By Corey Faneli
This past year was a great one for comics and superheroes on television, with many returning titles as well as some newcomers that were quick to make their marks. Since we’re in the middle of the summer doldrums and patiently waiting for next season now seems like a perfect time to rank the last year’s worth of some of our favorite comic shows.
The process is going to be simple: go through each of the comic shows one by one and rank them based on their past season, with the overwhelming criteria being “which would I most want to binge-watch again before the next season debuts.” With that being said, let’s get into it. Obviously there will be some spoilers below!
- Gotham– Coming in at the bottom of the list is Gotham, which debuted last fall. This is undoubtedly the show that I would least want to binge on before it returns for season two, but that’s not to say it was all bad.
It’s not uncommon for a show to struggle in its first season. Hell, even Star Trek: The Next Generation had some growing pains and look at how great of a show that turned out to be. What I fear about Gotham though is that its premise isn’t all that sustainable. It isn’t like Smallville, where they were able to get around the “no tights no flights” rule by pretty much making him Superman in everything but name only, and even that became tiresome after some time. Gotham is going to have a problem because things can’t really get better. Gordon is trying to fight corruption but he can’t win, otherwise there’s no need for the Batman.
Gotham is a different challenge because, as many have pointed out, how do you have a Batman show without Batman? In many iterations Batman is at least in part responsible for the genesis of many of his villains so how do you introduce them in compelling ways without the titular character? On the more practical end Gotham was plagued by shoehorned, tongue-through-cheek references to characters and villains. Ed Nygma is the Riddler guys. THE RIDDLER! He tells riddles! Do you understand?! So I think the show could have been improved with just a tad more subtlety and less of the weird, in your face fan service they tried to do.
That’s not to say it was all bad. The show was bolstered by a pretty solid performance from Ben McKenzie as Detective Gordon and scene-stealing performances from Donal Logue as his partner Harvey Bullock. The two work really well together and I buy that aspect of the show. It’s much more interesting when Gotham deals with mob related turmoil over the obvious Batman references. Also putting in good performances are Sean Partwee as Alfred and Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot. Unfortunately Bruce is fairly forgettable as a character and Jada Pinket Smith’s performance spans from annoying to “nails on a chalkboard”. It’s for these reasons, among others, that Gotham had to be placed last on the list.
- Arrow- Next on the list is Arrow, but I want to be clear when I say that there’s a pretty sizable gulf between our number five and four spots. Arrow is already a well-established show, airing its third season last year, and although I found it mostly enjoyable I don’t think it stacked up to its second season or even its sister show, The Flash, but we’ll get there. Arrow still has some of the best fight choreography on television and Stephen Amell has really grown into his role as Oliver/The Arrow.
That being said something just felt a little “off” this season and I can’t exactly put my finger on it. Part of it was certainly Ollie; for some reason I couldn’t completely buy why he was protecting Malcolm Merlin at all costs, even willing to give up his own life. Another part of it was the development between Felicity and Oliver. I don’t hate them together but I feel like they completely sold out Felicity Smoak as character, who was great in the past, for the romantic plot. It felt a little fan-fictiony to me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
There were some great developments in this season though. The introduction of Ra’s al Ghul was pretty awesome, although he wasn’t as great of a villain as Slade Wilson, because Slade was a GREAT villain. The episodes “The Climb” and “Nanda Parbat” are some of the high points of the season and showcase what’s great about Arrow. The introduction of the Lazarus Pit along with Thea becoming a badass were also some of the highlights while Laurel taking on the Black Canary mantle, well, lets just say hopefully she’s been training over the summer.
- Daredevil– Now I’m certain to get some flak for this one but I’m really splitting hairs with the final entries. I could argue myself into circles over which show was better than which and if I had written this on a different day these final four could be in a completely different order.
Daredevil was great, no bones about it. It was the first in a series of Marvel shows to air on Netflix and it debuted with a bang. Like Agents of Shield it takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though the tone and style are so different that you wouldn’t be crazy for not realizing it. The production value alone makes you feel like you’re watching 13 mini Marvel movies, which is so much fun. The one-shot fight scene at the end of episode two is reason enough to give this show a shot if you haven’t already.
Daredevil did so much right and I think makes a great case as to why television might be a better medium for comics than movies. One thing that has plagued Marvel since its cinematic inception is weak villains. Other than Loki, who has really made a lasting impression? Well we don’t have that problem here. With an excellent, nuanced performance by Vincent D’Onofrio and a healthy dose of character development we’re finally presented with a complicated, fully-fleshed out yet ruthless villain in the Kingpin.
If I have one gripe with the show, and we’re really splitting hairs here, it’s that Daredevil began stronger than it ended. Given all of the beautiful choreography I was a bit let down by the final confrontation. I’m super pumped for next season though, where they’ll be introducing The Punisher and Elektra.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D /Agent Carter– Like I said I know a lot of people will be sharpening their pitchforks because I put both of these shows above Daredevil but going by the criteria outlined above my today-brain puts them at just a hair above. Like literally millimeters. Part of it could be that I’m a sucker for ensembles and one Hayley Atwell but we can analyze that another day. You’ll also notice that both Shield and Carter are tied at number two, which is because I just can’t decide which I would rather watch again.
Shield opened up with its second season and boy was it a fun ride. If you’re one of those people who gave up on it after the first few episodes I strongly implore you to reconsider, though you probably stuck with it if you’re reading this. By the second half of the first season Shield developed into not only a good comic show but a good show in general. People forget that shows typically take a season or so to develop and it’s clear that the writers took note because Shield found its footing rather quickly. Looking back on it now it seems pretty obvious that they had to hold a lot back in anticipation of The Winter Soldier, but I think the payoff was more than worth it.
A war against Hydra, a hunt for an ancient, hidden city, and the introduction of the Inhumans are just some of the highlights of Shield season two. We also get Bobbi Morse a.k.a Mockingbird, Skye developing into a badass/Quake and a heart wrenching recovery plot for Fitz. The two-hour season finale was a blast; it felt like watching a Marvel film the whole time and I think it could stand up to some of the movies if we ranked them.
Agent Carter was initially meant to serve as a one-off mini-series in between the two halves of Shield but fortunately Marvel decided to go forward with a second series. It’s set just after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger and I have to admit that I’m also a sucker for period pieces that further establish the world in which we’re operating. It’s cool to see that the cinematic universe exists on a continuum and that it has a real past.
Other than that Agent Carter was just a delight. I don’t think anyone under the age of 72 says delight any more but that’s the best word I can think of to describe it. Hayley Atwell as the titular character is just so commanding and charismatic and her interactions with Jarvis (the human butler to Howard Stark, not the program) are so fun, charming, and well, British. The story is fun and gripping and I think well-served by the fact that the studio intended it to be a one-time thing. Luckily that’s not the case, since we could do with more strong females on television.
- The Flash– We finally reached our number one spot: The Flash. The Flash displayed none of the growing pains that many shows have in their first year. One might even say it hit the ground running. Ha, get it? Sorry I thought I was a writer for Gotham for a second.
All jokes aside The Flash is great, from start to finish. Throughout the whole first season I can think of maybe one episode that was a dud (bees, really?), which is pretty amazing for a show with over 20 episodes. It may sound crazy but it felt like every week’s episode was better than the last.
Other than the CW-mandated relationshipy drama stuff I feel like the writers watched all of Smallville to find out what doesn’t work and learned from that. We get the costume in what, the first episode? We’re also treated to a bunch of great, non-monster-of-the-week villains, time travel by like episode 15 and a top-tier Big Bad.
Grant Gustin shines as Barry Allen, Jesse L. Martin brings a real warmth to Joe, Barry’s adopted father, and Tom Cavanagh is electric (I’m so sorry) as Harrison Wells.
The Flash is fun, pulls no punches with its plot or powers, and the story is really compelling. I could watch Barry thwart bad guys all day, which is why The Flash is at the top of the list.
Agree? Disagree? Think I should burn in Hades for ranking Daredevil so low? I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on this past year’s comic shows in the comments below!
Corey Fanelli’s first foray into geekdom came at the age of two when he watched Superman: The Movie 37 times in a row and was nurtured over the next 23 years by a healthy dose of super-hero cartoons, movies and comics. Some of the defining moments of his life are when he first saw Optimus Prime on the big screen and when Iron Man first shot his repulsor beams at Captain America’s shield to take out bad guys in The Avengers.
By day Corey is a freelance writer who will take on any subject matter that interests him. As a bitof a know-it-all Corey generates up to three random facts a day that his friends and family have all but started ignoring, though he really does his best not to be pretentious about it. He’s a lover of craft beer, history, and performing improvisational comedy whenever he gets the chance. You can find him on Twitter @coreyfanelli