The name of this category may soon be out of date; as it stands, only one of these shows was actually broadcast on a traditional television platform, with the all being on proprietary streaming services. Regardless, here are our staff’s picks for best television show based on a comic for 2019.
3 (tie). The Boys
It’s a good time to be a fan of comic book adaptations. There’s a deep well of comics for every mood in our country. One of those moods is “I’m sick of superheroes.”
The core of The Boys is a superhero comic with the awe stripped away. Add some cheeky violence, and place it in our dystopian present, and it’s just what our current national mood is calling for.
One reason this adaptation did so well because it leans into what great screen adaptations do: letting actors be actors. This means all the heroes and villains are a bit rounder. Karl Urban and Dominique McElligott add just enough pathos into every scene to improve on their source. And Homelander’s sociopathy is adapted from manic extremes to a much softer and scarier humanity.
This adaptation jettisons Ennis’s conservative sexual politics and comic genre-specific storylines, all for the better, but I’m sad to see it also left behind Ennis’s more interesting views on policing and our misplaced veneration of special operation forces. But writer Eric Kripke (Supernatural) seems happy to explore the growing character relationships over military theorizing, and that’s easily the correct choice for a TV show.
The Boys has been a thrill for both readers of the comics and not. I’m in the former, and love watching how Kripke changes up each storyline he adapts, my friends are in the latter, and love watching this huge cast of dark takes on well-defined tropes. And for all of us, it’s just impossible not to immediately fall in love with the Frenchman and the Woman.
It’s an exciting show, it’s in the hands of a proven showrunner, and I’m excited to see where it’s going. – Justin McGuire
3 (tie). Young Justice
#BringBackYoungJustice and #KeepBingingYoungJustice trended on Twitter for who knows how long. Season 2 ended on a note that left fans clamoring for more, but… that was it. The series was over. Whatever the reason, whether it was toy sales or ratings, we didn’t think we’d get any more Young Justice.
Until we did, thanks to online campaigns and binge sessions of the first two seasons on Netflix that let the creators know we wanted more. So finally, we got it… on DC’s streaming service. But it was something. More than something, it was a lot.
Each week we got three new episodes that continued the story of the young heroes we loved and introduced new ones. Young Justice season 3 gave us a good mix of stories featuring characters from each season, from Superboy and Miss Martian and their relationship to Beast Boy’s struggles balancing heroism and fame to Black Lightning’s story to Geo-Force, Halo, and the rest of the new team. All the while, it balanced the growing Outsiders team with the Justice League and the Team’s own missions and the looming threat of Darkseid and his Apokalyptian forces.
Yeah, there’s a lot to balance there, but they managed it. The same quality character work, writing, voice acting, and animation that made the first two seasons a hit continued on through season 3. It threw some good twists at us, like the subversion of the usual Terra betrayal (but let’s be real, Teen Titans did that storyline right years ago, so that was the only way to make it a surprise), and the character stakes always felt real.
True to form, Young Justice season 3 ended on a cliffhanger, leaving us wanting more. Fortunately, we’ll be getting season 4, so it’s time to wait again. – Robbie Pleasant
3 (tie). The Umbrella Academy
At some point during the development process of The Umbrella Academy, someone must’ve been looking at the budget and said, “Y’know, we could save a hell of a lot of money if the butler wasn’t a talking chimpanzee.” And yet, Pogo is still a chimpanzee. More importantly than that, he’s a character they invested in to the point that he can give a real performance. I can think of no better way to illustrate how the show’s creators clearly cared about making an Umbrella Academy TV show, rather than just leveraging a recognizable name to make whatever they wanted.Continued below
Make no mistake, The Umbrella Academy is wildly different from its source material, but not in the ways that matter. It brings the same energy as the comics to the screen, and in such a distinct way that it could only be The Umbrella Academy. It paints its identity so liberally over every moment that even something as simple as a shot of the characters running is done in such a way that proclaims “this is who these characters are and this is what this show is.” I enjoy that confidence.
More importantly, it lets the comics be the comics, and leans into what TV does better; the two coexist in a way that doesn’t subtract value from the other. Plus, I just loved spending more time with the characters in little moments that the comic can’t always afford with such limited space, especially when the characters are brought to life as wonderfully as they were by Aidan Gallagher, Ellen Page, and Robert Sheehan. ― Mark Tweedale
2. Doom Patrol
The Doom Patrol are not superheroes. They don’t indulge in high-flying rescues or, to be frank, save much of anything. In fact, saying they’re a team may be overstating their closeness at times. However, this group of screw-ups and mistakes, of fundamentally broken people, endear audiences nonetheless. Written as a love letter to the Grant Morrison era of the team in comics, but more dysfunctional, this story of metafiction and struggle is not about resounding success against an ever-doomed world, but about the demons within each of the Patrol’s members. From one self-centered person to another, from a human brain in a robotic suit to a woman who can barely keep herself from melting apart to an intense burn victim merged with some kind of spirit to a young woman with sixty-four different personalities to a young man who is half machine, the group assembled by Niles “the Chief” Caulder, to paraphrase Brian Clevinger about a different series, often don’t have time to deal with the various obstacles and monsters that stand in their way: they’re too busy dealing with the monsters and obstacles amongst one another.
As such, the story of Doom Patrol has a central focus on helping oneself and accepting their own flaws and intricacies as a path toward moving forward. With wacky characters like Flex Mentallo and Danny Street, along with Alan Tudyk in the combined role of narrator and antagonist as Eric “Mister Nobody” Morden, there is far more focus on how these people can not only deal with each other, but can accept and deal with themselves, touching on various elements of what can be considered “abnormality” from the fantastical such as superpowers to the mundane such as transgender individuals.
In the standout role(s) amongst many fascinating ones, Diane Guerrero’s performance as Crazy Jane is utterly riveting, appearing as though it deserves awards nearly every time it is on screen. As she seems to effortlessly shift between the Jane “surface” persona and fourteen others among the sixty-four, each role is so intricately lain that every one of them can be easily identified not as facets of a single person, but as a variety of people who happen to inhabit the same body.
In all, the series comes across as a mature rated version of The CW’s DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, a designation meant in all of the best ways. This lovable gang of weirdos comes across a wide spectrum of the DC Universe, from a horde of bipedal, human-eating anuses to a being capable of destroying all of reality to a man who gains powers from consuming facial hair, and that’s just a small sampling.
With comedy and tragedy interlinked, running a gamut of emotions all across a human range, this utterly bizarre corner of the DC Universe is definitely worth its praise. – Greg Ellner
In a just world, HBO’s Watchmen would not exist. You may be aware of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the creators of the original “Watchmen,” and the raw deal they and other creators like them have received at the hands of DC Comics. Moore has publicly denounced any association with the property many times over, as recently as the lead up to this television sequel. With Moore’s wishes and the property’s history in mind, I cannot in good conscience recommend this television series to any one. Nevertheless, if one were to put aside these unfortunate circumstances and partake in HBO’s Watchmen, they would find a thoughtful, well constructed, and arguably fitting sequel to the seminal super-hero deconstruction.Continued below
I’m an admitted and forthcoming Damon Lindelof mark, for better or worse. I am a continued defender of LOST, I adored The Leftovers, heck, I even liked Prometheus. In this matter, I’m hardly an unbiased reviewer. However, I think I can objectively state that the work of actors like Regina King (one of a couple Leftovers alums on the series), Jeremy Irons, Jean Smart, and Tim Blake Nelson is among the finest of the television season. King’s performance as Angela Abar is a revelation, one that I hope propels the actress into even more roles. Nelson’s turn as “Looking Glass” is a tragically haunting character piece. Smart and Iron’s efforts are reinventing classic “Watchmen” characters for a new era are stunning in their believability and far more compelling than previous onscreen adaptations.
Just as the original “Watchmen” sought to comment on complex political issues and to critique the state of the comic book medium in the mid-80’s, Watchmen seeks to do the same for modern issues and mainstream television. The series weighs in on issues of race inequality, white supremacy, unjust war, and police brutality with unflinching sincerity. Likewise, it makes great creative use of the television medium, as witnessed in its sixth episode, ‘This Extraordinary Being.’
The creative team and the cast behind this series are not the only ones that deserve praise. Trent Renzor and Atticus Ross have developed a haunting score to accompany this series, one of the finest this side of Twin Peaks. I rarely consider picking up physical releases of television soundtracks, but Watchmen makes a fine case for it. Speaking of which the series is made even richer by the metatextual supplements provided both in the liner notes of the Watchmen soundtrack and the “Peteypedia” documents, both of which call back to the back matter of the original “Watchmen.”
I am complicit in what a fellow DC3cast host describes as “helping Damon Lindelof masturbate” by watching the Watchmen. At the time of writing I have seen only eight episodes of the series’s nine episode season. It may be that the entire endeavor will come crashing down in those final sixty minutes. It would not be the first time I would be left with egg on my face in these year-end round-ups. In spite of this, I think at the very least that the first six episodes of Watchmen earns its spot as not only the best television adaptations of 2019, but one of the most exciting and intriguing television projects of the year. – Zach Wilkerson