USA TODAY International Edition
Marvel’s vision shaped prime time
TV will soon get a whole lot more Marvel- ous.
Disney’s behemoth comics company and movie studio, which includes the “Avengers” and connected Marvel Cinematic Universe films, has been making its mark on the small screen ever since “Agents of S. H. I. E. L. D.” premiered on ABC in 2013. But there will be more superhero series than ever, thanks to a new and welcoming home on the growing Disney+ streaming service, which just released its first live- action Marvel original, “WandaVision.” There are plans for more than a dozen more in the coming years, including “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” in March.
But not all Marvel series are created equal. From its humble broadcast beginnings to the dark Netflix series to a Freeform teen drama that was surprisingly stunning, we ranked all 14 Marvel series from worst to best. And unfortunately for comics fans, there have been quite a few superduds on the small screen.
14. ‘ Inhumans’ ( 2017)
The less said about this train wreck of an ABC series, the better. The adaptation of one of the weirder Marvel brands did everything wrong, from garish costumes to hammy dialogue to terrible special effects. But at least there was that cute giant dog.
13. ‘ Iron Fist’ ( 2017- 18)
This Netflix series couldn’t rise above controversy. Fans cried foul that the dated character of Danny Rand was played by Finn Jones, a white actor, when many thought he should be played by an Asian- American to undo the comic’s cultural appropriation. In addition to being racially insensitive, “Iron Fist” was just boring, with bad acting, writing and action all around.
12. ‘ The Defenders’ ( 2017)
The team- up film is a staple of Marvel’s movies, but it’s less successful in TV form. Netflix’s “The Defenders” united Jessica Jones ( Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage ( Mike Colter), Daredevil ( Charlie Cox) and Iron Fist ( Jones) to save New York, but the combination didn’t do the heroes any favors. Except for Iron Fist, they were all better off on their own.
11. ‘ The Punisher’ ( 2017- 19)
Arriving in an era when mass shootings often were in the headlines didn’t help this violent Netflix series. But the gun- happy antihero was too dark, too bloody and too slow, despite the solid work Jon Bernthal did as the character on the second season of “Daredevil.”
10. ‘ Runaways’ ( 2017- 19)
Hulu’s woefully disappointing adaptation of one of Marvel’s best comics starts strong but was bogged down by poor pacing and too many characters. The drama followed six teens who discover their parents are part of an evil supernatural organization, and realize their own powers and skills along the way. “Runaways” was best when it focuses on the kids and leaves the adults behind.
9. ‘ Legion’ ( 2017- 19)
“Fargo” creator Noah Hawley brought his prestige TV gleam to this FX drama, which follows David Haller ( Dan Stevens), a man locked away in a psychiatric institution only to find out he has mutant powers ( like “Gifted,” it was not connected to the Marvel films and other shows). While it was ambitious and sprawling, with great performances from the likes of Stevens and Aubrey Plaza, the series often crumbled under its own pretentiousness, leading to an underwhelming three seasons.
8. ‘ Agents of S. H. I. E. L. D.’ ( 2013- 20)
In its early seasons, ABC’s series was little more than a weekly advertisement for the Marvel films, a cheap knockoff of “CSI” with casual references to “Thor.” But later seasons course- corrected by focusing on the core characters and its own slice of Marvel mythology, and it developed a cult following. Its 2020 finale was satisfying and sweet, helping to make up for some of the early shakiness.
7. ‘ The Gifted’ ( 2017- 19)
This short- lived Fox series brings ordinary family drama to the superhero genre. Set in the X- Men universe ( but separate from the Marvel films), “Gifted” follows a family with two mutant teens, fleeing from the government forces that want to lock them away. With smart action sequences and a compelling cast of mutants with visually exciting new powers, “Gifted” was a thrilling ride for the two seasons it aired.
6. WandaVision ( 2021)
The first live- action Marvel show made for Disney+ represents a new era in Marvel’s television ventures, one where movie stars jump to the small screen and the plots of the series and films intertwine more directly. That both helps and hurts this ode to sitcoms starring Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda/ Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany as Vision. The actors are wonderful exercising their comedic muscles, but “WandaVision” unfolds at far too slow a pace for a weekly series. The result is funny and weird but hard to parse.
5. ‘ Daredevil’ ( 2015- 18)
The first Marvel/ Netflix collaboration was dark, gritty, unique and exciting when it premiered ( so much so that its somber style often was copied in subsequent superhero TV series). While the show was always a bit meandering and long, its villains ( including Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk and Jon Bernthal’s Punisher) were unparalleled in their complexity.
4. ‘ Jessica Jones’ ( 2015- 19)
The first season of Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” was nearly ideal, a boldly feminist and realistic approach to the genre, and it’s a shame the series couldn’t hold onto the magic. But Krysten Ritter’s performance as the hero, a woman reeling from personal trauma with super strength, is electric enough to overcome occasionally weak storylines. The series also has what might be the most terrifying Marvel villain in Kilgrave ( David Tennant), a sociopath with mind- control powers.
3. ‘ Cloak and Dagger’ ( 2018- 19)
Freeform’s Marvel series was earnest, simple and utterly winning, an emotional and stylish teen drama that mixed mysticism and metaphor. The series, which ended after two seasons as Marvel moved its TV priorities to Disney+, is based on lesser comic- book characters played by Aubrey Joseph and Olivia Holt. It isn’t a joyful series – more often a somber coming- of- age story about two traumatized kids trying to heal who happen to have superpowers – but it’s joyful to watch it unfold.
2.’ Luke Cage’ ( 2016- 18)
Mike Colter is masterful as Luke Cage, the bulletproof hero of Harlem. First introduced on “Jessica Jones,” Luke comes into his own in this series, which examined the superhero experience for a Black man two years before “Black Panther” hit theaters.
1. ‘ Agent Carter’ ( 2015- 16)
Canceled after just two seasons, this gem of a series followed Hayley Atwell’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” character, Peggy Carter. Zippy, fun and grounded by Atwell’s charisma, the period spy series was the most natural way to connect the popular movies to the TV shows, and the strongest Marvel series to date, by far.