Comics On TV

The Best Comic Book Shows (and Seasons) of the Last Decade

From Arrow to Watchmen, Comics on TV columnist Erik Amaya chooses his favorite TV of the decade with roots in comic books.

by | January 1, 2020 | Comments

The 2010s were an exciting time for comic book–based television shows. The decade began with Smallville demonstrating a superhero show could be done on a budget, pull off the occasional iconic comic book moment, and sustain an audience for ten seasons. Almost immediately after it left the air in 2012, a whole second generation emerged to prove you can be faithful to the source material and still strike out in new directions. Soon, we had a whole superhero multiverse dominating one network’s lineup, a S.H.I.E.L.D. television show offering a weekly dose of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and even a few shows proving comics can offer television prestige-caliber material.

Of course, as we reflect on the decade past, only a handful of shows — or seasons of shows — can truly prove to be exemplary of the types of stories comics pioneered and still make for great TV. Some shows stand above the rest in terms of consistent quality, while others deserve recognition for the key time they got it right or advanced their genres on television. These 10 shows reveal just how wide in scope and far in storytelling we’ve come since Smallville started the 21st century’s comics on TV revolution.

Watchmen: Season 1 (2019) 95%

With only one season under its cape, Watchmen did two impossible things: 1.) It adapted the classic comic book by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbon, and John Higgins into something wildly different, yet wholly consistent as the source. 2.) It got AT&T to pay for a long-form treatise on American racism. And even if that topic had not become relevant in the last few years, Watchmen would still feel worthy for using this specific comic book to talk about these issues. Considering how much the source embeds itself in American history, taking this angle feels like mining the original comics’ great missing chapter. Meanwhile, the show features some powerhouse acting talent with Regina King, Louis Gossett Jr, Jean Smart, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Tim Blake Nelson delivering better and better performances each week. Though the most recent entry on the list, it’s certainly earned its place.

Legion 91%

Though it wavered in the second season, Legion proved one can take the basic concepts behind the X-Men and make a provocative, meaty, and artistically diverse program. With its dance sequences, rap battles, and genre-bending episodes, creator Noah Hawley put his directors in the driver’s seat as they found unique ways to further the tale of Charles Xavier’s son David (Dan Stevens) and his cohort of would-be saviors. And in the end, it left us feeling as though we watched the most compelling X-Men prequel ever devised. Well, a prequel if you consider the future they showed Xavier (played by Harry Lloyd in the third season) was prevented by him founding the X-Men.

Arrow: Season 2 (2013) 95% 

Arrow season 2 (The CW)
(Photo by The CW)

We’ll be honest, Arrow’s quality wavers in the extreme, but its second season was a standout in terms of achievement and intent. Intended to be a season-long tale called “City of Heroes,” the show expanded its universe with the arrival of Sarah Lance (Caity Lotz), the return of Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett), and the debut appearance of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin). It was also the year its flashbacks to Lian Yu felt the most resonant. In that story, we see what turned Slade from Oliver’s (Stephen Amell) best ally into his worst enemy just as the present day story carefully built up Slade’s plan for revenge. The show would try to mine that idea the next few seasons, but the device never works as well again as it did here. Also, this season set the standard for all the Arrowverse shows to follow.

Marvel's Daredevil: Season 3 (2018) 97% 

In its final run on Netflix, Daredevil finally found the tone it needed all along: a tense legal thriller in which the plucky lawyer just happens to be a vigilante who fights people on rooftops. Very loosely based on the classic “Born Again” comic book story line, the third season played to all of the show’s strengths by pitting Matt Murdoch (Charlie Cox) against Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) once again and pairing down all of the characters to their essentials. This technique even extended to its one major introduction: Wilson Bethel as a not-yet-Bullseye whose usually ambiguous origin becomes definitive and downright compelling. And though we previously said the series felt complete with season 3, we would have loved to see this take on Daredevil continue.

Marvel's Jessica Jones: Season 1 (2015) 94%

Marvel's Jessica Jones SEASON 1 PHOTO CREDIT Myles Aronowitz/Netflix PICTURED Krysten Ritter
(Photo by Myles Aronowitz/Netflix)

Taking its cues from the early issues of Marvel’s Alias comic book and the later “Purple” story line, Jessica Jones first season continues to be the most satisfying of its three-year lifespan because it is directly about something: surviving rape. Thanks to the stellar performance of Krysten Ritter as Jessica — and, of course, David Tennant as Killgrave — the program used superhero trappings to talk about astonishing mental anguish and what people do to cope. Consider the way Jessica avoids any sort of support while Malcom (Eka Darville) almost immediately forms a support group for Killgrave’s victims. Sure, Jessica’s ultimate answer is violent, but it is cathartic. The story also gave the series a focus it would never have again even as it continued to produce quality work.

Swamp Thing: Season 1 (2018) 94%

Swamp Thing was not just true to its comic book roots, it was true to a whole genre of comics — DC’s horror titles of the mid-1980s and early ’90s. Moody, gothic, and as often about relationships as existential terror, they were the post-Punk books DC needed to produce. And as a short-lived DC Universe original series, Swamp Thing captured this feeling in episodes like “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” in which an old evil in the swamp returns, passing from person to person as it tries to create more death and despair. The story feels like a single issue of Hellblazer or Swamp Thing while also serving the program’s ongoing plots. The series also served up the production values Swamp Thing always deserved. Sadly, that dedication to quality and fidelity meant the series enjoyed an all-too-brief life.

The Walking Dead: Season 8 (2017) 64%

While the series made a number of strides since Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) woke up in that hospital — and some wavering moments in quality — season 8 and its “All Out War” story line may be the best run of the series to date. It is the last time the core characters were unified, both physically and in purpose. Say what you like about Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), but he brings people together — even if the vast majority of them united just to bring him down. And there is that magic moment when Negan met Shiva. The season also gave Rick the win he so badly needed, even if it cost him his son Carl (Chandler Riggs). For a show loathed to traffic in happy endings, this was Rick’s chance at a vanquishing a foe and the closest it could come to letting its protagonist have anything remotely “happy.”

DC's Legends of Tomorrow: Season 3 (2017) 88%

DC's Legends Of Tomorrow season 3 keyart (The CW)
(Photo by The CW)

Proving superheroes can be wildly funny while still saving the universe, Legends fully shed the dour trappings of its first season with this inventive and off-beat year. The initial story saw the Legends fixing time after nearly tearing it asunder the previous year. But their efforts to patch the timestream also let a literal demon into their world. John Constantine (Matt Ryan) made a few appearances to help with the magical angle while Zari Tomas (Tala Ashe) arrived to abuse her snack privileges aboard the Waverider and call out the team for their constant failures as heroes — although she proves equally disposed to goofing off in the end. Also, the season gave us Beebo, and how can we resist its strange “must-have-Christmas-gift” power?

Wynonna Earp 93%

WYNONNA EARP -- Season:2 -- Pictured: Melanie Scrofano as Wynonna Earp -- (Photo by: Michelle Faye/Wynonna Earp Season 2, Inc./Syfy)
(Photo by Michelle Faye/Wynonna Earp Season 2, Inc./Syfy)

Born of a somewhat obscure 1990s Image Comics title, Wynonna Earp fills a niche so under-represented that its dedicated fanbase is now as much a part of the story as the chronicles of the title character. Returning to her hometown, Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano) discovers her legacy has a supernatural element and that her family is nothing like what she believed it to be. Playing loose, fast, and funny with language, mythology, and the heart, the show never shies away from its influences or weaving tension into its comedy. And as its cast grew and the world-building deepened, it did for horror tropes what DC’s Legends of Tomorrow does for the DC Comics milieu. The result is a seemingly light show with the power to devastate you when bad things happen to Wynonna’s band of good people.

Dark Matter 89%

Dark Matter (Syfy)
(Photo by Syfy)

The scrappy crew of the Raza reflected the sensibility (and budget) of this three-season Syfy wonder. Based on a Dark Horse comic by the same name, it excelled at utilizing its few standing sets and completely obscuring its tight economic concerns while telling a tale of an emerging revolution. Like the best sci-fi ensembles, it tricks you into falling in love with the seemingly most immoral member of the crew while blindsiding you with the truth about the seemingly most virtuous. It also wore its Canadian-ness on its space-sleeves, which we appreciate in an era when most superhero shows are produced in Vancouver, but set in fictional US cities. Gone before its time, the program’s 39 episodes prove you can build science fiction/comic book show in the most modest of circumstances.

Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

based on movie Discovery Channel 24 frames Apple TCA TruTV elevated horror Extras Netflix Christmas movies theme song ratings WGN Pop 21st Century Fox spider-man TBS blockbuster NBC DirecTV Marvel witnail game of thrones Brie Larson Comedy Oscars Ovation crime thriller Action Sundance TV Western strong female leads YouTube Premium criterion game show Trailer Amazon Prime Video spy thriller foreign HBO Max TV renewals Superheroe Calendar best 2019 Nickelodeon LGBTQ Set visit BET Awards rotten movies we love Box Office Disney Plus Nat Geo book children's TV HBO Go Turner mutant Captain marvel finale dc dogs MSNBC disaster cartoon spinoff San Diego Comic-Con Sundance Now Stephen King medical drama E! Cannes Comics on TV PlayStation Amazon Studios TCA 2017 green book war Peacock Ellie Kemper Awards Tour Marvel Studios Amazon Starz miniseries APB Mary Poppins Returns GIFs stand-up comedy Cartoon Network cinemax ABC Family biography cars Music Winners natural history Biopics award winner Funimation Academy Awards VOD Hear Us Out all-time Red Carpet television Musical 45 revenge Video Games Countdown composers political drama Opinion kids video Apple TV Plus Disney streaming service Superheroes First Reviews Mary poppins Grammys Rock TLC Elton John doctor who Creative Arts Emmys Year in Review Travel Channel Avengers Tubi screenings Mary Tyler Moore Turner Classic Movies Ghostbusters Song of Ice and Fire 2015 Logo Lucasfilm franchise sequel Classic Film LGBT Epix Photos El Rey adventure Animation name the review twilight GLAAD Heroines Paramount Network ESPN Mindy Kaling SXSW psycho tv talk directors crime DGA comiccon spanish language joker Trophy Talk werewolf zombie richard e. Grant casting crime drama cancelled TV shows Film Festival 2017 History OneApp Holiday Emmys Women's History Month spain latino Comic Book Polls and Games cops technology binge Summer CNN Bravo PaleyFest movies USA Network Premiere Dates Black History Month Emmy Nominations 20th Century Fox TCA Awards free movies harry potter streaming diversity ghosts VICE dark chucky Pride Month Toys scary movies batman Columbia Pictures Infographic 2016 BET FX facebook 007 The Arrangement MTV Reality CW Seed Television Academy Schedule YA canceled animated festivals Showtime Star Wars 2020 FX on Hulu IFC Films films docudrama sports Marvel Television true crime Best and Worst Sneak Peek Comedy Central social media Sundance SDCC TIFF mockumentary documentary mission: impossible zero dark thirty vampires unscripted FOX First Look Rocky New York Comic Con Vudu cancelled Walt Disney Pictures Drama Lifetime Christmas movies BAFTA American Society of Cinematographers comics slashers E3 sag awards Esquire movie dragons supernatural Universal Masterpiece Horror romance NYCC asian-american CBS All Access Certified Fresh cooking Arrowverse Sony Pictures USA screen actors guild nature GoT Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Lifetime Spectrum Originals President parents news Country OWN Food Network Binge Guide Adult Swim comedies space teaser A24 documentaries stoner Family transformers thriller Acorn TV DC Universe SundanceTV Hulu AMC quibi Disney Channel Shudder versus Tarantino Musicals christmas movies Holidays Character Guide cats TV Land Quiz X-Men Baby Yoda talk show Hallmark Christmas movies Star Trek Dark Horse Comics hispanic reboot Amazon Prime serial killer Pet Sematary Trivia Mystery ITV Crunchyroll Fantasy independent politics Rom-Com video on demand Podcast Film Thanksgiving psychological thriller The Witch Apple TV+ indie Chilling Adventures of Sabrina BBC Lionsgate BBC America aliens anime Tomatazos The Purge police drama See It Skip It 2018 reviews VH1 Crackle TV DC Comics Teen Sci-Fi BBC One Shondaland travel period drama Nominations Fox News what to watch Chernobyl Winter TV historical drama cults Spike Anna Paquin CMT TCM Awards A&E toy story Endgame Freeform series justice league TCA Winter 2020 discovery canceled TV shows dceu Television Critics Association crossover Britbox dramedy Tumblr a nightmare on elm street RT History Netflix Marathons halloween Cosplay Disney 4/20 singing competition Warner Bros. Watching Series Mudbound concert Christmas satire CBS Syfy Martial Arts The CW critics comic Interview Fall TV YouTube Red Writers Guild of America Disney+ Disney Plus science fiction boxoffice jamie lee curtis FXX Rocketman TNT IFC 71st Emmy Awards hist Pop TV ABC cancelled TV series WarnerMedia sitcom National Geographic The Walking Dead zombies die hard romantic comedy DC streaming service HBO Pixar golden globes child's play RT21 anthology Spring TV breaking bad Pirates Valentine's Day cancelled television Hallmark YouTube renewed TV shows south america Paramount robots universal monsters adaptation PBS Black Mirror Election Reality Competition indiana jones MCU Super Bowl Kids & Family blaxploitation