Comic books and live action television have been synonymous almost since the creation of the latter, with the Man of Steel finding his way onto American airwaves as early as 1952 with The Adventures of Superman. Since then, dozens of characters from the realm of the printed page have found their way to the small screen — from your expected DC and Marvel superheroes to the more obscure, independent creations. Comic book characters on television occur so often these days that viewers take it for granted, sometimes not even being aware the stories they’re watching are from comics, so long as they provide high quality television.
However, comic book characters being a source of quality entertainment isn’t always a given. Almost as long as there’s been comic book characters on television there’s also been adaptations that were, well…terrible. Perhaps the budget was too small to do the character justice, maybe the character was written nothing like the character they were adapting, or the costumes were just awful…or in the most unholiest of cases, all three. And while most comic fans have tried to block those memories out, CBR’s got a long memory. Welcome to the the 15 worst TV versions of popular comic characters.
The original Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk television series ran for five seasons from 1978 to 1982. Despite its popularity, the series ended on a cliffhanger until much later, when the show garnered a series of made for television films. In the second of these, the 1989 The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, Matt Murdock makes an appearance as a lawyer who helps David Banner fight off a case where he’s been framed for an attempted assault.
Daredevil’s origin and powers remain largely intact, with Rex Smith actually playing a good Daredevil — even if he trades Hornhead’s iconic red outfit for the black one he spends most of the first season of the Netflix series in. The real problem is that the film isn’t very good, initially intending to serve as a backdoor pilot for a Daredevil series, but failing due to poor reception.
14. GREEN ARROW
For what it’s worth, Stephen Amell is a truly talented actor that makes Arrow an enjoyable watch even during the most mediocre of episodes. The show has required him to play two, sometimes three different versions of his character during vastly different points of his life, and pulling that off takes no small amount of acting ability.
Having said that…let’s not pretend like the person he’s playing is actually Green Arrow. The boisterous, loud-mouthed hard-left liberal that Ollie’s known for being in the comics is nowhere to be found on the show. Instead we’re given a much more broken, introspective, and often grim character that’s known to put the weight of the world on his shoulders. Much as we don’t want to admit it, Arrow’s Green Arrow is really just a more likable Batman.
13. BRUCE WAYNE
Gotham is supposed to be about Gordon and the GCPD’s life in the city of the Bat, right as it all goes downhill. And in the background of all that insanity is the young boy whose life was torn apart by the chaos of Gotham, Bruce Wayne. In theory, a story that explores the earliest years of the Boy Who Would Become Batman is a solid idea.
There’s lots of drama and character development to be had that you just can’t get once the character has become Batman once and for all. Unfortunately, the idea isn’t as interesting in practice. In reality, you maybe want to see the last few months before Bruce gets it all together, and then after that you want the Dark Knight, striking terror into the hearts of the cowardly and superstitious lot.
Many of the entries on this list come from attempting to do on a television budget what you need a film budget to accomplish. Blade’s no stranger to this, but there are some other issues as well. For one, after six years of coming to associate Wesley Snipes as the perfect live-action version of the Daywalker, fans of Blade were suddenly told to acclimate themselves to an entirely different actor.
And while member of rap super-group Onyx Sticky Fingaz did the best job he could taking over the role for the serial, ultimately the fact that the show was stuck on Spike and had to deal with the restrictions of cable television kept it from being the hyper-violent bloodfest that had made the trilogy so popular in the first place.
The truth is most versions of Superman have been positively stellar, so when you call Dean Cain the worst version of Superman it’s not the insult it sounds like. He certainly had the wholesome look of a Superman, and even looked convincing enough in the costume. The real problem was that TNT wasn’t really looking for a typical kind of Superman series.
While superheroes have always had a bit of a soap opera element to them due to the nature of balancing them having to balance their twin identities, Lois and Clark leaned especially hard into that soap element. The love triangle between Lois, Clark, and Superman became the primary focus, forcing the “super-adventures” to take a back seat. Though the series eventually became the model for much of what the CW does now, but even those series would find a far better balance between action and relationship drama.
10. IRON FIST
Iron Fist arguably had the most potential to be great out of all the Netflix series. He was a fairly simple character to get right — a gifted martial artist from a city of gifted martial artists…who also has super-powers. Toss him into New York, let him hang out with Luke Cage, and have him punch some bad guys. That’s pretty easy to nail, you’d think.
And yet, Iron Fist’s Netflix series managed to botch it on every level. Iron Fist’s naivete in the modern world is frustratingly child-like. He’s so “innocent” he can’t even think for himself, often rushing off into danger even though there are often obviously superior solutions. And that’s before you get to how he almost never manages to impress when it comes to martial arts beatdowns, which you’d think a guy that plunged his fist into a dragon’s heart would be better at.
As we would see numerous times throughout his career, Adam West was a fantastic comedic talent and a national treasure in Hollywood. But while the ’60s Batman series has its charm, this version feels more like a guy who just likes to go to elaborate cosplay parties with his friends than actually fight proper crime. As popular as the series was, it got that way from taking everything silly about the Dark Knight Detective and cranking it up to absurd levels.
There’s the goofy catchphrases, the Bat-tusi, and especially the Bat-shark Repellent. Even the exaggerated comic book sound effects, hilarious though they are, just add to the overall ridiculousness of the series. As adaptations go, this is easily the worst version of Batman we’ve ever seen on television.
After an entire season based around a villain that first gained the trust of the entire main cast before later betraying them, it was a bit bold to go back to that well for the arc villain of the second season. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what happened when they revealed the true identity behind the person wearing Zoom’s creepy mask.
Though there was theoretically nothing wrong with Professor Zoom as he was in the second season of The Flash, making him into a fake version of Jay Garrick felt like a bit of a waste. The original Zoom was a result of one of Wally’s villains ruining his best friend’s life and giving him control over time — which feels like a much more unique twist than Zoom being the CW-verse’s Johnny Quick.
When Playstation Network’s Powers series first came to air, we all understood that it was going to have to come with some changes to a lot of characters. It would’ve been hard enough to manage the budget on a network show, but being the frontline series of a niche streaming network took that to another level. But that doesn’t excuse Triphammer.
One of the non-powered heroes, Triphammer in the Powers comic is essentially an Iron Man expy, boasting a suit of powered armor that he invented himself to help him fight crime. But since a suit like that is almost impossible to replicate, Triphammer’s armor on the series is more closely resembles a suit of knight’s armor than anything else. It’s a far cry from being on the bleeding edge of technology like he is in the source material.
Chris Wood is one of many actors on this list that’s quite charming in spite of the role he’s been given. When he first landed into Supergirl’s life, he was bodyguard to a prince that had supposedly sacrificed his life to save him as their homeworld of Daxam was ripped apart by the damage to their sister world Krypton. Eventually though the truth came to light — he was that prince, a royal family member that had devoted most of their life to the pursuit of hedonistic pleasures. Oh, and they kept slaves.
As much as they tried to turn Mon-El into a real hero by the end of his debut season, the truth is he never quite reached the impressive heights of his comic counterpart, who once traveled around the galaxy to populate it with the genetic material necessary to create the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 30th century.
CBS’ The Incredible Hulk series is one of the best live action superhero series ever. It’s not accurate in content, but it captures the loneliness and pathos involved with being David Banner, and correctly manages to view the Hulk as a sympathetic monster who merely wants to be left alone. But that was about all they got right, as nearly every time they added a superhero that wasn’t the Hulk, they failed miserably.
The Son of Odin appeared in the 1988 made for television movie The Incredible Hulk Returns, and boy did they somehow manage to get pretty much everything wrong about him. Rather than Donald Blake transforming into Thor, Blake instead had the power to summon Thor, an arrogant jerk who somehow got banned from Valhalla? Because Asgard and Valhalla are the same, we guess. And all that before you get to that horrible costume.
4. SWAMP THING
While in search of more original content for its network and during the comics craze of the ’90s, USA Network greenlit a TV series about one of Vertigo’s biggest characters, the protector of the Green, Swamp Thing. The series had a heavy focus on science-fiction, and actually seem to achieve a decent amount of popularity, lasting long enough to run for 72 episodes and three years, from 1990 to 1993.
The problem was it strayed from the comics in order to tell its own, more pedestrian stories, which was quite the unfortunate loss considering the series had the brilliant Alan Moore run on the character to draw from. Worse still, while Swamp Thing’s costume at the time was mildly acceptable, it’s aged terribly and become downright laughable 20-plus years later.
3. CYBORG SUPERMAN
Though David Harewood plays a great version of J’onn J’onzz with a lot of heart, Cyborg Superman is an example of attempting to force a connection to the comics where one isn’t necessary. J’onn originally takes the place of DEO member Hank Henshaw after he’s supposedly killed during a mission in Peru. Hank would later resurface, having joined the evil Project Cadmus because their goals of hunting down all aliens seemed to align.
But while the character’s motivations make perfect sense, there’s certainly no reason for him to run around calling himself Cyborg Superman. Unlike the comic version, who was literally driven insane by the actions of the Man of Steel, this version has never interacted with Superman and doesn’t even look like him. The connection feels forced, and this character would’ve been better off as someone completely original instead.
2. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
Oh boy. Though the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films had a lot of cheesy awesomeness and enough serious drama to feel like decent films, The Next Mutation strips out the drama and cranks up the cheese factor well past what anyone would regard as amusing. The series became a part of Fox Kids’ afternoon line up in 1997, introducing a new threat of humanoid dragons led by…the Dragonlord.
Though the Turtles weren’t ever known for their well-choreographed fight scenes, even what it has was stripped away here — suddenly fights became more comedic, Scooby-Doo-like affairs where their signature weapons were more ornamental than actually practical. Even the Power Rangers managed to have more convincing battles. Fortunately, the series only lasted a single season before it was put out of our misery.
The sad thing about this particular entry is that Nicholas Hammond doesn’t really make a bad Peter Parker at all. He has that perfect, handsome everyman look to him that you’d want a college-aged Peter to have. Instead, the bigger problem is that a show created in the ’70s simply didn’t (and couldn’t) have the budget to pull off Spider-Man on the small screen, not when it took a quarter-century before special effects could pull off the character convincingly even with a 100+ million dollar budget.
Unfortunately, comic fans back in the ’70s simply had to deal with a television Spider-Man that wore a terribly made costume, who fought zero notable supervillains, and could only use his rope-like webbing to capture bad guys rather than swing through the air like the Web-Head’s meant to.
Which of these superheroes came out the worst on TV? Let us know in the comments!
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