The Ups and Downs of Superhero TV

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No matter what team you’re playing on (pro superhero or that other side) it’s hard to escape the popularity that the genre is currently enjoying on film. In fact, movies such as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, “The Avengers” and “Iron Man” have brought in people who at they’re core aren’t avid comic book collectors at all. They love a good story, engaging characters and sometimes, humor.

Hollywood typically spends at least $100 million for these movies (well, these days, it’s closer to $300 million), but television simply doesn’t have as large a budget. Still, superheroes don’t just have to live on the big screen. They have found homes, successfully, and lamentably on TV. Some were great. Plenty were awful, but you have to admire the risk, the bravura of taking on these characters in as cinematic a way as they could accomplish in those days.

Live action TV shows featuring super powers are tough to pull off, but when they’re good, they’re almost as engaging as their silver screen counterparts.

Perhaps the most anticipated superhero TV show is “Arrow,” featuring the DC Comics character Green Arrow. We’ve seen Justin Hartley do his take on Oliver Queen (the Arrow’s secret identity) on “Smallville,” but this time, the character will be played by Stephen Amell, and having seen the pilot, I can tell you, the series definitely has promise. Lots.

Here’s hoping for more quality superhero TV series in the future. If we’re lucky, maybe HBO will take a shot. Now, that would be worth seeing. – Cornelius A. Fortune, managing editor

The Classics

The New Adventures of Wonder Woman (1975-1979)

There have been several attempts to revive Wonder Woman for both TV and feature films. For now, Linda Carter’s take on the character remains the iconic go-to version. Carter’s winning smile and that killer theme music (try getting it out of your head) made “The New Adventures of Wonder Woman” worth watching.

The Greatest American Hero (1981-1983)

Sure, it was silly most of the time, but this series had – sorry for the cliché, but it applies – heart. And, let’s face it, this is how you’re supposed to do opening credits – ‘80s style with a long musical introduction, nice big title cards, and a sequence that tells you everything you need to know in a couple of minutes. They really don’t make them like this anymore.

The Flash (1990-1991)

This cool (as in awesome) ‘90s take on Barry Allen (AKA The Flash) had a rousing theme from Danny Elfman (1989’s “Batman”) and even featured Mark Hamill (our very own Luke Skywalker) as a villain. Audiences were excited about Tim Burton’s comic book movies till “Batman Returns” split the fans into two camps, and eventually led to that infamous “Batman & Robin” film (directed by Joel Schumacher). Considering the limitations of television, they did a great job.

Superboy (1988-1992)

If you get past the not-so-super special effects, there’s much to admire in this series, which focuses on Clark Kent’s college years. John Haymes Newton and Gerard Christopher (my personal favorite) played the title role.

Our modern myths

Arrow (2012-)

Get ready for this dark series that will air on “new comic book day” Wednesdays.

Alphas (2011-)

The second season just kicked off Monday nights on the SyFy Channel. If you love action stories with a little super powers thrown in (ala the X-Men), you should definitely check this one out.

Smallville (2001-2011)

The series about a young Clark Kent (Tom Welling), who by the 10th and final season wasn’t very young, was the very epitome of up and down television quality. Most viewers wanted more from this show, but got a mildly entertaining revamp of the Superman mythos. “Smallville,” however flawed as a single story, had some good moments throughout the series (spoiler alert: the finale didn’t really deliver on the series’ promise, namely, Welling in the suit). You’ll find the show’s purest mission statement in the first three seasons.

Heroes (2006-2010)

The first season of this series, a nearly pitch perfect outing, really brought the feel of comic book storytelling to TV sets. “Save the cheerleader, save the world,” became the mantra for both geeks and non-geeks. This show had the same appeal as “The Avengers” several years before the film’s release. Sadly, a writer’s strike and convoluted scripts eventually killed the series. If you forgot how good it really was or never caught it during its first run, see for yourself. “Heroes” Season One was the finest example of superhero television.

Angel (1999-2004)

A vampire detective with a soul? This “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” spin-off from “The Avengers” director Joss Whedon gave us a different hero, one very flawed with a more than checkered past, but thankfully, a champion of L.A. Season One has more of a noir feel, but Season Five is arguably the most inviting, when rival Spike (James Marsters) joined the cast. Whedon is slated to direct an “Avengers” sequel as well as produce a new Marvel TV series.

Gone too soon?

The Cape (2011)

After NBC slung the ax on “Heroes,” they decided to try another superhero show. Problem was no one watched after the premier and dismal ratings sent this one straight to the canceled column. It’s worth a look – if you like viewing train wrecks from the comfort of an armchair.

No Ordinary Family (2010)

Maybe folks thought it looked too much like “The Incredibles,” a wonderful animated feature directed by Brad Bird. “No Ordinary Family” starred Michael Chiklis, who played The Thing in Marvel’s “Fantastic Four” films. Unfortunately, the series couldn’t find a consistent enough audience to warrant a renewal.

M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994)

If only Sam Raimi (director of the “Spider-Man” trilogy and the “Evil Dead” films) could have made this one as successful as his fantasy series “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “Hercules,” maybe we’d have a better promo image (and a Blu-ray release). Carl Lumbly brought some serious acting chops as a wheelchair-bound scientist who dressed up at night to fight crime as (drum roll please) M.A.N.T.I.S. Sadly, this show was way ahead of its time and didn’t get a full season.

Birds of Prey (2002-2003)

Ah, the WB…they had guts putting this series about Batman’s daughter in a future Gotham City (New Gotham City) on the air. You have to admire the WB because they took so many creative risks. Without it, there may not have been a “Smallville” or “Arrow,” as “Buffy,” it’s spin-offs, and “Charmed” helped to put a mainstream face on fantasy/sci-fi TV. “Birds of Prey” was a flawed if spirited attempt at putting superheroes (and their comic book universe) on the small screen.


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