If you’re a comics fan with a television, you’ve been having a pretty good year. Television has long been a home for comic book heroes, from early shows like <I>Adventures of Superman</I> on to more recent successes like <I>Smallville</I>, but 2013 has been a bumper crop of new programming running the gamut from zombie drama with AMC’s <I>The Walking Dead</I>, street-level superheroics with WB’s <I>Arrow</I> and ABC’s spy-shop procedural <I>Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.</I> <p>And 2014 looks to be even better. You might want to add some space to your DVR’s storage capacity, as DC has four television series in development (<I>Hourman</I>, (<I>Flash</I>, (<I>Constantine</I> and <I>Gotham</I>), and Marvel has one upped them with four unnamed shows as well as a miniseries in the works. That’s all in addition to the aforementioned <I>Arrow</I>, <I>Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.</i> and <I>The Walking Dead</I>. And that’s not counting AMC and Robert Kirkman’s partnership to develop his comic series <I>Thief of Thieves</I> and <I>Outcast</I>, and everyone else working outside the Big Two. <p>So as we enter what looks to be a golden age for comics 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>We’re holding off on including <I>Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. </I> just yet – it’s not Level 7 security, it’s just that they haven’t even completed their first season yet; Nick Fury wouldn’t want us to be trigger happy. <p><a href=”http://www.newsarama.com/15448-10-worst-comic-book-live-action-tv-series-of-all-time.html”>And don’t forget to check out our list of the Ten Worst Live-Action Series</a>!
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.
They may have made some missteps with the scripting of the <I>Green Lantern</I> movie, but writing duo Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim (along with Andrew Kreisberg) have been making up for it (and then some) with the WB 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 so far Season 2 has continued on that upward trajectory. <p>Between Arrow, Deathstroke and Paul Blackthorne’s great portrayal of Quentin Lance, the series has been jumping from high point to high point. With the recent reveal of the Canary (Black Canary, for you comics fans) and Sin, it’s opened to door to even greater stories. And the rest of the season promises some more debuts (cough BARRY FREAKING ALLEN cough) as well as more surprises, giving fans and some Newsarama staffers something to look forward to every week.
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>.
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 recently debuted fourth season earning over 16 million viewers – over three times it’s series premiere in 2010, up nearly 5 million from its season 3 premiere just a year ago. <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 new showrunner Scott M. Gimple. They’ve already announced a season 5 for 2014 (with Gimple signed on for another year, too), and have a wealth of stories to draw from in the comic series or if the series decides to take its own path into the zombie apocalypse. 2014 should also see a spin-of series debut, with Kirkman teasing a whole new location in the world of <b>The Walking Dead</b>. One more thing: <I>Man of Steel</I> screenwriter and defacto DC Movies’ head writer David S. Goyer is coming to direct the penultimate episode – the shows fiftieth – early next year. <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>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.