New York Magazine’s Emily Nussbaum recently postulated, in an article entitled “When TV Became Art,” that the past decade was one that saw the medium of television finally transcend its “small screen, small idea” trappings to become a venue for smart, complex, and evocative storytelling. And considering the fact that the past decade also saw the rise of superhero films to great prominence and popularity, not to mention great critical acclaim, one could surmise that some sort of overlap in content and quality was inevitable for comic book based properties on the small screen as well.
That certainly turned out to be the case, as the boob tube presence of these 10 shows, most of which aired during the ‘00’s, can attest to. Part one of this feature series will showcase the first five, and the remaining five will be covered in a follow-up article. Warning: some of the content below is a tad spoilery. Read at your own risk.
You might be wondering what, if anything, ABC’s mind-bending drama about a group of plane crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island has to do with comic books. Well, for starters, the show’s writing room is a veritable revolving door of famous comic book writers, including “Batman: The Long Halloween” scribe Jeph Loeb, and “Y the Last Man” creator Brian K. Vaughn. Show-runners Damon Lindelof and Cartlon Cuse have also cited Alan Moore’s groundbreaking “Watchmen” graphic novel as a huge influence on the series and this is evident in the show’s island setting, frequent use of flashbacks, and the fact that a number of episodes begin with a close-up shot of a castaway’s eye. And, let’s face it, it doesn’t get much more ‘comic booky’ than an island that moves through time and space.
Oh, sure, it’s a cartoon (and certainly not the only one on this list). But for the majority of Batman fans, this Emmy-award winning series is as definitive a take on the dark knight as they come. With cutting-edge animation reminiscent of Max Fleischer’s 1940’s “Superman” shorts and the inspired casting of Kevin Conroy as the voice of the titular character, show animator Bruce Timm not only revolutionized American animation, he redefined what was possible in a television adaptation of a superhero. In order to fully comprehend the tremendous impact this show has had on television and on comic book adaptations, you only need to look to the fact that the show began in 1992 and that, 17 years later, Timm still oversees DC comics animation projects and Conroy is still called-on to voice the caped crusader in products like the recently released “Arkham Asylum” video game.
One of the most popular superhero archetypes in comics is that of the brooding, morally ambiguous vigilante. From Batman to Venom, the Punisher to Rorschach, characters that toe the line between hero and villain are a compelling draw for readers that like things a little less black and white. No television personality better embodies this fascinating, and sometimes disturbing, dichotomy more than the star of Showtime’s “Dexter.” A strangely affable serial killer bound by a code of ethics established by his late adopted father, Dexter lets viewers directly in to his grim and dangerous world via the captivating performance and voice over of Michael C. Hall. A riveting, suspenseful, and somewhat gore-ific look at the psychology of a strangely noble killer, “Dexter” will cure any viewers itch for entertaining ambiguity.
Laugh all you want at the title, anyone who has watched geek auteur and “Astonishing X-Men” scribe Joss Whedon’s magnum opus can tell you that it’s deft combination of fast-paced action, deep characterization, witty dialogue, and calculated humor made it feel like a classic comic book come to life. Maybe that’s why, when Joss Whedon and Dark Horse Comics released a ‘Season 8’ series that continued the events of the show in comic book form, it felt like “Buffy” had finally returned to the airwaves (albeit without the typical restraints of a television budget).
Go Team Venture! This quirky “Johnny Quest” spoof from the demented mind of former “Tick” writer Jackson Publick is filled to the brim with so many references, parodies, and thinly-veiled nods to the conventions and staples of comic book lore that watching it is almost like a crash-course on the medium. From the remarkable similarities between Dr. Orpheus and a certain Sorcerer Supreme, to the Spider-Man and Aquaman jammies often sported by Dean and Rusty Venture, “Venture Bros” is a treasure-trove of clever send-ups and a must-watch for any fan of the four-color funnies.
Well that does it for part one! Check back soon for another five shows tailored to please any self-respecting comic book geek.