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The 21st century has developed into a great time for comic book movies, especially for Marvel Comics’ characters and Batman. Within the past few years, television has begun catching up, too. After rocky starts, Arrow and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have turned into good shows. This week marks the debut of the new series The Flash, joining other new shows based on DC characters Constantine (beginning later this month) and Gotham (already started). All look promising. What about the other end of the spectrum – what are the worst TV shows based on comic book characters?
For this list of worst comic book TV shows, I included only live-action shows since they are a very different type of show from animated series. A number of the titles on my list ended up as TV movies but those are really pilots that never were picked up. They were still intended as TV series. However, I excluded ones that were developed as theatrical releases, such as the 1994 Roger Corman Fantastic Four debacle.
Not to be confused with the later other pre-Marvel Studios Captain America adaptation, starring Matt Salinger (son of Catcher in the Rye author J.D.), this Captain America was an attempt to build on the success of the Incredible Hulk series starring Bill Bixby but only made it to the TV movie stage. This one features Reb Brown as Steve Rogers, who in a twist is the son of the original Captain America. The costume, though not as terrible as it could be, looks like it should be on Evel Knievel. Captain America seems to be going more for a 70’s action show vibe (like Mannix or Six Million Dollar Man) than a comic book story but failing, turning instead into the fifth worst comic book TV show.
The Wonder Woman series featured Lynda Carter is widely beloved because of its awesome theme 70’s theme song, strong female character portrayal, and, well, Lynda Carter. Did you know that there was another TV adaptation of Wonder Woman in the 70’s prior to that show? While the Carter version is relatively faithful to the comic, this version of Wonder Woman, starring Cathy Lee Crosby, is pretty not, even if it does have a Steve Trevor. The costume looks like something homemade made for Halloween by a well-intentioned but clueless parent.
Another 70’s series that was a reaction to the success of Incredible Hulk, this one actually made it as a series for 14 episodes over three seasons. Nicholas Hammond stars as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in The Amazing Spider-Man, and while he’s not bad, the budget constraints made special effects for the series very minimal. Spidey didn’t battle super-powered villains so much as mobsters and criminals. While it was notable for kids in the 70’s to see Spider-Man in action (and the costume is mostly accurate), this series has not aged well at all, featuring many of the worst elements of 70’s action television, and is my third worst comic book TV show.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not the first time the agency has been on television. Notoriously, David Hasselhoff donned the eye-patch to star as Nick Fury in this 1998 project, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., which ended up as a TV movie when the pilot was not picked up. There was clearly more attention paid to the comics in this adaptation than in some of the other titles on this list, as Baron von Strucker, Dr. Armin Zola, Viper, and others appear in the show. Still, the bad special effects and hammy overacting (not just by the Hoff) produces a TV project that makes 90’s action shows like Hercules and Renegade look like Emmy winners.
The never-aired Justice League of America pilot seems to be a case study in entertainment executives interfering with a good property and thereby ruining it. The basis of this show seems to be the Justice League International series by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis of the late 1980’s, as the team in this pilot features Fire, Ice, Guy Gardner, and Martian Manhunter to go along with Flash and Atom. Perhaps fooled by that comic’s irreverent and humorous tone, this pilot attempted to make the Justice League as an action-comedy. They even added “talking head” shots where the characters speak to the camera, which became more common on shows like The Office later, but seem badly out of place here. The dialogue is cringe worthy, the costumes are terrible (the make-up makes Martian Manhunter look like a potato head), and the pacing is really slow. The worst comic book TV show is much worse than the vast majority of fan-made films and was yet created by people who supposedly do this for a career. Blech!
Tell me what you think – what are other titles that should be considered among the worst comic book TV shows ever? Offer your thoughts in the comments.