It’s a fine time to be a fan of superheroes. Movie theaters are full of superheroes, both Marvel and DC titles, as well as various others. Remember what a desolate wasteland it used to be as we waited years between comic book movies? And even then it was a big question of whether or not they would be any good. We’ve never had more and we’ve never had better. Now superheroes are taking over TV too.
We have a veritable weekly buffet of superhero shows on TV. Major networks, cable players, and streaming platforms, they’ve all hopped on the bandwagon.
Despite this, we lost a bunch of superhero shows recently. It came out that the Marvel shows at Netflix were done, so no more Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, or Punisher, among others. Gotham wrapped up its run at The CW and Syfy axed Krypton. Amazon canceled their adaptation of The Tick, which made many of us unleash a mournful, “SPOON!” HBO gave us Watchmen, but that’s only going to be the one season. (But what a season, right?)
With all of this to sort through, we thought we’d take a look at some of the best superhero shows the small screen has to offer.
A few ground rules. No kids shows, we’re sticking to shows catering at least in part to adult audiences for this list. We’re also talking superhero shows only, so no comic book adaptations like The Walking Dead, Riverdale, or Locke & Key. Ranking is based on a mixture of critical response and popularity. That last one may be a bit tricky, since streaming services don’t always release the numbers, but we’ll factor in a level of buzz, excitement, and chatter.
Finally, these are just the shows we’ll be able to watch in 2020 and beyond. Nothing that’s already wrapped up its run. Still, there’s plenty to choose from.
Superhero Series In Development
Return Of The Defenders
Before Disney bought Marvel Studios, the company had launched a slate of superhero shows on Netflix. Those included Daredevil, Punisher, and Jessica Jones among others. Those three shows in particular, were huge hits and eventually merged into one team-up universe called The Defenders.
But with Disney’s acquisition of Marvel, the company was keen to get everything in-house, so all of Netflix’s Marvel superhero shows were shut down.
Those shows won’t be coming back to Netflix, but now we’re hearing that doesn’t mean the actors who played those characters are done playing them. We’re hearing numerous rumors which indicate that Disney is considering bringing back Charlie Cox to play Daredevil, Jon Bernthal to play Punisher, and Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones for new Disney-owned projects.
What those projects will be remains to be seen, at this stage we only know that Disney is at least strongly considering using those actors for their respective characters, rather than recasting them. It could be new series for each of them on Disney Plus or it could be that they’ll try to fold them into the Avengers movie universe for the upcoming Avengers 5. We’ll update this space with more information as we get it.
Superman & Lois
Tyler Hoechlin has been playing Superman In The CW’s television superhero universe. During their recent Crisis on Infinite Earths event it was revealed that at least one version of Hoechlin’s Clark Kent character from another dimension has two kids. So the CW is turning that idea into a TV series.
That’s right, according to Cosmic Book News The CW’s new Superman & Lois TV show will be about Lois and Clark dealing with the stress of being working parents. Their sources tell them the show starts with Lois and Clark working at the Daily Planet, until Clark gets laid off. The couple now has two 13-year-old twin sons named Jonathan and Jordan Kent.
Jonathan Kent is a popular star athlete. Jordan is an introverted nerd. Some rumors suggest that Jordan may not actually be a Kent and he may in fact be Damian Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s son. Damian may be hiding out with the Kents for his own protection.
In the universe of Superman & Lois, Jonathan Kent is dead and Martha is still alive living on their Smallville farm. Lois’s father General Samuel Lane is said to be a part of the plot, and he knows Clark Kent is Superman. They also say Lana Lang, her husband Kyle Cushing, and their two kids 14-year-old Sarah and 8-year-old Sophie will be heavily involved in the story. According to another report, “Kyle is a drunk and Sarah tried to take her own life a year ago.”
The show won’t be all family drama. Apparently at some point Superman will do some actual super stuff. He’ll face off against a villain referred to in the first episode only as “The Stranger”. This report says that “The Stranger” is actually a villain named Morgan Edge. Who the heck is Morgan Edge? He’s a villain originally created by Jack Kirby but recently introduced on the Supergirl TV show. As used there, Edge is the top crime lord in Metropolis. He has past connections to the Luthors and to Clark Kent (he kidnapped Clark’s parents).
So instead of going with a more well known Superman enemy, the show is going with something that connects to another show. I’m not sure how to deal with a world where Superman doesn’t have to contend with Lex Luthor. Given Edge’s connections to the Luthor family, maybe bringing in Lex further down the road is where we’re headed.
Hoechlin will get a new costume for Superman & Lois. A first look at the new outfit recently leaked online and here it is…
NEW SUPERHERO SHOWS
When it went live in November 2019, Disney+ made a major splash with The Mandalorian, the new streaming service’s first foray into live-action episodic television. The hype has died down some on that front now that the first season is in the bag, but they have big plans. This includes expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the small screen.
For the most part, the movie and TV sides have been keep separate, though that changes in 2020. Part of this includes WandaVision. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprise their roles of Wanda Maximoff/Scarlett Witch and Vision, respectively, for a six-episode mini-series. Set at least partially in the 1950s, the series might be a Dick Van Dyke Show-inspired sitcom? One that also reportedly ties into the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Marvel isn’t the only one with streaming plans in 2020. DC’s Stargirl also has a series on the way set to debut on their DC Universe platform in early 2020. The plot revolves around a high school sophomore named Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger). She lives a regular teen life, until she discovers a cosmic staff and discovers that her dad (Luke Wilson) used to be a superhero’s sidekick. Things obviously change after that, and she kicks off a new generation of costumed heroes.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
In the MCU, Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) have a combative relationship as they vie for the affections of Steve Rogers. And if you didn’t get enough of that in the movies, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier brings that dynamic to Disney+.
In the show, the two must deal with the fallout from Avengers: Endgame, which was wide-reaching and also saw Falcon handed the Captain America title. They have plenty to contend with, including Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo. With a massive budget spread over six episodes, this surely isn’t your average superhero TV show.
With a name like M.O.D.O.K., which stands for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing, how can you not turn that into a series? Marvel TV and Hulu have plans to bring the supervillain to the streaming service in the form of an animated program. And they’ve assembled one hell of a voice cast to help. Patton Oswalt will voice the title character. Joining him are Melissa Fumero, Ben Schwartz, Aimee Garcia, Wendy McLendon-Covey, Beck Bennet, and Sam Richardson.
The character first appeared in 1967 and has a long history of battling the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, and other members of the Avengers.
RETURNING SUPERHERO SHOWS
Not every comic book character is a superhero, and we live in an age where we’re curious about everyone’s backstory, including Batman’s butler. Which is why we have Pennyworth on Epix. Focusing on the early days of the Wayne family servant, Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon), the series follows his exploits as an SAS agent and private security officer. More spy caper than caped heroics, the show is full of impressive sets and shows off a whole other side of the familiar face. It debuted in 2019 and is set to return for more.
The CW has been all over the superhero beat for years, and one of their most recent additions is the Ruby Rose-starring Batwoman, which debuted in 2019 and will be back for more in 2020. Rose stars as Kate Kane, who, after her wealthy cousin Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego Batman disappear, takes up his cowl and crime-fighting ways. With plenty of room to develop, Batwoman has a solid foundation on which to build. Fun and adventurous, it also features the first openly gay superhero to lead a major series.
The responsibility and pressure of superpowers weigh on many heroes. It makes many of them a bit strange, to be honest. And few are stranger than the cast of DC Universe’s Doom Patrol. With members like Robotman (Brendan Fraser), Negative Man (Matt Bomer), Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby), and Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), they’re a band of traumatized misfit outsiders fighting for a world that sees them as such and treats them that way.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
DC’s Arrowverse may be losing its flagship series when Arrow wraps up in January, but there’s no shortage of upcoming superhero adventures, including Legends of Tomorrow. Season five of The CW’s time-traveling superhero team debuts in January of 2020 as the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” saga wraps up. Ahead of that, the network announced they renewed the series for a sixth season to come. So don’t worry, we have many more adventures for Atom (Brandon Routh), White Canary (Caity Lotz), and the rest.
Unfortunately, Atom will not be a part of those adventures. Brandon Routh has been fired from the show. Originally it was thought that he was leaving of his own accord, but then Routh said this on Twitter…
Routh’s Atom character is probably the most popular character on Legends of Tomorrow, so it’s a bizarre decision. No one seems to know why they’d want to fire him, speculation is that the writers simply wanted his character gone to make way for a new character. He’ll be sorely missed by fans of the superhero series.
The Umbrella Academy
Based on the Dark Horse Comics title of the same name, Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy follows a dysfunctional family of six adopted superheroes who have to solve the mystery of their father’s death, cope with said death, and stave off the apocalypse. No big.
Fronted by Ellen Page, they must use their varied abilities to battle villains Mary J. Blige’s assassin, Cha-Cha. And there’s a talking monkey. Action-packed, inventive, and slickly produced, it won acclaim for its ensemble cast and inventiveness. According to reports, it was the third most popular show on Netflix in 2019 and was renewed for a season two in April that year.
Sometimes superheroes just want to hang up the cape and retire. Such is the case with Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) in Black Lightning, who gave it all up for the glamor of being a high school principal. But, as so often happens in these cases, the press of circumstances leads our hero to dust off the old costume. Originally developed by Fox, they passed on the series and The CW picked up and developed it as a standalone. Ultimately, however, a crossover occurred, and thanks to the “Crisis of Infinite Earths,” Black Lightning, the character and show, is now part of the Arrowverse.
For the most part, Marvel and DC dominate the landscape of superhero TV, but they’re not the only players. Amazon Prime’s adaptation of Garth Ennis’ The Boys is also not your typical dudes-in-tights superhero show.
In this series, produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, powered heroes exist and operate above the law. Egotistical, corrupt, and prone to bouts of drugs and filthy sex, they bear few consequences for the collateral damage they cause. Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher and his gang of antihero vigilantes, however, seek to hold them accountable.
Violent and profane—and actually toned way down compared to the comics—The Boys flips the good-guy superhero narrative in fun, thrilling fashion. Season two is slated to return at an as-yet-undisclosed time in 2020.
Kal-El isn’t he only Kryptonian to take refuge on Earth and benefit from our yellow sun. Kara Zor-El/Kara Danvers/Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) was sent to keep an eye on her infant cousin, only to get sucked into the Phantom Zone for years. Compelled to protect her home of National City, Supergirl tussles with the Luthor family, a secret identity, and trying to fit into a world she was never intended to be a part of. The series plays that kind of role as well.
Originally commissioned by CBS, after the first season, it bounced to The CW and, after a time, was folded into the Arrowverse. Despite her famous family, Supergirl has carved out its own identity as the saga of a young woman coming into her own and discovering her own power, both real and metaphorical.
Though the show has already been upped for a sixth season, it could be in trouble. Recently ratings for Supergirl have plummeted. The series was managing around a million viewers a week, which isn’t spectacular but not terrible in the modern television landscape. But on February 16 the show’s ratings plummeted 34% in a single week… and on the finale of a two-part episode.
The episode, titled “Back From the Future- Part Two” only managed 654,000 viewers. While early episodes of the series had done well with critics, recent reviews have been mixed with more negative reviews saying things like…
- “If Supergirl continues down this path, Lena’s hypocritical and repetitive arc will become less engaging and more tiresome.” –Tell-Tale TV
- “The development of the villains this season, besides that of Lex Luthor who has always been a joy to watch, has been minimal and unsatisfying.” – TV Fanatic
Audiences have been far more harsh saying things like…
- “The 1st 2 seasons were great then it slowly nosedived into pushing agendas”
- “i very liked the previous seasons, but this season is terrible.”
- “It just gets more boring each season”
- “Please for the love of God let this end!”
- “It’s like they took all the worst actors from a tellenovella show and put the in a superhero universe”
At the same time, Supergirl’s CW sister show Batwoman has also seen sagging ratings. Batwoman lost 22,000 viewers falling to 848,000 an episode.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In addition to axing all of its Netflix shows, the MCU also decided to cancel its first small screen offering. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will come to an end, but not until season seven airs some time in 2020.
Outside of Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson, there was never a ton of crossover between the show and the movies, at least from a character perspective. It did, however, weave the TV and film sides of things together in inventive fashion, as the show reflected events from the films, most notably how it drastically changed course after the events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as well as subsequent events.
Outside of the obvious, the longest-running wing of the Arrowverse is The Flash. Beginning life as a back-door pilot spun off from Arrow, the adventure of the Scarlet Speedster have been zipping along on since 2014.
After an explosion at a particle accelerator leaves crime scene investigator Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) with super speed, he uses his newfound abilities to fight crime and track down other “metahumans.” Over the years he’s run really fast, traveled through time, battled supervillains, and tangled with daddy issues on multiple fronts.
In 2014, the series won a People’s Choice Award for the best new show, and while season six airs into 2020, including playing a part in the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” storyline, The CW already greenlit a seventh season.