Breathing life into any comic book villain to a live-action medium can be tricky. Fans have expectation of how these baddies should be represented and have heaps of referential source material to back up their preconceived notions of how these characters should behave on screen. Now, in what’s often referred to as “the golden age of television,” comic book properties are being adapted to network and cable TV at a rate that makes it almost impossible to keep up with. And the bulk of these shows are currently being ripped from the pages of DC Comics.
While box office figures and overall fan reaction has certainly given the edge to Marvel Comics properties when it comes to the success rate of brining comic characters to the silver screen (at least in the last decade), television is where DC shines the brightest. From the myriad of shows currently populating the Arrowverse on the CW to a shows like Preacher and Lucifer based on DC’s mature imprint, Vertigo, practically no primetime lineup is without a show based on DC comics and their villains. But not all is shiny in this blossoming television comic world. Sometimes the characters of these shows are a far cry from what they should be.
20 DONE RIGHT: REVERSE-FLASH
Eobard Thawne is arguably the most iconic villain The Flash has ever faced. This is mostly due to the fact that his powers rival those possessed by Barry Allen, making him a perfect archenemy. So perfect in fact that he is known simply as Reverse-Flash, which, yes, is a little on the nose, but sums up the character perfectly. Thawne is the antithesis to The Flash in every conceivable way. Adapting a character of this magnitude in a filmed medium was never going to be easy, but somehow the team behind CW’s The Flash made it work.
Thanks, in no small part, to actor Tom Cavanagh, we have a revenge-thirsty Eobard Thawne who is as scheming and as maniacal as he is in the comics. We honestly can’t get enough of the character, but we’re glad he’s used somewhat sparingly. We wouldn’t want to ruin a good thing here.
19 GOT WRONG: THE SAINT OF KILLERS
The Saint of Killers may not exactly be a “villain” in the classic sense of the word, but he is most certainly an antagonist…and someone not to be trifled with. He made his first full appearance in Preacher #2, making him one of the earliest baddies Jesse Custer and his gang faced. Imbued with Colt pistols forged from the sword of the angel of death that never need to be reloaded and invulnerability that would make Superman shiver, The Saint of Killers tore through the pages of Preacher like a sentient lawnmower.
Now, while the version of the character in AMC’s adaptation of the cult series is by no means bad, he isn’t as mystically menacing as his comic book counterpart. To be fair Graham McTavish (Outlander) is great in the role, the way the show handles The Saint doesn’t quite do it for anyone who’s read the comic.
18 DONE RIGHT: TOBIAS WHALE
Tobias Whale is a cold, calculating villain who worked his way up the ranks of the criminal organization, the 100. He also is the man responsible for turning school teacher, Jefferson Pierce into the superhero Black Lightning. He also kind of looks like a cross between Wilson Fisk and Patrick from SpongeBob Squarepants. Now that’s not to say Whale's appearance quells his ability to be a formidable villain -- quite the opposite in fact. But bringing his larger-than-life stature to life isn't really feasible.
Luckily, rapper-turned actor Marvin “Krondon” Jones’ portrayal of Whale is outstanding. He brings all the menace and grit to the character and fills the larger-than-life shoes the character’s comic book counterpart. Much in the way Vincent D'Onofrio’s take on the Kingpin in Netflix’s Daredevil, Jones has redefined a long-standing villain.
17 GOT WRONG: THE JOKER
One of the most appealing things about the Joker is the totally ambiguous nature of how he came to be the Clown Prince of Crime. There have been myriad telling and potential origins of the character throughout the years. Some of which hold more water than others. But the fact that his backstory is basically a multiple choice answer, depending on who is writing the comic and how the Joker feels that day (or which Joker we’re talking about) keeps him fresh and has for 80 years.
When Gotham took a stab at creating a Joker-esque character, many decisions the show made were great, but ultimately lead nowhere. The character of Jerome was indeed a menacing antagonist, and if the story had added up to something more than just a cheap fake out at the end, it would have been another great tale in the Joker mythos, but alas.
16 DONE RIGHT: DEATHSTROKE
Deathstroke might be the most brutal assassin in comic book history. Ever since his debut in New Teen Titans #2, he’s been a terror for copious superheroes. Despite not having any real super powers, Slade Wilson would go on to influence similar characters (one of which *cough* Deadpool *cough* was a complete satirical knockoff) for decades. His steely demeanor and tough-as-nails attitude made him a fan favorite and even garnered him solo ongoing comics.
While Deathstroke had appeared in some iteration or another on shows like Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Smallville, it wasn’t until his debuted in Arrow that a truly accurate representation of the character had been seen in live action. Manu Bennett’s take on the character is ripped right from the comic page and audiences are lucky to have it. All the brutality and mercenary expertise are on display.
15 GOT WRONG: SAVITAR
In The Flash comics, the character of Savitar is portrayed as a villainous Speedster who leads a cult that worships The Speed Force. After a supersonic fighter jet test accident left him imbued with powers, he took his name from the Hindu god of motion Savitar. While the character’s costume design isn’t the most timeless (he was a product of the ‘90s, after all), Savitar is one of the more fascinating Flash villains to debut in the last 25 years.
But in CW’s The Flash, Savitar have very little in common with his comic book counterpart. While this isn’t always a deal breaker when it comes to adapting characters, stripping all the fascinating elements of Savitar for the sake of nothing more than a cool set of armor and a really silly character identity reveal. Savitar deserved way better.
14 DONE RIGHT: HUGO ROOT
Hugo Root in not a nice dude no matter what medium he’s in. In Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s cult classic series Preacher, Hugo was the cold-hearted, racist sheriff of Annville, Texas and the father of Arseface. While in the comics Root is seen as completely detestable human being, who gets maybe a bit more than what he deserves by the end of his run, the version of the character who appears on AMC’s television adaptation is a little more complex.
Sheriff Root, who is portrayed by character actor W. Earl Brown (Deadwood), is not the complete scumbag fans knew from the comics. Yes, Root is still a bad guy and by no means likeable, but there is a softer side to his character. There’s humanity there instead of an evil small-town sheriff caricature.
13 GOT WRONG: FELIX FAUST
Felix Faust has been kicking around DC Comics since the early ‘60s. He’s been a foil to The Justice League of America and The Green Lantern Corps, so the guy is no stranger to taking on some heavy-hitters. While his character has undergone some various iterations (like just about every villain in comic book history), he has always maintained his position as a powerful wizard dabbling in the dark arts.
His involvement with the mystic realm makes him a perfect adversary to DC’s hard-drinking, chain-smoking con-artist magician John Constantine. Faust made his live action debut in the short-lived CW show, Constantine in which he is played by the amazing Mark Margolis (Breaking Bad). Sadly, this version of Faust as an aging, albeit powerful, wizard sort of defanged the real danger of the character, which isn’t Margolis’ fault. We just wanted a more vicious and menacing version of Faust.
12 DONE RIGHT: KING SHARK
King Shark is somehow one the more ridiculous villains in the DC Universe while still being pretty amazing. He is essentially what would happen if someone took the time to make one of the characters from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles knockoff, Street Sharks actually cool. Originally a Superboy villain, King Shark would go on to become a mainstay in in DC comics and eventually become part of Suicide Squad.
The sheer audacity behind the creators of The Flash to include such an insane character into a live action show is nothing short of admirable. Voiced by the multi-talented David Hayter (the voice of Snake in Metal Gear: Solid), King Shark was brought to life in the most wonderful way, making anyone daub the quality of CGI in a network television show.
11 GOT WRONG: NON
One of the coolest things about Non, the Krytonian bruiser who first showed up in the film Superman: The Movie, is the fact that he acts as the brawn to General Zod’s brains. A man of few (of none, really) words, Non is a force to reckoned with. He’s basically a superhuman wrecking ball whose strength and stamina match that of Kal-El’s. There is no grand motive behind Non, just the simple order to destroy -- he’s a blunt instrument in every way. Even when the character made his leap into comics, his stoic nature was left unaltered.
However, Non in the show Supergirl is nothing like the iterations of the characters that came before. The show-runners of the series musts have wanted to use Zod as an antagonist, but couldn’t. Instead, they boosted their version of Non with the characteristics of his commanding Kryptonaisn officer, which ruined him.
10 DONE RIGHT: CARMINE FALCONE
Mob boss Carmine Falcone might be one of the most underutilized villains in Batman comics. This might be due in part to the fact that he doesn’t have a definite gimmick. He doesn’t wear a mask or use some sort of kitschy, themed weapon. He’s a classic criminal through and through, which makes him stand out like sore thumb when facing the Dark Knight.
But Falcone has actually be adapted in live action Batman properties twice. Once in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, in which he’s portrayed by Tom Wilkinson, and again in the television series Gotham. The TV version of the character might be the most realized take on Falcone yet. Portrayed by actor, John Dorman, Gotham’s Falcone is well-written and deeply-connected to politicians and the criminal underworld at large, making him a formidable antagonist for the GCPD.
9 GOT WRONG: VICTOR ZSASZ
Batman’s eclectic rogues gallery has no shortage of monsters and madman. But one of the more unsung members of this dubious league is both monstrous and mad in equal measures: the deranged serial killer, Victor Zsasz. First appearing in 1992 in Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1, Zsasz helped solidify the darker turn Batman comics were taking in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. His modus operandi and ghastly score keeping (which was cutting tally marks into his skin for each of his murders) were something that rarely had been seen in comic books.
Sadly, when Zsasz made his debut in the television show Gotham, a lot of the mania that made the character so terrifying was stripped away. This is by no means the fault of actor Anthony Carrigan. In fact, it’s his performance that makes the character even remotely interesting. This just isn’t our Zsasz.
8 DONE RIGHT: BRAINIAC
It seems to be a great injustice that one of the most iconic Superman villains (next to Lex Luthor and Zod) has never really been accurately portrayed in live action until Brainiac debuted in the show Krypton. While Krypton thus far has been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of quality, the show’s take on the classic villain is simply awesome.
Utilizing Brainiac as the big bad for Krypton is a smart play. And the show bringing to life all the world-collecting weirdness (skull space ship and all) the character has to offer really fits with the space opera theme the series has at the forefront of its conceit. Actor Blake Ritson looks amazing under tons of makeup and prosthetics and his performance brings the character we know from the comics to life.
7 GOT WRONG: CAPTAIN BOOMERANG
As comic book fans, we all have to admit that from time to time a character comes along that in concept should be a completely laughable joke -- Captain Boomerang is one of these characters. If you were to try to explain to a non-comic reader why a guy who has special automatically retrievable projectiles is a quality villain to the Flash, a man who can outrun literally anything, they may look at you like you have two heads.
But time and time again, despite all logic, George "Digger" Harkness has proven himself a tough customer in comics. Perhaps the fact that in the film Suicide Squad, we got a version of the character that was too goofy and charming not to like, but the other live action iteration of Captain Boomerang, played by Nick E. Tarabay on Arrow was simply uninspired.
6 DONE RIGHT: GORILLA GRODD
Bringing the villain Gorilla Grodd to live action has to be a tough sell, especially when it’s for network television, which doesn’t always have the budget to properly render certain special effects to a level modern audiences are used to. But somehow the CW series The Flash managed to pull off nothing short of a miracle.
The fact that a giant talking ape is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also just as menacing as his comic book counterpart shows up in something other than a multimillion dollar production is great. The character himself, while having a very different backstory in the show, brings a lot of the dark angst and philosophical turmoil the comic version of Grodd has to offer, making him a compelling villain who is in some of the best action sequences the The Flash has ever produced.
5 GOT WRONG: THE RIDDLER
When in the right hands, The Riddler might be the most terrifying and formidable foes Batman has ever faced. Story arcs like “Year Zero” from the New 52 launch and the “The War of Jokes and Riddles” from DC Rebirth truly illustrate the savage intellect and brutal criminal tactics that Edward Nygma is willing to deploy to see his megalomaniacal plans come to fruition.
In fact, both of the aforementioned comic book story arcs do a wonderful job of showing a young Riddler come into his own as a villainous mastermind and a truly worthy advisory to Batman. The version of the character we see in the show Gotham, however, is not. While Cory Michael Smith’s portrayal of the character is serviceable within the context of a mediocre show, this version of The Riddler is less monstrously veracious and more obnoxious.
4 DONE RIGHT: THE PENGUIN
For every misstep the television show Gotham takes, there is a choice the series makes that almost makes up for it. Arguably the most compelling version of any Batman comic character who populates Gotham is Oswald Cobblepot, better known as The Penguin. In the comics, The Penguin has seen a lot of version iterations, but they all begin with a portly man who has a lot of money, free time, and a chip on his shoulder to express his anger in dastardly ways.
Cobblepot in Gotham, played by the phenomenal Robin Lord Taylor, circumvents everything we know of the character and gives audiences a fresh take that pays enough homage to the source material to please longtime fans, but enough nuance to make him seem like a brand new character.
3 GOT WRONG: ODIN QUINCANNON
Jackie Earle Haley is arguably the greatest character actor working these days. He brings an intensity and a level of commitment to every character he brings that makes each and every one of his performances memorable even if the work he’s acting in isn’t the best. His role as the sadistic cattle baron Odin Quincannon in AMC’s Preacher is no different. Haley is committed to the role one hundred percent and his on-screen presence is rapturous and always engaging.
However, Odin in the show misses one of the bigger points of the comic book. In Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s cult classic, he is a pretty twisted man with some serious issues. Now, even a cable network like AMC that has a lot of leeway in its pulp content can’t fully support to adapt the page, it’s a defining characteristic that is missing in the show.
2 DONE RIGHT: HERR STARR
Herr Starr is one of the greatest antagonists in any comic published under the DC/Vertigo banner. He’s highly intelligent and a man of pure principle that is driven to madness through an increasingly ridiculous series of horrific events that befall him. From getting physically mutilated to being assaulted in the worst kind of way, Starr slowly turns into a madman with a megalomaniacal goal in mind that even the most distributed individuals and zealots to his cause can’t fully grasp.
The twisted progression of Starr in the Preacher comic book series is gradual and took more than sixty issues to fully flesh out, but so far in AMC’s adaptation of the series, actor Pip Torrens is doing an amazing job as the character, bringing his signature deadpan humor and twisted mindset to life. Only time will tell if the show goes to the lengths the comic does.
1 GOT WRONG: RA'S AL GHUL
Ra’s al Ghul is the most dangerous man Batman as ever faced, hands down. He is a man who possess equal intellect, strength and perceptive abilities to that of Bruce Wayne, making him the most deadly villain in the Dark Knight’s rogue's gallery. From his psychological torment to his hand-to-hand combat ability, no one gives Batman a run for his money like Ra’s. Liam Neeson portrayed a version of the character in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins that stripped him of his more supernatural elements, but leaving his mark on the Caped Crusader.
Unfortunately, when Ra’s al Ghul showed up in the CW’s Arrow, the character was pretty milquetoast in comparison to the version of him that came before. In fact, the story arc that came to a crescendo in season three of the show seemed like a slightly dumber and less interesting version of the arc presented in Batman Begins.