Clockwise from left: Justin Lubin/ABC, Mary Evans/20TH CENTURY FOX/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection, ABC Photo Archives/ABC/Getty Images
Superheroes on the Small Screen
"A superhero is a person who does heroic deeds and has the ability to do them in a way that a normal person couldn’t," says Stan Lee
, the creative mind behind some of the most iconic comic book superheroes. And whether superheroes exist on the page or get translated to TV, there’s no doubt fictional heroes inspire, motivate and give us hope. So in honor of National Superhero Day (April 28), we celebrate the live-action superheroes who have done good deeds on the small screen.
Mary Evans/20TH CENTURY FOX/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection
"Holy smokes, Batman!" became one of the many wacky one-liners that Robin (Burt Ward) said to Batman (Adam West). With its candy colors and high camp, the 1960s series brought the Caped Crusader to life for the first time on TV, though Bruce Wayne’s alter ego later became more synonymous with the big screen and the many actors (Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale) who donned the mask and drove the Batmobile. But West’s first comedic interpretation of the character no doubt influenced Joel Schumacher’s own tongue-in-cheek Batman movies.
The Girl of Steel first graced the big screen in the 1984 film with Helen Slater in the title role, and Superman’s cousin popped up again on Smallville, played by Laura Vandervoort. But with the CBS series Supergirl, Kara Zor El (Melissa Benoist) is making her mark in National City and showing she’s no mere carbon copy of the Man of Steel, often juggling Cat Grant’s many demands with DEO demands to capture Fort Rozz escapees.
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“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It's Superman!” The success of the Superman radio show, The Adventures of Superman, during the 1940s paved the way for a TV series during the 1950s, with George Reeves donning the blue-and-red outfit for the first time. Although Superman has become a movie legacy tied to the late actor Christopher Reeves, the Man of Steel is the most-portrayed superhero on TV. Dean Cain stepped into the role as a sexier Superman in The Adventures of Lois and Clark during the mid-'90s, and Tom Welling later played a teenage Clark Kent in Smallville , only suiting up in the series finale.
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Green Arrow first started as Arrow, with Stephen Amell in the lead role as the Star City vigilante who worked on taking down the bad guys whose greed was destroying his home. So far, Green Arrow has battled everyone from small-time criminals to big bads like Malcolm Merlyn, R’as al Ghul and Damien Darhk, and the show's success led to three spinoffs: The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and the animated CW Seed series, Vixen.
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Skilled in hand-to-hand combat with a sonic device that can destroy hearing, Black Canary started first as The Canary, with Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) behind the mask. Trained by the League of Assassins, The Canary was a vigilante who cleaned up Star City alongside Arrow, but after Sara's death, her sister Laurel (Katie Cassidy) carried on the legacy as alter ego Black Canary. The 2002 series Birds of Prey also introduced Black Canary's daughter, Dinah, as a crime fighter.
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Even though a version of the Scarlet Speedster appeared during the ‘90s in a short-lived series and also on Smallville, The Flash has become synonymous with Grant Gustin. As the fastest man alive, Barry Allen and his S.T.A.R. Labs team work to stop metahumans from Earth-1 and Earth-2 and even go back in time to alter the future. The latest series has also recruited actors from the '90s series, in particular John Wesley Shipp, the original TV Flash, as Barry’s dad, Henry and Mark Hamill's return as Jesse James/The Trickster.
Diyah Pera/The CW
Viewers of The Flash got a glimpse of Hawkgirl, first as CC Jitters barista Kendra Saunders (Ciara Renee), and then as the superhero when Cisco’s metahuman vibe showed Saunders as the winged fighter. Later, Hawkgirl made her full appearance alongside Hawkman (Carter Hall) on The Flash and Arrow crossover that launched the new series, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. The reincarnated soulmates were soon time traveling to stop immortal villain Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) from destroying the world.
Before Helena Bertinelli (Jessica De Gouw), the daughter of a mob boss, and her alter ego Huntress appeared on Arrow, the heroine actually showed up in the short-lived 2002 series Birds of Prey. That version of Huntress, played by Ashley Scott, actually had the name of Helena Kyle, as a nod to her parents, Batman and Catwoman. In the series, after the Caped Crusader vanished from Gotham, his daughter teamed up with the former Batgirl and Black Canary to defend the city against Harley Quinn.
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It’s no secret that Lynda Carter’s name is still synonymous with her portrayal of Wonder Woman during the 1970s. With her patriotic outfit and golden lasso, the Amazon warrior princess fought crime and saved the world. Although Wonder Woman has remained a staple in animated TV series (along with Batman and Superman), rumors of a live-action reboot has come and gone through the years, but the character will appear for the first time in the latest DC film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Ben Affleck first donned the dark red suit as “the man without fear," but Charlie Cox took up the mantle by portraying blind lawyer Matt Murdoch by day/Hell’s Kitchen vigilante by night in the Netflix series. Taking place in the established Marvel Cinematic Universe, Daredevil was a much darker and dangerous portrayal of super heroics that showed the realistic side of fighting.
Jessica Jones has had a number of aliases throughout her crime fighting career: Jewel, Knightress, Power Woman. So her on-screen introduction as the owner of a detective agency named Alias Investigations seemed fitting. In the Netflix series, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) stayed true to her comic book counterpart, dealing with personal demons when coming face-to-face with the telepathic Purple Man, or Kilgrave (David Tennant) and kicking butt against bad guys with her super strength and high jumping skills.
Luke Cage (Mike Colter) was first seen in Jessica Jones as a bar owner with a secret: unbreakable skin. Like Jessica, Luke dealt with a grittier and more violent New York while equipped with superhuman abilities more than superhero qualities. Despite being able to take down some bad guys in his bar without breaking a sweat, Cage wasn’t immune to Kilgrave’s mind control. The reluctant hero will soon be getting his own Marvel series on Netflix, eventually teaming up with Jessica Jones and Daredevil in The Defenders.
With the power to create earthquakes and move objects with her hands, it’s no surprise that Daisy (Chloe Bennett) is considered Inhuman on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She may have started off as the self-named Skye, but after being exposed to the Terrigen Mist and meeting her parents, she discovered her real name and true purpose: to help other Inhumans adjust to the world. While she has yet to become her comic book alter ego, Quake, her nickname “Tremors” foreshadow her legacy.
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Spider-Man is no stranger to the silver screen, with various actors (Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield) as the web slinger. But during the late 1970s, two live-action series were made. The Amazing Spider-Man, with Nicholas Hammond in the role as Peter Parker, only lasted two seasons. Around the same time, Marvel partnered with a Japanese production company to create a series starring Shinji Todo as Takuya Yamashiro, the titular Spider-Man. Takuya was a motorcycle racer with spider powers and a giant robot named Leopardon—which later inspired the Power Rangers franchise. And, of course, Spider-Man has also appeared in different animated series through the years.