Wish List: Comics That Should Be Adapted For The Screen
With comic companies declaring new properties ready for film development at almost minute intervals, here is a wish list of projects that could, should (and likely won’t) be adapted for the screen.
Sleeper is Ed Brubaker’s masterpiece, a neo-noir spy-thriller mixed with superpowers and The Man who was Thursday. The twenty-four issue original series follows Holden Carver, a spy for John Lynch, the head of International Operations. Carver has his name disgraced so he can defect into an evil world-controlling organization run by the mysterious Tao. Unfortunately for Carver, Lynch is now in a coma and no one knows he’s secretly a good guy, and now he’s stuck as a wanted man working for the bad guys. He’s made friends with the bad guys and comes to care for Genocide and Miss Misery, while also having his former allies in the superhuman Authority and the IO including Veronica St. James — his ex-fiancée — looking to arrest or kill him. That’d be fine with him at this point, if he could actually die. A few years ago, Carver was in an accident involving a trans-dimensional alien relic (don’t you just hate when that happens?) that glommed on to his nervous system. He can no longer feel anything, and whatever injuries he might accrue — bullet wounds, stabbings, burns, breaks, etc., can be healed by the artifact. The pain and trauma is then converted to energy and making Carver a conductor, capable of giving that pain to anyone who he touches.
Caught in the blood feud between Lynch and Tao, and having betrayed both, Carver’s options quickly fall away, leading to a Greek tragedy of an ending that is as bleak as it is inevitable.
As a movie there are too many moving parts and too many characters to do the series justice; as a TV show or miniseries, Sleeper has legs.
The New Teen Titans
The New Teen Titans, by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, was DC’s best on-going title of the 1980s. The Teen Titans are DC’s sidekicks — Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl — along with some of their younger stars like Cyborg, Changeling, Raven, Terra and Starfire. The series, especially for the early 80s, was particularly relevant — often dealing with themes of friendship, race, war, sexual assault, adoption, marriage and death. The New Teen Titans moved DC away from the camp of the prior thirty years and into something a lot more grounded and relevant and concerned more with character development than bizarre pink-skinned alien misadventures.
It also began to focus on several aspects that makes DC Comics special — primarily the legacy characters. Wonder Girl (Donna Troy), Kid Flash (Wally West) and Robin (Dick Grayson) were un-aging sidekicks that grew into adults in this title, bringing a sense of fulfillment. For years, critics maligned the idea of sidekicks, but in aging them, they were taking steps to fulfill the promise of all sidekicks — to one day take over for their mentors. The titles that followed saw Robin becoming Nightwing (and eventually becoming Batman twice), Kid Flash become The Flash, and Wonder Girl become Wonder Woman. All because of the changes that began in The New Teen Titans. Along with the aging and the heady themes were the additions to DC’s villainous stable. The New Teen Titans added many new characters, particularly villains — chief among them Deathstroke the Terminator, who was introduced during the seminal “Judas Contract” story arc.
As a film, the stories of “The Judas Contract,” “Who is Donna Troy?”, “Tales of the New Teen Titans” and “A Day in the Lives…” could easily be compressed and adapted into a trilogy of films with a clear beginning, middle and end that follow the transitions of Grayson, West and Troy, the origins of the team as well of the introduction, betrayal and death of Terra.
Not only would a film series help legitimize the sidekicks to non-fans, but it would also increase the profile of characters who are not as popular as Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman and wouldn’t have been likely to receive films of their own.
Corsair and the Starjammers
This is a no-brainer, honestly. With the sudden and surprising success of Guardians of the Galaxy, a space-pirate adventure series connected to the resurgent X-Men film series is something that could be an easy (if derivative) success.
To those unfamiliar, the backstory is this: Corsair and the Starjammers are space pirates/mercenaries. Corsair himself is the father of X-Men’s Cyclops who was abducted by aliens called the Shi’ar. With his wife murdered and believing his sons dead, Christopher Summers became Corsair, escaped the pits with his fellow slaves and declared a personal vendetta against the Shi’ar, particularly D’Ken, the mad emperor that attempted to rape, and eventually killed Corsair’s wife. Things become more complicated as these rag-tag survivors form friendships with each other, explore the complexities of Shi’ar politics, and Corsair begins to fall in love with Hepzibah.
The Shi’ar are also highly involved with the regular X-Men continuity; Professor Xavier is in love Lilandra who is D’Ken’s sister, and Cyclops and Corsair eventually reunite. By adding this to the number of spin-off stories Sony is attempting to grow out of its X-Men franchise, they could piggy-back not only on the success of Guardians but also use it as a connecting piece to the greater X-Men portrait, giving it a greater scope than fans of the series know it to have.
The themes themselves are contemporary: missing fathers and lost sons, vicious despots, and finding salvation through pain can ground the usually space-faring series into something audiences can easily identify with.
In short, the series can be sold with this equation: Indiana Jones + lasers = Corsair and the Starjammers.
Specifically, I’m thinking of Gail Simone’s Secret Six. The team — comprised of Scandal Savage, Knockout, Bane, Deadshot, Catman, Banshee/Jeannette, Cheshire and Rag Doll. Yes, despite being called The Secret Six, there are rarely six of them on the team.
From 2008-2011, this was one of the strangest and most subversive titles on the market. It had a real indie feel because of it, and was really against the grain as far as something that the Big Two (DC and Marvel) might publish.
The team is comprised of a group of villainous mercenaries, doing awful jobs for awful people – everything from kidnapping to assassinations. They work for despots, slave traders, supervillains and various other sociopaths. Shunned by both the Justice League and the Society of Supervillains, the Six are cast offs of both heaven and hell (they literally visit the latter dimension in the series) and have to rely on each other to survive, which would be more than enough plot for anyone, but Simone takes it a step further: everyone on this team either hates each other or borders true nihilistic indifference. Known for its surprising amount of blood, nudity and pitch black humor, the series was a critical darling just for being as bizarre as it was.
In order for this to work, the film would have to be rated-R, just for the perversions and paraphilia explored and epitomized by Rag Doll. The fact that the heroes of the film are actually the villains — almost none of them have an iota of kindness yet remain strangely compelling even as they almost never do a single moral thing — will make it unique to moviegoers who are probably tired of the standard superhero fare. At the story’s core we can see that several of these characters have a desire to rejoin society, earn some level of redemption, but in their many acts of moral bankruptcy juxtaposed against the true face of society at large, remain unchanged decide to exist outside the system. There’s no true redemption, just the next mission for the next profit. It’s stark and sad and compelling. And often strangely hysterical.
These last two aren’t in the superhero genre, but are graphic novels all the same. La Perdida was written and drawn by Jessica Abel and follows the story of Carla, a Mexican-American women who lives in Mexico as an expat with the intention of finding her culture and a stable identity. The story has a form of proto-hipster attitude to it, though the young Carla’s search for self-understanding is universal. Though living in the expat area, Carla eventually leaves it to find the authentic Mexico and discover the culture for herself. Along the way are unbiased observations of the culture Carla has immersed herself in — the good and the bad — though the main thrust of the story is the search for identity and the problems therein. It’s a character piece more than anything, and though very specific to the Mexican culture and Carla’s exploration, it’s the journey and the questions Abel poses that are infinitely identifiable and compelling. It’s dialogue-heavy, poppy, smart and self-aware, though thankfully doesn’t overstate itself or drown in melodrama that so many stories of its stripe often do.
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was adapted as a musical that ran off Broadway for the last two years. As a film, however, it has languished in development hell even longer than X-Files 3. Fun Home is a memoir and a biography rolled into one, of Bechdel herself and of her father, a curious and mysterious man whose life and death raised questions that threatened to overtake the family long after he was gone. While truths are unearthed, there seems little to be done with the answers, as the traumas and tragedies still exist, and sometimes lead to greater questions. Bechdel very well could have made this a woe-is-me type story, something that lambasts her father for his selfishness, yet she never judges. She lists the details as if they’re happening for the first time, as if she’s still trying to figure it all out and maybe she is, and each scene is written with the humor, anger, adoration and confusion needed for that moment. It’s a very giving story, one about missed connections and things left undone.
Fun Home could have easily found itself on the screen by now yet hasn’t for reasons I am unclear on. Its visuals and details are generated with an auteur’s eye and developed with a rich and complex patois.
These final two entries are not necessarily ready for a screen adaptation because for reasons you’ll see, they probably wouldn’t work in another medium. Regardless, they are powerful works that deserve a broader audience; perhaps in animation the way Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis was adapted.
Art Spiegelman’s Maus
Maus is the story of Spiegelman’s father before, during and after the Holocaust. The conceit, which borders on gimmick (though somehow renders the proceedings just as powerful), finds everyone in the story as anthropomorphized animals. Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Americans are dogs, etc. It was controversial for a number of reasons I won’t go into here, but stands as a very personal story about the Holocaust from the words of a man who lived through it and the son who was greatly affected after. Maus makes the experience a generational one, something to be carried so it’s not to be forgotten.
It’s unlikely the novel will see an adaptation. In live action, it would look ridiculous, and ignoring the gimmick would somehow rob it of a large piece of its identity. As above, it would probably be better served in animation as a mini-series airing on HBO or Showtime where censors can’t greedily and dumbly extract the horrors of reality.
Dean Trippe’s Something Terrible
Something Terrible is a strange little case. The story is a scant eighteen pages and has very little dialogue. It’s unforgettable and tragic and powerful, which not only speaks to Trippe’s talent but also to the horrific nature of this true story. It’s the story of Trippe himself, who as a boy was repeatedly raped by a teenager over the course of three days. In Something Terrible, Trippe spares us the act and focuses on the aftermath, which may actually be worse. Trippe takes solace in fiction after this — in comics, sci-fi, in adventures with grand and heroic figures. Batman in particular, for obvious reasons, resonates with him, and it’s through these stories of escapism and wish fulfillment that Trippe find the strength to carry on, to keep the fear from overtaking him, and the belief that there can be a world where cycles are broken and things can get better.
The length of the story does not exactly make it suitable for a film, though that doesn’t mean it couldn’t or shouldn’t be made into an animated short. Something Terrible is something important, not only for victims of abuse or fans of pop culture, but also for people as a whole. Like Maus, this deserves more attention.