The origins of DC Comics' properties on television can be traced all the way back to the 1950s. Adventures Of Superman aired from 1952 to 1958 and saw George Reeves play the last Kryptonian. The 1960's Batman show left an indelible impression on pop culture as a whole, and that was followed up by Lynda Carter starring as Wonder Woman from 1975 to 1979. The late 1980s then saw 100 episodes of Superboy and the early 90s gave us three seasons of Swamp Thing. There were then a handful of successful (and not so successful) shows throughout the 90s and 2000s (which we will spotlight in this article), before the Arrowverse began and DC quickly conquered the comic book television landscape.
Along the way, there have been countless DC heroes and villains adapted onto the small-screen. Everyone from the heaviest of heavy hitters to the most bizarre and obscure characters have graced DC television shows, and their depictions have varied wildly in quality from show to show. This article will point the finger at ten characters we believe were botched when they were translated from comic book page to TV screen, but also righty praise ten we felt were realized perfectly and, crucially, looked great on TV.
20 BAD: SPARTAN - ARROW
John Diggle has been played by statuesque actor David Ramsey since the very first episode of Arrow, which aired way back in 2012. The show began as a very grounded and gritty street-level superhero show and was heavily influenced by Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy. For the first three seasons, Diggle never wore a superhero costume when on missions, unlike his teammates, but as more conventional superheroics and superpowered characters were added to the show's universe, the producer's decided Diggle finally needed a costume. So, they stuck a black Magneto-style helmet on his head and had him dress head to toe in black leather. It didn't fit his character and looked lame. Very, very lame.
19 GOOD: JOHN CONSTANTINE - ARROWVERSE/CONSTANTINE
DC/Vertigo's occult detective John Constantine had been adapted to the big screen in 2005, in a movie starring Keanu Reeves. It wasn't very well received by fans, who were angry that the producers changed the British setting to LA and made Constantine dark-haired and American, instead of the traditional blonde Englishman. When the character made his way to TV in 2014 as the star of his own show, Welsh actor Matt Ryan was cast and fans rejoiced. He looked like he had just stepped off the comic book page, and he embodied the sneaky con-man-with-a-heart-of-gold aspect of Constantine perfectly. He was recently announced as a series regular on Legends Of Tomorrow's upcoming fourth season, which is awesome.
18 BAD: BEAST BOY - TITANS
The recently-released Titans trailer stirred up a lot of controversy. Comic book fans everywhere were up in arms when the first taste of the upcoming 2018 show was unleashed. It certainly wasn't the reaction DC were looking for, especially as they were hoping Titans would sell their soon-to-debut DC Universe app. The tone of the show looked to be much darker than anyone was expecting, and the design of several characters looked off, especially Beast Boy. Actor Ryan Potter looked like he'd been covered in the same body paint as Lou Ferrigno in the 1970's The Incredible Hulk show, and it looked very cheap to modern audiences. Hopefully, with careful lighting and better effects, Beast Boy will look better in the context of the show.
17 GOOD: ROBIN - TITANS
The Titans trailer wasn't all bad, however. The main character in the show will be Dick Grayson aka Robin and he will be played by actor Brenton Thwaites (Gods Of Egypt, Oculus). The trailer focussed mostly on Grayson and his costume looked superb. A brilliant mix of real-world inspired tactical battle gear with colourful superhero flourishes, it really put to bed any fears that the costume would wind up looking like Chris O'Donnell's in Batman Forver. Thwaites really looked the part in the action sequences too. We hope that his angsty put-down of Batman in the trailer, which went viral due to it being utterly ridiculous, will work better as part of a full episode. But even if it doesn't? At least his costume looks cool!
16 BAD: THE ENTIRE TEAM - JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA TV PILOT
Last year's Justice League movie was meant to be the crowning achievement of the DCEU, but wound up a disaster at the box office. Unfortunately, it's not the first time a live-action version of the League stunk up the joint, as this 1997 TV movie also exists! A failed TV pilot that was so bad it was never aired in the USA, Justice League Of America felt like Friends, but with superpowers. The lineup consisted of Green Lantern, The Flash, Martian Manhunter, The Atom, Fire and Ice and every one of their costumes looked like cosplay on a very tight budget. Seriously, the costumes were horrible. Amusingly, Mark Waid reportedly said that the movie was 80 minutes of his life he'd never get back!
15 GOOD: SUPERGIRL/MARTIAN MANHUNTER - SUPERGIRL
The Arrowverse-import Supergirl might be at the top of the list when it comes to brilliant representations of DC characters on TV. Season One introduced us to Melissa Benoist as Kara Zor-El aka Kara Danvers aka Supergirl. Her costume was a near-perfect synthesis of its best comic book versions, and Benoist played the role with a pitch-perfect amount of heart and sincerity. Later on in season one we were introduced to J'onn J'onzz, aka Martian Manhunter, who had been posing as Kara's boss at the DEO (Department Of Extra-Normal Operations). A truly superb mix of CGI, prosthetic make-up and a costume inspired by the AJ Lieberman/Al Barrionuevo run from the mid-2000s, J'onn looked amazing on TV.
14 BAD: ULTRA WOMAN - LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman was very much a product of its time. These days, the idea of a Superman show that focussed more on relationship drama than superheroics and featured very few classic villains would be unthinkable. But the early 1990's were a very different time for comic book media, and to its credit, the show was very popular. This bad costume came from an episode in which Superman's powers were transferred to Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher) and she took on the costumed identity Ultra Woman. The pink and blue monstrosity looked like every nightmare scenario comic book fans would have about how the mainstream would perceive the colorful heroes they loved so much.
13 GOOD: SCARECROW - GOTHAM
Gotham is a strange beast of a show. Originally pitched as a grounded look at Jim Gordon and the GCPD's efforts to police the most corrupt city in America, it quickly morphed into a ultra-violent and zany show in which most of Batman's rogues gallery were thrown at the wall to see what stuck. It's kind of a mess, but a morbidly entertaining one most of the time. One of the villains who was actually realised quite well in the show, though, was Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow. Played by young actor Charlie Tahan (Ozark), Scarecrow's costume was an excellent mix of Cillian Murphy's realistic sack-on-the-head look from Batman Begins with the more heightened version from the Arkham Asylum video games.
12 BAD: SOLOMON GRUNDY - GOTHAM
We were nice to Gotham when it came to the Scarecrow, but unfortunately there are no nice things to say when it comes to their version of Solomon Grundy. The show took some liberties with the character's backstory from the comics, which is fine, but by the time audiences saw actor Drew Powell with his powdered pale skin and bleached white hair, he looked faintly ridiculous. Compounding the bad makeup and costuming was the fact that Grundy had always been depicted in the source material as a massive hulking beast, while Powell (while not a short man) simply didn't have the imposing physical stature to carry off the character.
11 GOOD: BARRY ALLEN/THE FLASH - THE FLASH (1990)
Grant Gustin's beloved portrayal of Barry Allen in the Arrowverse is not the first time that the Scarlet Speedster has been adapted to TV. In 1990, fresh off the enormous success of Tim Burton's Batman movie from the previous year, The Flash starred in his own TV show with theme music by Danny Elfman. Barry Allen was played by actor John Wesley Shipp (who would go on to play Barry's father Henry in the 2014 show) and his costume, all sculpted muscles and latex, looked amazing on TV. The show made the most of the costume, with its moody lighting and top notch (at the time) special effects, and Shipp brought a genuine physical presence to the role.
10 BAD: Captain Cold - The Flash (1990)
Undoubtedly the most well-remembered villain from the 1990 The Flash TV series was The Trickster, who was played by genuine geek legend Mark Hamill. The role must have played a part in him landing the voice duties for The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, at least, so fans will always have that to be thankful for. But, for our money, the villain that looked the worst on-screen in that series was Captain Cold. The character was depicted as an albino hitman known for freezing his victims to death with a nuclear-powered freeze gun. Which all sounds super cool and scary, right? Wrong. In the end he looked like comedian Steve Martin, in bad sunglasses, carrying a homemade Ghostbusters proton pack on his back.
9 GOOD: BLACK LIGHTNING - BLACK LIGHTNING
Black Lightning debuted on The CW in January 2018 and was met with near-unanimous praise. Despite airing on the same network as the Arrowverse and being created by their head honcho Greg Berlanti, its connection to the other shows has yet to be fully established. But regardless of this, the show forged its own path and was a departure in tone for the network, and was all the better for it. Cress Williams simply looked awesome in the Black Lightning costume, and his performance as an aging Jefferson Pierce returning to crime fighting was nuanced and expertly constructed. We can't wait to see where the show goes in season two.
8 BAD: WONDER WOMAN/DIANA PRINCE - WONDER WOMAN TV PILOT (2011)
In some bizarre alternate reality, the Wonder Woman pilot from 2011 was commissioned into a series and audiences have now had seven seasons of Diana Prince as a vigilante in LA, balancing her crimefighting with her life as a high-flying corporate executive. Luckily, we don't live in that reality! We're in the one in which Gal Gadot played a much more faithful version of Diana on the big screen and it was a thing of beauty. The pilot from 2011, which was created by David E. Kelley and starred Adrianne Palicki, was passed on by the network and never aired, which meant we were spared the costume with full-length tights and the invisible jet (that was actually painted white and very-much visible).
7 GOOD: DOOMSDAY - SMALLVILLE
Despite being a fairly one-note villain, Doomsday has always been one of the most important villains in the Superman canon. After all, he's the one who takes out Supes, and that's not the sort of thing people forget! Doomsday has therefore been used in every form of Superman adaptation, from film to TV to video games to animation. The version in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice was the definition of a boring and forgettable CGI baddie, but the incarnation that appeared in Smallville nearly a decade earlier looked much more interesting. The prosthetic makeup and visual effects combined well, and even the altered origin story (with Doomsday having a human alter-ego named Davis Bloome) worked nicely.
6 BAD: THE ENTIRE JUSTICE LEAGUE - SMALLVILLE
Smallville had a strange path as it progressed from a show about young Clark Kent fighting meteor-infected villains in his hometown, to a show with Clark as a nascent Superman battling supervillains like Brainiac and Doomsday. Along the way Clark became part of a proto-Justice League of sorts, when he teamed up with Bart Allen (Impulse), Oliver Queen (Green Arrow), Arthur Curry (Aquaman) and Victor Stone (Cyborg). They all wore superhero costumes, although their attire still looked like it could've been ordered from eBay. And then there was Clark, who still wore his standard blue t-shirt and red jacket, even though everyone else had put more effort in. It was weird.
5 GOOD: BATGIRL - BIRDS OF PREY
Birds Of Prey was a short-lived 2002 series based on the brilliant comic that united Barbara Gordon (as Oracle) with Black Canary and The Huntress. The show was cancelled after only one season, but developed a cult following in the years after it was shut down. Perhaps in the TV landscape of 2018 it would fare better? The show featured some quick flashbacks to Barbara's days as Batgirl, before she was injured by The Joker, and in these scenes actress Dina Meyer wore a very faithful version of her costume from the comics. Until the DCEU Batgirl movie emerges, this will have to stand as the best depiction of Batgirl in live action.
4 BAD: THE HUNTRESS - BIRDS OF PREY
While not totally egregious, the costume given to Helena Kyle/The Huntress in Birds Of Prey looks very dated when viewed with modern eyes. Birds Of Prey aired during the time period in which Hollywood felt audiences wouldn't accept traditional superhero costumes on-screen, which was why the X-Men all wore functional black leather and the Batgirl costume was relegated to very insubstantial flashback sequences. The Huntress therefore got stuck with a costume that was part-Matrix, part-Blade, all-Goth nightclub. By 2002, the aesthetic was already starting to feel dated, and it wasn't a worthy attempt at realizing a great character on-screen.
3 GOOD: KING SHARK - THE FLASH
Before the superhero boom of the 2000s, it would've been simply unthinkable for a character like King Shark to be adapted to the screen. A humanoid monster that walks like a man, but has the head of a shark? That wouldn't have even been considered for a movie, let alone a weekly TV show. And yet, in The Flash season two, King Shark appeared in all his glory and he looked unbelievably good. The show didn't try to disguise him by keeping him in shadow most of the time, nor did they cheap out by changing the nature of the character in any way. Rather, they committed to the character and used some very admirable CGI to create a walking man-shark who tried to eat The Flash. Glorious.
2 BAD: CRIMSON FOX - POWERLESS
Powerless aired from February 2017 until April 2017, when it was abruptly cancelled with three episodes of season one still left to air. It was a sitcom set within the DC Universe that followed the misadventures of a group of people working at Wayne Security, a division of Wayne Enterprises. The show was certainly a novel idea and it had the potential to be very funny, but the early episodes just didn't catch on with audiences and it then wasn't given the time to develop a following. Perhaps it didn't help that the main superpowered character in the show was the super-obcure Crimson Fox and her costume looked incredibly silly, even by comedy standards.
1 GOOD: BRAINIAC - KRYPTON
Krypton, SyFy's show following Superman's grandfather Seg-El 200 years before the destruction of the planet, was recently renewed for a second season. The first season was well-received overall and fans are excited about the prospect of the 'Main Man' Lobo making an appearance in season two. Hopefully producers will faithfully translate the last Czarnian to the small screen, like they did with Brainiac in season one. Blake Ritson played a chief infected by the parasitic android and his look was extremely faithful to the comic. With his emotionless black eyes, green skin and thin, hollowed out cheeks, Brainiac looked like he'd been ripped directly from the pages of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's seminal 2008 Action Comics storyarc.