These 6 Superhero Shows Are The Cure For The Common Comic Book Movie

When I wrote "Thank Goodness for TV Superheroes" in February of 2020, I had no idea just how important those shows could possibly become. The pandemic was still a specter looming on the horizon, and we all had more than ample entertainment options to choose from. After the pandemic slowed down and stopped productions, those options became more limited, and the already dwindling mid-budget movies of the past became even more of a rarity.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an all-encompassing thing, including a slew of movies and shows on Disney+, all connected in some way or another. The DC Extended Universe is slightly more diverse, allowing for stories that aren't interconnected, but there's still quite a bit of homework required sometimes. One good thing is that Warner Bros. tends to greenlight a wide variety of projects, so there are some great DC TV shows that break the mold. 

I was already feeling burned out on mainstream superhero stories in 2020, and the subversive greatness of shows like "The Boys," "Watchmen," and "The Umbrella Academy" were a welcome alternative. Thankfully, in 2022, several of those shows are on subsequent seasons, getting better with each one and creating incredible worlds all of their own. These shows are a bit more adult and a lot stranger than their movie counterparts, providing audiences who love genre storytelling, but are tired of the same origin stories and universe-ending team-ups, something else to enjoy.

Here are six of the best TV superhero series that completely shatter comic book expectations and deliver some deliciously weird fun. 

1. The Boys is razor-sharp satire

The series: "The Boys" is a Prime Video series based on the comic book series of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. Created by showrunner Eric Kripke, best known for his work on "Supernatural," the series is a brutally mean satire that never pulls its punches.

The Boys are a group of vigilantes who fight corrupt superheroes, namely the Seven, who are this world's version of the Justice League. Their leader, Homelander (Antony Starr) is basically a kind of toxic patriarchal, white supremacist Superman, and the leader of the Boys, Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), will stop at nothing to see him killed.

"The Boys" is produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and their willingness to approve absolute insanity and contribute to it on occasion is definitely a huge boon. They even recently made an animated anthology spin-off series, "The Boys Presents: Diabolical," which used the animated format to take the weird and wild world of "The Boys" to even zanier heights. 

What it's riffing on: No one is safe from the special brand of pitch-black satire of "The Boys." The series makes fun of every aspect of not only superhero media, but the media and pop culture in general, as well as government, history, and politics. The series routinely skewers the marketing machine behind major corporations, pulling back the curtain on how awful many of our "heroes" are and how everything has been manufactured to appeal to as many people as possible. The targets of the series' many spoofs and gags include Disney, Marvel, DC, Zack Snyder, entertainment journalists, U.S. senators, Pepsi, and more.

What it brings to the table: The satire on "The Boys" is a cut above just about anyone else out there, with the right mix of nastiness and wit to make every point crystal clear. "The Boys" is the most R-rated of all of the superhero shows, with buckets of blood, loads of full-frontal nudity, and just about every kind of "adult content" imaginable. It's incredibly vulgar and often relishes in that vulgarity, though underneath all of the swearing and exploding body parts, there's a beating heart and biting wit. 

New episodes of season 3 of "The Boys" premiere Fridays on Prime Video. 

2. Doom Patrol takes superhero stories to their weirdest extremes

The series: "Doom Patrol" is an HBO Max series based on the DC Comics superhero team of the same name, following a crew of deeply damaged individuals who happen to have super-abilities, all working together under one seemingly benevolent older man. The Chief (Timothy Dalton) took in this weird crew of misfits in the hopes that he could both help them with their unique "problems" and also put them to good use.

The members of the Doom Patrol include Jane (Diane Guerrero), whose multiple personalities has different powers; former film star who turns to putty, Rita Farr (April Bowlby); the suped-up cyborg Vic Stone (Joivan Wade); invisible man Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer/Matthew Zuk); and human brain in a metal suit Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser/Riley Shanahan). Together they try to fix their damaged lives, their broken relationships, and occasionally, save the world. 

What it's riffing on: "Doom Patrol" is kind of unusual because it's technically not riffing on other comic book creations or trying to spoof anything. The comic series predates anything else it could be riffing on, especially its closest comic comparison, "X-Men," though only by a few months. (The first comic with the Doom Patrol came out in June 1963, while the first issue of "The X-Men" debuted in September 1963.) 

What it brings to the table: Showrunner Jeremy Carver, who also worked as a showrunner on "Supernatural," took care to make the series a true character study. The series gets plenty wacky and weird and has some overarching plots that feel right at home in a superhero series, but the main focus is actually on the characters and their relationships. "Doom Patrol" is the only series you'll probably ever see with a sentient street as a character, but the real magic is how much it can make you care. 

Season 4 of "Doom Patrol" coming soon to HBO Max. 

3. The Umbrella Academy highlights the power of family

The series: Netflix's "The Umbrella Academy" is based on the comic series of the same name by My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way and illustrator Gabriel Bá. Much like "Doom Patrol," it follows a group of misfits with superpowers under the tutelage of an old white guy, though Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) is significantly less altruistic than the Chief. On October 1, 1989, 43 women randomly and spontaneously gave birth, despite not being pregnant moments beforehand. Hargreeves is a billionaire who decides to adopt as many of the kids as he can, because they all turn out to have superpowers. In the end he adopts seven and gives them numbers instead of names, though their robotic mother eventually gives all but one of them human names.

The Umbrella Academy are: Luther (Tom Hopper), who has super-strength and is part ape; Diego (David Castañeda), who has mild telekinesis and can curve the trajectory of any projectile; Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), who can control minds and bend reality by whispering in their ears; Klaus (Robert Sheehan), who can speak with the dead; Five (Aidan Gallagher), who can jump through time and space but ends up stuck in his adolescent body forever; and Viktor (Elliot Page), who apparently has no supernatural abilities but later discovers that he's the most powerful of them all.

What it's riffing on: "The Umbrella Academy" seems to take some influence from "X-Men," asking the question "What if Professor Xavier were an abusive jerk and raised the team as siblings?" While there are occasionally typical superhero moments, for the most part this crew don't wear spandex costumes or capes, and they fight with one another just as much as they fight their enemies. It's less of a spoof of other existing comics than a unique story that borrows from some well-known tropes in order to deliver something fresh and new. 

What it brings to the table: Also like "Doom Patrol," this series is focused on its characters and their relationships more than overarching plots. Each season presents a different opportunity for The Umbrella Academy to save the world, usually from themselves or some incident they happened to cause, and the audience gets to enjoy them figuring it all out. The performances and writing make the team feel like a real found family, with plenty of bickering but also some warm, emotional beats to balance out the nastiness with a bit of the warm and fuzzy. The series is stylish, with a killer soundtrack and characters that will win over even the most jaded viewer. 

Season 3 of "The Umbrella Academy" premieres on Netflix June 22, 2022. 

4. Harley Quinn

The series: HBO Max is killing it with the comic book TV shows, and the animated "Harley Quinn" is no exception. The series follows Harley (Kaley Cuoco) after she finally ends things once and for all with the Joker (Alan Tudyk) and tries to figure out her own identity. The series debuted around the same time as the Margot Robbie-led "Birds of Prey" movie that featured a similar starting point of post-breakup Harley, but the series goes in a very different direction.

Harley decides to try and become a supervillain in her own right, teaming up with her BFF Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) and a handful of rag-tag criminals including Clayface (Tudyk) and King Shark (Ron Funches) to try and leave a mark on Gotham. Over the course of the first two seasons, Harley really came into her own and became a fully-fleshed character that wasn't just a goth manic pixie dream girl. 

What it's riffing on: "Harley Quinn" makes fun of all kinds of things in pop culture, but mostly skewers the world of Gotham. The animation style is reminiscent of "Batman: The Animated Series," which makes the adult content feel even more taboo somehow. Seeing characters that many of us have known and loved since childhood talking about sex, drugs, and adult life so candidly is a bit surreal but oddly comforting, and though "Harley Quinn" takes a few episodes to figure out the exact balance between its often vulgar jokes and its story about Harley finding herself, but once it does, it's amazing.

What it brings to the table: What's neat about "Harley Quinn" is that it's a superhero subversion making fun of a franchise with the explicit permission of the folks at the head of the franchise. While they might draw the line every once in a while, they also allow for things like Christopher Meloni's unhinged take on Commissioner Gordon, who is a drunk maniac falling apart at the seams. It also gives us a great queer romance with Harley and Ivy that does more for LGBTQ representation than any tentpole superhero movie ever has. 

"Harley Quinn" season 3 is set to debut on HBO Max later this year. 

5. Invincible

The series: "Harley Quinn" isn't the only great animated superhero subversion out there, thanks to Prime Video's "Invincible," based on the comic series of the same name by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, and Ryan Ottley. Kirkman serves as showrunner, which means the series is as faithful to the source material as possible and should reassure any fans of Kirkman's "The Walking Dead" comic and how it was handled for television.

"Invincible" tells the tale of a 17-year-old super-powered teen named Mark (Steven Yeun), who trains to become a superhero under the tutelage of his father, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons). The series starts as a pretty typical superhero story before swiftly spinning everything on its head, with dire and tragic consequences. 

What it's riffing on: "Invincible" draws heavily from the old Bruce Timm "Justice League" cartoons, both in style and some of the tropes that are toyed with. There's a kind of nostalgia in the animation style that, like "Harley Quinn," makes the adult content feel that much stronger. Unlike "Harley Quinn," "Invincible" is brutally mean to the audience, and its graphic gore is rarely played for laughs. The way "Invincible" subverts its superhero story is superb, but the less you know about it before watching, the better. 

What it brings to the table: On top of absolutely top-notch animation, "Invincible" also features a voice cast that's hard to beat. Yeun and Simmons are joined by Sandra Oh, Gillian Jacobs, Mark Hamill, Zazie Beetz, Clancy Brown, Walton Goggins, and more. The series doesn't pull its punches and goes to the insane levels of something like "The Boys," while also having its own totally unique story and style. "Invincible" can be a tough watch, but for superhero fans who want something truly original, it's one of the best. 

Season 2 of "Invincible" is coming to Prime Video sometime soon

6. Peacemaker

The series: While James Gunn's "The Suicide Squad" was a breath of fresh air when it comes to comic book movies, it still followed some of the standard superhero movie tropes. The spin-off HBO Max series, "Peacemaker," throws the superhero formula right out of the window, instead choosing to tell the story of a wannabe superhero who's more of a villain and has to learn how to be a better person. Sure, there's world-saving and fighting bad guys and some goofy-looking costumes, but the main drive of "Peacemaker" is the character's redemption arc and the superhero setting is just a way to tell that story.

The first season followed Peacemaker (John Cena) after the events of "The Suicide Squad," when he realizes that his bad attitude has alienated him from just about everyone in his life. He only really has his best friend, Eagly, and his dad, a racist supervillain (Robert Patrick), and he has to try to figure out how to be a hero for real. It's violent, vulgar, and very, very funny. 

What it's riffing on: "Peacemaker" has plenty of jokes about other superheroes (especially poor Aquaman), but it's really riffing on daddy issues and divisive politics more than it is superhero cinema. There are quite a few jokes at the expense of pop culture, too, with characters making fun of music, movies, and other parts of our world that make the show ultimately feel more relatable. "Peacemaker" is about rejecting fascist upbringings and the power of friendship, all set within a story that has true-blue superheroes and villains. 

What it brings to the table: The twists Gunn made on the superhero formula make "Peacemaker" one of the most heartfelt, powerful shows ever made with regards to the power of empathy. Peacemaker and his new friend Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks) teach one another how to be better people despite their abusive parents, and their friendship is the kind of thing the world needs more of. "Peacemaker" has heart and humor in spades, with an amazing cast, a perfect hair metal soundtrack, and the best opening sequence possibly ever. It also features a bisexual, somewhat closeted man who breaks just about every stereotype about bisexual men, which absolutely rules

"Peacemaker" season 2 is currently in production