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 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 ’50s, taking over the half of the book not occupied by Dr. Strange. Marvel has attempted six or seven S.H.I.E.L.D. series, with and without Nick Fury, and none has lasted very long.
“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. 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.
“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. 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. Some “Warrior Nun” comics are available in trade paperback, and TV viewers may enjoy that take on the concept.
While the Warrior Nun concept is more than 20 years old, “The Old Guard” is relatively new. Launched at Image Comics in 2017, the first five-issue miniseries was written by Greg Rucka (“Whiteout”). Netflix dropped an “Old Guard” movie July 10, to rave reviews. Starring Charlize Theron as the ancient Andromache of Scythia, the movie 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.