The Top 6 TV Shows Based on Comics

Although they seem to be especially popular today, TV studio executives have been making TV shows based off comic books for a long time. In many ways it is a perfect partnership; you get ready-made characters and plot, an already partly written script, and a built-in audience to watch the show. On the other hand, the nature of comic books means that some of the set-ups and storylines are a little over-the-top, and many of them would need a Hollywood-type budget to get made.

These days though, a lot of TV shows actually are getting Hollywood budgets. There are more special effects, there are A-list actors taking up parts and the best writers in the business are writing for TV. Let’s take a look at some of the based comic-based TV shows.

1) The Walking Dead

Obviously Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead makes it onto the list, I mean it’s one of the most watched TV shows in history and it has only done three seasons. The finale of season three broke records for the most watched episode of a TV show on a free-to-air network. That’s pretty amazing for a show that takes its roots from a graphic novel.

Initially, season one took the core of its audience from the graphic novel world. Fans that had followed Kirkman’s story for years were excited that it was to be taken to the TV screen, and episode one picked up some solid viewing figures. A combination of solid writing, great acting and the inexplicable popularity of zombies drew in a larger audience from many different interests, and this in turn led fans of the TV show to check out the graphic novels. That’s a pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

2) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 

Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo and Raphael will have a place in the hearts of nearly every boy or girl who grew up in the 80s and 90s. This isn’t because of a love of renaissance art; it’s more due to a love of kickass mutant turtles with awesome ninja skills and a giant rat for a sensei. TMNT has seen mega-success as a comic book, TV show and film, and it is soon to be brought to the big screen again by Michael Bay.

The TV show brought changes to the turtles that, to many fans, will have become synonymous with this series. Things like the humour – especially the wise cracks-, and the different coloured masks for each turtle were a creation for the television series. The 1987-1996 animated series represented the creative and popular peak for the turtles’ television outings, and many people now in their 30s spent their Saturday mornings watching Leonardo and co fight Shredder.

3) Arrow

I’ve written about Green Arrow on this site before because the character has appeared in the top 100 list as well as making an appearance in the best Green Lantern graphic novels with a crossover story. The vigilante, whose weapon of choice is a bow, has been a popular graphic novel character since the 60s, and the show by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg is set to share him with a much bigger audience.

The first season aired in 2012 and brought in 4.14 million viewers, and for the rest of the season it consistently brought in over 2million. More importantly, the show is actually pretty damn good, and although it isn’t as gritty as the Walking Dead, it is certainly a good adaptation. This, along with the impressive TV views, was enough for it to be picked up for a second season.

4) The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk TV series could so easily have gone down the cheaply-produced, camp-script route that so many comic-to-TV adaptations seem to take. Instead, this show goes down the route of actually having a storyline of substance, where we are taken deep into Dr. Banner’s psyche to see how his destructive alter-ego affects him and those around him.

Not only was this a novel approach to take at the time, but the team behind The Incredible Hulk also managed to produce visuals that even today are iconic. Who hasn’t seen a clip of Banner’s transformation into the Green Beast? If for some reason you haven’t yet, check it out. Then, go and watch the series.

5) Batman: The Animated Series

The animated Batman series is an accomplishment in style and substance, and for me it is the best ever adaptation of a graphic novel for TV. With a superb creative team (Paul Dini and Bruce Timm) and an excellent cast (Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill), the animated series manages to take some of the deeper storylines of the books and place them in a show fit to be aired on Saturday mornings. This is one of the most intelligent cartoon shows ever.

It also has Mark Hamill giving a career-best performance, even better than his little-known turn in a film named Star Wars. His portrayal of the Joker is one of the definitive ones and it sits proudly alongside Jack Nicholson’s and Heath Ledger’s even if it isn’t as publicly celebrated. If you haven’t heard Hamill laugh manically as the Joker, go listen to it now.

6) Smallville

Alfred Gough and Miles Millar’s television take on the origins of Superman will be considered one of the classic graphic novel TV adaptations in years to come. Over ten seasons they took an in-depth look at the beginnings of one of the most popular superheroes ever, making sure to spend lots of time in his teenage years as we see Clark struggle to forge and identity for himself.

Particularly compelling is his relationship with Lex Luthor, who for many seasons is his best friend. Knowing that they eventually become arch-enemies made watching this a tense affair, because you were always wondering when their bond was going to snap and the bald millionaire was going to dive off the deep end. As well as his relationship with Lex the show also does a good job of establishing Clark’s backstory with Lois Lane, and as the seasons wore on even more DC characters were introduced.