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September 3, 2015

The Five: Best comic book-to-TV adaptations

by Jay Black, posted Mar 20th 2007 2:40PM
Yeah, Aquaman taking a crap. Nice.Being a comic book fan sets you up for a lot of disappointment. For one thing, there seems to be a pretty direct ratio between the number of Atlantis Attacks crossover books you own and the age at which you lose your virginity (ahem19ahem). For another, our only portrayal in the media seems to be Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons and he is as insulting as he is completely and utterly dead-on.

The worst disappointment, though, is whenever some studio exec decides to "adapt" one of our mylar-enshrined treasures into some big or small screen entertainment. It seems that for every good decision made, there are ten disasters of the "nipples on the bat-suit" variety.

In recent years, movies have faired better than TV when it comes to adaptations, but there are a few gems to be had. The Five best comic book-to TV adaptations after the jump...

Writer's Note: I chose the following using two criteria: 1) how much I enjoyed them growing up and 2) how "comic-booky" they felt. I tried to stay away from only trying to find shows that were perfect beat-for-beat recreations of the book they were adapting. In some instances (#3 springs to mind) the show in question completely ignored just about the entire history of the comic.

Gee Willickers Superman, please don't kill yourself!#1. The Adventures of Superman - Yes, it spawned ten thousand hacky jokes on A&E's Evening at the Improv ("You ever notice that the bad guys always shoot at Superman and the bullets just bounce of his chest and then when the bad guy runs out of bullets he throws the gun at Superman... and then Superman DUCKS! Wow, who are the geniuses that directed that show! I'll be rolling up the sleeves on my blazer for the rest of the week, try the veal.") Yes, it spawned enough conspiracy theories and curses that Ben Affleck recently played George Reeves in a movie. But it was such goofy fun, you just didn't care. I'm too young to have watched these when they first aired (I, like a lot of you, saw them as reruns while drunk in college), but my father told me that when he was 8, there was no bigger show on TV. And why not? Superman hitting a trampoline to "fly", Reeves finding an excuse at least once per episode to bend the barrel of a gun, and the fact that "young Jimmy Olsen" appeared to be in his mid thirties all added up too good clean 50s fun.

Hey! Look at my awesome fake abs!#2. The Flash - Ah, remember the excitement surrounding Burton's first Batman movie? If you were a comic book fan back in the late eighties, it was like Kennedy's Camelot. We were filled with such high expectations about what the future would hold for comics on the big and little screen. Just like those heady 60's idealists, though, we had no way of knowing that it would all end in a flash of Joel Schumaker just a few short years later. However, during that brief time of hope, we were treated to a Burton-esque adaptation of the Flash on CBS for one season. It looks pretty cheesy today, but to my 13 year-old brain, it had everything a cool TV adaptation of a comic should have: a really good costume (another Burton innovation: sculpted muscles instead of flab inside spandex), an awesome theme song/opening sequence, and Mark FRICKIN' Hamil as The Trickster. Geek heaven.

Hey, Firestar, wanna star MY fire? Wait, that's stupid, isn't it...#3. Spiderman and His Amazing Friends - Okay, so a lot of purists are gonna kill me on this one. For whatever reason, in 1981, Marvel decided that the best way to bring Spiderman to television was to team him up with Ice Man and a never-before-seen pyro-chick, Firestar. Why did they decide to do this? My only guess is that it was during Stan Lee's brief experimentation with crystal meth. Despite its oddness, there was still a lot of cool to be had here. Like uh... Ms. Lion, the pigtailed dog. Oh, okay, fine, there wasn't a lot of coolness in the show. With the exception of the boys converting their room into a secret crime lab, the tons of appearances by Marvel favorites, and the hotness of Firestar (hey, I have a thing for red heads), this show was eight pounds of crap in a five pound bag. But it was my first experience with Spiderman and this is my list, so nyah.

That guy standing behind Batman who isn't Flash? He's Martian Manhunter and he's a bad ass. No, really...#4. Justice League Unlimited - This was everything that Spiderman and His Amazing Friends was not. This was a pitch-perfect adaptation of what it's like to read a comic book. From the over-arching storyline to the continuity to the vast and well-rounded supporting cast to the simple, yet detailed animation, this show was absolute bliss for any hard-core comic fan. The only problem I have with it is that it aired when I was in my late twenties. I could only watch it late at night, after my wife was asleep ("What is this stupid show" she would scream at me while I cried into my collection of Power Pack comics). If this show had been on the air during my mid-teens, my brain might have exploded.

Yep, this was the height of cool when I was a teenager. Yes, I hate myself...#5. Tales From The Crypt - Not a super-hero comic, but a tonally dead-on recreation of the old E.C. horror books. During the mid-eighties, this show provided me with both my introduction to situational irony and tons of gratuitous boob shots. My all time favorite episode is probably the one where Joe Pantoliano plays a bum who agrees to be in an experiment where a cat-gland is grafted into his brain. When he wakes up from the operation, he's found that he's inherited the "9 Lives" of a cat. So what's his first move with this new-found power? That's right, become a circus freak. Soon, Joe is offering up his own death for money. Death #8 is to be buried alive and after that, Joe's just gonna sick back and relax on all his big-time circus freak money. As he's narrating his story from the coffin he's just been buried in, though, he comes to realize that he forgot something -- the cat who donated his gland had to die! The "9 Lives" gland was already used once when he got it! The episode ends with Joe clawing on the coffin, his final death imminent. I mean, come on, how great is that: you have Joey Pants, a "9 Lives" gland, a doctor doing illegal experimentation on a bum, and a guy getting rich off of being a circus freak! Throw in a fairly cool (for its time) animatronic puppet, and you've got yourself one great show.

Honorable Mentions:

Spiderman TV Show (1960s) - Spiderman, Spiderman, Does whatever a spider can.

Anything Paul Dini (1990s) - if you know who Paul Dini is, you understand why he's being mentioned here.

As always, give me your five in the comments!

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Yet another "Batman:TAS Vote" here... but I have to stand up for my boy Flash... I recently got the series on DVD, and am amazed at how good it actually was. Plus that, only slightly less cool than Mark Hamill as the Trickster, would have to be David Cassidy as Mirror Master.

Narrowing the list down to five is next to impossible, but I probably would have added "Lois and Clark" to my list.

March 21 2007 at 9:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brent McKee

From what I've heard there were a couple of reasons for Firestar on "Spiderman and his Amazing Friends". They wanted a fire based character to contrast with Iceman and the obvious choice was Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, who has also been a friend of Spiderman's practically from the beginning. Apparently someone - either the network or the producers - looked at the Human Torch and this whole body on flame thing and expected kids to douse themselves in gasoline and light a match to imitate the character. So the people doing the show decided to create a new character who could use fire but wasn't on fire. And since it was a new character, why not make it a girl to attract the female demographic. The result - Firestar.

I agree with everyone who said that Paul Dini's "Batman: The Animated Series" should have been on the list. It was the template for everything that DC and Warners did after that. The look and feel of that series owes a lot to the 1940s Superman cartoons that the Fleischer Brothers did, but did it in such a way that was far more limited than anything that the Fleischer had been able to do. And they made it looked spectacular.

March 21 2007 at 3:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Narrowing this down to five is next to impossible, but:

1. Justice League Unlimited
2. Batman: TAS (not that he's not awesome, but Paul Dini doesn't deserve all the credit, where's the love for Bruce Timm?)
3. The Tick (animated... live action was good too but not this kind of excellent).
4. X-Men (the 90's animated one, not evolution)
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (my version of Spider-man and his amazing friends, I guess).

Duckman might come in at #6. I loved the flash opening theme, but even as a kid I thought the show was excessively campy. And I'm sure there's other stuff I'm just not thinking of.


March 20 2007 at 11:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

X-Men from the 90's definitely belongs on that list as someone else mentioned.

I have to check out Batman TAS and JL - the animation looked too 'friendly' and 'kiddish' to me it was a turn off, but I'll give them another chance.

March 20 2007 at 11:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jon B. Knutson

I was glad, actually, that The Incredible Hulk wasn't on the list, given it was a much less-than-faithful adaptation of the comics.

I'd also give honorable mention, at least, to Filmation's 1960s Superman/Superboy cartoons (many of which were adapted from the comics themselves), the 1960s Hanna-Barbera Fantastic Four (best FF cartoon series, ever, although I would like to see something more faithful to the original stories), the Spider-Man animated series that was in syndication concurrent with Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends (similar, but different, showing more of an anime style but without being too stylized).

And yes, the Dini Batman series kicked major butt, and should've been included on the list (heck, just put the Dini-verse as one entry, including Superman: TAS in there).


March 20 2007 at 10:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Batman: TAS series is not on the list???

March 20 2007 at 7:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Akbar Fazil

I guess I am just lucky. My wife got mad if I would watch JLU without her.

March 20 2007 at 6:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So with you on Spiderman and His Amazing Friends. It was my first exposure to Spiderman too, and my 6-year-old mind was blown by its awesomeness. Not to mention that Iceman was totally hot (ironic as that sounds). I still watch it whenever it turns up on TV.

March 20 2007 at 6:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Hewitt

I can't believe you made this list without "The Incredible Hulk". That show not only belongs on the list, it is better than most of the clinkers you did put on. Flash was just plain bad and the MTV Spiderman was far better than the cheesy Saturday morning cartoon you listed.

March 20 2007 at 5:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Tick. Nuff said.

March 20 2007 at 4:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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