By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

Aug. 6, 2020 — Call it the Summer of the C-List.

Despite the pandemic, TV still has a lot of original content — much of which is based on comic books. But with so many shows lifting concepts, ideas and entire series from comics, most of the low-hanging fruit is long gone. A lot of today’s TV shows arise from pretty obscure material.

Which is not to say that any of this material, by virtue of being lesser known, is of lesser quality. Some of it is fantastic in its original medium, some of it gets better through adaptation, and some of it is both.

But, yes, obscure. Take, for example, Snowpiercer.

The first season of the TNT series ran on TNT from May 17 to July 12. It features class warfare among the last survivors of Earth, eking out survival on a perpetual-motion train traveling endlessly through an Ice Age hellscape. Response has been enthusiastic, and Snowpiercer has already been renewed for a second season.

But before it was a really good U.S. TV show, it was a really good South Korean movie, based on a really good French graphic novel. Titled Le Transperceneige, the 1982 GN  has spawned several sequels and prequels — some of which haven’t even been translated to English yet.

That’s pretty obscure.

Which brings us to three shows coming to their season finales this month. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Doom Patrol and Stargirl aren’t obscure, precisely, but they certainly aren’t A-list.

S.H.I.E.L.D., whose seventh and final season ends Aug. 12, began in 1965 when then-tiny Marvel Comics was in the midst of its creative Big Bang. Created by the legendary team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” replaced a Human Torch feature in a book still titled Strange Tales from when it was a suspense book in the ’50, taking over the half of the book not occupied by Dr. Strange. It re-purposed Nick Fury from the company’s only war book, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, as the new, hard-bitten director of a secret espionage organization dedicated to protecting the world — especially from its main foe, Hydra.

But despite its pedigree, S.H.I.E.L.D. has never found an audience. Marvel has attempted six or seven S.H.I.E.L.D. series, with and without Nick Fury, and none have lasted very long. Including the one starring Godzilla. (Yes, Godzilla.) The organization has long been more part of the background fabric of the Marvel Universe rather than a headliner in itself.

On another front, Doom Patrol was created two years earlier, in 1963 at DC Comics. It was an offbeat feature that tried very hard to read like a Marvel title of the era (and mostly succeeded).  But the title didn’t hit any kind of prominence until Scottish superstar Grant Morrison began writing it. His run (1989-1993) introduced many of the bizarre elements that make the TV show such a treat, such as Crazy Jane, Danny the Street, Dorothy Spinner (and the Candlemaker), Flex Mentallo and Mr. Nobody.

Still, not exactly the Justice League, is it?

Stargirl comes closer to that standard: Both TV and comic book incarnations incorporate the Justice Society of America, the inspiration for the Justice League. The JSA was a 1940s superhero group that DC Comics has continually tried to update with “legacy” heroes based on the originals, with varying success.  Stargirl, as the modern incarnation of the original Starman and Star-Spangled Kid, is one of those and usually appears with the team. But her own title, Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., only lasted 14 issues.

Her TV show is doing better. It’s already been renewed for a second season on The CW.

Next up is Warrior Nun, whose first season dropped on Netflix on July 2. Talk about obscure: The source material is from tiny Antarctic Press, and the original six-issue miniseries, which ran 1997-98, has never been reprinted.

Not that it matters. Most of the Warrior Nun comics focus on Sister Shannon, who (spoiler) dies in the first episode on TV. The show focuses instead on a made-for-TV character, Ava (Alba Baptista), and that’s not the only big change. Some Warrior Nun comics are available in trade paperback, and TV viewers may enjoy that take on the concept. But right now the TV show is the only version of Warrior Nun most people are going to know, including comics fans.

While the Warrior Nun concept is more than 20 years old, The Old Guard is — despite its name — relatively new. Launched at Image Comics in 2017, the first five-issue miniseries was written by Greg Rucka (Whiteout, Stumptown) and drawn by Leandro Fernandez. A second miniseries, The Old Guard: Force Multiplied, just wrapped up and should be available as a trade paperback in September. A third miniseries, The Old Guard: Fade Away, is confirmed but unscheduled.

Charlize Theron stars as “Andy,” an immortal warrior, in The Old Guard. (Aimee Spinks/Netflix © 2020)

Netflix dropped an Old Guard movie July 10, to pretty much rave reviews. Starring Charlize Theron as the ancient Andromache of Scythia, the movie varied from the comics in some major particulars but kept intact the basic premise of hidden, immortal warriors.

Rucka is a celebrated comics writer and Image is the third-largest comics publisher, so comics fans were well aware of The Old Guard before the movie. But I bet without Theron, nobody else would have heard of it.

Meanwhile, does Cursed count? The show, whose first season dropped on Netflix July 17, isn’t based on a graphic novel, but you could be forgiven for thinking so. Frank Miller (300, Sin City) draws the scene changes, is an executive producer and drew illustrations for the Cursed novel, written by Thomas Wheeler. But he never actually drew a graphic novel.

Katherine Langford stars as Nimue, the future Lady of the Lake, in Cursed. Netflix © 2020

Cursed has a lot of enthusiastic fans, but I found it only tolerable. Some of it is pretty cheesy, such as the wolves that were clearly puppets in the first episode. And it’s not that well-written, with — as one example — characters knowing things they can’t or shouldn’t, but do so because the plot calls for it. (Looking at you, Bors.)

On the other hand, it’s got Gustaf Skarsgard  as Merlin, an actor who stole every Vikings scene he was in as Floki. And the series seemed to pick up the pace and find its footing toward the end of the first season. If it has a second, I’ll undoubtedly watch.

I can’t honestly recommend the novel, though, which reads like it was adapted from the TV show, not the other way around.

OK, raise your hands if you heard of Wynonna Earp before the Syfy series debuted in 2016. Anyone? Anyone?

And yet, Wynonna had been around in comic book form since 1996, when Image Comics published a five-issue miniseries by writer Beau Smith and artist Joyce Chin. Smith moved the series to IDW Publishing in 2003, where various series have been published ever since.

The TV show takes some liberties from the comics, where Wynonna works for “The Monster Squad,” corraling supernatural lawbreakers. The show, on the other hand, simplifies the concept (Wynonna uses her grandfather Wyatt’s magic six-shooter  to kill “revenants”), adds or expands characters and mixes in more soap opera elements. I am more than OK with that.

Next: I’m not sure how many people had heard of The Umbrella Academy before it became a series on Netflix. (The second season dropped July 31.) First published in 2007 by Dark Horse, I wouldn’t expect Academy  to be widely known — except that it’s written by Gerard Way, the frontman for My Chemical Romance. So there may be a whole subculture of music/Way fans who knew about it.

The Umbrella Academy stars (from left) Robert Sheehan as Klaus Hargreeves, Justin H. Min as Ben Hargreeves, Aidan Gallagher as Number Five, Ellen Page as Vanya Hargreeves, Tom Hopper as Luther Hargreeves, David Castañeda as Diego Hargreeves and Emmy Raver-Lampman as Allison Hargreeves. (Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix © 2020)

Probably not. Regardless, the TV show is excellent. While it mixes ,matches or changes elements from the first two Academy miniseries (Apocalypse Suite and Dallas), the screen version retains the quirky humor that had me laughing out loud at the page. And the season 2 finale promises to deal with the mysterious, third Umbrella Academy miniseries, Sparrow Academy, which hasn’t come out yet.

Lastly there’s Lucifer, whose fifth season drops on Netflix Aug. 21. As most are probably aware by now, it bears little resemblance to the mature-readers comic book on which it’s based. That concept spun off of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and is much more serious and subtle than the TV show.

Which, it must be said, is something of a cliché: It’s a police procedural. “She’s a cop. He’s a devil. They fight crime!” But it’s a very charming and funny police procedural, and I’m probably not the only one who was grateful that Netflix saved it from cancellation (at Fox).

Or that TV saved these comics concepts from obscurity. My only regret is that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t last long enough to get to Godzilla.

Find Captain Comics by email (, on his website (, on Facebook (Andrew Alan Smith) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).  

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Captain Comics said:

Which, it must be said, is something of a cliché: It’s a police procedural. “She’s a cop. He’s a devil. They fight crime!” But it’s a very charming and funny police procedural, and I’m probably not the only one who was grateful that Netflix saved it from cancellation (at Fox).

When screenwriters don’t know what to do with an actor or an unfamiliar concept, it either becomes a police story or a private eye story. When Eddie Murphy, Whoopi Goldberg and probably someone else I can’t think of became prominent as comedians they first were cast in cop movies.

I've been watching most of this stuff, but thanks for mentioning Warrior Nun (which I had overlooked). Watched the first two episodes last night and enjoyed it. I'll probably give Cursed a shot, too, even though you don't exactly recommend it!

I had actually heard of—and read some of—Wynonna Earp! Many years ago, Beau Smith sent me a ton of his work because I was “one of the few people who ‘got’ what was trying to do” with his too-short run Guy Gardner. Included was Wynonna Earp. It was okay. I like his Guy Gardner luck better!

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