A Fan's Guide to the Top Superhero Series
Superheroes entertain and inspire us and give us a way to see the best in ourselves. The superhero archetype (the psychological mold that it inhabits in our society’s collective unconscious), is an ancient one that once was filled with mythical heroes of a bygone age. Now, with the hidden edges of our maps almost uniformly brought into the world of the known, we turn toward the same mythic stories within another guise.
Superhero television series have been gaining traction in the last few years largely due to the Marvel franchise turning screen superheroes into something believable. In days of yore, we had to rely on the artwork of brilliant graphic artists to provide a sense of wonder with the feats of superheroes and the super-villains that they face. But, with CGI technology, a new gateway has opened that allows us to fairly live within our imaginative heights; we get to experience superheroes, with all their awesomeness rendered by computers, in a way never before possible.
However, that doesn’t mean that earlier super hero series didn’t have some excellent fast tricks to pull with our imaginations, nor did the lack of our modern special effects make writing, acting, and directing any less important. Much of our modern television writing has become obsessed with tension for tension’s sake, bad plot-hooks designed to tug at an audience’s heart-strings, and lackluster emotional interactions between the main characters. A good show is one that transcends limitations of special effects and invites the viewer to experience an almost theatre-like engagement with the action, to become willfully immersed within the play. In this way, sometimes it’s maybe even better not to have too much CGI, because then the audience forgets that watching a television series is a participatory experience.
What makes a superhero series, anyway? Is it really the powers of the fantastic that some wield, or is it something deeper: could it be their ability to act as the best side of humanity, their ability to undertake terrific feats of daring for the greater good or some magnanimous cause? I think so.
I’ve assembled some of the best superhero television series here for you today, shows that kick butt and take names, but also shows that introspect, shows that ask you to engage, and shows that aren’t afraid to take risks for art’s own sake.