Poll Position: What was the best super-hero TV show of all time?

We return to filmed entertainment for this week's question, which is:


Discussion after the jump, or as I call it "Revealing how little Jeff knows about super-hero tv shows".

  • Batman (1960's version): Campy, yes. Stupid, yes. But also a heck of a lot of fun. If you don't mind laughing at the genre, it's hard to go wrong with a DVD of this series and a lot of cold beverages.
  • Batman: The Animated Series (original Bruce Timm version): In a lot of ways, Bruce Timm with "Batman" did for television super-heroes what Tim Burton did for them in movies. This darker and grittier Dark Knight showed that you could combine animation with super-heroes and still come out with a really good, more mature, genuinely well crafted product. It set the mold for DC's animation domination for a long time to come.
  • The Flash: This short-lived but excellent live-action show is one of the few chances The Flash has had to star. And since I love Flash, I loved this show. Very quirky and fun; I wish it had lasted longer.
  • Heroes: I was a huge fan the first season, and then it fell off a cliff. Pity. Too much of the "people standing around talking at each other in ominous voices" syndrome that plagues most prime-time television. They should've quit while they were ahead.
  • The Incredible Hulk: You gotta love the combination of wimpy Bill Bixby, enormous Lou Ferrigno, and cheesy Seventies fashion. I bet if I were to watch this again now, it wouldn't come off nearly as well, but at the time it was great. Serious adult treatment of the core Hulk dilemma -- living with the beast inside us all. Well, wait, that's not entirely true. The main Hulk dilemma is "Where can we go to smash the largest number of things in the most violent manner possible?" But the other thing is a close second.
  • Justice League: The Animated Series: Man I loved this show in both of its incarnations. How they managed to keep such a big cast of characters distinct and interesting when, let's face it, they all have exactly the same body and face, is beyond me. But they managed it very well, presenting interesting stories and fun characters with just the right mix of drama and stuff going "boom".
  • Lois & Clark: I am somewhat embarrassed to say I never saw a single episode of this. But I hear it was good if you like your super-heroes with a dash of romance.
  • Smallville: I am very embarrassed to say I never saw a single episode of this. But I hear it was good if you like your super-heroes with a dash of teen angst.
  • Superman: The Animated Series: Right up there with Timm's "Batman", this was Superman done right -- lots of gigantic world-menacing monsters and causing maximum collateral damage to the surrounding area. Big fun.
  • Wonder Woman: The sight of Lynda Carter in a push-up Wonder Woman bustier was a very important moment in the lives of many mid-Thirties/early-Forties male comic book nerds. Hubba hubba. Terrible show, but ... hubba hubba.
  • X-Men: Evolution: I am extremely embarrassed to say I never saw a single episode of any incarnation of this series. But I hear it was good if you like your super-heroes with a dash of Wolverine. OK, a HUGE EFFING DUMPTRUCK LOAD of Wolverine.

So out of the ones I have seen, I'd have to say that "Justice League" is my favorite. I just like everything about that show, I think they hit the perfect balance of super-hero silliness and well-crafted writing.

I'd love to hear your choices in the comments, particularly if they're on the ones I haven't seen before, or if you think I've left something out.

26 Responses to Poll Position: What was the best super-hero TV show of all time?

  1. collex says:

    From those you listed and that I have seen (which is not that much.), I would say Batman: TAS. I always loved the fact that most of the time, Batman was a silouhette: cape and eyes, that’s all. It really created a sense of fear and mystery to the character.

    However,you forgot my personal favorite: the Spider-Man cartoon from the late 90’s. Sure, it was ultra-censored
    (no real guns, vampires sucked “life energy” from their palms), but it is still the show that drawn me to super-hero. It was fun, it aptly mixed story elements with big boom, and it introduced a lot of events/characters from the larger Marvel Universe (the X-Men, Captain America, Red Skull, the Beyonder, Secret Wars, Doctor Strange, Dormamu, Nick Fury, Blade, Daredevil and the Clone Saga all made an appearance at one point or another)

    Tis series is also very memorable to me because I have seen every single episode except the last one. I had a kind of curse that made me unable to watch the last episode, and I tried a lot of time.

  2. JInkieZoinks says:

    one thing to say Mark Hamill the only man to play both Luke Skywalker, then appear in rally bad CG movies and move on to voice a fantastic joker. Gotta vote the Batman.

  3. collex says:

    Mark Hammil also played the role of the Trickster in The Flash T.V. show, by the way.

  4. collex says:

    Oh, and I almost forgot: I suggest for everyone to go watch the episodes of the ’70s Japanese live-action Spider-man TV show that are streamed free on the Marvel website. It’s Spider-Man, with a giant robot!!!

  5. Jose Inoa says:

    I voted for Batman:TAS as the best one so far, althought Batman: The Brave & The Bold is freakin’ fun.

    My vote for the worst superhero show on tv ever is… “Shazam!”. Check it out.

  6. Runt82 says:

    I voted for Batman:TAS as well. I grew up watching that as well as the 90’s X-Men and Spiderman cartoons (which aren’t listed).

  7. Joshua says:

    It was without a doubt that Batman: TAS would rank #1 in this poll, and with a stellar cast, those great noir stories, and quality production values it should be. However…

    My first introduction to the genre on television was through the Bixby/Ferrigno incarnation of “The Incredible Hulk”. On baited breath, I waited for the inevitable ‘hulk-out’, and it never disappointed. You knew it was coming when the disco track either became frantic or ominous, and it would swell right up until Banner revealed his eyes. Then came the “hum”; a combination of Benedictine chant and synth FX. So many times, despite that weekly exposure, I would experience sheer terror as I saw Banner metamorphose into the Hulk. Only when the Hulk appeared and threw off that shirt-turned-scrap off his shoulder would I begin to relax again. It was the one of the only times a superhero movie/television program had yanked a reaction from me. Of course, the greatest being from Superman ’78; too many to name, but God was it wonderful.

  8. Moonshade says:

    What about the Greatest American Hero? A teacher was given a super-suit by aliens, along with an instruction book, which he promptly lost. It was an entertaining show, watching Ralph try to get the hand of the suit, and the episode where he went into the fourth dimension scared the heck out of me as a kid.

  9. DJ says:

    I voted for Evolution. I loved that show and watched it religiously. Though if you would have had Teen Titans I would have voted for that. It may have not been the best show but it was entertaining.

  10. Jeff Hebert says:

    Oh shot, Moonshade, that’s a good one! Can’t believe I forgot that one. I think the best part of it, as I recall, was the secret agent guy, I loved that actor. He was so put out all the time.

    Good call there, that’s a fun show!

    And Joshua, that’s a great description of “The Incredible Hulk”, it was kind of like watching “Kung Fu” — the whole show would be pretty mellow and then WHAM! Violence.

  11. Level says:

    I would say the best was “Spider-Man: The Animated Series”, which you are missing. “X-Men” (1992), which you are also missing, was good as well. Of the ones you have listed, I would say “Batman: The Animated Series”.
    These three were good because they had continuing stories and overall continuity, most of the new cartoon are made for kids with no attention span and so have no story. BTAS also has the bonus of having characters and stories adopted by the mainstream comics.

    “Heroes” is my favorite live action super hero show and my favorite show currently on TV, but it has big problems with continuity and killing the cool characters. The current volume is doing much better in story and pacing than 2 and 3.

  12. haz says:

    I feel incredibly underqualified to pick one of these considering the number of them I haven’t seen. There was an X-Men cartoon before Evolution. It kept pretty close to the comic, too (think Storm in the yes-ma’am-hot mohawk–you’d never see that on today’s sterile shows).

  13. William A. Peterson says:

    That “Secret Agent Guy” from Greatest American Hero, by the way, was none other than Robert Culp, who starred alongside Bill Cosby for quite a few years in “I Spy”…
    The show kind of had a problem when someone of the same name as our Hero attempted to assasinate President Reagan!

    No doubt, though, the original “Batman:TAS” was, by far, the best of the bunch…

  14. Jeff Hebert says:

    Robert Culp, yes!! He was in a number of “Columbo” episodes as well, which is my dirty secret pleasure.

  15. nate says:

    I’m inclined to suggest Batman: Brave and the Bold. I know it hasn’t been on for very long, but i freaking love it. It has just enough lightheartedness to be amusing without becoming campy

  16. The Imp says:

    A couple that I enjoyed (and yeah, they weren’t the best things on TV by a long shot, but I liked ’em anyway :D):

    -Birds of Prey: Starring the always hot Dina Meyer as Oracle.

    -Nightman: Based on the Malibu comic of the same name.

    And of course, who can forget the mighty mighty Bruce Campbell in Jack of All Trades? (Okay, to call that a superhero show is a stretch, but he wore a mask, and… and… it’s Bruce Campbell, for God’s sake! What’s not to like?)

  17. Danny Beaty says:

    Three shows that deserve mention: the 60’s Spiderman cartoon (everyone’s heard the theme song to that cartoon), the 70’s show The Six Million Dollar Man, and the 80’s cartoon Spiderman and His Amazing Friends, in which Spidey teamed-up with Firestar and Iceman.

    @the good Mr. Hebert: Robert Culp also starred in the classic Outer Limits episode Demon With a Glass Hand.

  18. Nimbus says:

    I loved Spiderman and His Amazing Friends when it was on!

    So, as well as all the Spidey cartoons that you missed, there were also those Spiderman live action TV movies starring Nicholas Hammond (not sure whether that counts). And the original Fleischer Superman cartoons. And the Fantastic Four cartoons. And the very recent Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon. And probably many others.

    I like Smallville and Heroes. The 60s Batman show has a lot to answer for (“Biff! Pow!”). The Incredible Hulk was always boring (the green goliath only appeared for, like, 2 minutes in each episode). Wonder Woman and Lois&Clark were okay. X-Men:Evolution was good. Unfortunately I’ve never really seen Superman: TAS, Justice League: TAS, and the Flash.

    So I voted for Batman: TAS.

  19. DJ says:

    If you had The 90s X-Men or 90s Spiderman I would have voted for them. I grew up obsessed with those. I also enjoyed the Iron Man cartoon that they had back then.

  20. Jeff Hebert says:

    I never saw the 90s X-Men but I do remember “Spider-Man and Friends”, which was pretty decent. But “Fantastic Four”? Seriously? Wow.

  21. Runt82 says:

    I feel that this discussion won’t be complete without reference to “The Tick”, both the animated series and the short-lived live action show. As satirical parodies of superhero life, they were two of the most underappreciated shows around. I wish they were still on the air.

  22. Jeff Hebert says:

    Good call, Runt! I don’t think I ever actually saw an episode, but the snippets I caught did look very funny.

  23. Bael says:

    I really have to go with the early Bruce Timm Batman. That really changed what a cartoon could be. Maybe if The Tick had lasted a few more seasons. The Multiple Santa episode is my all time favorite cartoon ever.

  24. HalLoweEn JacK says:

    I think this list seriously needs to be divided into animated and live action shows – they’re just such different mediums that tend towards different interpretations of the superhero genre. Animated films can include the super-powered shenanigans of a comic book as easily as showing a person walking down a street, while the production costs of live action tend towards more character driven stories (unless you include Mutant X which tried to have big special effets and, well, didn’t quite work out.)

    On that list Batman wins out for animated, and Hulk for live action, but as Moonshadow suggested, Greatest American Hero – one of the best satires of the superhero genre EVER! (anyone remember the episode where he was exposed to radiation and gained the power to read minds? Hilarity.)

    Also, as a guiding question, do people think of super-hero TV shows in terms of them being an adaptation of an extant comic book? The inclusion of Heroes on the list above says original work counts as well, so where do things like Conan, Hercules and Xena fall?

  25. HalLoweEn JacK says:

    Oh yeah, and I also support The Tick for inclusion as ‘TV show of awesoemness’, although the live action version never quite worked for me.

    Does Anime count as ‘superhero’? If Iron Man qualifies, then Voltron (lion force, not the other one) would seem appropriate, and then there’s Dragon Ball Z, and other such stories that clearly involve ‘super powered individuals.

    Anyone here remember/know of Dragon-Half? Ranma 1/2?

  26. Darkton says:

    Batman without a doubt, with Justice League and Superman coming in at tied second.

    @HalLoweEn JacK
    I don’t think Anime counts as superhero, since the concept is different. And I’ve heard of Ranma. Been tryin’ to get into it.