There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether comic book movies are ruining the business. One thing is certain, they’re not hurting TV. Nearly every network and streaming service has a comic book based series. They run the gamut from straightforward superhero shows, like The CW’s Arrowverse, to Netflix’s The Defenders lineup of Marvel dramas. Contrary to what non comic book fans think, these shows are actually harder to produce than the average series. They not only have to have all the emotional elements viewers want from a good TV show, they must also feature jaw-dropping fight scenes and stay true to a well-known, pre-published history.
It’s a high bar and not every series clears with ease. Some come out swinging, establish a great reputation and never look back. More often than not, series have excellent seasons, average seasons, and maybe even one forgettable season. Then there are the shows that never get anything right. They lead viewers on a waste of time trip through a mess that bears no resemblance to the comic they’ve been reading for years. However, true comic book fans can find something to like in the most horrible TV series, so here are the current comic book TV series ranked from worst to best.
23 MARVEL’S INHUMANS
After seeing Inhumans introduced on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., fans couldn’t wait to see the royal family on-screen. We were hoping to get a closer look at Terrigenesis and find out more about why the family chose to stay on the moon. What we got was eight episodes of a meandering trip through Hawaii with annoyingly stupid characters who were just downright unlikeable. That’s right, a series about the secret city of Attilan, was mostly based in Hawaii, which is beautiful, but not what we were waiting for.
Even the always captivating Iwan Rheon as the evil Maximus couldn’t save this mess from itself. Since Inhumans is set in the MCU it’s possible we could see the royal family again, but perhaps Marvel should just forget this one ever happened and send these characters wherever they sent Liv Tyler and Edward Norton.
22 MARVEL’S IRON FIST
The most important part of any superhero series is casting the lead hero. No matter what bells and whistles the producers come up with, the show will live and die on how viewers connect with the main character. This is where Iron Fist went wrong. Finn Jones was miscast as Danny Rand. He came off as arrogant and not at all self aware. He also wasn’t believable as a martial arts master. At no point was he intimidating or interesting. He just never worked and as such the show as a whole didn’t work. It began to feel like the audience should have been cheering for Wai Ching Ho’s Madame Gao instead of Danny.
Rosario Dawson and Jessica Henwick did their best to keep fans attention on the story, but it was a lost cause. Viewers couldn’t root for Danny, and therefore couldn’t root for Iron Fist.
21 FUTURE MAN
Though it’s not based on a comic book, Future Man can be called a superhero comedy. It stars Josh Hutcherson as Josh, a janitor who must travel through time to save the future. It’s like a messed up, crazy The Terminator. Josh spends all his time playing video games, then ends up in a real life version of his favorite one. Eliza Coupe and Derek Wilson are hilarious caricatures of every first person shooter video game.
Where the show falls apart is the sometimes slapstick, obvious nature of the jokes. It’s trying so hard to not be a family friendly comic book show, that the toilet humor overpowers everything else at times. There’s a balance between adult comedy and superhero genre that Future Man hasn’t discovered yet.
20 FEAR THE WALKING DEAD
It was only a matter of time before the success of The Walking Dead led to a spinoff. AMC chose to go with a prequel that would show things at the very beginning of the outbreak, in a different city with new characters. While it helps the network keep its most popular show on the air year round, it also diluted the product with less interesting people. Viewers have spent several seasons investing in Rick, Daryl, Michonne and the rest of their makeshift family, so starting over with new characters was asking a lot.
It didn’t help matters that the show got off to a slow start, featuring a slow build to a reveal that everyone knew was coming. What it comes down to is while fans were devastated when Glenn and Sasha died, they really don’t care whether these people live or die.
It seems weird to find a Batman show this low on the list, but let’s be honest Gotham isn’t really a Batman show, it’s a Jim Gordon show. Bruce Wayne is barely a teenager and just learning how to fight, so the person actually trying to save the city right now is Detective Gordon. The problem is he stupidly refuses to break the rules, even when it’s in everyone’s best interest. This makes him such a frustrating character to watch.
It never helps a superhero show when the villains are way more interesting than the hero. That’s Gotham’s main problem. Whenever Gordon is on-screen viewers are wondering what the Penguin is up to. And it’s not just Penguin. Fish, Jerome, Barbara and Edward are much more developed than Gordon. Also, notice how Bruce is inconsequential to the conversation. That’s not a good sign for a Batman story.
18 MARVEL’S THE DEFENDERS
Over the course of five seasons of its four Marvel series, Netflix built to the inevitable team up, The Defenders. Viewers spent time investing in each hero and learning their stories. We even had to sit through 13 episodes of Iron Fist. By the time we finally got to the meet up, it seemed so anti-climatic and a little predictable. The show followed the same template set forth by the previous four series, so there were very few surprises for the audience.
However, the highlight was without a doubt the chemistry among the show’s four main heroes. Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Finn Jones as Danny Rand made for a fun blend of every show’s best elements. It wasn’t the homerun fans were expecting, but it didn’t suck either, so that’s something.
The CW, and The WB before it, has a long history of series based on comic books or sci-fi/fantasy stories, so it was no surprise when the network decided to adapt the iZombie comics. In a world full of zombie projects, what sets the show apart is the fun it brings to a familiar genre. As Liv, Rose McIver’s no holds barred jump into the life of each brain she eats is never boring and almost always humorous.
Another comic book aspect that this show excels in is the strong, supportive team surrounding the hero. Liv’s friends and co-workers are just as important to solving murders as her weird abilities. They also play integral roles in the show’s overall arc of finding a cure for the outbreak. Really the only negative against the show is The CW constantly moving it around so it’s hard for viewers to stay invested.
Usually when people start talking about the devil, they aren’t thinking of him in terms of a handsome nightclub owner. However, by setting him in Los Angeles and making him a charming party boy bored with life, FOX’s Lucifer introduced audiences to a whole new take on the myth. Using his many skills to help a detective solve crimes, Lucifer is forced to discover different aspects of humanity and examine whether he truly believes he’s evil personified. Though it sounds heavy and serious, leading man Tom Ellis effortlessly makes the show simultaneously funny, sad and mysterious.
While Ellis is entertaining as Lucifer, where the show suffers is in the supporting team that surrounds him. They seemingly have no character developments that don’t relate back to Lucifer. It’s true that he’s the lead, but they should also be interesting on their own.
15 THE GIFTED
There are so many mutants in the X-Men universe that even with 10 movies, Marvel would never be able to get them all on-screen. The Gifted gives the audience another chance to get to know more about characters that are normally lost in the crowd of the more well-known headliners. It also puts an intriguing spin on the plight of mutants by making it even more of an outsider story.
Centering the plot around one regular family’s struggle to save their mutant teenagers offers viewers the opportunity to really understand how human the problems of these mutants are. Getting up close with the underground also provides producers ample openings to drop in easter eggs for longtime X-Men fans. Whether it’s through the Hellfire Club or calling the evil government agency Sentinel Services, The Gifted excels at staying authentic to its comic roots.
14 THE TICK
The Tick flips the script, as the story is really about Arthur, the sidekick. He’s the mild-mannered guy, who meets The Tick and has his life changed. The over the top, ridiculous comedy of it all helps it feel more like a comic book than most of its counterparts. Griffin Newman plays Arthur as a sad, broken man, who has spent his life dealing with mental illness after witnessing an attack by The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley).
Where the show really shines is the character development. Arthur and the villainous Miss Lint have equally sympathetic backstories, while Peter Serafinowicz as The Tick delivers every crazy line with a straight face that just makes everything funnier. The series perfectly blends adult humor into the superhero genre. It’s somehow a throwback and fresh all at the same time.
What makes the familiar story of Supergirl work so well is that underneath all her strength and power, she’s just an awkward girl trying to figure out where her place in the world is. As exciting as the flying, heat vision and super punching is, it’s the human side of Kara that makes her so relatable to viewers. It’s how her life as Kara informs her superhero abilities as Supergirl that makes her a role model.
Kara believes in hope and love, so even at the most dire times, she does the right thing. The reason Supergirl has become such an important role model is that she represents the best version of humanity. She’s the good person we all want to be. The one major change the show could make is more Cat Grant. Calista Flockhart is endlessly entertaining as Kara’s former boss and mentor.
12 THE FLASH
From the moment he was introduced on Arrow, Grant Gustin was the Barry Allen fans had been picturing all those years they were reading the comics. He was awkward, sweet and brilliant. Over the course of four seasons, he has evolved into a confident, experienced hero, who now helps others find their way along the same path.
The series began as a light-hearted alternative to the seriousness of Arrow. However, since its debut each season has gotten progressively darker and depressing. It’s only through the chemistry among the fantastic cast has the show stayed somewhat watchable. Barry’s scenes with Joe and Iris are the highlights of every episode. If the show can find its way back to that season one magic, it can speed back up to the top of the list.
Those not familiar with the genre often think all comic book series are created equally. They have a preconceived idea about a law-abiding citizen who will always use their powers for good and never cross certain lines. Preacher is not that show. Jesse Custer is no one’s hero. He mostly uses his powers for himself and to occasionally help his friends. Trying to find God means he is technically saving the world, but he’s not happy about it.
It is this deviation from the norm that makes Preacher so fascinating, not to mention Dominic Cooper’s compelling portrayal of Jesse. It’s one of those shows where you never know what to expect. However, it’s not for everyone. It’s definitely an acquired taste that will probably never appeal to a mainstream audience, which is why serious comic book fans should watch it.
10 MARVEL’S THE PUNISHER
When Daredevil premiered on Netflix some viewers were surprised by its adult themes. The franchise continued to push the envelope through the other three series, but it really went for a whole new level with The Punisher. It’s a grown up show that follows Frank Castle as he deals with his guilt and grief over not be able to save his family. There’s not a single scene where Jon Bernthal doesn’t have the constant pain Frank lives with on display.
It’s a bloody, brutal adaptation that, after three failures, finally gives the character the respect he deserves. Though he’s surrounded by a fantastic cast, The Punisher is really a showcase for Bernthal. Viewers cannot look away from his full-bodied performance of a man who can’t forget and can’t move on.
9 MARVEL’S DAREDEVIL
As the first show in Netflix’s The Defenders set up, Daredevil immediately set the tone for what fans could expect from this new side of the MCU. This was a much darker look at the real consequences of a world that now knows about aliens and superheroes. Daredevil is what happens after The Avengers leave town.
Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock is not the typical tortured hero, trying to balance his two lives. He realizes right from the start that Daredevil is the true him, and while he hides his activities from his friends, he doesn’t apologize for who he is. Underneath all the fight scenes and comic book mythology there’s also a quietly inspirational story about how Matt just lives a normal life, not letting others define him by his blindness. It’s really what makes him such an admirable hero.
Let’s take a moment and discuss the Pilot episode of Arrow, which featured the most perfect hero introduction seen on TV in a very long time. It instantly establishes everything we need to know about Oliver Queen. He’s a former party boy, who now has superior fighting and archery skills. He wants to clean up his city and will do anything to make that happen. That first episode set up character traits that the series is still mining six seasons later.
Arrow also established an entire superhero universe on The CW and that is influence that can’t be taken lightly. There is literally a hero for everyone in the Arrowverse and those roots can be traced back to Oliver, Diggle and Felicity starting their small team together.
7 MARVEL’S RUNAWAYS
At some point during their teen years everyone thinks their parents are strange and trying to ruin their lives. Unfortunately, for Marvel’s Runaways their parents are actually evil and killing people. The weirdly universal story of feeling like an outsider and needing to find people who understand you has become one of the company’s most popular comics.
What the series has improved on from the comic, is the development of the parents. Seeing so much of the story from their perspectives creates a shade of gray that readers don’t necessarily get to feel from the page. With familiar favorites perfectly cast as The Pride, every character feels important and essential to the plot. It’s these little touches that make Runaways so much more than a standard issue teen drama.
6 LEGENDS OF TOMORROW
Superhero team ups are always complicated, as storytellers struggle to get each member the proper amount of time and development. Following its flawed first season, Legends of Tomorrow dropped a few characters, added a few others and really hit its stride. With a team of eight (or nine if you count Gideon), Legends manages to make every member of the team feel like the lead. It’s a balance rarely seen during team-ups.
It’s also the familial chemistry among the Waverider crew that makes them so comfortable to watch. Nearly every episode features the different members working together in various incarnations that always work out for the best. Sometimes it’s Ray and Mick, or Sara and Amaya, or even Mick and Dr. Stein. No matter how the show mixes it up, it just always works.
5 THE WALKING DEAD
The zombie apocalypse doesn’t sound like it would lead to one of the most emotionally draining shows on TV, and yet it’s exhausting to watch. Yes, there are plenty of scary, nail biting moments, but it’s really the stuff in between all that that keeps fans so devoted to The Walking Dead.
It’s the attachment to the makeshift family Rick, Carl and Michonne have created. The investment in Glenn and Maggie’s love story. The introduction of new survivors along the way. The downtime viewers spend getting to know the people behind the fighting is what makes the inevitable deaths so heartbreaking. Anyone can make a horror show with a bunch zombies attacking people, but it’s the human stories that sets this show apart from others in the genre.
4 MARVEL’S JESSICA JONES
Jessica Jones is one of those shows that needed just the right lead to make it work. She had to embody Jessica’s cynicism and desire to still do the right thing, while still having a sense of humor and staying likeable. Krysten Ritter has all these characteristics and more.
However, as good as she is, she’s overshadowed by David Tennant’s eerily charming Kilgrave. The ability to make others do anything is absolute power and he uses it to its worst possible means. The constant threat the no one knows who has been “Kilgraved” hangs over the second half of the series like an extremely suspenseful guillotine. Of course Jessica figures out how to defeat him, but the effects of his trauma still cast a heavy shadow on her life. It’s the most real aftermath we’ve seen a TV bad guy leave.
3 MARVEL’S LUKE CAGE
Sometimes the perfect show comes along at the perfect time. Luke Cage was that show. It’s not just about the power of a hoodie wearing black man being bulletproof. It’s about seeing a black community full of thriving people living everyday, normal lives. Apparently that’s something a big chunk of the country really needs to see black people doing.
The show is a celebration of a hero proud to help his community. It takes him a few episodes to get there, but once he does, Luke unapologetically jumps in. If we’re being honest, the back half lagged some story-wise, but the characters were able to keep everything interesting when the plot got bogged down in exposition. If the first season of these shows were meant to set up the hero’s place in the MCU and The Defenders, then Luke Cage excelled on all fronts.
2 MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
This is the OG comic book show on the list -- it was started as the first spinoff of the MCU. Fans were so distressed when Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson died in The Avengers, they demanded his return. Marvel then created a whole new show for him. Though Coulson was viewers’ entry point, they very quickly fell in love with this quirky little family of agents. As it progressed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. delved deeper into Marvel lore, bringing Inhumans into the MCU.
In its fourth season S.H.I.E.L.D. used a new storytelling format to hit its stride and essentially reboot the show in a new, more creative direction. Though it’s still not as connected to the films as fans would like, perhaps that’s for the best, as it has no problems making its own fascinating mythology and history.
Here’s the thing about Legion, there has never been a TV series like it before, and it seems unlikely that one will come along in the future. Set in the X-Men universe, the show follows David Haller as he discovers that his lifelong delusions are actually products of his mutant abilities. David is the son of Charles Xavier, which means he is extremely powerful.
It also means that David’s delusions are so strong that it’s never really clear what’s real and what’s not. It’s such a huge risk to walk the audiences through several episodes of storyline development, then reveal that it all happened inside David’s head. It keeps everyone guessing, something not found in TV’s often predictable landscape. It’s unique, unpredictable style puts Legion in a class, and genre of its own.