As you may have realized, comic book adaptations currently rule the airwaves. While the big budgets and the bold headlines go to the major feature films, the small screen has seen quite the uptick in comic series in recent years. Some, like Fox’s Gotham, NBC’s Constantine, and The CW’s The Flash are enjoying their premieres in 2014, while others like Arrow, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and The Walking Dead are back for yet another round of supernatural storytelling.
Hopefully you’re a fan of this TV transition, otherwise the coming years are going to be rather upsetting for you since this trend shows no sign of slowing down. But before we’re absolutely drowning in comic book shows, we thought we’d take a look at the current slate of comic book adaptations on TV today, in order to pit them against each other, of course. Hit the jump to view the rankings.
While I’m sure you might disagree with the following rankings (and please feel free to do so in the comments section), my take on 2014’s comic book shows follow below, from worst to first. Enjoy!
Fox’s Batman prequel series could be considered a first-place show … if we were talking about the year’s biggest disappointments. I was impressed with the pilot, and gave the show plenty of time to work out the bat-kinks throughout my recaps, but it’s squandered any good will I had since the debut. I’m fine with showing the transition from Bruce Wayne to Batman, just as I’m on board with exploring the infamous villains’ origins, but do they really have to create new antagonists from whole cloth? Are there not enough fringe villains in Batman’s decades-long history to pull from? Other shows manage to feed fanboys with plenty of Easter eggs while delivering shows with a solid storytelling foundation. Gotham does neither.
It has a good cast peppered with some try-hards and scene-chewers, but it’s ultimately the disjointed and uninteresting plots that sap the potential out of this noir-soaked series. Audiences disagree, however, if Nielsen ratings and DVR numbers are considered, since Gotham was the #2-rated debut drama for adults. To each their own, but these are the same people who made CBS’ Scorpion a hit…
NBC’s trip into the dark recesses of the occult anti-hero from the Hellblazer comics came as a pleasant surprise. Not surprising, however, were the poor ratings and difficulty in finding an audience for this late-Friday-night hour of powers. Matt Ryan has fully taken on the mantle of his title character, and his supporting cast members do just enough to round out John Constantine’s rather rough personality. The storytelling is solid as the big question of the “Rising Darkness” has been chipped away at bit by bit in each of the successive “Demon of the Week” episodes.
Constantine does suffer from a bit of the procedural malaise, but it’s heads above Gotham and the Gothic tinge to the weekly mysteries add much-needed flavor to the network television landscape. Unfortunately the news has already come down that NBC halted production on the show at 13 episodes, and remains unclear on whether it will return for a second season.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
And now we get to our first returning series, albeit only in its sophomore season. If it wasn’t for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. entertaining mid-season finale (and the big boost from the MCU’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier), I probably would have placed this one just under Constantine. As it was, with help from big-screen brothers, S.H.I.E.L.D. made things much more interesting in its second season as more superpowers made their way into episodes cast with an air of tension thanks to all the fallout from HYDRA. Evan certainly seems to enjoy this season better than last, though he makes solid points in his recaps that the cast remains rather unwieldy and top-heavy. I’ve just had a hard time caring about anyone other than Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson, even if they are revealed to be Life Model Decoys, Inhumans, or any other such non-humanoid. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has definitely gotten better, but it remains an unnecessary side dish to the main course that is Marvel’s movies.
And now we get to the good stuff, though some of you may be surprised that I’ve ranked The CW’s Arrow just one notch below its debut
sister brother-series, The Flash. More on the latter in a second. A highlight of Arrow’s storytelling in the first two seasons has not only been the writers’ obvious passion and knowledge of the comics, but their willingness to burn through content at a reckless pace. It’s only season three, but it feels like that full-speed-ahead technique is starting to catch up to them. This season has had to juggle a central mystery of Sara Lance’s murder balanced with the light-hearted introduction of the Central City speedster. It’s probably enough for Arrow to handle its own plot twists and turns (fraught with emotional ups and downs) without having to bend and bow to another show’s tone.
Don’t get me wrong, the crossover episode was great, and although it was meant to be seen mostly as a sidestep, it felt a bit out of place in the midst of the nefarious and unsolved murder of Canary. Honestly, it was hard to really get emotionally invested in this storyline since they kept drifting away from it to introduce a character like Cupid, or babysit The Flash, or seemingly teleported all around the world to engage in various skirmishes. There’s a solid string of storytelling buried in their somewhere, but not all of these arrows are hitting their marks. That mid-season finale though…
If Constantine was a pleasant surprise, then The Flash was an early Christmas gift wrapped up in a shiny red and yellow bow. Who would have thought that lightning could strike twice for The CW? Then again, perhaps betting against the network that had such success with Arrow was a fool’s wager since it’s the same core team of DC fans that pen the plots of the Scarlet Speedster. Even Grant Gustin exceeded my rather tempered expectations for taking on the title role, and his supporting cast is definitely one of the best on this list.
While I’m eager to continue watching Barry Allen figure out the difficulties of life and love (and lightspeed), I’m more and more impressed every week with the show’s visual effects and willingness to fold iconic heroes and villains into each episode in a meaningful way. The emotional beats extend beyond the typical romantic entanglements among young adults to include some of the best father-son moments on television today. And what other mid-season finale left viewers with both a feeling of satisfaction concerning the questions raised in early episodes, while also forcing more questions as to just who the heck was that man in the yellow suit anyway? I mean, really! (Honestly, our commenters’ discussion about time travel/paradoxes/parallel universes was one of my favorite ever on this site. Well done!)
The Walking Dead
Oh hey guys, remember this show? The ratings juggernaut based on Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels? It not only set an all-time record for viewers during its October debut, but neared that number again in its mid-season finale. While that particular hour was not the show’s strongest, this season overall is the best The Walking Dead has been in the past couple of years. The survivors of the zombie apocalypse are hungry (literally and metaphorically) for the end of this terrible way of life, but they’ve also realized something: they’re really, really good at surviving in it. Sanctuary turns out to be a death trap? Handled. Cannibals? No problem. A group of militants kidnapping members of their group? Dealt with.
Yes, people have died along the way, and they always will; it’s the ones who continue to live on that really matter to the viewers, because we watch as they grow, make tough decisions, and do whatever they must to survive … even if that means lying to a hardened group of killers by saying you have the secret to restoring the world, when all you really have is a mullet. Now that’s drama!
We’ll revisit this list at the end of the early-2015 television season when each of the aforementioned shows complete their runs. Let’s also keep in mind that Marvel will enjoy some new adaptations with ABC’s Agent Carter starting off the new year, and Netflix’s Daredevil and A.K.A. Jessica Jones debuting sometime in 2015, with Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Defenders following afterwards. CBS is still struggling with getting their Supergirl adaptation off the ground, but the Vertigo imprint adaptations iZombie and Preacher are still headed to The CW and AMC respectively. Some shows will debut later than others, but the point is that superhero and comicbook fare isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
For more of our Best of 2014 coverage, peruse the links below:
- Adam’s Top 10 Films of 2014
- Top 10 Scores of 2014
- 10 Best Surprises of 2014, From Emily Blunt as an Action Star to THE LEGO MOVIE Not Sucking
- 5 Great Film and Music Moments From 2014
- 10 Great Films of 2014 You May Have Missed and You Should Absolutely Watch
- Oscar Beat: For Your Consideration – Overlooked Films, Performances, and Directors from 2014 That Warrant Recognition
- 10 Best TV Episodes of the Season Thus Far
- Allison’s Other TV Bests of 2014
- Allison’s Top 12 Returning TV Series of 2014
- Allison’s Top 12 New TV Series of 2014