This year has been an abundant one for fans of comic book television. 2016 saw the strong returns of favorites such as “The Flash” and “The Walking Dead,” while also debuting some new faces like “Luke Cage” and “Preacher.” Audiences could hardly channel surf this year without stumbling on a show featuring super-powered beings, zombies or other graphic novel adapted material across a variety of networks.
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Lots of progress was made on returning shows, as well as new splashes to the arena made by freshman series. Whether it be smart writing, great action scenes or flat-out amazing characters, many of these shows thrilled us week after week. We at CBR found more than a few episodes that truly wowed us this year and compiled them into a list of the best of the best.
CAUTION: Multiple spoilers for several comic book shows below.
16. “Invasion!” (“The Flash” season 3, episode 8)
Even though “Supergirl’s” episode was first, this particular episode of “The Flash” truly got the ball rolling for this epic crossover. Barry officially introduced Kara to the fold, he unveiled “Flashpoint” to everyone within the “Arrowverse” and the evil alien race known as the Dominators came into the fray. Even though the bad guys were just being introduced in this episode, the aliens managed to mind control most of the team and pit them against the Flash and Green Arrow. What resulted was an epic brawl the likes of which haven’t been seen in the shared hero universe as yet.
The “Arrowverse” crossovers have become a much hyped and often well-received piece of the respective CW superhero slate. “Invasion!” was ambitious to start, and really only could have been kicked off with “The Flash” due to its all-encompassing nature of superpowers and inter-dimensional travel. While the Dominators took a backseat this episode, it proved full of great moments for the original duo of Barry and Ollie as seasoned vets dealing with such a huge crisis.
15. “The Ghost” (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” season 4, episode 1)
With Daisy’s departure from the organization, she struck out on her own crusade before finding herself face to face with an even bigger threat. Enter Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes, on a punishing rampage dispatching multiple sinners in brutal ways. Daisy sees him as a simple bloodthirsty killer instead of a judge (even though the line between both gets hazy), and goes toe-to-toe with Reyes, only to be spared by him.
Not since the much maligned “Ghost Rider” films have audiences had the chance to see the Spirit of Vengeance in the big or small screen. The return of the show was suitably dark for the character and his transformation was both jaw-droppingly garish and insanely badass for being on a television show. It was equally exciting to see the character introduced as his newer iteration of Robbie Reyes, as he is a fresh take on the Rider persona with tons of potential for future episodes. Whatever direction the show takes Reyes in, his debut in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” was certainly worth watching alone.
14. “Take Me Back to Hell” (“Lucifer” season 1, episode 13)
Lucifer Morningstar might have not gotten as much attention as say “The Walking Dead” during his debut, but his show built up a lot of drama in roping the malcontent back to Hell. The show’s protagonist found himself framed for murder, at odds with his brother Amendial and struggling to find reasons to remain on Earth. Eventually Lucifer manages to finger the real culprit, but finds out the gates of Hell have been opened and something (or someone rather) has escaped. Lucifer finds himself resigned to Earth by his father, now tasked with reigning in the person who broke free: his mother.
This episode provided the much-needed intrigue the series was lacking. For all his charm and quips, Lucifer found himself knocked down a peg or two in the finale. He was for once afraid for himself and seemed to make an earnest attempt at being the “good son” in order to protect Chloe. For all its buddy-cop style and feel, “Lucifer” spun an interesting web that really got folks hyped for the second season.
13. “Eternal Sunshine of the Caffeinated Mind” (“iZombie” season 2, episode 14)
The second season of “iZombie” wove a bigger web of intrigue than ever before for the series. Liv finally discovered her roommate (really a Max Rager spy) Gilda’s status as a past fling of Major’s that wouldn’t leave off, promptly decking the girl and showing her what’s what. Drake gets revealed to be an undercover cop and Ravi finds out his zombie cure is only a temporary fix. This flows over when Blaine gets brutally murdered by Mr. Boss, only to rise up as a zombie a few hours later, leaving the audiences wondering what his next move on “Team-Z” would be.
Going beyond the simple humor of having a different personality each week, viewers finally got some payoff to multiple plotlines and strings of drama in the show. This episode was the turning point for Rita’s subterfuge and Blaine’s stance as a villain (as he appears an amnesiac after re-zombifying). Not only that, but also this was one of the few times a person slipped past Liv’s “medium” work and got off scot-free. After weeks of pulling threads, all the cogs finally fit into the “iZombie” machine here, and got it revved up for the latter half of the season.
12. “Seven Minutes in Heaven” (“Daredevil” season 2, episode 9)
Matt Murdock found himself in even deeper trouble this season with the injection of the Punisher to the fold. Daredevil hunts down members of the Hand as much as he can, while his close relationship with Foggy suffers a break due to Matt pushing everyone away. Meanwhile, Frank Castle enters prison and is jumped by inmates in a hallway. What follows that is a brutal and intense fight scene that had viewers completely breathless the entire time.
Fight scene aside, this particular episode was great because it showed Matt delving into his quintessential isolationist way of tackling his problems. He pushes Karen and Foggy away, opting to close down Nelson & Murdock forever, as his duties as Daredevil grow ever more riskier. Punisher’s fight scene felt just as rough and unhinged as the character was when he was first introduced to the show. If that wasn’t enough, the audience was also reminded of Fisk’s growing power behind the scenes. This episode hit all best notes for “Daredevil” and did it with style.
11. “Sundowner” (“Preacher” season 1, episode 6)
Despite only having a 10-episode run, “Preacher” was certainly unafraid of operating at a relatively slow boil. This episode however, finally got the series’ events really cooking. Jesse Custer is approached by the angels tasked with protecting Genesis, and in so doing, reveals a murderous Seraph is on their trail. Eugene (a.k.a. Arseface) feels guilty after having the preacher force people to forgive him for his past transgressions and asks Jesse to rescind the forgiveness. After an argument between the two, the preacher loses his cool and uses the voice of Genesis while screaming “Go to Hell!” to Eugene.
This episode finally saw Jesse being questioned on his use of the voice by, surprisingly enough, a character that benefited the most from it. The dichotomy between Eugene and Jesse defined Custer’s misaligned moral compass, and served as a big catalyst for his actions in the last few episodes. Not only that, but also the fun brawl in the motel between the ever-resurrecting angels was something refreshingly different from the stylized beat downs we’re used to seeing in other comic book shows.
10. “Invasion!” (“Arrow” season 5, episode 8)
“Arrow’s” slice of the “Invasion!” crossover definitely put its own spin on the Dominator event. Ollie, Diggle, Thea, Ray and Sara find themselves trapped in a simulated world where all of their desires are made true. Ray is engaged to Felicity, Oliver is set to marry Laurel, Thea bonds with her (now alive) parents, Diggle dons the Green Arrow hood and Sara revels with the sister she has lost. It’s a very “It’s a Wonderful Life” take, and resulted in some very poignant emotional moments when the characters are faced with either being happy in a simulation or breaking free of the illusion to return to their much harsher realities.
This episode was not only a great dive for most of the “Arrow” crew (although Ray gets fairly lost in the background), it was also the 100th one for the series. It served as a cathartic moment for many of the characters, many of whom harbor numerous regrets or despair over costly decisions made all the way up till now. Even though it ended with a huge sci-fi twist, “Invasion!” was certainly a great episode for the show this season.
9. “Just to Get a Rep” (“Luke Cage” season 1, episode 5)
Audiences were treated to the introduction of “Luke Cage” to the Netflix repertoire this year. In “Just to Get a Rep,” Luke has become a full-fledged hero of Harlem, helping folks wherever he can and actively fighting against resident crime boss, Cottonmouth. Cottonmouth sets his cronies to hassle, beat or otherwise vandalize local citizens, telling them all to complain to Luke Cage in an effort to spread the hero thin. Cage is trying to get ready for Pop’s funeral when folks suddenly flood him with requests to take care of the never-do-wells quickly. Luke is overwhelmed, but manages to resolve most of the complaints; at the cost of being late to Pop’s service.
This episode was one of the strongest for “Luke Cage” because it truly reflected the character as he was in the comics. Luke was a man of the people, ever ready to lend a helping hand to folks in need. The scenes of locals literally stopping him on the street for help with him simply replying “I’m on it!” were incredibly fitting. While “Luke Cage” certainly took the character in a fresh direction, this episode was a true throwback to his origins.
8. “Call and Response” (“Preacher” season 1, episode 10)
Joining other finales on this list, the ending of “Preacher” certainly left fans salivating for more. Jesse finally contacts Heaven for all citizens of Annville to see and they are greeted by an angel posing as God. Custer sees through his ethereal ruse and demands (using the Word of God of course) to know where the real God is. The angel responds that he’s gone and no one knows where he is, before suddenly ending the transmission. The entire town is shook, now knowing that there is a heaven but no being to care about their actions whilst on Earth. Much of the town’s residents fall into despair and hopelessness, which viewers see through a montage of unsettling events.
This episode really nails some amazing moments for the series. What genuinely makes it though, is the townsfolk’s response to finding out God isn’t there. It’s incredibly sad to see so many characters have the belief sucked out of them and fall into absolute anguish. “Call and Response” is fantastic because it started to truly grasp the core themes of biblical blasphemy and incredible darkness found in the comics. We only hope there’s more of it included in season two.
7. “Flashpoint” (“The Flash” season 3, episode 1)
“The Flash’s” return was much awaited, as the second season finale saw Barry foolishly running into the past to save his mother. Allen manages to spare her from Reverse Flash and lives in a new, ideal timeline where both his parents are alive. However, Barry begins to lose his memories and powers obtained from his original timeline and is forced to have his mother killed by his nemesis once again, or live in the altered reality of “Flashpoint” forever. Allen choses the former and attempts to set things right, but upon returning to his original timeline, he finds out things are not quite as he had left them.
This episode was one of the best for the season so far because it opened up so many questions. What exactly had changed? Will Barry tell anyone about his mistake (he reluctantly does eventually)? There was tons of potential to be had. On top of that, it was a good character push for Allen, who we see chooses his powers and given memories in a less ideal reality over what he thought would be a picture-perfect life. It’s a genuinely tough decision for Barry, and even revealed a character flaw of selfishness for the highly regarded hero.
6. “Mad City: Follow the White Rabbit” (“Gotham” season 3, episode 6)
“Gotham” has definitely given its own spin on its Batman source material, and it certainly has its charm. This episode finds the city beset with more crime than ever, with the Mad Hatter involving Jim Gordon in a deadly scavenger hunt in order to teach him a lesson about loss. While the main plot was fairly interesting, the surprisingly captivating part of the episode was Penguin’s struggle to decide whether or not he would profess his love to his friend Edward Nygma. Throughout the episode, Cobblepot hems and haws about if he’ll do it, even practicing how he’ll come out and confess his feelings. It’s funny, awkward and well-suited to his character in the show.
While the series has freely changed origins and back stories for “Batman” characters to suit its new narrative, this decision to make Penguin gay (or bisexual) universally shocked fans. The reactions were polarizing, with some adamantly against it and others applauding it. Funnily enough, Jim’s rather hairy encounter with the Mad Hatter got completely overshadowed by this (sort of) romantic sub-plot.
5. “The Adventures of Supergirl” (“Supergirl season 2, episode 1)
“Supergirl” might have struggled in her freshman season, but the show was more than ready to bring in the big guns for its return. Kara gets the surprise assistance of her cousin, Clark Kent, in saving a sabotaged commercial spacecraft. The two work together to learn more about the incident, meeting Lena Luthor in the process, and discover that the L-Corp CEO was being targeted by her brother Lex from behind the scenes. The duo certainly ham it up, but also unveil some tension between Superman and J’onn J’onzz over past disagreements, as well as a new enemy known as Metallo.
“Adventures of Supergirl” was an action-packed return for the show and had numerous fans sighing in relief that Superman himself finally showed up. His existence in the series was largely relegated to text messaging with Kara, which resulted in some frustration among viewers. The team up was cathartic and fantastically depicted the duo as the super-powered family members they’ve been portrayed as in the comics. It was a long-needed moment for Kara as well, as she was able to properly share the screen with her famous cousin, and not be overshadowed by the mere mention of him.
4. “What We Leave Behind” (“Arrow” season 5, episode 9)
Oliver finds himself ensnared in a recreation of one of his murders from back when he was crossing names off his “list” in season one. The villain Prometheus sets everything up to a T, the episode juxtaposing the vigilante’s brutal executions of henchmen in the past with his present day exploration of the scene. Prometheus himself appears to be there, engaging Oliver in a small fight before disappearing in the shadows. Green Arrow thinks he has the drop on the villain, fires an arrow and kills him, only to discover he just murdered an innocent detective (who was also Felicity’s boyfriend) that was forcibly placed in the Prometheus’ gear.
Ever since Tobias Church exited “Arrow,” the series seemed to be in a painful gridlock when it came to letting its mysterious antagonist Prometheus step into the spotlight. “What We Leave Behind” thankfully rectified this, giving some insight to the villain and his motivations. The flashbacks were made useful again, showcasing Oliver’s much more violent measures against his current day restraint. After this mid-season finale, Oliver and team found themselves in a losing situation, which may mean many more thrilling episodes for the latter half of its run.
3. “Invasion!” (“Legends of Tomorrow” season 2, episode 7)
Even though “The Flash” and “Arrow” got the ball rolling on this massive crossover event, “Legends of Tomorrow” brought it all together. The evil alien race known as the Dominators revealed their plan to kill every super-powered being on Earth with a special bomb that only affected meta-humans, forcing the heroes to pit every resource they have to combat them. Everyone participates in a magnificent battle against the aliens, while Firestorm manages to transmute the massive weapon into water. The entire crew send the Dominators packing and rejoice as the Earth is saved.
This crossover was the most ambitious for the CW network yet. All of the characters got to show their worth in this majorly action-packed fight, which was truly in keeping with “Legends of Tomorrow’s” epic nature. The climax was fitting after all the runaround the characters had suffered though at the hands of the Dominators, so it was nice to see every single hero get their own slice of payback against them. Joining together almost a dozen heroes across four different shows, the final “Invasion!” episode was action-packed and amazingly fun.
2. “Penny and Dime” (“Daredevil” season 2, episode 4)
Frank Castle finds himself captured and tortured by the Irish mob (really a ruse to get close to the boss of the organization) and is surprisingly rescued by Daredevil himself. Matt pulls off some badass baton work to fell a few goons, Punisher does what he does best and coldly murders some bad guys, and the two escape. Daredevil brings Castle to a graveyard, where Frank gives a heartbreaking monologue. In it, Castle discusses his family, his PTSD as a former soldier and the story behind him saying the rhyme “One batch, two batch. Penny and dime.”
This episode manages to hit so many fantastic notes that it’s hard to keep track of them all. The brutal violence Frank suffers in order to further his subterfuge as well as the fun jibes he trades off with Daredevil during their escape fit the character so well. The cherry on top is, of course, Punisher’s recount of reuniting with his family after coming home from combat deployment. Actor John Berenthal gives an amazingly heartbreaking delivery, which gave Frank Castle’s tragedy so much more gut-wrenching impact. This episode was one of a kind that sticks with you well after the credits roll.
1. “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” (“The Walking Dead” season 7, episode 1)
For months, fans of “The Walking Dead” agonized over the season six finale cliffhanger. Who had the nefarious Negan killed? From deciphering show audio to poring over leaked set photos, avid viewers theorized who would see the business end of Lucille when the series returned. In this debut episode, the survivors find themselves at the mercy of Negan and his Saviors, awaiting the villain’s terrible game of eenie-meenie-miney-moe to pass. Abraham is chosen and dispatched, but Daryl takes a swing at Negan after the fact. This prompts Negan to punish the survivors by brutally bashing Glenn’s head in to pulp.
Even if you weren’t a fan of the series, it was difficult to avoid any water cooler chat about “The Walking Dead’s” return. This episode was suitably garish and violent, shocking viewers all around and even netting a fair amount of complaints from the Federal Communications Commission. It not only played such an iconic scene from the comic books well, it gave it a slight twist that would heavily affect certain character’s dynamic moving forward. Regardless, it’s one thing reading poor Glenn’s death in the books, but it was quite unforgettable seeing it in motion during this episode.
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