Over the course of the past year, things have looked exceedingly grim for comic book adaptations on television. Within the span of four months, Netflix canceled all five of its original Marvel Cinematic Universe live-action series. In the case of Jessica Jones, word of the cancellations hit just four months before the series' third (and now final) season premiered.
Following Fox's acquisition by Disney, The Gifted and Legion were both brought to an end, with the former ending on a cliffhanger never to be resolved, while Gotham ended this year after five seasons. After two seasons, Amazon chose not to renew The Tick while Syfy simultaneously canceled Happy! and Deadly Class. DC Universe canceled Swamp Thing less than a week into its inaugural season. Although Arrow, Preacher and Lucifer are all confirmed to return, the returning television adaptations' next seasons will be their last.
At a glance, it looks like the medium's recent trend of optioning comic book adaptations is coming to an abrupt end, but, upon closer inspection, television is repositioning itself based on behind-the-scenes logistics for what is shaping up to be the next wave of comic book television series.
There are plenty of other comic book-related programming moving forward with fresh renewals while the next generation of adaptations are already in active development. The medium is actually looking to expand comic book-inspired programming in a big way within the next year.
Netflix's cancellation of all five series was one primarily driven by inter-company politics rather than viewership. With Netflix being the main financier behind the five series and the crossover event Defenders, despite sharing the license with Marvel Television, it made sense for the premium streaming service to cancel the series in favor of newer, more favorable licensing deals now that Disney is poised to launch its own competing service this November.
However, Netflix is by no means done with comic book adaptations overall, acquiring prolific comic book writer Mark Millar's creator-owned imprint Millarworld last year with plans to launch a new wave of films and television series based off the author's works. The streaming service is also entering a first-look development deal with Dark Horse Comics based off the success of its adaptation of The Umbrella Academy.
Arrow may be the first DCTV series coming to an end on The CW, but according to star Stephen Amell, its ending had been planned for some time. And while rumors linger that Legends of Tomorrow will similarly come to an end after its upcoming fifth season, the network still has The Flash, Supergirl and Black Lightning all slated to return along with the officially ordered Batwoman.
Outside of its DC adaptations, The CW has renewed Riverdale for a fourth season while ordering a spinoff series based on fellow Archie Comics property Katy Keene. And while not joining the two series on The CW, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has been a reportedly strong success for Netflix leading to another renewal order, extending the series to four seasons and counting.
Despite being canceled by their original networks, Deadly Class, Happy! and The Tick are all actively being shopped to other networks for potential renewal. Prior to its cancellation, the first season of Happy! had reportedly performed well on Netflix, while Deadly Class had seen a noticeable upward trend in viewership over the course of its inaugural season, making it a solid choice for a competing network to acquire.
Lucifer faced a similar fate last year after being canceled by Fox, only to be renewed for two additional seasons by Netflix, further reinforcing that cancellation is not always an end.
In terms of new programming, DC Universe is expanding its original programming to include an animated Harley Quinn series and live-action Stargirl series, while Titans and Doom Patrol have both been confirmed to receive a second season on the digital platform. Young Justice: Outsiders has also been a major streaming success.
Later this year, HBO launches its self-described "remix" of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen while ABC moves away from traditional superhero adaptations in Stumptown. And, all the while, Image Comics plans to expand its television offerings with adaptations of Invincible, Eclipse, Ice Cream Man, Injection, Think Tank, Nailbiter and Port of Earth, all of which are in various stages of development.
Of course, this all hasn't even addressed Marvel continuing to expand its television programming, even after its earlier setback on Netflix. In addition to returning series including Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Runaways and Cloak & Dagger, Marvel Television is launching a whole wave of original programming on Hulu including the live-action Ghost Rider and Hellstrom, and animated series including M.O.D.O.K., Hit-Monkey, Tigra & Dazzler and Howard the Duck.
Marvel Studios is also looking to get into the television game, with live-action and animated original miniseries slated for Disney+ including Loki, WandaVision, Falcon and Winter Soldier and What If? Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has teased that the upcoming series will play into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The past eight months have seen tremendous shake-ups throughout the world of comic book television adaptations. Despite a wave of cancellations, series being brought to a planned end and shuffling between networks, the future is actually looking stronger than ever as networks vertically align through broadcast and streaming to expand their respective original programming.
This is bound to bring a new wave of exclusive programming, much of which is made of comic book adaptations. The future is looking bright for the medium as it reinvents itself for the digital age, with a whole new generation of adaptations poised to thrill millions of fans around the world.