Comic Book Shows: The Definitive Live-Action List

Have we reached peak comic book shows?

We’re living in the heyday of shows based on comic book properties. There was a time when live action shows came out every couple years and the quality was always questionable. Shows like Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, and Smallville were few and far between. We’d gnaw on every little morsel thrown our way in hopes it would boost ratings leading to more adaptations. Remember Ultraverse’s Night Man? Or The Crow: Stairway to Heaven?

How the times have changed. In the first half of 2018, there are were nearly 30 shows based on comic books. It isn’t slowing down. The already long list will be joined this fall by Titans (please be good enough to justify a “Titans Hunt” storyline), Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and possibly Umbrella Academy. 2019’s new comic book shows include Doom Patrol, Deadly Class, and The Boys. If we want to keep our sanity (and have a social life) we need to now make sacrifices of shows instead of sacrificing our free time for questionable quality.

With impending comic book show doom on the horizon, I thought it might be a good time to take stock of what’s out there and what brings me joy. Below is a list of live action comic books shows I’m currently watching and what I think about each one. At the end are shows I stopped watching and shows I’ve yet to watch.

Note: This article about comic book shows is full of spoilers about every single one of these shows.

Gotham

Comic Book Shows: Gotham

GOTHAM: L-R: Cory Michael Smith and Robin Lord Taylor in the Mad City: Anything For You episode of GOTHAM ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Jeff Neumann/FOX.

To put it simply: Gotham is mad as a hatter.

Gotham had a rough season one and, unfortunately, a large contingent of loud fans who didn’t stick with the show are still critiquing it based on that first impression. This show really came into its own when it realized it wasn’t the story of the Gotham PD or the evolution of Batman, but instead was the origin of the villains who necessitated the rise of Batman. This is why this show is so perfect because it isn’t afraid of walking right up to the line of absurdist madcap villainy and stepping right over while maniacally laughing.

There are few shows that make me audibly gasp or squeal, but Gotham somehow manages to pull off a moment like that in every episode. This personal anecdote is brought to you by my wife who once said she knows when I’m watching Gotham because of the sounds I make. The Gotham showrunners and actors manage to make us care about most of these characters while not taking itself too seriously.

After the first two seasons, I’ve even come around on David Mazouz’s Bruce Wayne. Originally, I felt the show would have been better served with Bruce Wayne going off to boarding school and not even being in the show. His character was a drag on season one and it felt shoe-horned into the show. However, by the end of season three, I was happy to have him around (although the lack of schooling thing still bugs me. Can we get one scene of Bruce studying forensics?).

This show is all about the evolution of these Batman characters and, predominantly, Jim Gordon and Oswald Cobblepot. The future Gotham PD Commissioner always wanted to do the right thing but that isn’t easy in a city as rotten to the core as Gotham. Gordon needed to find how he could put himself in a position of change while working within this corrupt system. Unfortunately, he had to define his own moral compass, and ride the edge of it, in order to get there. He’s flawed, just like all of us, but he learns from his mistakes and we get to see him build his personal moral code around decisions he’s had to make during his career.

Penguin, on the other hand, takes the opposite path. He tries to learn from his lessons but he craves power and recognition at any cost. Even when he sort of tries to go legit as Mayor he can’t help but screw it up because his moral code leaves room to betray loose allies for personal gain. He’s a terrible person but we’re occasionally forced to cheer for him because he isn’t the worst of the worst.

I could go on and on and on about this show, and perhaps I will in the future, but there are more shows to cover…

Gotham season five arrives in 2019.

Legion

Comic Book Shows: Legion

LEGION L-R: Dan Stevens and Aubrey Plaza

Congratulations to Legion for being unafraid of taking the mold of a superhero show and smashing it into little bits. Season one of Legion is perfection. It easily holds its own against similarly engaging artistic boundary-breaking shows like Hannibal, season three of Twin Peaks, and American Horror Story: Asylum. Dan Stevens phenomenal performance as the psychically tortured David Haller is enhanced by the equally pitch-perfect performance of Aubrey Plaza as Lenny.

The only reason Legion isn’t number one on this list is due to a slightly weaker season two. It occasionally felt like the show was going over much of the same ground as season one and in the middle started to feel redundant. Season two stuck the landing but season three will need to figure out a way to leave the Shadow King in the past.

*cough* Mojo *cough*

Legion season three arrives in 2019.

Luke Cage

Comic Book Shows: Luke Cage

LUKE CAGE: Mike Colter

Luke Cage rises to the top of Netflix’s Marvel shows thanks to two solid seasons of gripping storytelling and powerhouse acting. Mike Colter as Luke Cage is, of course, a well-built house, but he’s held up by the strongest foundation of all of these shows. Who knew after watching season one that Shades would become one of the most sympathetic characters in season two? And who wouldn’t consider Alfre Woodard the co-star of the show? Of course, we can’t forget the continuing development of Misty Knight and Claire Temple.

Luke Cage season three has yet to be confirmed.

Legends of Tomorrow

Comic Book Shows: Legends of Tomorrow

LEGENDS OF TOMORROW: L-R Matt Ryan and Caity Lotz

If you’re looking for ridiculous comic book joycore you don’t need to look much farther than Legends of Tomorrow. Legends of Tomorrow, unlike Arrow and Flash, ditches the depressing high drama and instead revels in absurdist Silver Age-era inspired storylines. It does have its fair share of imperfect episodes but that hardly matters when the cast is clearly having so much fun. The tone of Legends is what Flash should be.

The big bonus of season four? We get John Constantine in a nude scene.

Legends of Tomorrow season four arrives October 22, 2018.

Jessica Jones

Comic Books Shows: Jessica Jones

JESSICA JONES: Krysten Ritter

The first season of Jessica Jones was near perfection. Expectations going into season two were understandably high and, unfortunately, it nearly missed the mark. Much of the problem with season two comes from familiarity. Once again, we’re exploring Jessica’s past (which, if I think about it, is the theme of nearly all of these Netflix superhero shows) and it doesn’t feel like she has the chance to grow. It wasn’t until the last five or so episodes that I truly felt engaged with again and cared about where the characters were going. Still, Krysten Ritter, much like Mike Colter, has enough charisma to keep the show above water for another season.

Bonus: I’d watch 13 episodes of Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeri Hogarth running a firm like a badass.

Sadly, season three will be the final season for show creator Melissa Rosenberg.

Jessica Jones season three will likely arrive in 2019.

Preacher

Comic Book Shows: Preacher

PREACHER L-R: Ruth Negga and Julia Ann Emery

Preacher is one of my top five favorite comic series of all time. I wasn’t optimistic about the comic being translated into a television show. The first season definitely let me down. The high points included DeBlanc, Fiore, and the Saint of Killers. While Ruth Negga and Joe Gilgun are perfect in their respective roles of Tulip and Cassidy.

However, the season felt like a show that stalled getting out of the gates. Annville was just kinda boring to spend time in. It wasn’t until our main cast headed to New Orleans in season two that Preacher finally figured out what it wanted to be. It was helped significantly by the introduction of Herr Starr and the Grail. Season three struggles to square the southern gothic of Gran’ma and Angelville with the high tech blasphemy of The Grail. Some of the seasons best moments are Cassidy flirting with becoming a stereotypical vampire, Tulip and Agent Featherstone (can we just get a Tulip/Featherstone spin-off?), Jesse’s complicated relationship with Jody, and, of course, everything Herr Starr.

The other minor quibble with the third season of Preacher is it ends up being a set up for a yet to be renewed season four. There are high stakes on the line (It’s time to play some fucking checkers!) and we deserve closure.

Preacher has not been renewed or canceled.

Krypton

Comic Book Show: Krypton

KRYPTON — Season:1 — Pictured: Cameron Cuffe as Seg-El — (Photo by: Gavin Bond/Syfy)

Like most people, I didn’t know what to expect from Krypton. How can you build an entire series around the planet of Krypton 200 years before Superman? Will it be a new Caprica (which I didn’t entirely hate)? If it wasn’t for the promise of Brainiac at the end of the end of the first episode (who should really have made it to a big screen Superman film by now) I’m not sure I would have stuck around for the first three episodes. I’m thankful I did because that last half of the season was completely worth the time investment. And can I talk about the cliffhangers? Seg and Brainiac getting sucked into the Phantom Zone like Dracula and Van Helsing at the end of Monster Squad. Doomsday. The Zod family emblem on Superman’s cape. Zod mobilizing for Kryptonian domination of the galaxy. Season two has a promising setup.

Related Article: Which DC Characters Should We See in Krypton Season Two?

Krypton season two will arrive in 2019.

Cloak and Dagger

Comic Book Show: Cloak and Dagger

CLOAK AND DAGGER: Olivia Holt

I’m a Cloak and Dagger fanboy but I had fairly low expectations for this new series. I thought this was going to be one of those shows I’d throw on in the background and sort of eyeball while I did other things around the house. Damn, did it grab me and make me sit down and watch. This is the sort of show I would have wanted to see on television when I was a teenager. It talks about serious issues while treating teenagers like humans with their own emotions. Some of the topics addressed in the first season include death, grief, social pressure, living up to expectations, overcoming self-loathing, domestic abuse, and racial profiling. Tyrone’s subplot with the basketball team is relatable to any kid dealing with tragedy but is still expected to rise to the occasion. Tandy’s subplot about her inability to connect with her mother reflects real struggles experienced by families when a parent is killed.

Where the show really clicks is when Tyrone and Tandy start overcoming their trust issues. Episode 7, “The Lotus Eaters,” while a bit of a self-contained episode, is probably the most important for the relationship of the duo. It provided Tandy an opportunity to grow emotionally by dealing with unresolved issues following the death of her father. Cleverly, by having her stuck in a time loop that moved faster than real time the writers were able to help Tandy gain greater mastery of her powers. The first moment she throws her light daggers is iconic.

We’ve watched Tandy’s powers evolve at an accelerated pace during this season but Tyrone takes a bit longer to come into his superheroic own. His big moments finally arrive in the last episode which suggests more action for season two. First, we have the scene where he manages to herd the infected like sheep by teleporting around the room. Second, and most importantly, Cloak absorbs Connors into the Darkforce dimension. It’s been fun to read how people unfamiliar with Cloak’s powers responded to this moment. It made me wish I could have experienced this show without any knowledge of what these characters can do. I mean, it was sort of weird that Tyrone was like “oh, I just swallowed a guy into my body. Huh. Weird. Oh well, back to fighting the bad guys.” I feel like I would have gone catatonic. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how the showrunners address where Connors went and if this is what unlocks Cloak’s infamous hunger. The only thing stopping me from saying this is the perfect Cloak and Dagger show is the fact that we haven’t yet witnessed a ravenous Cloak or an overpowered Dagger.

Cloak and Dagger season two will in 2019.

The Punisher

Comic Books Shows: The Punisher

THE PUNISHER: L-R John Bernthal and Ebon Moss-Bachrach

Marvel and Netflix could have simply given us a 13-episode 80s revenge flick but instead, they chose to dissect the epidemic of hypermasculinity. And, for the most part, it works. In this case, don’t take my word for it. Dr. NerdLove has the best breakdown of why The Punisher caught so many people off guard. Here’s a choice paragraph:

“What makes The Punisher so amazing is that, unlike previous incarnations, this isn’t a joyride of violence and wanton slaughter. What we got instead was a surprisingly thoughtful and blistering look at the damage that war does and the toll we’ve come to accept for the people we call our heroes. Just as importantly, it rips away all of the supposed glory of being a bad-ass. At the end, we don’t see The Punisher as the ultimate alpha, the lone man capable of taking justice into his own hands and doing what the government can’t or won’t. At the end of the day, he’s not a force for justice or the spirit of vengeance, he’s a man who is afraid to not have a war any more.”

We don’t know much about season two, because the casting announcements have been vague. Netflix is always tight-lipped about release dates but The Punisher season two will likely arrive sooner than we think because filming has already wrapped.

Supergirl

Comic Book Movies: Supergirl

SUPERGIRL L-R Odette Annable and Melissa Benoist

Have you watched Supergirl Season 3, Episode 9 “Reign”? No? Go watch it right now. It will explain why Supergirl has become the best DC superhero show (Gotham is the best DC detective show, Krypton is the best DC sci-fi show, Legends is the best time travel show) on television. It took a while for Supergirl to climb up this list, mostly due to the lack of Supergirl action we’ve seen on the screen episode-to-episode, but in season three, the show has finally balanced the development of relationships with the action. It lands above Flash and Arrow because it understands how to deliver camp while sometimes beating up our characters and getting a little bit dark and gritty. Kara Danvers occasionally has mopey and brooding moments, but unlike Barry Allen and Oliver Queen, it isn’t a fulltime job.

Supergirl season four arrives October 14, 2018.

Flash

Comic Book Shows: Flash

FLASH L-R: Grant Gustin and John Wesley Shipp

See the comment above about Legends of Tomorrow. Flash doesn’t need to be a wise-cracking goofball all of the time but I do expect it most of the time. This Flash is too much like a less experienced Oliver Queen with speed powers. He’s often sad, he has trust issues and his friends have trust issues, and he spends way too much time dealing with speedsters. I mean, yes, it makes sense because he is a speedster, but if it wasn’t for the fact that season four gave us the Thinker I might have completely walked away. The Thinker was a nice break from speed force villainy and it left me cautiously excited about the next season.

Flash season five arrives October 9, 2018.

Daredevil

Comic Book Shows: Daredevil

DAREDEVIL: Charlie Cox

Hoo-boy, if you look up a definition of mixed bag you’ll find Daredevil season two. If felt like the showrunners were smashing together a Daredevil show and a Punisher show without any sense of rhythm. The Punisher storyline was distracting from everything that was going on with the Hand and Elektra. This isn’t intended as a knock on The Punisher because John Bernthal is pitch-perfect in the role, but we spent way too much time introducing this character.

On the flipside, constipated emo Matt Murdock just didn’t do it for me. Murdock can be a jerk to his friends in the comic but more often than not he’s loyal to a fault and, when necessary, has a wicked sense of humor. Season two’s Matt Murdock didn’t show that. Instead, it gave us Matt Murjerk….Matt Jerkdock? Jerkdevil? Anyway, as we learned in season one and relearned during The Defenders, Daredevil needs a foil because left to his own devices he apparently becomes an ass.  

That said, the end of The Defenders left Daredevil in an interesting place. Netflix has been teasing a “Where’s Matt Murdock campaign?” which suggests the Man Without Fear may have chosen to temporarily abandon his alias and is now on a path to find himself. Maybe he realized he was Matt Jerkdock. Side note, in the comics, whenever Matt Murdock disappears he typically goes to San Francisco.

Daredevil season three arrives October 19, 2018.

Arrow

Comic Book Shows: Arrow

ARROW: Stephen Amell

It might be time to go on a season-long road trip while leaving two-thirds of the cast behind. It was fun to watch Team Arrow grow but they just kept growing and growing and growing…and they also kept not trusting Ollie or Ollie didn’t want to endanger them or Ollie didn’t trust them or…. While the show still has a fair share of outstanding moments this isn’t the show it used to be. That said, the end of the last season did leave me excited to see where things go for season seven. Having Oliver unmasked and in Super Max opens a number of new opportunities for the show.

Arrow season seven arrives October 15, 2018.

Iron Fist

Comic Book Shows: Iron Fist

IRON FIST: Jessica Henwick

Iron Fist would be way higher on this list if season two was season one and the season one never happened. I mean, there were some good spots in season one, the Drunken Master fight in episode six was one standout moment, but for a show about Kung-Fu, it had shockingly little Kung-Fu. Season two made up for all of that by showing us everyone in New York City has a moderate understanding of martial arts.

More fights was only one area where Netflix showed it was listening to criticism. Where Iron Fist season two excelled was by turning the “white savior” narrative trope When Danny proposed giving Colleen Wing the Iron Fist I didn’t think they’d really go there. My assumption was that something would happen that would force the fist to transfer back to Danny. Nope, they went there and it was beautiful. That stinger with Colleen holding her sword imbued with the power of Iron Fist was an absolute delight.

Even putting the “white savior” trope aside, Danny of season one was a terrible Iron Fist underserving of the Iron Fist. The viewer couldn’t understand why this entitled white dude who couldn’t even fight and abandoned his mission (resulting in K’un Lun falling to the Hand, I mean, that was absolutely his fault) should wield that power.

Marvel deserves a great deal of credit for realizing they need more time to develop Finn Jones as Danny Rand and allowing the stronger character to take the spotlight. Let Luke manage his club and Danny trot the globe looking for Orson Welles for a year (or possibly go off for season three and fight in the tournament of the “Capital Cities of Heaven”). In the meantime, give us a Heroes for Hire or Daughters of the Dragon spinoff with Misty and Colleen.

The Defenders

Comic Book Shows: Iron Fist

THE DEFENDERS L-R: Krysten Ritter, Finn Jones, Charlie Cox, Mike Colter

The Defenders only had eight episodes to tell the story, yet it still somehow felt like a slog through the first half of the season. That’s a feat. The show took too long getting our heroes together but once it does the highlights are, of course, the banter and fight scenes. Yet, in the end, it all seemed surprisingly unnecessary. Matt disappears and everyone else goes back to their corners of New York City. There’s little acknowledgment that this show ever happened until Danny Rand shows up in a season two episode of Luke Cage. In Iron Fist season two, we’re led to believe the reason Danny’s fighting crime every night is because Matt asked him to at the end of The Defenders. Turns out, that’s just the lie he tells Colleen. Other than that, The Defenders never happened.

Do we need more Defenders? I don’t know. At this point, I’m more interested in having Matt Murdock as a loner while the other three heroes somehow collide. Maybe Colleen and Misty team-up as the Daughters of the Dragon to knock some sense into mob boss Luke Cage. Jessica somehow gets involved because she takes on a case that leads her to Harlem. And then Jessica and Luke make a baby for an entire episode. 

The Tick

Comic Book Shows: The Tick

THE TICK L-R: Peter Serafinowicz and Griffin Newman

The vote is still out on Amazon’s The Tick. The first season was tolerable enough and I appreciate that it came in half-hour chunks. However, the entire time I felt like it was missing something that I couldn’t put my finger on. Perhaps it was the lack of additional characters? The comic book Tick lives in a wild world filled with colorful heroes and villains. I think I wanted to see more of that reflected in the show. This was the first season and it has been renewed. Hopefully, it’ll scootch up this list in 2019.

Comic Books Shows I’ve Stopped Watching

Below are shows currently still on the air but I’ve stopped watching because they didn’t grab me.

The Walking Dead

Fear the Watching Dead

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Runaways

Comic Books Shows I Haven’t Watched

The following list are shows that I haven’t watched or I started watching and plan to get back to:

Happy! – saw the first episode but I’m waiting for it to be available on a streaming channel.

Riverdale – Enjoyed the first season but haven’t watched the second season.

iZombie – Saw the first couple of episodes but haven’t had time to get back to it.

Black Lightning – Haven’t watched. On my to do list.

Outcast – haven’t watched.

Wynonna Earp – haven’t watched.

The Gifted – haven’t watched.

Lucifer – haven’t watched.

How I Made This Definitive List of Comic Book Shows

Qualifications:

  1. This list can only include comic book shows that are currently streaming new shows or have been renewed for a new season.
  2. Shows must have at the least one full season under the belt.
  3. I can only include comic book shows if I’ve watched every currently existing season. For example, Riverdale doesn’t qualify because I’ve only watched season one.

Why Isn’t This Comic Book Show List Numbered?

Good question! It might include numbers in the future but I felt weird about it. This is more of a comic book show hotlist where the top three of four shows excite me the most, the ones in the middle kinda get all lumped together, and two or three a the bottom make me chilly. Ranking the middle ones felt weird to me because they’re all sort of equal temperature. Should I add numbers?

Will This List Be Updated?

I hope so. I made this comic book show list mostly for my personal sanity. I’m ridiculously excited about The Boys and DC Universe’s Titans, Doom Patrol, and Swamp Thing. If I want to add new shows to my roster it requires serious contemplation of my time investment. Do I need to quit Arrow? Not yet, but it might be coming.

 

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