As an adjunct to our Best of the Year Awards, Comicon would like to also recognize the best in television based on comic books. Plenty of shows take their inspiration from comics, but which best reflected the source or took the material in surprising new directions? Like comic books themselves, the following shows illustrate the breadth of creativity in the medium and the types of stories either can tell.
The following are Comicon’s 5 Best Comic Book Television Shows of 2019.
5. The Umbrella Academy, executive produced by Jeremy Slater and Steve Blackman, starring Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, Aidan Gallagher, Mary J. Blige, and Cameron Britton, available on Netflix.
Like the Dark Horse comic book series, Netflix’s Umbrella Academy reframes superpowers as an outlet for family trauma — and few families are as colorful as the Hargreeves. Abducted from their birth parents by an adventurer (who’s really an alien) to train as superheroes, the seven children known in their youth as the Umbrella Academy grew up spectacularly damaged. Only the death of their “father” — and the sudden return of their long-lost fifth member — could bring them back together. Of course, it also means the end of the world is nigh. Thanks to some superb acting from talents like Page, Sheehan, and Gallagher, the series made its protagonists people you wanted to see get better, even if they have to destroy the world to do it.
4. Marvel’s Runaways, executive produced by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, starring Lyrica Okano, Ariela Barer, Allegra Acosta, Virginia Gardner, Gregg Sulkin, and Rhenzy Feliz, available on Hulu.
With its final season, Runaways finally became compulsive viewing. It swiftly resolved its ongoing PRIDE plot — which ultimately diverged a great deal from the Marvel comic of the same name — and introduced Morgan Le Fey (Elizabeth Hurley) as a new, charismatic villain so formidable, the Runaways and their parents had to put aside their differences to confront her together.
But that swiftness in plot served to highlight the series’ core strength — its remarkable cast of younger actors and the performers assembled to play their parents. The six leads — Okano, Barer, and Gardner in particular — always find a way to make their character’s fantastic circumstances feel grounded and real, even if most teen television traffics in an unreal level of drama. Beyond them, though, actors like James Marsters, Brigid Brannagh, and particularly Brittany Ishibashi, went the extra mile to make their characters — unrepentant killers — somehow sympathetic. And that might be Runaways‘s best magic trick.
Also, Runaways stands out as the most light-hearted of the shows on this list because, sometimes, comic book adventuring can be fun. Even on television.
3. Doom Patrol, executive produced by Jeremy Carver, starring Brendan Fraser, April Bowlby, Matt Bomer, Joivan Wade, Diane Guerrero, Alan Tudyk and Timothy Dalton, available DC Universe.
The year’s other misfit superhero series, Doom Patrol is something of an underdog thanks to being on DC Universe. But it strong cast, stellar writing, and willingness to play with its comic book origins and the meta-narrative weirdness writer Grant Morrison brought to the title in the late 1980s, it is clearly the better of the two shows. Underpinning that quality is, of course, the decades of oddity writers like Morrison, co-creators Arnold Drake and Bob Haney, and even Umbrella Academy co-creator Gerard Way wrote into series lore. Consequently, concepts like Danny the Street, Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, and more all seem at home here.
But beyond Carver’s willingness to maintain fidelity with the comics, there are the ways he made it his own. He brought in Cyborg (Wade) in lieu of Beast Boy and found a way for his body horror and personal journey to mesh with the likes of Robotman (Fraser) and Jane (Guerrero). Negative Man (Bomer) was reformatted to tell a harrowing tale of being closeted in the mid-20th Century while Rita (Bowlby) gave the show a way to explore so much of the darkness buried in the original comic book character’s past.
When the series returns in 2020, it will simulcast on DC Universe and the upcoming HBO Max streaming service. Based on the quality of its first year, it is easy to see why AT&T wants to highlight the show on its new platform.
2. Swamp Thing, executive produced by Gary Dauberman and Mark Verheiden, starring Crystal Reed, Derek Mears, Andy Bean, Jennifer Beals, Henderson Wade, Maria Sten, Kevin Durand, Virginia Madsen, and Will Patton, available on DC Universe.
Sadly, it seems AT&T could not see the quality of Swamp Thing. And we’ll give them this much: it costs a lot of money to do it right. From the actual creature suit, to it’s southern locations — to a key swamp set that was reportedly so expensive to build, the production needed a second season to break even — the program illustrated the level of production values required to make Swamp Thing (Mears) feel like part of our world while also creating an atmosphere of terror.
Meanwhile, the series was cast magnificently with an Abby Arcane (Reed) you couldn’t help but fall in love with and worthy villains like Avery Sutherland (Patton) and Durand’s unsettling Jason Woodrue.
Both the quality production and acting served a show which didn’t just feel like reading Swamp Thing, but often felt like reading any essential Vertigo comic from the 1990s. It’s just a shame it costs a fortune to bring that sensation from the page to the screen.
1. Watchmen, executive produced by Damon Lindelof, starring Regina King, Jean Smart, Tim Blake Nelson, Louis Gossett Jr., Hong Chau, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Jeremy Irons, available on HBO.
This was a no brainer. While the other series recreated key moments or characters from their source comic books, the Watchmen television series replicated the comic’s sense that anything could happen. Week after week, the series used the universe defined by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins to highlight and illustrate the wound at the core of the American psyche. And at the core of that story was Regina King in an award worthy performance as the most human character to ever appear on a superhero show. Despite living in a world where costumes are real, Angela Abar’s reactions never felt put-on and her passions never less than the 100% authentic truth. Which, one supposes, is why Dr. Manhattan chose her … for everything. Backed by other sensational performances, and a story that actually felt worthy of being Watchmen‘s sequel, the program was a remarkable feat. So much so, we would happily accept a second season or Episode 9’s final moments as an series ending in equal measure.