Last September, HBO’s “Watchmen” made television history as the first-ever comic book adaptation to win a major Emmy award, taking home best limited series. The accolade pierced a half-century of industry snobbery over superhero TV shows, dating all the way back to the “Adventures of Superman” series from the 1950s.
On Tuesday, comic book adaptations made an even more heroic showing at the Emmy Awards, with 39 nominations across six series. Some — including Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy” and “Lucifer,” and HBO Max’s “Doom Patrol” — were purely for below-the-line categories (costumes, cinematography, sound editing) in which genre shows have traditionally fared well. But for the first time in Emmys history, two comic book adaptations earned nods in top Emmy categories: Disney Plus’ “WandaVision” for best limited series and Amazon Prime Video’s “The Boys” for best drama series.
“WandaVision” was one of the leading nominees all around this year with 23 nominations, including nods for supporting actress (Kathryn Hahn), lead actor (Paul Bettany), lead actress (Elizabeth Olsen), writing (with three separate nominations, including for head writer Jac Schaeffer) and directing (Matt Shakman). To underline the point here, while there have been several major TV shows adapted from Marvel comics, “WandaVision” is the first-ever TV series produced by Marvel Studios. But while Marvel Studios has been the dominant force not just in superhero filmmaking, but in the film industry at large for over a decade, it took 10 years and 18 movies for the company to earn a best picture Oscar nomination (“Black Panther”). And no actor has ever earned an Oscar nod for a role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While Marvel Studios’ other eligible series, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” earned largely below-the-line nominations — including for special visual effects and stunt coordination — the show also earned Don Cheadle his 11th career nomination for guest actor in a drama for just under two minutes of decidedly low-key screen time.
The drama series nomination for “The Boys” — a graphically violent satire of the crass commodification of superhero pop-culture — is arguably an even more noteworthy milestone for the genre, especially since it’s the first-ever comic book adaptation to be nominated in that category. (NBC’s “Heroes,” an original series inspired by comic books, was nominated for drama series in 2007 for its first season.) While “The Boys” didn’t earn any acting nominations, it did pick up a writing nod for its Season 2 finale, and a nomination for best music and lyrics for “Never Truly Vanish,” a send-up of earnest farewell ballads for the killed superhero Translucent. (“WandaVision” also earned a nod in this category for the earworm-y “Agatha All Along.”)
The overall strong performance by superhero television is part of Emmy voters’ larger embrace of genre storytelling in general, with Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian” and HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” also among the top nominees of the year, including for drama series.
There were some notable omissions from this year’s slate of nominees. Two popular and critically acclaimed animated superhero series — HBO Max’s “Harley Quinn” and Amazon’s “Invincible” — came up empty, and The CW network continues its ignoble streak of zero nominations, including for well-received DC Comics adaptations like “Superman and Lois” and “Legends of Tomorrow.”
For the first time in TV history, however, comic book adaptations aren’t just an exceptional part of the Emmy nominations — they’re leading the charge.