Trying to sort out just five superior superhero shows is tough. The differences in quality are slim; with so many of the shows consistently reaching new heights for the sorts of action and emotion they can convey with their fantastical premises. Nevertheless, five definitely stand out above the rest in terms of casting, design and narrative construction. And as we’ll eventually discuss, there was only really one loser in the past year, but first, here our Comicon.com’s top five superhero shows of 2017.
While setting a series around occasional X-Men thorn David Haller seemed like a crazy idea when it was first announced (alongside a failed Hellfire Club series concept), Legion turned out to be one of the most compelling comic book series yet realized. Set inside a timeless — and X-Men-less — world, Dan Stevens stars as a perpetually confused and ridiculously powerful mutant in a desperate struggle to control his sanity. Stopping him at all turns is Lenny (Aubrey Plaza), a manifestation of another power mutant named Amahl Farouk: the infamous Shadow King who has plagued David all his life. From the terror of the Clockwork Hospital to the relative calm of the Summerland Institute, the series infused a modernist sensibility into its environment even as it shattered its own assumptions of reality. Backed by a stellar cast including Rachel Keller, Amber Midthunder, Bill Irwin, Jeremie Harris, Jean Smart and Jemaine Clement as mutants who resemble familiar X-Men characters, creator Noah Hawley revealed how to build a quality series off of a meager scrap of comic book lore.
Legends of Tomorrow
Cutting almost all of the elements which marred its first season, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow became the most consistently satisfying of the CW superhero shows by becoming tonally inconsistent. In leaning into its time travel conceit, the show embraced the ability to tell different types of stories its cousins cannot. It also re-framed the group as a band of misfits forever raging against the status quo of reality itself. The result is an often funny show full of pop culture homages, but it also honors its characters by giving them relatable personal goals, hilarious and unfortunate foibles and a feeling of family completely absent from its first year. To illustrate the difference, no look no further than the sadness surrounding the departure of Martin Stein (Victor Garber) and Jax (Franz Drameh) when compared to the non-event of the Hawks (Ciara Renee and Falk Hentschel) flying away in the season one finale.
Building on its stellar debut season, Wynonna Earp enlarged the scope of its world while giving its title character her greatest challenge yet: carrying a child to term while still fighting Revenants. As with the retooled Legends, Wynonna Earp‘s secret weapon is the camaraderie of its cast and main family of characters. Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano), Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley), Dolls (Shamier Anderson), Doc (Tim Rozon) and Jeremy (Varun Saranga) are some of the best characters on TV; played by one of the best ensembles around. The major villains were something of a dodge this year, but in attempting to understand the threat of the Widows, Team Wynonna also learned a great deal about the Earp Curse and, possibly, a way to end it. Well, provided they can deal with a demon named Bulshar in the upcoming third season. But no matter the threat, Wynonna and her friends will face it with defiance and a clever turn of phrase.
Emerging from the ashes of the failed Hellfire Club concept, The Gifted proves you can also make a great X-Men series by holding onto the concept’s central metaphor while abandoning the marquee characters. In some ways, it is the most X-Men live action project ever devised. In its first six episodes, it held tight to a “until it happens to you” story line in which the Strucker family are rocked out of their comfortable suburban upper-middle class life when their children turn out to be mutants; an analogy for race, sexuality, class, immigration status, and mental health so potent it’s ridiculous. Parents Caitlin (Amy Acker) and Reed (Stephen Moyer) slowly integrate into a de-facto X-Men group while trying preserve some sense of normalcy in world which now fears and hates them. Though some of the subsequent story lines have been a little too melodramatic, The Gifted‘s debut season was a welcome addition to the comic book TV landscape.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Forever evolving, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. quietly became a wonderful show thanks to its expert use of mid-tier Marvel Comics concepts, a revised story line system and a cast overflowing with that very important quality of camaraderie. Even when ripped apart by amoral androids or time itself, the team is one of the strongest on television. In 2017, their bond was tested by their alternate lives within the Framework; with Mack (Henry Simmons) facing the toughest choice of the lot inside the simulation. Not that anyone really had it easy. Even Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), who seemingly had the best life there, was struggling. And as soon as the team was able to extract themselves from AIDA’s device — and said their goodbyes to Trip (B.J. Britt) again! — they were whisked away to a broken future where Daisy (Chloe Bennet) apparently destroyed the world. It’s never easy being an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., but this group and this show make it very easy to watch that drama unfold.
Again, the difference in quality of these shows versus, say, Supergirl or the other CW shows is slight, but there is one program among the pack that definitely failed at everything it hoped to achieve. Our dishonorable mention goes to, of course, Marvel’s Inhumans. As we chronicled throughout its eight-episode run, the show was both longer and shorter than it needed to be. It never presented the Royal Family as worthwhile protagonists and had to paint Maximus (Iwan Rheon) as a cartoon villain because his argument against the aristocracy was otherwise sound. It also squandered the talents of Rheon, Serinda Swan, Eme Ikwuakor, Ken Leung, and Henry Ian Cusick. And since camaraderie was so important to the best of 2017’s shows, the complete lack of it on Inhumans made be its greatest failing.
But with Attilan destroyed, let’s look forward to 2018; when the our top 5 show return to charm us and take superhero storytelling to the next level.