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. 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.
RETURNING SUPERHERO SHOWS
Swamp Thing was originally developed for, and aired on the little known DC Universe streaming service. After 10 episodes the show was cancelled. Now though, The CW has picked up the series and plans to air those original 10 episodes as a way to test the waters for its viability as a series on their network.
So there could be a path here for the superhero show to be brought back and given more episodes, but there are no guarantees of that, currently.
Swamp Thing is the story of a CDC doctor named Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) who goes to Louisiana to investigate a swamp-borne virus. While she’s there, her friend scientist Alec Holland (Andy Bean) dies. But due the mysterious of the swamp, Alan is not dead at all, and actually becomes Swamp Thing!
The little known DC Universe streaming channel has a whole host of superhero shows. Harley Quinn is what happens when DC allows its properties to stretch their legs a little bit and go for the adult jugular. The R-rated jugular, that is. Kaley Cuoco (of Big Bang Theory fame) serves as the voice of Harley Quinn and with the popular animated series first season in the books, the second season looks to be another gratuitously violent and F-bomb dropping funfest.
In the series first look at season 2, Cuoco’s Quinn is facing off with Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin. Here’s a bloody first-look at their interaction in which Harley brutally bites off the Penguin’s nose…
Wayne Knight (Jurassic Park, Seinfeld) took on vocal duties for the Penguin in season one, though he appeared in only one episode. Whether Cobblepot appears in more than one episode in the second season remains to be seen but this initial look at Quinn and Penguin coming face to face is a wonderfully bloody, tantalizing tease.
Knight has returned to voice Penguin in season 2, let’s see what the DC Universe has in store for his nose, providing that is all Quinn bites off.
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.
Bruce Wayne has been mentioned and talked about on Batwoman numerous times, but the show has never actually had him appear. Most assumed that Warner Bros. would never allow it, but they were wrong.
In the show’s season finale Bruce Wayne’s face showed up, and here’s what he looked like…
It’s worth noting that this isn’t actually Bruce Wayne, but the character Hush who has had Bruce Wayne’s face superimposed over his own so he can sneak into Wayne tower. Still, now we know what Bruce Wayne looks like in the TV Arrowverse. If they ever want to bring him in, apparently this is the guy (Warren Christie) will play him.
Batwoman Set Trouble
A tragic accident on the set of Batwoman has left a crew member paralyzed, according to the Vancouver Sun. 30-year-old Amanda Smith was working on the set when the bucket of a telehandler (boom lift) was lowered while she was beneath it. Amanda was looking in the opposite direction and did not see it coming. The bucket of the boom lift came right down on top of her.
Smith has suffered severe spinal injuries. She was rushed to a hospital but she has no feeling from the waist down. It’s not known if she’ll ever be able to walk again or even regain any sensation in her legs. Word is she’ll be hospitalized for at least a month before being transferred to a rehab center.
If there’s a problem with Batwoman it’s probably how few people are actually tuning in to watch it. While initially the audience was fairly strong for a show of this type, recently the series’ ratings have been dropping. It seems to happen week after week.
The show’s most recent episode titled “Grinning From Ear To Ear”, recorded the series worst ever ratings numbers ever when only 774,000 viewers tuned in.
When Batwoman premiered on The CW it debuted to an audience of around 2 million viewers. That means the show has now lost over 70% of its audience.
It’s worth noting that another superhero show from the same network, Supergirl, is having similar and perhaps even worse ratings trouble. Their audience now numbers under 700,000 viewers and while this week’s episode titled “It’s a Super Life” was up from the previous week, it was only up by around ten-thousand viewers with 667,000 people tuning in. However, Supergirl’s previous week was one of their worst viewed episodes of all time.
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.
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.
In the episode “Alex in Wonderland”, Kara Danvers sister Alex Danvers gets a chance to live as her sister does. She puts on her own version of the Supergirl costume and goes flying . Here’s what she looks like in her black Supergirl outfit…
Recently series star Melissa Benoist announced that she’s pregnant. And yet if you scroll through her Instagram slideshow you’ll discover that somehow her husband ended up being the one with the baby bump…
No word yet on how this will impact the show. You can’t hide pregnancy in a Supergirl costume. Will they just have to roll with it and make Supergirl pregnant?
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.
Word is that season seven of Agents will do some pretty crazy time-hopping and amidst all that mess, they’ll resurrect the character of Agent Carter. Played by Hayley Atwell, Carter briefly had her own show, before Marvel ended it. She’s most notable, of course, for being the long lost love of Captain America Steve Rogers. His happy ending almost certainly included her, but we haven’t seen her since the Agent Carter show ended.
But EW has already confirmed that Agent Carter series character Sousa will appear in Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. season seven with this photo…
It’s all but certain at this point that Agent Peggy Carter herself won’t be far behind him.
Superhero Series In Development
Return Of The Defenders
Disney is considering resurrecting The Defenders as a team, though they may change up the members. Meanwhile the original members may themselves be spun off into other projects.
Go in depth on the Return of The Defenders here.
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.
DC’s Stargirl debuted on their DC Universe platform in early 2020. It’s also airing on The CW. 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.
It hasn’t been easy to make the show for star Brec Bassinger though. Apparently her costume has given her a lot of trouble. Speaking to CINEMABLEND she revealed the biggest wardrobe malfunctions she’s had to deal with saying…
“Honestly, it wasn’t too restrictive. Well, you know what? I didn’t let it be restrictive. It was very tight. Like, that thing was custom-made to my body. It fit me to the millimeter. But I didn’t let it like prohibit me from doing anything. There was even one day – it was the fifth episode – I bent down and I ripped a pair of shorts. So we went and put on a brand new pair of shorts. I walked out and I ripped those, too. I definitely went through my fair share of tops and shorts just from ripping them, like in a scene or strictly just bending down. But they never wanted me to prohibit my acting or my fight scenes because of that.“
Early reviews for the show are in and critics are loving it. Here’s a sampling of some of what’s being said…
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.