11 Best Comic Book Live-Action TV Series of All Time

CBS’s <i>Supergirl</i> debuted to <a href="http://www.newsarama.com/26524-supergirl-s-ratings-are-in.html">big ratings</A> and <a href="http://www.newsarama.com/26534-best-shots-review-supergirl-tv-pilot-excels.html">critical praise</A>, making for a successful debut, and marking yet another new powerhouse show in the comic book TV market. <i>Supergirl</i> is also important for being the only superhero show featuring a female lead right now. <p>That’s gonna change when Marvel’s <i>Jessica Jones</i> hit Netflix in November, and that show’s pilot has received <a href="http://www.newsarama.com/26306-best-shots-advance-review-jessica-jones.html">positive reviews</A> as well. Next year will also see the launch of two X-Men related TV shows, continuing the trend of comic book shows dominating TV. <p>While it would be jumping the gun to put <i>Supergirl</i> on this list – we’ve only seen one episode - the series's launch did inspire us to take a fresh look at our list of the greatest comic book TV series of all time.


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, with new, big screen Wonder Woman Gal Gadot citing Carter as a major influence on her own performance.


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 the 2011 relaunch of <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."

THE FLASH (1990)

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 comic book 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 (which he continues to reprise in the new <I>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 book 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 recent 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.

The Flash (2014)

Justice in the blink of an eye! That's what CW's <b>Flash</b> is all about. Spinning out of the acclaimed <i>Arrow</i>, <b>The Flash</b> takes <i>Arrow</i>'s concept of updated versions of classic characters in a shared universe and, well, runs with it. <p>Owing its popularity not just to the winning personality of star Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, but also to its unabashed love for its source material, <b>The Flash</b> is the kind of show many fans dream about, bringing in even the weirdest elements of the comic books - Grodd, anyone? - and making them work like a charm. <p>And if that wasn't enough, the show also features previous TV Flash John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen's father, Henry Allen. With a fan pedigree like that, it's easy to imagine <b>Flash</b> rocketing up this chart as the series continues.


The only entry in our list not specifically tied to one comic book 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 known as now. <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 book series <I>Superman: Secret Origin</I>.


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 featured 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 book development for 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.


If there's one show that defined comic books 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. Until recently, it was also one of the most prominent television series never to be officially released on VHS or DVD due to complicated rights issues.


Earlier this year, fans planted themselves on their couches to binge watch the first of Marvel’s Netflix series, <b>Daredevil</b> - and they were not disappointed. <b>Daredevil</b> struck a darker, more realistic tone than Marvel’s network offerings <i>Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.</i> and <i>Agent Carter</i>, and featured a more well-developed villain than many recent Marvel films. <p><b>Daredevil</b> set a high bar for Marvel’s partnership with Netflix, garnering huge praise and generating major fan excitement, and making characters like Daredevil, Kingpin, Foggy Nelson, and Karen Page household names. <p><b>Daredevil</b> season 2 is on the way, and will add fan favorite characters such as Punisher and Elektra to its roster, while also getting even darker in tone. And with Netflix’s “Defenders” group poised to take over the streaming service over the next few years, <b>Daredevil</b> could be a major trendsetter for comic book TV.


While they may have had a misstep with the scripting of the <I>Green Lantern</I> movie, writing duo Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim (along with Andrew Kreisberg) have been making up for it (and then some) with the CW series <B>Arrow</B>. They’ve taken DC’s archer hero the Green Arrow and made him a man with a purpose – and a bow & arrow – in the streets of Starling City. Season One exceeded everyone’s expectations, and Season 2 continued on that upward trajectory to today. <p>Between Arrow, Deathstroke and Paul Blackthorne’s great portrayal of Quentin Lance, the series has been jumping from high point to higher point. And with the quick introduction of other comic stalwarts like Canary (Black Canary, for you comics fans) and Sin, Barry Allen, Brother Blood, Bronze Tiger, and many more, it’s opened the door to even greater stories -- and even more TV series like <I>The Flash</I>. <p>And with even more heroes, villains, and a second spin-off in the form of <i>DC's Legends of Tomorrow</i> hitting the air in <b>Arrow</b>’s fourth season, Oliver Queen and his crew are poised to continue hitting targets in the comic book TV scene.


AMC’s <B>The Walking Dead</B> has gone from being a pleasant surprise to a sure thing if you’re looking for riveting television. Robert Kirkman’s zombie drama 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. And it only looks to getting bigger, with the each season surpassing the last in terms of viewers. <p>Despite some shaky staffing issues behind-the-scenes, <B>The Walking Dead</B> has had a steady upward climb with no signs of stopping under current showrunner Scott M. Gimple. <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>There is little about this show that hasn't gone right, making it the hands-down best comic book live-action TV series of all-time.

11 BEST Comic Book Live-Action TV Series of All Time

Date: 27 October 2015 Time: 12:00 AM ET