The characters from DC Comics, ranging from Batman to Superman and The Flash to Wonder Woman, have been mainstays of television for the past sixty-five years. It began with 1952's The Adventures Of Superman and has continued to this day with such efforts as Arrow, Lucifer and Preacher. What follows is a guide to twenty of those shows which have spanned the decades.
The Adventures of Superman
For a generation George Reeves was Superman, bringing the Man Of Steel to life first in glorious (and noir-flavored) black and white, and then in color accompanied by a lighter, sillier tone. But it was still awesome. There are nonetheless two things confounding about the show: after watching bullets bounce off of his chest, why did Superman always duck when the bad guys threw their empty guns at him? And since Reeves spoke in exactly the same way whether he was Supes or Clark Kent, how did people on the phone know who they were talking to? That was some pair of glasses. Noel Neill was Lois Lane, Jack Larson Jimmy Olsen and John Hamilton Perry White.
US Purchase: Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, Playstation; UK Purchase: Amazon Instant Video (six seasons), Playstation (five seasons)
Holy phenomena, Batman! The Dynamic Duo made their TV debut in this campy television series that aired twice weekly, and became an instant sensation. Starring Adam West as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Burt Ward as Dick Grayson/Robin, this show was all about the colors, the crazy filming angles, the cliffhangers and an unbelievable rogues gallery. The latter includes Cesar Romero as the Joker, Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, and Julie Newmar as Catwoman (nice leather, Julie!). Added into the mix for the final season was Yvonne Craig as Batgirl. As popular as Batman was, the show perfectly epitomized Dr. Eldon Tyrell’s observation that “the fire that burns twice as bright, burns for half as long.” Interestingly, West always claimed he could play a darker version of Batman, and while we’re not so convinced of that, he does have fun trying to do so in the recent animated film Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders.
US Purchase: Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, iTunes; UK: Not Available
It was a silly Saturday morning live action show, accompanied by morality lessons that were about a subtle as a lightning bolt. Michael Gray stars as Billy Batson with Les Tremayne as Mentor (there’s that subtlety again). In season one Jackson Bostwick was cast as Billy’s adult alter-ego, Captain Marvel, replaced in season two by John Davey.
DVD: Warner Archives.
Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman! Oh, there were plots and things, but the takeaway is that the show inspired a generation thanks to Ms. Carter in the WW outfit (and, no, we’re not proud of our blatant sexism). The first TV attempt had been with Cathy Lee Crosby in the 1974 TV movie The New Original Wonder Woman, followed by the 1975 series starring Carter. The first season was set during World War II and co-starred Lyle Waggoner as Steve Trevor. After a season of fighting Nazis, the series shifted networks in America and moved the Amazon Princess to the present, believing that would expand storytelling possibilities. Waggoner joined Carter, but this time as Trevor’s son (ew, creepy). Highlight: Diana Prince twirling around to transform into Wonder Woman. Theme song was fun, too.
US Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu (one of three seasons); UK Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video
Alexander Salkind, producer of the first three Christopher Reeve Superman films, took his rights to the small screen to produce this series that focused on the college-aged Clark Kent/Superboy. In its first season, the dual character was played by John Haymes Newton, and the show was fairly pedestrian, dealing with mundane subjects liked Superboy stopping corrupt school basketball games (sad, but true). In season two, Gerard Christopher stepped into the red and blue tights and the series began to more fully embrace its comic book roots with villains from the Man Of Steel’s rogues gallery. Stacy Haiduk was Lana Lang, with first Scott James Wells and then Sherman Hemsley as Lex Luthor.
US Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Microsoft Store; UK Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies
You've got to give this concept credit for perseverence. Created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson in 1971, the character went from the pages of DC to a 1982 live action film directed by Wes Craven, the 1989 sequel The Return Of Swamp Thing and, then, this series. Dick Durock starred in all three as scientist Alec Holland, betrayed by Dr. Anton Arcane and transformed into the title character after being set afire, doused in a variety of chemicals and left for dead in the Lousiana swamps. Instead of dying, he found himself transformed into a creature born from the plants and muck of the swamp. Becoming a protector of the environment before it was in vogue to do so, he has control of all plant life and is endowed with super strength.
US: Available on DVD; UK: Not Available
In the aftermath of Tim Burton's 1989 production of Batman came this TV series of the Scarlet Speedster that, at the time, was considered pretty dark in tone and approach. Today? Not so much. John Wesley Shipp is Barry Allen/The Flash, Amanda Pays as Christina McGeen, a scientist at S.T.A.R. labs, with villains including Mark Hamill as the Trickster. All three have appeared on the current television incarnation of the character.
US Purchase: Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Vudu, Microsoft; UK Purchase: Google Play Movies
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
Writer Deborah Joy Levine came up with tne notion of a Superman television series that would actually puts its focus primarily on the gradual romance between Daily Planet reporters Clark Kent (Dean Cain) and Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher). While Cain's Superman would still play a significant part of each episode, things were definitely slanted towards the two reporters. Season one had a solid mix of humor, romance and Superman adventures, but after that things got considerably lighter, the villains sillier, and the effects of the time not really being up to what was called for. Eventually Lois and Clark got married (which resulted in the comic book characters doing the same), and they had a kid at the end of the series.
US Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Playstation; UK Purchase: iTunes, Google Play Movies
A Superman TV series without Superman? The concept seemed ludicrous, but damn if they didn't make it work. Tom Welling played teenager Clark Kent who was first discovering his extraordinary powers, and the show traced his gradual evolution towards his destiny as the Man Of Steel. Things started off with lots of teen angst and a freak of the week formula as denizens of Smallville were mutated by exposure to Kryptonite, but eventually the show began to more fully embrace its DC Comics roots. Also starring was Kristin Kreuk as Clark's first love, Lana Lang, and Michael Rosenbaum as the definitive version of Lex Luthor. Characters joining the show over the years included Supergirl (Laura Vandervoort), Brainiac (James Marsters), Lois Lane (Erica Durance) and Green Arrow (Justin Hartley). Created by Al Gough and Miles Millar, currently represented by The Shannara Chronicles and Into The Badlands. Spoiler alert: Clark finally becomes Superman in the final episode of the series, and you would be hard-pressed to find a greater failure in paying off ten years worth of episodes.
US Streaming: Hulu; US Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Vudu, Microsoft Store; Playstation (only six of ten seasons); UK Purchase: iTunes, Google Play Movies, Microsoft Store, PlayStation (only four seasons)
Birds of Prey
With Batman unavailble for the small screen, and with the resounding success of Smallville around them, producers decided to dip into the Dark Knight's universe with this series focusing on Ashley Scott's Helena Kyle/Huntress (daughter of Batman and Catwoman), Dina Meyer's Barbara Gordon/Oracle, and Rachel Karsten's Dinah Lance and their battle against meta-humans in New Gotham. Created by Laeta Kalogridis, the show never quite connected with people. Interestingly, episode one had a brief appearance by Batman and the Joker, with Mark Hamill providing the voice for the latter.
US Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Vudu, Microsoft; UK Purchase: Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies
The TV series that really put DC Comics on the television map in the 21st Century. Stephen Amell is Oliver Queen, stranded on a deserted island for five years and returning to his home in Star City to take on the guise of the Green Arrow to fight crime. The series began as an extremely gritty affair, but started getting more fanciful while serving as a pilot for The Flash spin-off. Other meta-humans became involved here and there, and in season four the show began dealing with the world of magic, though this current season has returned to its roots and become more grounded.
US New Episodes: CW; US Streaming: Netflix, CW Seed; US Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Vudu, Microsoft Store, Fandango Now (one season); UK New Episodes: Sky1; UK Streaming: Amazon Prime Instant Video (three seasons); UK Purchase: Sky Store, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Talk Talk TV, Wuaki and Microsoft Store (four seasons each).
Matt Ryan stars as John Constantine, demon hunter and dabbler of the occult who takes on the "Rising Darkness" that threatens the world, protecting innocents though doing so isn't necessarily his first impulse. The show only lasted one season, but Ryan made such an impression in the role that he reprised it on an episode of Arrow, voiced him in the animated film Justice League Dark and will do so again in a series of animated webisodes.
US Purchase: iTunes, Google Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Vudu, Playstation, Microsoft Store, Fandango Now; UK Streaming: Amazon Prime Instant Video; UK Purchase: Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies
The Batman prequel television series focusing largely on James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as he battles to save the soul of Gotham City. Assorted characters from the mythos are a part of the series, including David Mazouz as the teenage Bruce Wayne who begins by trying to cope with the murder of his parents, but gradually finds himself heading down the road that will lead to the Dark Knight.
US New Episodes: Fox; US Streaming: Netflix (two seasons), Hulu (one season), Yahoo View (one season); US Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Vudu and Microsoft Store (all three seasons), Fandango Now (one season); UK New Episodes: Channel 5; UK Streaming: Netflix; UK Purchase: Sky Store, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Talk Talk TV, Wuaki, and Microsoft Store (two seasons each)
The most popular of the current DC shows, Grant Gustin is Barry Allen, aka The Flash, the fastest man alive. The explosion of a particle accelerator transformed Allen into the speedster, and anyone struck by its energy wave into a meta-human. While it doesn't always work, it's the show that most often captures the sheer exuberance of a comic book (for proof, look at the recent two-part Gorilla Grodd episode or trips through the multiverse).
US New Episodes: CW; US Streaming: Netflix, CW Seed; US Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Vudu, Playstation, Microsoft Store; UK New Episodes: Sky1; UK Streaming: Now TV, Sky Go (one season); UK Purchase: iTunes, Google Play Movies, Talk Talk TV, Playstation, Microsoft Store
One of the most unique procedurals out there: turned into a zombie, Olivia "Liv" Moore (Rose McIver) realizes that to survive she has to eat brains, choosing to do so from the bodies brought to the morgue she works in. An unexpected side effect is that she takes on personality traits and memories of each brain, which comes in handy when trying to solve their murders.
US New Episodes: CW; US Streaming: Netflix, CW Seed (one season); US Purchase: Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Fudu, Playstation, Microsoft Store, Fandango Now (one season); UK New Episodes: Netflix; UK Stream: Netflix; UK Purchase: Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Talk Talk TV, Microsoft Store
Melissa Benoist is the Girl Of Steel in a series that, in its first season, was all about female empowerment as both Supergirl and her alter ego of Linda Danvers attempted to find their places in the world. In season two things got considerably more comic booky, a change bringing with it strengths (a greater sense of fun and more "out there" threats) and weaknesses (not as much attention to detail; a dopey alien sub-culture that suddenly exists). Highlight of season two: Tyler Hoechlin portrayed Superman in two episodes.
US New Episodes: CW; US Streaming: Netflix, CW Seed (one season each); US Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Vudu, Playstation, Microsoft Store, Fandango Now (one season); UK New Episodes: Sky1; UK Streaming: Now TV, Sky Go; UK Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Playstation, Microsoft Store
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
The first live-action superhero team-up series gathers characters who had previously appeared on both Arrow and The Flash, including The Atom (Brandon Routh — you know, the caped fellow from Superman Returns), White Canary (Caity Lotz), Firestorm (Victor Garber and Franz Drameh), Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell), and Vixen (Maisie Richardson-Sellers). The team travels through time attempting to stop the Legion of Doom from destroying the fabric of history. Season one was fairly hit and miss, but season two has been a lot more fun.
US New Episodes: CW; US Streaming: Netflix, CW Seed (one season each); US Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Vudu, Playstation, Microsoft Store, Fandango Now (one season); UK Streaming: Now TV, Sky Go; UK Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Playstation, Microsoft Store
What if the devil, feeling he had been misunderstood and deciding he'd had enough of ruling hell, decided to migrate to Los Angeles and live among mortals? Such is the notion behind this series starring the oh-so-charming Tom Ellis in the title role. He runs a bar and involves himself in debauchery of all sorts, before he meets Detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German) and finds himself helping her to solve crimes. It's the most bizarre procedural in the world, but damn if it doesn't work. Other characters include Lucifer's angel brother Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside), his mum Charlotte Richards (Tricia Helfer) and his demonic ally Maze (Lesley-Ann Brandt).
US New Episodes: Fox; US Streaming: Hulu, Yahoo View (one season); US Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Vudu, Playstation, Microsoft Store, Fandango Now (one season); UK New Episodes: Amazon Prime Instant Video; UK Streaming: Amazon Prime Instant Video; UK Purchase: iTune, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Playstation, Microsoft Store
A preacher, his ex and a vampire (sounds like the start of a joke) find themselves in the niddle of a battle between Heaven and Hell, with Earth stuck in between. Dominic Cooper is main character Jesse Custer, Ruth Negga is the ex, Tulip O'Hare; and Joseph Gilgun is Cassidy, the guy with the fangs.
US New Episodes: AMC; US Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Vudu, Playstation, Microsoft Store, Fandango Now; UK Streaming: Amazon Prime Instant Video; UK Purchase: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, Microsoft Store
The lighter side of the DC Universe as employees of Wayne Security attempt to create a new wave of technoogy to keep the people of Charm City safe from the fallout of superhero/villain battles. The cast includes Vanessa Hudgens, Danny Pudi, Christina Kirk, Ron Funches and Alan Tudyk.
US New Episodes: NBC; UK: TBA