The Wave of the Past: Television as the Best Medium for Comic Adaptations

Comic-book movies are great; I love them, you love them, blah, blah, blah.  What needs to be addressed now is why we aren’t seeing more live action comic-book T.V.  Yeah, there are the classics, like Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Incredible Hulk, followed by more modest offerings like Tales from the Crypt and Lois and Clark; but over the last decade, as movies have been the primary medium for transferring our favorite stories from book to screen, very few comics have found a happy home on the old boob tube.

The Walking Dead has found great success, and of course there was the long-running Smallville, along with the not-so-long-running Human Target.  However, it seems like when the powers-that-be decide to port a comic to the small screen, they do it in the form of a cartoon.  Now, I’m not one to complain; especially since I, like the rest of my fellow geeks, love a good animated series (and there have been a ton of great comic-toons).  The problem is, Hollywood still looks at the CGI and hand-drawn mediums as the realm of 8 year-old kids, sitting cross legged on their floor on a Saturday morning, bowl of soggy Fruity Pebbles in one hand, and the officially sanctioned plastic action figure with kung-fu grip in the other.  What’s more, the story lines and characters reflect that thinking, with the occasional tidbit thrown in for geek mom or dad.

Right or wrong, live-action is the territory of adults, and there are dozens of comic series that would work better as a T.V. show than they ever would on the big screen.  The serial style of comics already lends itself to television better than film; plus, with movies, it’s big investment, big reward…or big flop.  The living room idiot-box doesn’t have the same costs, since shows can be made cheaper, and, even if they fail to garner strong ratings, the station can still easily re-coup more of their money over time.

There have been a few miserable failures in super-hero T.V. over the last few years (I’m looking at you, No Ordinary Family and The Cape); but the thing to keep in mind is that these were offerings on new heroes, or a B-rated spin-off on a C-rate station (Blade: The Series), and not those that already have name recognition and a strong following.  In point of fact, we have seen more television shows going into print as comics than vice-a-versa.  Obviously, the whole Whedonverse has been transferred to print as the shows have left the airwaves, but properties like Castle, Doctor Who, Charmed, and Babylon 5, along with plenty of other sci-fi and action series, look to comics for life after T.V. death.

I firmly believe that many of the great character driven stories of our beloved paperbacks would find a happy home in the T.V. cosmos, while other projects should stay strictly on the silver screen.  Superman, the Avengers, and Spider-Man are too big-budget for a live-action show; not to mention, they’ve been done before.  And limited run comic series, like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Watchmen, Akira, or Kick-Ass, for obvious reasons, can’t fill multiple seasons.  Likewise, some CBMs, such as Ghost Rider and Green Lantern, were really, really shitty, and left the stories with nowhere to go in a T.V. series.

Yet, series’ with large internal universes that are abundant with deep, compelling heroes, and an extensive rouges gallery, are ripe for the picking on the flat-box.  Batman has been done, repeatedly, over and over, both in live-action and in animation; but with the death of the Nolan movies, there’s no reason the Dark Knight can’t make a triumphant return to the small screen.  It might wind up being more campy than the garbage-disposal-sounding Bale Batman, but as we’ve seen in the cartoon series (and in the Arkham video-games), it’s exceedingly possible to keep that edge, while using the comical and silly villains as they were meant to be portrayed.  I’m also down to cast Adam West as Gotham’s Mayor.

The Fantastic Four sucked out loud in the movies, but the one thing they got right was the rapport between the main characters.  With a television series, those bonds could be fleshed out more, and the loving relationships, as well as the deeper stories about who they are and why they fight, can be given a strong platform on which to be displayed.  Also, all the things that make the FF different, such as the battles across the cosmos and frequent trips to the Negative Zone, can be explored in a 22-episode season the way you just can’t in a two-hour flick.

I think maybe the best example of a series that can work on the telly is X-Men.  Every geek can debate all day and night where to start and what type of storyline to proceed on, but I think we can all agree that if Marvel/Disney/Fox just started with the characters and plot from the first few episodes of X-Men: The Animated Series, the show would be off to a pretty good start.  Of course, this would also require Fox to stop making the movies, lest the American public be too confused to follow TWO different X-Men storylines simultaneously.

As a long-time nerd who still remembers what it was like to be an “outsider” for liking comics and sci-fi, I am ecstatic that our favorite stories are being brought to the masses.  The only thing that sticks in my craw is that we get our favorite books in only one of two ways; movies or animated shows.  The movies are, of course, great, but they still come out few and far between.  I enjoy the cartoon series, but while the animated movies are generally slightly more adult-fan-centric, the shows aren’t aimed at me and my fellow adult geeks.

It’s up to us to push the production companies to give us a taste of what we need; weekly installments of our favorite characters and stories, piped right into our homes.  Hell, even on Wednesdays, we need to put on pants to get our fix; I think my stereotypically lazy ass doesn’t need to go through that kind of trouble for a little comic action.


Author: Mark Viola View all posts by
Mark Viola is a writer, stand-up comedian, and humorist, as well as a geek who was so busy analyzing the differences between Deadpool and Deathstroke, he didn't get any in high school. You can follow his silly exploits on his facebook page,, or harass him with boisterous, mind-numbingly silly e-mails at and Twitter @MarkViolaComedy.

One Comment on "The Wave of the Past: Television as the Best Medium for Comic Adaptations"

  1. Kevin July 23, 2012 at 9:30 pm - Reply

    I agree that there should be more comic related TV programming, but not as the best medium for it. There is room for more in both TV and Movies. BTW Doctor Who is not nearing death at any time soon.

Leave A Response