The superhero boom over the last 10 years has produced its fair share of popular television shows. Marvel has continued its cinematic universe on multiple channels and platforms, including Freeform, Netflix, and Hulu. DC Comics has produced multiple TV shows within the Arrowverse universe on The CW. Some of the more popular shows, like The Walking Dead and Riverdale, are based on non-superhero properties, yet have succeeded in establishing successful franchises of their own. There are more comic book properties coming to TV all the time.
Unfortunately, just because many of these shows have been largely successful in ratings and among fans, it doesn’t mean they are always perfect. Humans make mistakes, and television shows run by humans are not infallible. At one point or another, many of the comic book adaptations out there have done something that someone hasn’t liked. Not just in terms of story decisions, but also behind the scenes controversies that have made headlines and ultimately hurt the show. It’s hard to make the right decision all the time, but these high profile shows are always in the spotlight and usually have to answer for their mistakes. Here are 15 of the biggest controversies in comic book television.
15 THE WALKING DEAD’S LEGAL ISSUES
The Walking Dead has been one of the most successful television shows over the past 10 years, but that doesn’t mean it intends to share the profits with the show’s creators. Frank Darabont, the show’s developer and original showrunner, was fired from his post during the second season. He went on to sue AMC in 2013, claiming that the company wasn’t paying him the profits he was owed under his contract.
Things blew up in the summer of 2017 when Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, Glen Mazzara and David Alpert also filed a lawsuit against AMC, claiming breach of contract over the profits they are still owed as a result of the network's vertical integration. It’s such a serious accusation that AMC could end up owing the plaintiffs $1 billion. If you want to know more, Comic Book Resources has a handy explainer.
14 ONE MILLION MOMS HATE LUCIFER
Fox has a show called Lucifer that stars, well, the devil. It’s a series based on Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic, as well as its spin-off Lucifer, which was written by Mike Carey. It tells the story of how Lucifer Morningstar abandons Hell in order to open up a nightclub on Earth. Fox was able to develop that concept into something of a comedy/drama.
One Million Moms is against the show because it feels like Lucifer shows the devil in too positive a light. They have called for a boycott of the show and have asked Fox to take it off the air. Neil Gaiman has laughed at these demands, citing that they failed to put a stop to The Sandman back in the ‘90s.
13 S.H.I.E.L.D. VERSUS THE RISING TIDE
In the pilot episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Chloe Bennet’s character Skye works with a hacktivist group known as the Rising Tide. The group is depicted as a collective not unlike Anonymous. The controversy comes in when it turns out that there is a real group called Rising Tide North America, and they don’t like being associated with a secret group of super hackers.
Instead, the real-world Rising Tide is a volunteer group that works to fight against climate change. The organization says it has been contacted by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans who confused them for being associated with the series. The fact that the show created a Rising Tide promotional website probably didn’t help. No wonder the name has since been dropped from the series.
12 GRANT GUSTIN VERSUS EZRA MILLER
Everyone loves Grant Gustin as the Flash, so much that when it came time to cast the character for Justice League, fans were ready to riot when Warner Bros. brought in Ezra Miller instead. Not only did they feel Miller wasn’t right for the part, but it felt like a slight against Gustin, who has played the Fastest Man Alive for several years now.
While DC and Warner Bros. tried to settle everyone down, it wasn’t until Gustin spoke out that people seemed to accept the casting. To his credit, Gustin voiced his approval of Miller and said that The Flash was always intended to be something different than the films. It’s got to be hard to play a character when a beloved version of him that people have already connected with is on television at the same time.
11 DAREDEVIL’S PORTRAYAL OF BLINDNESS
Many advocates for blindness have spoken positively about Charlie Cox’s portrayal of the blind lawyer Matt Murdock. It’s the Daredevil part of his character that people have a problem with. Brent Hopkins of the American Foundation for the Blind has specifically spoken out about the show’s implications that a blind person can only overcome their disability if they are a superhero.
It’s a fair commentary, especially when you consider that he has his own superhuman abilities and enhanced senses that make sight unnecessary at this point. Netflix also received criticism that Daredevil wasn't accessible to the blind upon its release in 2013. In order to address this issue, the streaming platform debuted audio descriptions in 2015. This feature has since been used to make the company's content more accessible.
10 JUGHEAD’S SEXUALITY
For years, it has been hinted at and hypothesized that Jughead Jones, one of the leading characters in the Archie comics, was actually asexual. In Chip Zdarsky’s Jughead #4 from 2016, we finally saw confirmation of what everyone suspected. While this was a huge win for those fighting for more asexual and aromantic people in media, the Riverdale television show had other plans.
In the episode "Chapter Six: Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!,” Jughead and Betty Cooper kiss. It was a huge hit to those representing asexuality and many felt that it was a betrayal by the show’s creators. Cole Sprouse, the actor who plays Jughead, has spoken out that he fought for his character to be asexual, but he has also asked fans to give this new direction a chance.
9 THE NEGAN T-SHIRT CONTROVERSY
The Walking Dead’s Season 6 finale proved to be far more controversial than anyone saw coming. Not only were fans of the show left hanging following the cliffhanger ending to the episode, but shoppers were also met with an offensive T-shirt that tied into the character Negan and his baseball bat.
The shirt used Negan’s Eeny, meeny, miny, moe nursery rhyme over a picture of Lucille, his baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. Customers complained that the song has a racist connotation, given the use of the N-word in the original rhyme. The imagery can also seem to harken back to the practice of assaulting black people in America. The controversy was likely made even worse when actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan dismissed the whole thing and called those who were offended stupid.
8 AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. INSULTS HINDUISM
Just eight episodes into its run, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. managed to insult an entire religion thanks to an offhand comment in “The Well.” With Thor: The Dark World in theaters, the plot of the episode revolved around Norse mythology. Over the course of the show, it is explained that the Asgardians are alien beings who were worshipped as gods by the people of Earth. This leads to the cast wondering if other gods, like Vishnu for instance, were also aliens.
While it’s cool to play around with Norse mythology, which is essentially dead as a religion, Hinduism is another story, since millions of people around the world still practice it. The president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, Rajan Zed demanded an apology from the show for attempting to debase a sacred deity and religion.
7 RIVERDALE ROMANTICIZES STATUTORY RAPE
In Riverdale, The CW revamped the traditional All-American Archie Comics characters into sleeker, sexier versions of their former selves. These makeovers extended to some of the teachers as well, most notably Miss Geraldine Grundy, who was transformed into a sexy music teacher played by Sarah Habel.
All this is fine, except for the small fact that Miss Grundy starts up a sexual relationship with Archie Andrews in what the show had advertised as a “forbidden romance.” In fact, all Riverdale ad spots and related interviews spoke about the Archie-Grundy affair as a romance, rather than the statutory rape case it would actually be in the real world. Many fans felt that the storyline was in poor taste and makes light of people who have actually been taken advantage of by a teacher.
6 LUKE CAGE IS REVERSE RACIST
Luke Cage was conceived as a black story about black people, centered around one of the most important black superheroes of all time. In fact, a majority of the cast ended up being non-white in the end because this was a show about the community of Harlem, a traditionally black neighborhood. This, of course, caused anger among some of the (white) people who noticed the lack of white characters.
According to these trolls, Luke Cage was, in fact, being reverse racist for its clear lack of white people. They complained about it on Twitter and even started a small movement to boycott the show entirely. In the end, the show didn’t seem to care when it debuted to positive critical reception, won two awards, and was nominated for several others.
5 GOTHAM’S BLACKFACE STUNTWOMAN
Gotham landed in hot water back in 2014 when the show was accused of putting a white stunt performer in blackface in order to make her resemble Jada Pinkett Smith. The controversy stirred up the old racist practice of “painting down” Hollywood stunt doubles that still survives to this day.
What made this all even worse was that Pinkett Smith’s long-time stuntwoman Kelsee Devoreaux had actually reached out to Fox prior to the incident to offer her services. She was told no stunts involving the character of Fish Mooney would be needed. For the record, there is nothing in the union contract that prohibits this practice; it only requires that studios attempt to find a performer who matches the actor in race and gender. Thankfully, Fox decided not to follow through.
4 SUPERGIRL MAKES FUN OF LGBT+ COMMUNITY
In Season 2 of Supergirl, the show added Katie McGrath to the cast as Lena Luthor. She develops a friendship with Kara that some fans felt was a little more intimate than maybe The CW intended. Many in the LGBT+ community rallied around this ship they dubbed “Supercorp.”
At July’s San Diego Comic Con, the cast of Supergirl started an impromptu musical recap of the previous season. Actor Jeremy Jordan went out of his way to declare that Lena and Kara were only friends, to which the rest of the cast laughed and went along with. Jordan also specifically mentioned he would get a lot of hate for debunking “Supercorp.” Boy did he ever. Fans took to the internet almost immediately to voice their anger for the cast’s dismissal of the LGBT+ community.
3 IRON FIST’S CASTING CONTROVERSY
One of the most complicated superhero television controversies had to be the dustup over the casting of Finn Jones as the titular character for Iron Fist. Many felt that Danny Rand should have been played by Asian-American actor Lewis Tan instead of who Netflix ultimately chose. The debate roused up feelings on cultural appropriation, white washing and casting choices in Hollywood. This also happened right around the same time as the Ghost in the Shell casting controversy.
To make things even worse, Iron Fist’s original creator Roy Thomas chimed in on Twitter regarding the controversy, and he said some things that he probably shouldn’t have said. He basically shot down the cultural appropriation argument, declared that the character was always intended to be white, and then mentioned something about political correctness that fans were not too happy about.
2 REPRESENTATION IN THE WALKING DEAD
The Walking Dead has a troubled history when it comes to representation. The show received criticism following the third season over the fact that one of the show’s only black characters, D-Dog, was killed just when Tyreese was introduced. Many joked that the series was only capable of having one black man on the show at a time.
Things blew up again when the fifth season ended with Tyreese, Bob and Noah all being killed. It opened up a conversation about representation and violence against people of color in media. In Season 6, the LGBT+ community spoke up after the show’s only gay character at the time, Denise, was killed off. The death was also considered questionable because Merritt Wever’s character actually took Abraham’s death. For some, it felt like a deliberate effort to eliminate her just when she was gaining popularity.
1 JESUS HAS SEX IN PREACHER
It should be no surprise that the controversial comic book Preacher was turned into a television show that now has its own controversy hanging over its head. In the episode “Dirty Little Secret,” the show opens with a depiction of Jesus that would make most Christians blush, and their leaders furious.
The scene shows Jesus having sex with a woman, talking about various sexual acts, and depicts the two in several sex positions as silhouettes. He then says he needs to do something for his father before leaving, which then becomes clear that this was the Last Supper and Jesus is going to the Crucifixion. One church leader felt it was blasphemous, grotesque, and even an assault on Christian sensibilities. A boycott of the show, and AMC was called for thereafter.
How do you feel about these controversies? Let us know in the comments.