Thanks to Disney+ and other streaming services, it seems like there are more comic book TV shows than ever before. And it’s true that the streamers are taking bigger swings in the genre than the broadcast networks ever did. But one of the main reasons why there were so few comic book television series prior to the age of cable and streaming is that they were considered niche programs that rarely attracted broad audiences. The sad truth of it is that low ratings and large budgets doomed shows like The Flash (1990), The Tick (2001), and The Amazing Spider-Man (1978).
But it wasn’t just the big characters who got a chance on the small screen. And considering that comic books like Invincible and The Boys have gone on to become mainstream hits in the streaming era, perhaps some of these long-lost series would have done better in the present. That’s why we’re putting forth these three obscure comic book TV shows that are worth a watch. They deserve a chance to be rediscovered, even if you may have to buy some of them.
Birds of Prey (2002-2003)
The Birds of Prey TV series took some liberties with the source material, and yet it was a closer approximation of the comics than the Birds of Prey movie was. That’s because the direct links to Batman were largely intact, even though the Dark Knight had seemingly abandoned New Gotham City following the death of his lover, Catwoman, and the Joker’s attack on Batgirl/Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer) that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
After reinventing herself as the hacker hero known as Oracle, Barbara works together with Helena Kyle (Ashley Scott), the metahuman daughter of Batman and Catwoman, as well as Dinah Redmond (Rachel Skarsten), a telepath who was far from an exact match for her counterpart, Black Canary. Although Lori Loughlin does make a guest appearance as Dinah’s mother, the original Black Canary.
This series was not a masterpiece, and it couldn’t match Smallville‘s success. But it does have the distinction of featuring the first live-action Harley Quinn, as played by Mia Sara. And there were even a few times that Meyer got to suit up as perhaps the most comic-book-accurate Batgirl to date. That’s more than enough to make Birds of Prey enjoyable for most comic fans.
Watch Birds of Prey is Tubi.
Human Target (2010-2011)
Believe it or not, this is the second Human Target series based on the DC Comics character. The series aired for two seasons and downplayed the comic book aspects of the character, and there’s not a superhero in sight. That may have been a mistake because part of the fun of the comic was watching Christopher Chance literally assume the roles of his clients to keep them safe from harm. In the reimagined version, Chance (Mark Valley) is more of a personal security expert.
Another departure from the comics actually worked out in the show’s favor as Chance had two full-time partners: Winston (Chi McBride) and Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley). Eventually, the team added a young thief, Ames (Janet Montgomery), while a rich widow named Ilsa Pucci (Indira Varma) bankrolled the business as she became increasingly attracted to Chance. This series lasted longer than most comic book shows did, but it has largely been forgotten since it went off the air.
Buy Human Target on Prime Video, Google Play, and Apple TV+.
Blade: The Series (2006)
It’s been 17 years since Spike TV, an earlier incantation of Paramount Network, unleashed Blade: The Seriesa continuation of the Blade trilogy from New Line Cinema. Naturally, Wesley Snipes did not reprise his role from the movies, so Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones stepped into the title role as the half-human/half-vampire antihero.
This may have been Blade’s show, but he had to share the spotlight with a new character, Krista Starr (Jill Wagner), a young woman who was unwillingly turned into a vampire by Marcus van Sciver (Neil Jackson). At Blade’s direction, Krista pretends to submit to Marcus’ authority and acts as Blade’s undercover agent. However, Krista’s loyalty comes into question as she develops empathy for Marcus and gives in to her bloodlust. This series only ran a single season, but Wagner had better luck with her recurring role on MTV’s Teen Wolf a few years later. As for Bladethe twin Hollywood strikes have once again delayed the MCU’s reboot starring Mahershala Ali. He’ll get to the MCU eventually, we just don’t know when.
Buy Blade: The Series on Apple TV+.