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Superhero Shows ASSEMBLE!

The Tick from The Tick

A week from now, after years of build-up and films grand (Iron Man) and films not-so-grand (Iron Man 2), people across America will finally get to see if The Avengers was worth the wait. In another time, perhaps a few decades ago, the mere fact that a huge potential blockbuster of this magnitude, the culmination of several films and the combining of several big-name superheroes into one film, was to be directed by a man best known for several beloved, but low-rated TV shows would be considered a risky yet refreshing gamble by a big studio. But, as the Kenneth Branagh directed Thor proved just last year, no matter who you have in the director's chair, big studio films are almost produced on their own. They rarely do anything too spectacular, but come across as acceptable and indiscriminately entertaining, if loud trifles. While the idea of Joss Whedon getting a chance to direct The Avengers is exciting, the important question is if he was able to put his distinctive stamp on what looks to be one of the most carefully planned, and marketed, Hollywood products in film history.

Whatever the outcome, it's safe to say that TV fans are just as excited, if not moreso, than Marvel comics fans are for the premiere of The Avengers. While Joss Whedon has written (Toy Story, Alien: Resurrection, The Cabin In The Woods) and directed (Serenity) for the big screen before, he's known mostly for his widely and rabidly adored TV series (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse). Whedon fans hold his work dear to their hearts. His TV shows are some of the most talked about and quoted even to this day. Whedon's signature writing style is instantly recognizable, so it will take only minutes into The Avengers to tell if it is a true Whedon product or if it is just another Hollywood superhero film.

So, as our beloved TV creator takes his biggest leap yet into the big time by assembling a group of big name comic book heroes for one big movie event, I figured now would be a good time to assemble a list of some of my favorite television comic book adaptations.

Batman (1960s live-action series) and Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)
It's a tricky thing to bring an already known entity, such as Superman or Batman, from the pages of a comic book onto the small screen. It's tough enough creating a realistic world on television, much less one in which we're supposed to believe a character can perform superhuman feats. While shows like Lois & Clark and Smallville had their fans, neither are as instantly recognizable as two shows based on Superman's fellow DC creation, Batman.

The original, live-action Batman TV series aired during the 1960s and ran in syndication for decades after. It may look cheesy and silly now, but that show introduced the character of Batman and his rogue's gallery of villains to most fans of the Caped Crusader. The show made a star of Adam West and the performances of Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, Cesar Romero as The Joker, and Frank Gorshin as The Riddler all cast shadows over whomever dares to tackle these iconic characters.

While it's easy to poke fun at the live-action Batman series as an outdated relic, no one has ever done the same with one of the most well regarded shows in animated history, Batman: The Animated Series. As dark and serious in tone as the live action series was goofy, Batman:TAS looked like no other cartoon before it and portrayed The Dark Knight in a way that had never been attempted before. It took the stories and characters from the earliest days of the comics, updated and streamlined them into 30-minute-long mini-movies. Mark Hamill's portrayal of The Joker was both hilarious and chilling, making the character's mania as threatening as it was humorous. And Kevin Conroy will always be the voice of Batman in my mind. (He still does the voice in most animated versions of Batman today, including the recent Arkham Asylum and Arkham City video games.) For me, Batman:TAS is the best of all the incarnations of Batman rolled into one. Batman is smarter and cooler here and his world is more fully formed and vivid in TAS than it's been in any of the other Batman-based shows or movies. Finally, in my opinion, TAS is also the very best comic book adaptation ever created.

The Tick (1994-1996 animated series)
Behind Batman: TAS, The Tick is my second favorite animated series of all-time that isn't titled The Simpsons. The Tick is, without a doubt, one of the best satires of the superhero format ever created. It felt more like Seinfeld than it did Superfriends, almost more of a comedy hang-out show than a superhero show. The Tick poked fun at just about every superhero convention in hilarious and creative ways. For instance, there was a superhero team called "The Civic-Minded Five" made up of characters like Carpeted Man and Captain Mucilage. The Tick battled villains like Chairface Chippendale, Pig Leg, The Breadmaster("He baked the muffin that stole my car!") and Man-Eating Cow. His battle-cry was "SPOON!" And his sidekick Arthur dressed up as a moth but was continually mistaken for a "bunny man." I would not hesitate to call The Tick one of the top five comedies produced in the 90s. It was just that good.

X-Men (1992-1997)
As far as I'm concerned, the 90s animated X-Men series is the best adaptation of the X-Men comic. True to the characters and faithful recreations of some of the most famous and moving X-Men storylines(including the "Dark Phoenix" storyline that Joss Whedon has been "inspired by" more than once), X-Men hit all the marks perfectly. And, while the animation doesn't hold up as well as, say, Batman: TAS, the storytelling and voice-acting are still the gold standard in the X-Men media library.

The Incredible Hulk (1977-1982)
I don't really even remember specifically watching an episode of The Incredible Hulk. But images from the show and its elements are permanently embedded in my brain (like that image of Banner hitchhiking down the road with that sad music play? C'MON!). Bill Bixby going from town to town, helping people like a version of The Fugitive's Richard Kimble...but one that occasionally turned into a shirt-ripping green Lou Ferrigno. I watched this show like crazy in syndication and I have such fond memories of it, I'm probably going to watch it after I finish writing this.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-1996)
The "turtles" were a huge phenomenon during the late 80s and early 90s. I'm pretty sure the last toys I bought as a kid was some permutation of Raphael(probably wearing scuba gear or something stupid). I was perplexed by the original game for the NES. I lost countless quarters to the maddeningly addictive arcade game. I even saw the creepy-looking live-action movies. But I wouldn't have done any of that if it weren't for the wonderful original animated series. TMNT is unquestionably one of the targets of The Tick, and many "purists" called the show too soft and cartoony. I don't care. TMNT was my jam. Loved the opening theme, loved Splinter, loved Raphael, and probably even had a thing for April O'Neil. For pure popcorny entertainment, you can't go wrong with this series. Cowabunga!

Those are my favorite comic-based superhero TV shows. There are plenty of original superhero shows created just for television that I love, like Joss Whedon's own Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, the brilliant BBC show Misfits, and the incomparable Powerpuff Girls. I've heard great things about Alphas and hope to catch up on that eventually. Until then, though, I'll continue mourning the late, great gem that was cancelled well before its time. The Cape!

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