<i>By <a href=http://www.chrisarrant.com/>Chris Arrant, Newsarama Contributor</a></i> <p>AMC's <I>The Walking Dead</I> might have broken new ground when it comes to comic books adapted to television in terms of both ratings and reviews but our beloved medium has long been a part of your channel lineup. <p>With <i>Avengers</i> director Joss Whedon working on developing a <i>S.H.I.E.L.D.</i> series for ABC (<a href=http://www.newsarama.com/tv/shield-marvel-tv-joss-whedon.html>a pilot is already in motion</a>) and <i>Arrow</i> (based on DC's Green Arrow) just a few weeks away from debuting on The CW, everyone's getting in on the act and showing there's more to comic book adaptations than the movie screen. Just this week, reports surfaced that The CW has a <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/tv/wonder-woman-tv-series-cw-development.html>Wonder Woman show titled <i>Amazon</i></a> in very early development. <p>As we look forward into what could be a new golden age for comics concepts on TV, we're taking stock of what's already made its way to the small screen. There's a lot of ground to cover and it's more than just superheroes, so we're narrowing our focus to American television programs. <p>With the fine print out of the way, click on through to see what made the cut for the 10 Best Comic Book Live Action Series of All Time! <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i>
People might forget that this 1989-1996 television series was based on a 1950s EC Comic, but those were the days when comics were largely perceived as superheroes-only, so the TV series never played up its origin. Doing a horror anthology series on television was an oddity, but given its home at premium channel HBO, <b>Tales From The Crypt</b> was able to exist and thrive on just how different it was from everything else broadcast at the time. <p>While the television series had its shares of highs and low points, it attracted an impress variety of actors and directors during its six-year run. Featured actors included Dan Aykroyd, Kirk Douglas, John Lithgow, Christopher Reeve, Adam West and even early appearances by Daniel Craig, Benicio del Toro, Ewan McGregor and Brad Pitt. In the director's chair, it played host to veterans like Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, John Frankenheimer and Tobe Hooper, as well as moonlighting actors including Tom Hanks, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael J. Fox. <p>Since the series ended, there have been several spinoffs into movies, other television shows and even a Saturday morning cartoon series, but none could match up to the vitality of the original TV series.
Although some joke about the show's costume changes and formulaic nature, this primetime series starring Lynda Carter in the title role made a definite impact. Over four years and a mild reboot at the end of season one, the <B>Wonder Woman</B> TV series cemented the character's place as the most popular female comic book hero and, in some ways, a feminist icon. <p>The Carter <B>Wonder Woman</B> series was preceded by two earlier attempts to make the character work on the small screen. First came a '60s era comedy in the vein of the Adam West <I>Batman</I> series, followed by an early '70s attempt that downplayed the superhuman abilities in favor of spy gadgets akin to James Bond. It wasn't until a third pilot, one more faithful to the source material, that a full-length TV series was commissioned, and found success at ABC and later CBS. <p>Lynda Carter's portrayal of Wonder Woman proved so popular that it defined the actor going forward, leading Carter to reprise the role in everything from <I>The Muppet Show</I> to a reference in the film <I>Sky High</I>. In a way, Carter's portrayal of Diana Prince casts a shadow on the character not unlike Christopher Reeve's Superman or the more recent star turn of Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man.
Although it's the sole entry on this list that originated from comic strips, not books though the character has certainly appeared in a considerable amount of comic books over the decades <B>Dennis The Menace</B> made a big impact when it debuted on the small screen in the late '50s. This story of a precocious kid that cuts a "menacing" but lovable path through his neighborhood became an instant hit when adapted to black-and-white live-action. <p>Child actor Jay North excelled in this star-making role, and under the guidance of TV impresario Harry Ackerman it became one of the highest ranking series on CBS at the time. The series ran for four years and was only canceled because North was growing out of the young role literally and the network didn't want to recast the part. <p>Later generations discovered the show through frequent reruns in the dawn of cable television, and the popularity of the series both on screen and in newspapers led to several other adaptations in films and television, though they never matched up to the original show's early success.
Superman has become one of the most filmed comic book characters of all time, but one of his earliest appearances the 1950s era <B>Adventures of Superman</B> continues to leap and bound over its counterparts. <p>Despite its first two seasons being filmed in black and white, the George Reeves-led show brought a feature-budget feel to television and gave the mainstream public the best portrayal of DC's flagship character it had seen at that point. <p>Looking back on the series now, it has a lot in common with Grant Morrison's recent take on the character in <I>Action Comics</I> gone are the cartoonish array of supervillains like Brainiac, in favor of the more classic villains like evil scientists, maligned businessmen, gangsters, thugs and spies. The closest thing to a superhuman you'll see facing Superman in this is a midget Martian similar to Mr. Mxyzptlk named "Mr. Zero."
Although it only ran for one season, 1990's <B>The Flash</B> stands out to this day as a major accomplishment in the world of live-action superheroes on the small screen. Developed for TV by the future screenwriters of <I>The Rocketeer</I>, the series showed a modernized Flash with soap actor John Wesley Shipp playing Barry Allen. <p>Influenced by Tim Burton's <I>Batman</I> movie released one year earlier, the short-lived <B>The Flash</B> had a darker tone than one might expect, but it became catnip for devoted comics fans at the time. The television series was cut short due to the high costs of filming a live-action superhero series and had stiff competition in its time slot from then-new series <I>The Simpsons</I> and <I>The Cosby Show</I>. <p>One long-term positive that the series did was the introduction of <I>Star Wars</I> star Mark Hamill to DC's roster of characters. Hamill made his DC debut as The Trickster on <I>The Flash</I> series, and went on to become the definitive voice for the Joker in DC's animated works and video games for two decades.
<b>The Middleman</b> is the most unknown of our entries, but that doesn't mean it wasn't great. The short-lived ABC Family show took the indie comic series and made one of the truest comic book to small-screen adaptations thanks in part to series co-creator/writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach (<I>Lost</I>, <I>Medium</I>) being an accomplished television writer/producer that stayed on to helm the show. <p>It received high marks from <I>TV Guide</I> and other industry magazines, but <I>Variety</I>'s review of the pilot gave what would become fateful praise by calling it "almost too smart" for the network. <p>Borrowing some of its tongue-in-cheek tone from earlier genre success story <I>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</I>, <B>The Middleman</B> featured guns, spy action and witty banter on par with modern critical darlings like <I>30 Rock</I> and <I>Community</I>. Ultimately the show was done in after one 2008 season by the oversized budget compared to its audience, especially among ABC Family's comedies and low-budget high school dramedies.
If there's one show that defined comics for the mainstream public, then the '60s-era <B>Batman</B> series starring Adam West is it. This campy send-up of DC's Dark Knight was anything but dark, but for its time period it worked, becoming an unprecedented success. Despite only being on air for two years, it was a massive hit, airing twice a week on ABC and producing more than 100 episodes. <p>Far removed from the dark crusader we've seen in movies, Adam West's Batman was a more jovial and lighthearted adventurer, starring alongside guest stars hamming it up for the camera. The series became so popular that it gave some of its stars short-lived careers in music, with West even recording a country song that he performed in costume at some live appearances. <p>The series was ultimately cut short when ABC attempted to slash the budget by eliminating a number of characters including Robin, bringing a close to the series. It's also one of the most prominent television series never to be officially released on VHS or DVD due to complicated rights issues, with bootleg copies of the show becoming mainstays at comic conventions large and small.
Although DC has proved more successful in adapting its characters to live-action TV in sheer number, Marvel's late '70s <B>The Incredible Hulk</B> showed just how different a superhero show could be. The long-running series saw TV veteran Bill Bixby sharing screen time with bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno as they played Bruce Banner and alter-ego the Hulk, turning them both into massive stars on the small screen. Although created 15 years before, it was this seminal series that brought Marvel's Green Goliath into the minds of the mainstream public and went on to influence the comic books for years to come. <p>The journeyman nature of the show allowed for an ever-rotating cast of guest stars to play opposite Bixby and Ferrigno, including cameo appearances by the character's creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, at one point. The series ultimately ended in 1981, but found new life with a series of made for TV movies that continued for several years before Bixby's death in 1993. <p><B>The Incredible Hulk</B> show became an integral part of the Hulk mythos, influencing the character's comic series to varying degrees over the years. The 2008 film <B>The Incredible Hulk</B> was heavily influenced by the TV series, with lead actor Edward Norton basing much of his performance on Bixby's original portrayal.
The only entry in our list not specifically tied to one comics title, the long-running <B>Smallville</B> series borrowed liberally from the entire breadth of the Superman and DCU catalog to become the hit it is today. <p>Over the course of 10 years and two networks, the show covered the early years of the man who would one day become Superman in a bare bones approach. As the series went on, it became a showcase of the diversity of the DCU with guest stars ranging from future Justice League members to the time-traveling Legion of Super-Heroes. <p>On its debut in 2001, <B>Smallville</B> became the highest rated show in the WB's history and landed on the cover of <I>TV Guide</I>. The endorsement by former Superman Christopher Reeve (who guest starred on the series) gave the then-budding show a burst of enthusiasm amongst hardcore comics fans, paving the way for the show and its unique dynamic of Clark Kent and Lex Luthor being childhood friends who are slowly torn apart. <p>As the series went on it explored the early life of Superman in more detail than any of its comic adventures, leading Geoff Johns to fold in some of the show's elements in his later revision of Superman's origin in the comic series <I>Superman: Secret Origin</I>.
It's the newest entry on our countdown, but don't mistake youth for weakness. Robert Kirkman's <B>The Walking Dead</B> became a cult hit in comics and bucked sales trends with ever-increasing sales, and once cable channel AMC put its adaptation on screen seven years later starting on Halloween 2010, the whole world got to see just how big the zombie phenomenon could be. <p>Although previous zombie films were often pigeon-holed as simply genre material, the critical acclaim for the Frank Darabont-led show went all the way to <I>The Wall Street Journal</I> and Salon.com. <p>Based on the long-running Image series of the same name, the <B>Walking Dead</B> television adaptation was further strengthened by the feature-quality direction of Darabont combined with the expert hand of producer Gale Ann Hurd (<I>Terminator</I>, <I>Armageddon</I>). The show got on the good side of hardcore fans by the inclusion of Kirkman and series artist Charlie Adlard in the production, with Kirkman going so far as to write several episodes of the show and serve as a very hands-on executive producer. <p>The second season garnered even more viewers that its first, prompting an early third season pickup (debuting in October) and paving the way for a lot more of Kirkman's zombies in our future.