’s young life as he struggled to one day become Superman. But Smallville took this improbable starting point and did it right, expressing a grounded philosophy (“No tights, no flights” was the motto, which seems wise). The series ultimately explored Clark Kent’s human side without shirking his alien nature. And by the end of it all, practically an entire DC roll call visited Smallville, making it the bustling Tatooine of the Superman universe.
The Tick (FOX. 2001-2002)

A very funny live-action comedy (sister series to an animated version that ran from 1994-1996) based on the comic created by Ben Edlund, The Tick cast invaluable comic actor Patrick Warburton (best known as “Puddy” from Seinfeld) as the big blue superhero, a good-hearted doofus with an insane streak only made worse by his near-indestructability. This send-up of comic book heroes was too good to last more than one season, which left many loyal viewers royally tick-ed off.
The Walking Dead (AMC. 2010-present)

Certainly this one needs no introduction. Currently one of the biggest hits on TV and a boffo ratings smash for the AMC network, The Walking Dead tells the story of a zombie apocalypse told through the eyes of a ragtag group of survivors. And although the flesh-eating ghouls nipping at their heels are nothing to sneeze at, the real villainy comes from within the human ranks, as the end of the world causes values and mores to be tested to their breaking points. Human monsters like David Morrissey’s Governor vie for power while zombies plague the land and even heroic characters must make awful choices. The Walking Dead is the story of a society caught in mid-implosion, with every subsequent step shown in agonizing, soul-crushing slow motion.
Arrow (The CW. 2012-present)

The superhero genre has been sort of dormant on television for a long while, but not for lack of trying. Aquaman was produced as a WB pilot, to little success, and the WB series Birds of Prey was nothing to crow about. A few years ago, NBC produced a Wonder Woman reboot pilot with producer David E. Kelley involved, to absolutely dreadful results. This adaptation of The Green Arrow was greeted with perhaps inevitable skepticism, but it’s a clever, inventive and fun take on the hero’s mythology, telling the story of playboy Oliver Queen and his efforts to be an urban vigilante with a bow and arrow. Smart storylines make this one better than you might expect. To be sure it’s a small-budget superhero soap that never forgets it airs on the CW network, but since when have such limitations ever stopped true fans?


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BunyonSnipe 9/19/2013 1:48:45 AM
I would still like to see a live action SECRET SIX TV series set in a seperate comic based universe with Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman et al as 'villains' of the week...
Iridan 9/19/2013 4:48:45 AM

I love Arrow. My favorite show on TV right now.

I still will watch the old Batman show once in a while when it comes on. I still find it funny.

Haven't seen the old Superman in years. I'd like to see some of them again, the same with the Hulk.

therockdltj 9/19/2013 5:15:27 AM

I still love watching Tales from the Crypt.

karas1 9/19/2013 5:35:29 AM

Smallville kept the "no flights, no tights"  motto long after it became silly to do so.  During the last few seasons Clark ran with a young Justice League under the psudeonym The Blur with a black leather jacket as a costume.  Since Superman in the comics never had a name other than Superman/boy or wore a costume other than the red and blue longjohns that didn't make much sense.  Also, every other Kryptonian who came to Earth had no trouble flying.  Why shouldn't Clark be able to learn that trick easily?  It was all to cater to Tom Welling who didn't want to look silly in a classic Superman costume pretending to fly.

IMHO they should have just bit the bullet and used the classic costume.

Also, The Hulk featured David Banner, not Bruce.  I suppose the name Bruce wasn't cool enough for them or something.


DarkXid 9/19/2013 6:05:31 AM

 Haters gonna hate.  Adam West's Batman was awesome and likely helped saved the comic and rooted the character in pop culture and the public conciousness.  Yeah, it was purposefully goofy and stupid.  And if your heart isn't big enough for more than one version of Batman...okay, five or six including this one.  I feel sorry for you.  

The concept of Batman and most superheroes is kind of goofy and stupid when you get down to it, and the seriousness to which people take their opinions of the imaginary characters is freaking madness itself, but what a sad world we'd live in without them.

I totally agree with you on this list and I send you my respect for including Tales from the Crypt on the list.  I loved watching it when I was a kid.  God it was demented fun and I loved any chance to see boobs and hot women being, well, hot!  These were the days before the internet was everywhere kids!

Plus the stories were awesome.  I still remember quite a few of the ones that stuck with me through the years and I will think back on their twilight zone like horror plot twists.  My favorites were Korman's  Calamity with Harry Anderson and the very awesome Colleen Camp.  The episode with Bobcat Goldswith and Don Rickles...oh dear God, still gives me shivers.  The Switch with William Hickey.  That episode with Demi Moore.  And the twist ending for The Secret that had Larry Drake, was one of my favorites.

My oddest love of Tales comes into contact with one of my other loves.  I love Christmas music and am not a big fan of music recorded past the mid-1960's for the most part.  (It may be a nostalgia thing, I don't know).  But, the Tales from the Crypt Christmas Album 'Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas' is in my rotation.  And it's one my family, friends and coworkers have shaken their head about for years.

DarkXid 9/19/2013 6:07:47 AM

The repeated story about renaming the character David Banner is that some producer or studio type didn't want to use the name "Bruce" in The Incredible Hulk because it was too gay of a name.  

But they put it on his headstone.

Eldogg42 9/19/2013 6:13:19 AM

Also, Lou Ferigno was NOT a wrestler.  He was a Body Builder.  Big difference, since a BB usually has little to no acting ability.  He did a great job considering.  One of the classic Comic TV shows. 

The Flash was great. and it was just getting better.  By the end of the season, they were starting to introduce a bunch of his rogue gallery.  The potential was there.  But when Shipp came out as gay, the networks wouldn't stand by him and dumped the series entirely.  Differnent time back then.

Smallvile: They actually addressed his inability to fly, when all the other kryptonians could.  It was all about is insecurities and his inability to follow his destiny.  It was a common theme they used through out the show.  Thats why when he fully embraced who he was and his destiny in the finale, he flew.

lusiphur 9/19/2013 6:17:10 AM

 You're partially right karas1.

"Johnson changed the name of the Hulk's comic book alter ego, Dr. Bruce Banner, to Dr. David Banner for the TV series. This change was made, according to Johnson, because he did not want the series to be perceived as a comic book series, so he wanted to change what he felt was a staple of comic books, and Stan Lee's comics in particular, that major characters frequently had alliterative names.[9] According to Lou Ferrigno, it was also changed because CBS thought the name Bruce sounded "too gay-ish," a rationale that Ferrigno thought was "the most absurd, ridiculous thing I'd ever heard."[10] On the DVD commentary of the pilot, Johnson says that it was a way to honor his son David. "Bruce" ultimately became the TV Banner's middle name, as it had been in the comics. It is visible on Banner's tombstone at the end of the pilot movie, and that footage is shown at the beginning of every episode of the series." - Wikipedia

It was the old "lets make a series based on a comic book but not make it look like a comic book series.  It's the same mindset that went into the Dolph Lundgren Punisher movie.

I wish they'd called him something other than "The Blur" too.  I have the same problem with Oliver Queen being called "The Hood" on Arrow.  I'm also hoping they tone down the body count on Arrow this season too.  It doesn't matter if he's killing criminals, it's still murder.  Not exactly a role model I'd want my kids (if I had any) to look up to.

DarthBob 9/19/2013 6:32:59 AM

Sorry but Wonder Woman was way better than The Tick; plus Lynda Carter had a stellar rack!

kinetoscope 9/19/2013 7:16:48 AM

 Batman was a great watch for my youth. I would drop everything to make to watch it. That show gave me my first crush, Catwoman! Also Batgirl was a babe and I am sad that she only got a pilot episode of her own show. Shazam and Isis were okay back in the day. Wonder Woman became my second crush. Lynda Carter had no waist and it is still amazing to see how she looked in the costume. Smallville had such a long extensive character list that really made the entire DC universe work togther. I am enjoying Arrow, but I did like how fast he got his "bat cave." I think that could have been a good storyline how he made the different parts of his cave as he needed them, develpoing more story. But, I can look past that. I am excited to hear that Flash will show up 3 times. I wonder if GA and Flash would be used as part of the Justice League movie? The could introduce other characters on this show, set up bad guys. They could even develop Lex Luther for the Batman VS Superman movie.  

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