Since the dawn of television, network executives have been in desperate need of new content to fill their broadcast schedules. Comic books have certainly helped in this regard, providing inspiration for several popular TV shows over the past 60 years.
From the classic Adventures of Superman series in the 1950s, through to Marvel Studios’ recent Netflix output, numerous superhero properties have been translated to the small screen. Even comics not centered around costumed adventurers have served as the basis for TV shows, including horror phenomenon The Walking Dead.
That’s just the live-action side of things – when animated outings are taken into account, the number of comic book-based TV programmes skyrockets. Not only have these shows proven a hit with audiences over the years, but many are also held in high regard by critics, with shows like Batman: The Animated Series considered a high watermark for the medium.
Not every comic book TV show gets the green-light from networks. Indeed, a surprising number of comics-inspired series were abandoned very late in the day – often after substantial pre-production work had been undertaken or a full-blown pilot produced!
With this in mind, here are 20 Comic Book TV Shows That Almost Happened.
20 Marvel's Damage Control
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, epic battles regularly flatten entire cities – and this is where Damage Control comes in. A government agency backed by Stark Industries, Damage Control is the clean-up crew who mop up after cataclysmic events like the Battle of New York in The Avengers.
The U.S. Department of Damage Control was referenced in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but has otherwise flown under the radar in the MCU. This wasn’t always meant to be the case, however – ABC even commissioned a put pilot for a Damage Control TV series!
Officially, the Damage Control show is still happening. This makes sense, given that – under the terms of a “put pilot” – ABC would owe Marvel Studios a hefty fee if a pilot isn’t broadcast. But work on the project has been slow since it was announced in 2015, and it’s starting to feel like we might never get to see this one.
19 Justice League Of America
Last year’s Justice League film wound up being a disappointing affair for Warner Bros. Pictures, underperforming at the box office and drawing mixed reviews from fans and critics alike. All the same, the movie does have its supporters – which is more than can be said for the Justice League of America TV series pilot.
Produced in 1997 for CBS, this movie-length introduction to the proposed show – inspired by the more comedic Justice League comics of the late 1980s – served as something of superhero/sitcom mash-up.
While the creative team admittedly deserve kudos for trying to do something different with the genre, the end result was undeniably goofy – especially scenes where our heroes inexplicably give to-camera interviews. Toss in weak special effects, cheap-looking costumes and clunky scripting, and the network’s decision to pass on Justice League of America seems pretty sensible, really.
In the foundling days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios worked overtime to keep the Avengers property at the forefront of audience minds. Part of its strategy for doing this relied on animated TV shows that tied-in with the characters, with Iron Man: Armored Adventures a perfect example of this.
One such project that was planned but failed to materialize was Thor, which was originally meant to debut alongside the live-action film of the same name. Marvel’s TV division beavered away on the series for some time – as evidenced by the character design artwork that has since found its way online – before it was abruptly canned by the studio.
The issue here was that the release date for the Thor movie was delayed until 2011, by which point Marvel execs had re-thought their original approach to the franchise.
17 Marvel's Most Wanted
Thanks to the huge success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios is one of the biggest players in the film and TV industry.
It’s hard to imagine any network turning down the chance to air a Marvel series of its own – but that’s actually not always the case!
Take Marvel’s Most Wanted, an unaired pilot developed by Marvel for ABC, which was designed to launch a spin-off from its existing series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Headlined by former secret agents Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter, the show would have seen this one-time married couple on the run from the law, even as they struggle to uncover a conspiracy against them.
Sounds like a pretty solid premise for a TV series, right? Well, ABC didn’t agree. The network actually passed on the show twice – although interest in the pilot for the retooled version was supposedly strong, at least initially.
16 Guillermo Del Toro's The Hulk
Marvel Studios makes no bones about that fact that – thanks to legal issues surrounding the property’s distribution rights – it has no plans to produce standalone Hulk movies or TV shows. Time was this wasn’t so, however, and even as recently as the late 2000s, the studio was working with Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro on a Hulk series for ABC.
Unfortunately, we never got to see the acclaimed auteur’s take on the Green Goliath – and it actually has a lot to do with the success of The Avengers.
After Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of Bruce Banner in that film won over both fans and critics, Marvel realized the character’s considerable potential as a supporting player.
No longer interested in pushing a solo Hulk project – which would mean sharing profits with Universal Pictures – the studio quietly dropped plans for the TV series, shifting its focus to other shows.
15 Archie: To Riverdale And Back Again / Return To Riverdale
Riverdale has made waves since it first hit TV screens in 2017, owing to its darker approach to the traditionally clean-cut world of Archie Comics. This puts it miles apart from Archie: To Riverdale And Back Again (also known as Return To Riverdale) – its more wholesome (yet somehow, more weird), live-action pilot precursor, which wasn’t able to launch a subsequent TV series.
Sadly for the cast and crew involved, To Riverdale And Back Again wasn’t even a bad bit of business. On the contrary, the pilot received positive feedback from critics – particularly regarding its cast. All the same, this feature-length outing went largely ignored by audiences, and its dismal ratings were the deciding factor when it came time for NBC to decide which shows it would pick up in 1990.
14 Nick Fury: Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Long before Samuel L. Jackson made the character his own in the MCU, David Hasselhoff donned Nick Fury’s iconic eyepatch in 1998 TV movie Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Somewhat surprisingly, the former Baywatch star garnered solid reviews for his performance as Marvel’s espionage expert – but just about everything else in this cheesy flick was panned.
From atrocious dialogue to lackluster action set pieces, not a lot about Nick Fury screamed “This is a story that needs to be continued”.
So it was that – despite the Hoff’s best efforts – a planned Nick Fury TV show never appeared in the Fox network’s line-up. Fortunately for fans of the character, Fury would eventually appear in a live-action TV series 15 years later, when Jackson reprised his big screen role in several Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cameos.
13 The Adventures Of Superboy
For an older generation of Superman fans, the Adventures of Superman TV series is the definitive take on the Man of Steel. Starring George Reeves as Superman and Noel Neill as Lois Lane (replacing Phyllis Coates from season 1 onwards), it ran for six seasons from 1952 to 1958 – until Reeve’s passing in 1959 made continuing the show virtually impossible.
Undeterred, producer Whitney Ellsworth decided to proceed with a spin-off series, The Adventures of Superboy, which would concern itself with Superman’s exploits during his formative years.
A pilot was filmed in 1961, with Johnny Rockwell filling the iconic red-and-blue tights as the teenaged Last Son of Krypton.
This first episode – set in Superman’s hometown, Smallville – didn’t generate sufficient audience interest to merit the production of any further installments, although 12 additional scripts had already been drafted!
12 Doctor Strange
By the standards of its day, the 1978 Doctor Strange pilot had a decent budget and sophisticated special effects – but neither of these factors were enough for it to spawn its own TV series. Critics complained that the pilot – which saw Peter Hooten assume the role of Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme – suffered from a slow-moving script and a poorly-developed lead character.
Viewers evidently agreed, as Doctor Strange tanked in the ratings, which meant that no amount of magic could help the mooted TV show’s prospects. In fairness to writer/director Philip DeGuere, his approach to the source material was broadly in-line with comic book canon – not always a given, especially during the era in question.
Other than that, though, the only truly memorable aspect of Doctor Strange is Jessica Walter’s turn as the villainous Morgan Le Fay – and this depends entirely on whether or not you’re an Arrested Development fan!
11 Locke & Key
The 2011 Locke & Key pilot seemingly had it all – popular source material, a top shelf cast and crew, a powerhouse production company, and rave reviews. Indeed, this small screen adaptation of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez’s celebrated horror/fantasy comic book was missing only one thing: the support of the top brass at Fox.
The network passed on the Locke & Key series – allegedly in order to pick up J.J. Abrams’ short-lived Alcatraz instead – and Dreamworks Television and K/O Paper Productions were unable to sell it to another network.
A pilot – with IT director Andy Muschietti at the helm – was commissioned by Hulu in 2017, only to be dropped by the view-on-demand service later that year. It seems that the Locke family is almost as unlucky when it comes to TV as they are in the pages of their comics series!
10 Daredevil (1989)
Daredevil was the first show released as part of an arrangement between Marvel Studios and Netflix, and it really got things off to a good start. With a strong cast – including Charlie Cox as blind lawyer/superpowered vigilante Matt Murdock – top-shelf production values and a gritty atmosphere, Daredevil boldly took the MCU in a whole new direction.
This wasn’t the first time Daredevil had appeared in a live-action TV production, though. No, 1989 TV movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk featured Rex Smith as Murdock and John Rhys-Davies as his archenemy, Wilson Fisk.
Daredevil’s Trial of the Incredible Hulk appearance was meant to springboard the character into his own spin-off TV series, which never happened despite the telemovie’s impressive ratings figures. This continued a run of bad luck for the producers, after previous effort The Incredible Hulk Returns failed to net guest star Thor his own series, either.
9 The Adventures Of Superpup
Of all the entries on this list, we can safely say that this one is absolutely barking mad – literally. Eager to build on the success of the Adventures of Superman, producer Whitney Ellsworth spearheaded the development of The Adventures of Superpup in 1958.
This bonkers series would have seen the Man of Steel and his entire supporting cast replaced with anthropomorphized dogs!
The pilot for Superpup – which saw actors lumbering around set with over-sized cartoon canine masks on – never ended up being screened on TV. Who knows – perhaps Ellsworth finally came to his senses and realized the show’s concept was objectively awful. Whatever the reason, we’re just glad that plans for this oddball series were mercifully put to sleep.
Despite her superhero moniker, green-tinged skin and unbelievable strength, She-Hulk is very much her own character. Unlike scientist Bruce Banner, Jennifer Walters is a brilliant lawyer – and also unlike Bruce, she’s able to keep both her mental faculties and temper in check at all times.
Owing to She-Hulk’s enduring appeal with comic book readers, she was originally set to appear in The Death of the Incredible Hulk TV movie. If her small screen debut went well, Jennifer would be rewarded with her own spin-off series.
However, when Death of the Incredible Hulk finally aired in 1990, She-Hulk was nowhere to be seen, and hopes of the spin-off show happening vanished with her. Fans of the character suffered further heartbreak the following year, when a big screen outing – starring Brigitte Nielsen in the lead role – was likewise terminated.
7 Wonder Woman (2011)
The Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series that aired on CBS from 1975 to 1979 is a TV milestone – not least of all because it represents the only time the character has headlined her own series. Several failed attempts have occurred over the years – including a 1974 TV movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby as a de-powered Wonder Woman – with the most recent effort stalling in 2011.
Overseen by award-winning scribe David E. Kelley, the Wonder Woman pilot was the subject of controversy in the months leading up to its intended release date.
Fans and commentators reacted negatively to promotional images of Adrianne Palicki as Wonder Woman, labelling her outfit “trashy."
Warner Bros. Television altered the costume in response to this criticism, but it was too little, too late. Between the fan uproar and poor advance reviews, NBC opted not to go ahead with Wonder Woman series – not even airing the pilot!
6 Power Pack
A team of pre-teen superheroes, Power Pack is practically custom-made for children’s TV programming. That was probably Marvel’s line of thinking when it produced a Power Pack pilot for NBC, which was envisioned as filling a slot in the network’s Saturday morning line-up.
Developed in 1991 – incidentally, after the team’s first comic book series had been cancelled – the live-action Power Pack pilot was impressively faithful to the source material. Easily the biggest departure from the comics was the removal of the Power siblings’ costumes, although their fantastic abilities remained mostly intact.
Despite the fidelity of Marvel’s approach, the pilot didn’t click with young audiences, and NBC chose not to add the series to its Saturday morning slate.
The rights to the property would go on to be acquired by Artisan Entertainment before reverting back to Marvel Studios, with a movie set in the MCU currently in the works.
5 Gotham High
Remember the X-Men: Evolution cartoon series from the early 2000s, which featured younger incarnations of Marvel’s mutant superheroes and villains in high school setting? Well, writer Jeffrey Thomas and artist Celeste Green certainly do, as they basically recycled this idea for the Batman-mythos for their successful Gotham High pitch!
It may seem hard to believe now, but there really was a time when The WB gave the go-ahead for Thomas and Greene to develop an animated TV show that re-cast Batman and his allies and enemies as school kids.
The network eventually (and some would argue, wisely) pulled the plug on Gotham High for unspecified reasons, but Thomas and Greene blame the raft of other Batman-related projects then in-development for both the big and small screens.
4 X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men
Many fans have fond memories of the X-Men animated series that debuted back in 1992, thanks to its faithful depiction of the characters and themes of the comics. Interestingly, that was actually the X-Men’s second go at headlining their own series, following the failure of the Pryde of the X-Men pilot developed three years earlier.
Despite the obvious superficial similarities you’d expect, Pryde of the X-Men was actually very different to the X-Men series that would replace it.
It boasted a very different team roster – including Nightcrawler, Colossus, Dazzler, and Kitty Pryde (the “Pryde” of the title, natch) – and was much campier in tone.
Thanks to this less serious vibe, coupled with several other bizarre creative decisions – like making the famously Canadian Wolverine an Aussie – fans responded negatively to the pilot, leading Marvel Productions to complete re-think its approach to the source material.
3 The Amazing Spider-Man (1984)
The Amazing Spider-Man was the first proper live-action TV show starring Marvel’s wallcrawler, which first aired on CBS in 1977. Nicholas Hammond played the dual role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in a series of adventures that were notorious for pitting him against regular human opponents in lieu of his classic rogues gallery.
Hammond’s webslinging days ended following the series’ cancellation, but the actor has since revealed that a quasi-revival nearly took place in 1984! According to Hammond, due to the Incredible Hulk TV movies’ strong ratings performance, discussions were held regarding a Spider-Man small-screen feature.
This telemovie would have been a crossover with The Incredible Hulk.
Hammond asserts that the unavailability of the Hulk himself, Lou Ferrigno, scuppered the production and any chance of a series order. For his part, Ferrigno claims he wasn’t approached to star in Spider-Man, and it’s entirely possible licensing-related issues were the true culprit here.
2 Bruce Wayne
Another proposed TV series centred around a younger Batman, Bruce Wayne was pitched by screenwriter Tim McCanlies to the WB and HBO, with both networks enthusiastic about the concept. Nevertheless, the series was ultimately axed as it would have overlapped with then in-development big screen project that would eventually become Batman Begins.
It’s an unfortunate case of poor timing, as the Bruce Wayne pilot script and series bible make it clear that the show had definite potential. That said, its demise would turn out to be something of a boon for Superman fans.
See, the powers that be at Warner Bros. Television were still enamored with the idea of exploring the origins of a major DC character, and approached Miles Millar and Alfred Gough to take a similar tack on the Man of Steel’s mythos. The end result? A little show called Smallville…
Maybe the best-known superhero pilot not to be picked up, Aquaman serves as a cruel reminder that there are no sure things in show business. A Smallville spin-off developed by the creative duo behind that show, Miles Millar and Alfred Gough, Aquaman seemed a dead-cert to land a series order.
Indeed, it’s a mystery as to why the series ultimately sank, especially considering the popularity of Smallville, and the broadly positive response by critics and fans who’ve since viewed the pilot.
Millar and Gough maintain that the rationale behind the newly-formed CW Network’s decision to pass on the series had little to do with quality of the pilot itself – suggesting the choice was politically motivated, instead.
On the plus side, Warner Bros. later made the Aquaman pilot available for download on iTunes, allowing fans of Justin Hartley’s take on the character a chance to see what might have been!
Did we leave out any comic book TV shows that almost happened? Let us know in the comments!