Top Four: Shows (Based on Comic Books)

Batman animatedThe Top Four series looks at certain aspects of the comic book world from two perspectives: Rob’s, as a relative newcomer to mainstream comics, and Kristine’s, as an older hand in the world.  Each installment evaluates the top four choices from both Rob and Kristine and why they chose their picks.



By Robert J. Baden and Kristine Chester

 

 

While there haven’t been that many shows based on comic books, there are still quite a few out there, and we grew up watching cartoons of comic characters as a supplement, or even as a replacement, for the comics themselves.  Despite the fact that we’re now adults, we still enjoy the cartoons based on comics, including such recent titles as Young Justice and Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.  We also watch many of the live action shows which drew their inspiration from comics with titles like Smallville and The Walking Dead, still fresh or currently in the public eye.  As such, we’ve identified the shows (based on comic books) that we believe are the best.

 

 

SPOILERS BELOW

 



Rob’s Picks

 


#4: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003)

Background:

A more plot-driven and visually appealing reboot of the TMNT franchise, this cartoon series lasted for several years and took on a lot of issues.  The Shredder is very different, there’s no Krang, and everyone’s favorite shellbacks are not all about the pizza and parties (well, except Mikey, but that’s just Mikey).  The storyline is interweaving and there several multi-part episodes focusing on specific events.


Pros:

Quite superior to the '80s/'90s cartoon in many ways (and certainly the afternoon young adults live-action show in the late '90s), the artwork and details are superb and outstanding.  The best part, however, is the plot; it’s not a mindless “save April from the evil Shredder” cycle, and some revelations about various characters really make it worth watching.

Cons:

It’s not an easy series to pick up in the middle of; one more or less has to have been watching since the very beginning to understand most of what is going on.  It’s also not as lighthearted as the earlier cartoon and is very serious at times (for a 'toon).  I certainly wouldn’t recommend little kids to watch it.



#3: Batman: The Animated Series

Background:



One of the more popular cartons based off of the dark knight, Batman: TAS focuses on the life of the title character and how he deals with the crime in Gotham.  Several of the more well-known characters and villains from the Batman comics are present—including the Joker’s voiceover being done by Mark Hamill—with the technology level of Gotham City being a quasi-mix of old pulp and modern-age science.

Pros:

This is a great series for someone who has never read a Batman comic; it allows the viewer to experience the characters for the first time in interesting fashions, but doesn’t completely pigeonhole them to their established origins from the comics.  Great visualizations; creates a seemingly dark environment (which is intended) and has given rise to other animated projects (commonly referred to as the DCAU) done by the show’s creator, Bruce Timm.  The show has also created some original characters that have made their way into the comics to become part of mainstream Batman continuity (specifically, Harley Quinn).

Cons:

If you’ve read all of the Batman comics beforehand, then many of the episodes will seem familiar to you.  It’s not that they steal outright from the comics, but several of the origin aspects of the characters are duplicated within the show, making it seem as though you’ve sat through it already.  There’s not a lot of overreaching plots and interaction with other heroes (at least not at first), and the show likes to make its own continuity while still relying heavily upon the source material, which at times can be both good and bad (and confusing) for the die-hard Batman fans.



#2: Justice League/Justice League Unlimited

Background:

Another DCAU project, Justice League (and its subsequent series, Justice League: Unlimited) focused on the world’s heroes and their battles against various supervillains.  At first the show centered on just seven defenders of justice (a nice parallel to the Justice League in the comics being founded by seven heroes) and then expanded to include nearly every single superhero within the shared DC universe.  Many of the plot points are taken from the source material in the comics.

Pros:

The most enjoyable aspect of this show is the interaction between the characters, especially the Wally West version of the Flash. (I can’t help it, I’m a Wally fan.)  The opening sequence theme is absolutely beautiful (though I don’t care much for the CGI part of it), and there are several favorite characters of mine that make an appearance.  Again, this is a good series for someone who hasn’t read the comics to begin with.

Cons:

One of the major problems of the show was when it became Justice League: Unlimited and several other superheroes were thrown into the mix.  While it focused more and more on the lesser-seen heroes, the central core of the show (the seven original founders) were shown less and less.  This was eventually corrected near the end of the series, but I’m still not happy about seeing characters like Wildcat and The Question when I’d rather see more interaction between Wally West, John Stewart, and Bruce Wayne.

 

 


#1: Batman Beyond

Background:

A completely original concept for the DCAU, Batman Beyond takes a look at what Gotham City would be like decades in the future.  An elderly Bruce Wayne is no longer able to wear the batsuit, Alfred is gone, and there’s a new Commissioner Gordon . . . Barbara Gordon.  A young teen takes up the mantle after finding his father murdered by an industrial hotshot, and he must juggle his family life, high school, and his superhero antics.

Pros:

The concept for this series is wonderful, and the execution is fabulous.  Much like Batman: TAS, there are several repeat villains who make appearances, and there’s some historical links between characters in both shows.  One of the best parts is showing Bruce having to depend on someone else to fight for him, and we can all guess just how well that sets with the original Batman’s mind.


Cons
:

A major problem that I see with this show is that it almost seems as though it’s a DC version of Spider-Man. It’s about a teenage boy who fights crime in a large city, and spends a lot of his time trying to take down a syndicate-type mastermind. (Kingpin, anyone?)  There’s no webcrawling, but with the new batsuit, this Bat-Teen can fly from building to building.  There’s even a love interest who keeps coming into play for the boy, but because he has to go off and save the city, she often gets angry at him because he can’t tell her his secret. (Mary Jane, anyone?)



Kristine’s Picks

#4: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)

Background:



When four ordinary turtles come into contact with mutagen, they develop human characteristics.  Trained by their master Splinter, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became fearsome masters of ninjitsu, protecting humanity from the dangers of Shredder, his Foot Clan, and the extra-dimensional being known as Krang while appreciating all that their humanity has to offer them and eating a lot of pizza.

Pros:

While the Turtles had their start in comics, it's the 1987 cartoon series that made them popular, losing their violent streak and becoming more kid friendly.  The original series holds up pretty well today and watching some episodes as an adult did nothing to ruin my childhood memories. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was silly at times, but it also handles an ongoing central plot and juggles many reoccurring characters: April O'Neill, Casey Jones, and more.

Cons:

I fully admit, TMNT made my list powered by nostalgia. The 1987 TV show was extremely cheesy and had a wide variety of ridiculous enemies and situations.  The tone of the show is pretty far removed from the original source material, and later versions did a better job of maintaining a balance between the original feel and being kid friendly.



#3: Smallville

Background:

Lasting for 10 seasons, Smallville follows the story of Clark Kent, starting with his high school years in Smallville, Kansas, and taking him all the way through his becoming a reporter of The Daily Planet and eventually donning the red cape and becoming Superman.  The series largely focused on Clark's relationships with other characters, his parents, friendships (Pete Ross and Lex Luthor), and romances (Lana Lang and Lois Lane), and his challenges juggling the responsibilities he has with them and the burden of his abilities and heritage.

Pros:

Smallville brought the DC Universe to live action television.  In addition to Clark's power set and the characters of Smallville, the series goes on to introduce the likes of Green Arrow (who now has his own spin-off in Arrow), Aquaman, Cyborg, and other characters that form the Justice League.  Classic Superman villains are reimagined from Braniac to Doomsday.  Then, there are the Luthors.  Lionel Luthor is a great addition to the DC Universe, being twice as a manipulative and cunning as Lex and brilliantly acting by John Glover.  Michael Rosenbaum is hands down my favorite Lex Luthor, especially once he's able to start playing Lex as a villain instead of a hero.

Cons:

The acting in Smallville can be a little rough.  Tom Welling in particular starts off as a very weak performer, even if he does improve over time.  For every good Smallville episode, there are a bunch of cheesy or just plain bad ones to go with it.  The series also faces some of the problems of Superman comics, such as finding a challenge for Clark without bringing kryptonite into every episode.



#2: Batman: The Animated Series

Background:

Following the adventures and cases of Batman in Gotham City, Batman: The Animated Series gave us a great retelling of many classic Batman comics while introducing new material. The series is widely regarded as one of the best comic book TV adaptations and rightfully so.  The show does a great job of bringing Batman's rogue's gallery into the forefront with many episodes focusing on them.  The creators knew that what makes Batman great is 50% Batman and 50% his villains.

Pros:

Batman: TAS told some amazing stories, both adapted from the comics and original tales.  The series is surprisingly mature and intelligent for a cartoon but stays relatively kid friendly.  The Animated Series also gave us some great additions to the Batman mythos, including Harley Quinn and redesigning Mr. Freeze.  The voice acting is fantastic.  I've still yet to hear a better Batman and Joker team than Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.  These two are iconic enough that they were able to pick up the mantles again in several animated movies and the Arkham Asylum and Arkham City video games.

Cons:

A lot of episodes of Batman: The Animated Series focus on the villains with many of the best episode dealing with a villain's tragic origin or attempt at reforming only to fail.  While these episodes are great and really tug at your heartstrings, they may be too dark for a younger audience or for someone looking for some levity in their cartoon series.



#1: The Middleman

Background:

The Middleman started as a comic by Javier Grillo-Marxuach about a mysterious organization that solves “exotic problems” such as mad scientists bent on taking over the world, hostile aliens, and supernatural threats.  Filed under the brilliant, but canceled, list of shows, The Middleman only lasted for 12 episodes but has been developing into a cult hit.

Pros:

The Middleman is one big love letter to geeks.  Every episode is packed with references to dozens of other geek media, whether that's the famous Wilhelm scream (featured in every episode), quotes, or similar, but usually twisted situations from film, comics, and video games.  The Middleman has a quirky sense of humor akin to shows like Wonderfalls or Pushing Daisies, and the plots are wonderfully tongue in cheek.  Boy bands attempting to take over the world by harnessing the devotion of tweens, genetically enhanced, tommy-gun toting apes, and trout-craving zombies are all par for the course for this show.

Cons:

In order to convey the best impression of The Middleman possible, I have destroyed the Cons entry for this show, so you will never know what blemishes it may or may not have until you watch it for yourself.  My plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity.



There are more shows coming out that are based on comics: some of them live-action, some traditional cartoon styles, and some CGI, but the main thing is that there are more being produced.  We certainly can’t wait to see how good—or how bad—they are in comparison to the original source material, but we hope that they don’t get pigeonholed into being entirely too much like their comic book counterparts.  After all, originality does have its advantages.

 

 

 

 

 

Last modified on Monday, 31 December 2018 23:30

Kristine Chester, Fanbase Press Senior Contributor

Favorite Comic Book SeriesAtomic Robo
Favorite D&D Class:  Wizard
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor:  Cookies N' Cream

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