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It’s easy (and mostly correct) to assume that the majority of superhero television is based on comics. But Hollywood loves existing IP, which means there are plenty of other series on TV right now based on comic books or graphic novels that have nothing to do with super powers or saving the day.
Comics are much more than caped crusaders — graphic novels run the same genre gamut as literary novels, from journalism to sci-fi and plenty in between. Below, we’ve rounded up a bunch of TV series that you might not have realized were based on comic books. Read on to find out where you can watch each show and, more importantly, where to find the graphic novels that inspired them.
Yes, the long-delayed TNT series took plenty of inspiration from director Bong Joon Ho’s 2014 film. But it, and the film, were both based on the French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette. You can find all three volumes — “The Escape,” “The Explorers,” and “Terminus” — in English in this boxed set.
If you still haven’t gotten around to watching either project, the official description of the graphic novels will set the scene: “On a future, frozen Earth, a train that never stops circumnavigates the globe. On board: all of humanity that we could save from the great disaster that wrapped the planet in ice. At the front of the train, the survivors live in comfort and luxury — at the rear, their lives are worse than cattle, trapped in the squalid dark. When one of the occupants of the tail breaks through into the main train — all hell follows in his wake!”
Wrote Ben Travers in his IndieWire review of the “Snowpiercer” series, “As ridiculous as this may sound, try not to bring bring any baggage onboard “Snowpiercer.” TNT’s long-in-the-works science-fiction series about a post-apocalyptic train ride carrying the last remnants of humanity (and all their pretty stuff!) bills itself as an adaptation of Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s graphic novels and Bong Joon Ho’s 2013 film. But even though those stories send their titular trains down very different tracks, you don’t have to be familiar with either for expectations to burden the latest ride. … The structure of the season keeps things moving, offering a clear arc and just enough intrigue to keep chugging into Season 2.”
The series is a prequel set seven years before the events of the film, which IndieWire’s Eric Kohn noted takes place in almost real time (especially compared to the original text). “Lob’s epic tale unfolded across a much longer time period, but Bong’s treatment is practically a real-time endeavor, chronicling attempts by tail-end insurgents to hijack the front of the train and overtake its cryptic mastermind, a largely unseen presence named Wilford,” he wrote.
“The End Of The F***ing World”
Black and white illustrations accompany Charles Forsman’s hit graphic novel about wayward teenagers James and Alyssa who, per the official description, are “living a seemingly typical teen experience as they face the fear of coming adulthood. Forsman tells their story through each character’s perspective, jumping between points of view with each chapter. But quickly, this somewhat familiar teenage experience takes a more nihilistic turn as James’s character exhibits a rapidly forming sociopathy that threatens both of their futures. He harbors violent fantasies and begins to act on them, while Alyssa remains as willfully ignorant for as long as she can, blinded by young love.”
Wrote Travers in his IndieWire review, the series is “a darkly compelling journey of self-discovery and adolescent confusion,” though it takes “a relatively late turn — over an hour into the two-and-a-half-hour series” before “a much-needed sense of purpose, and suddenly ‘The End of the F***ing World’ becomes a darkly compelling journey of self-discovery and adolescent confusion. James develops into more than a disturbed wannabe serial killer; he’s a confused kid trying to cope with pain the only way he knows how. Alyssa isn’t an uncaring, self-destructive disruptor, but a child acting out to get the attention she actually needs.”
“I Am Not Okay With This”
Originally renewed for a second season (which was subsequently called off due to COVID-19 complications), this coming-of-age story came to the small screen via Netflix. The black-and-white comic on which it is based follows teen Sydney, played by “It” star Sophia Lillis, and is also by Forsman.
Per its synopsis, “Sydney seems like a normal, rudderless fifteen-year-old freshman. She hangs out underneath the bleachers, blasts music in her friend’s car, and gets into arguments with her annoying little brother. But she also has a few secrets she’s only shared in her diary: how she’s in love with her best friend, the bizarre death of her war veteran father, and excruciatingly painful telekinetic powers that keep popping up at the most inopportune times. Charles Forsman once again expertly channels teenage ethos in a style that evokes classic comics strips while telling a powerful story about the intense, and sometimes violent, tug of war between trauma and control. ‘I Am Not Okay With This’ tackles familial strain, sexual confusion, and PTSD in Forsman’s signature straight-faced-but-humorous style and firmly stakes his place among the world’s best cartoonists.”
This story does involve supernatural abilities, but it’s not a superhero story. Wrote Steve Green in his IndieWire review of the series, “Rather than use this template for a story that escalates to city-toppling mayhem by the end of its opening season, these seven episodes track the evolution of Syd as a person rather than merely extrapolate the things she can’t control.”
Those in the know might not be surprised that “Lucifer” is based on a DC Comics property, but casual viewers who just appreciate a crime procedural starring the devil living a life of debauchery on Earth were probably not aware that Lucifer Morningstar was first introduced in Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman.”
Mike Carey’s ongoing series featuring art by Peter Gross and Scott Hampton follows the titular character, “Cast out of Heaven, thrown down to rule in Hell, Lucifer Morningstar has resigned his post and abandoned his kingdom for the mortal city of Los Angles. Emerging from the pages of writer Neil Gaiman’s award-winning series ‘The Sandman,’ the former Lord of Hell is now enjoying a quiet retirement as the proprietor of Lux, LA’s most elite piano bar. But now an assignment from the Creator Himself is going to change all that. If Lucifer agrees to do Heaven’s dirty work, he can name his own price — but both the task and reward are more than they seem. Thrown into a position of great threat and ultimate opportunity, Lucifer knows that threading a path through this maze will require the harshest of sacrifices.”
The “Lucifer” series began as a fizzy procedural on Fox, then moved to Netflix for its fourth, fifth, and upcoming sixth seasons.
Yes, the titular character (played by Melanie Scrofano) is a descendant of Old West figure Wyatt Earp, but the series is actually based on Beau Smith’s comic book and features the present-day Earp as a special agent battling supernatural threats. According to the story’s official synopsis, “The U.S. Marshals Black Badge division has been fighting back against supernatural threats for decades. But even the toughest werewolf, most bloodthirsty vampire, or grisliest zombie knows there’s one agent to avoid at all cost: Wynonna Earp.”
The Canadian series has run for four seasons on Syfy in the U.S., though the fourth season — which was ordered back in 2018 — experienced some production delays due to issues with the production company, prompting Scrofano and the show’s creator, Emily Andras, to tweet about the situation. While that was resolved, production was later halted once again due to COVID-19. “Wynonna Earp” has since resumed shooting on Season 4, and the first few episodes began airing on Syfy in July 2020. It returns for the second half of the season in 2021.
“Locke & Key”
This comic, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez, has had a troubled road to the small screen — more than one pilot was filmed at more than one network before the haunted house story landed at Netflix, where it has been commissioned for a second season. (The first pilot, filmed for Fox in 2011, got an unprecedented screening at Comic-Con that year despite not being ordered to series.)
“Following their father’s gruesome murder in a violent home invasion, the Locke children return to his childhood home of Keyhouse in secluded Lovecraft, Massachusetts. Their mother, Nina, is too trapped in her grief — and a wine bottle — to notice that all in Keyhouse is not what it seems: too many locked doors, too many unanswered questions. Older kids Tyler and Kinsey aren’t much better,” per the official synopsis. “But not youngest son Bode, who quickly finds a new friend living in an empty well and a new toy, a key, that offers hours of spirited entertainment. But again, all at Keyhouse is not what it seems, and not all doors are meant to be opened. Soon, horrors old and new, real and imagined, will come ravening after the Lockes and the secrets their family holds.”
Wrote IndieWire’s Steve Greene in his review of the series, “It certainly delivers on its title, following the children of the Locke family as they discover not only a magical set of keys that each bring unthinkable power, but the dark legacy that these mysterious tools bring with them. That premise becomes a canvas onto which any number of Netflix hits get tossed. It’s a TV casserole featuring the haunted family dynamic of ‘The Haunting of Hill House,’ an inter-dimensional threat to appeal to ‘Stranger Things’ fans, a timeline-hopping element that feels like diet ‘Dark.’ Add in the relationship- and clique-based drama of a standard high school-set drama and that’s the ‘Locke & Key’ baseline.”
Netflix’s vengeance-seeking woman of the cloth — an orphaned teen who wakes up in a morgue only to discover that she possesses superpowers and is now the chosen Halo-Bearer for a secret sect of demon-hunting nuns — originated as a manga-style comic book character created by Ben Dunn and debuting in 1987. Her solo series began in 1994, with a story that, per its official description, “revolves around Sister Shannon Masters, a Joan of Arc like heroine of the Order of the Cruciform Sword, a fictional military order of Warrior Nuns and Magic Priests in service of the Catholic Church. The order was created in 1066 when a Valkyrie named Auria renounced her pagan ways and turned to Jesus Christ for salvation; ever since then, Auria, now Areala, has chosen an avatar every generation to carry on the mission. In modern times, this has grown to a world spanning organization in the service of the Catholic Church with the current Areala, Sister Shannon Masters as the best and brightest. With her friends beside her, Sister Shannon has led the forces of good against those of evil, ever serving the Lord with faith and humility.”
Obviously, plenty changed when it came time to turn the comic into a series, but the framework of Dunn’s character remains. The series has already been renewed for a second season.
Inspired by the comic of the same name, this ABC series originally scored a second-season renewal before it was abruptly canceled due to COVID-19 issues. Even so, the series, starring Cobie Smulders as a jaded private detective living in Portland, has earned enough of a fan base to surely land itself on many “canceled too soon” listicles in the future.
Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s comic series follows Dex, “the proprietor of Stumptown Investigations, and a fairly talented P.I. Unfortunately, she’s less adept at throwing dice than solving cases. Her recent streak has left her beyond broke—she’s into the Confederated Tribes of the Wind Coast for 18 large. But maybe Dex’s luck is about to change. Sue-Lynne, head of the Wind Coast’s casino operation, will clear Dex’ debt if she can locate Sue-Lynne’s missing granddaughter. But is this job Dex’s way out of the hole or a shove down one much much deeper?”
IndieWire’s Steve Greene praised the series for its brisk start out of the gate, writing, “‘Stumptown’ knows how to start a show. Yes, the actual start of the show is two petty criminals discussing the finer points of Portland slow roast. And yes, that gives way to private investigator Dex Parios besting said criminals with a fire extinguisher and her two bare hands. But what follows that easily anticipated intro, both in the briskly paced cold open and in the first episode beyond, is a more-than-sturdy foundation for a fresh spin on the network detective series.”