If you’re a fan of comic books, superheroes, or movies of the same, then you know their future in the film industry is so bright, they gotta wear shades. Comic book movies aren’t going away any time soon, with a schedule of films in development that will carry us well into 2017 at the very least. Case in point: There will be four Marvel properties on the big screen in 2014 alone.
So far, the big studios have focused on the big names (anything with ‘-man’ as a suffix, basically), with a few exceptions (Kick-Ass, Dark Horse properties, the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy). And it makes sense. Bridging the gap from the niche industry to a mainstream audience was initially made easier because the characters and stories were ones with which even the most comic-clueless had at least a passing familiarity. You’d be hard-pressed to find a moviegoer, no matter what demographic, who doesn’t know the basic origin stories of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, even Wolverine now, and what they’re all about. But with the inundation of comic book-based films on screen, most audiences have a greater appreciation for the genre, and are now more open to investing in the stories of lesser-known superheroes and mutants. And with the industry growing and growing, eventually, the studios will have to develop more niche properties if they want to keep the superhero movie train rolling down the Hollywood tracks.
The question is, what lesser-known superheroes, villains, or mutants should the studios focus on? Fans have argued over this for years. But with room at the box office for (almost) everybody and no end in sight to comic book movies, the debate rages on. So now it’s my turn. I present to you my choice of the five properties that need to be adapted for the big screen.
WHY: We’ve already seen an iteration of Venom on screen, but 2007’s Spider-Man 3 was a complete waste of what has been one of the most memorable characters in the entirety of Marvel’s publication history. The third installment of Sam Raimi‘s trilogy was infamously hijacked by Sony studio execs (notably Avi Arad), who forced the director to shoehorn both the Gwen Stacy and Eddie Brock/Venom storylines into an already mostly-finished script. As a result, neither the alien symbiote, nor its host, Brock, ever got the origin story or the time for badassery each deserved.
The nasty supervillain’s total on-screen time? About 4 minutes. That is a world of hell no that needs to be rectified immediately. Luckily, there have been faint flickers of a pulse in the mostly-dead carcass of a solo Venom film, with the producers dropping hints there might be something in the works for 2018. Heavy emphasis on might.
Josh Trank has been attached to direct, and the initial script, written by Jacob Aaron Estes, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick will find the Flash Thompson version of Venom as a troubled antihero battling to stay in control of the alien symbiote long enough to defeat its malevolent spawn, Carnage. Done correctly, this could be a twisted, dark sort of super-antihero story along the lines of Spawn or Deadpool, but with modern CGI that could make for transformation sequences as compelling and eyeball-popping as anything on screen right now.
WHO: The Umbrella Academy
WHY: Imagine a film that had the darkly humorous, otherworldly feel of a Neil Gaiman work with the sepia-tinged overtones of the steampunk aesthetic and a sprinkle of the gothic weirdness of Edward Gorey. That is what an Umbrella Academy film could be, if handled correctly. While a movie adaptation of the critically-acclaimed, but lesser-known series would probably not be a megabucks box office blockbuster, it would definitely have the potential to become the cultish kind of film that would be the perfect sort of launch pad for the careers of as-yet-unknown actors and actresses.
The first run of the series was the 2008 Eisner Award winner for the Best Finite Series/Limited Series. In other words, it won the comic book industry equivalent of an Oscar during its first year of publication. The story is rich and layered, and the oddball characters that comprise The Umbrella Academy never once fall into the trap of becoming two-dimensional stereotypes. While the majority of superheroes, with their perfect bodies and perfect faces, can sometimes be hard for readers to relate to, the Hargreeves clan is odd, flawed, sometimes quirky, sometimes monstrous.
And here’s a fact that might surprise you: Gerard Way is both the creator and writer of the series. If you think that name sounds familiar, it should. He was the lead singer of the band My Chemical Romance until they split in March of this year. So consider this series the anthem for all the teens and misfits who can’t quite relate to Captain America and Superman’s squeaky clean personalities and bulging pecs, Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark’s billions, or Catwoman and Black Widow’s perfect bodies and flawless faces. The real freaks and geeks deserve a movie they can rally around, too. This is it.
WHY: Do you know what mythical creatures have been the most terrifying, enduring monster myth of humankind? Vampires. Know what’s been completely destroyed by Stephenie Meyer and ridiculous oversaturation? Vampires. That could change with a Morbius adaptation. At heart, Dr. Michael Morbius is a truly tragic figure: A brilliant, Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, he accidentally turns himself into a living vampire (or “vampire-ish” as he calls himself) while researching a cure for his rare blood disease. He struggles more mightily than perhaps any other Marvel hero or villain with the darkness within, in Morbius’ case, his constant and unrelenting bloodlust. He’s a deeply flawed character, but a noble one, who had been tireless in trying to do good for the world until his accident, when things just went horribly wrong and continued to get worse. Both adversary and ally most commonly to Spider-Man, he is the dark equivalent of Peter Parker, who, likewise, can’t seem to catch a break. Everything he does, even the criminal, is rooted somehow in a noble seed, even if it becomes twisted.
A Morbius film, particularly if the scriptwriters follow the current story arc of the hero-villain, would be something that’s as much a supernatural horror film as it would be a superhero one. Morbius may have redeeming moments, but he is a monster with an inner primal beast who has slaughtered many, brutally and without remorse (the guilt comes after the fact), and there is a sea of blood in his wake. He has some unbearable sins to atone for, perhaps sins that can’t be absolved, and a movie based on the vampiric beast could easily, interestingly, be rated R. Despite this, there’s a vein of humor and a fleetness to Morbius that one wouldn’t expect, taking his tragic situation and viewing it through the lens of wry, sardonic humor.
What’s more, for a time, Morbius teamed up with Blade (out of necessity), Ghost Rider, and Man-Thing to form the unfortunately short-lived Legion of Monsters. With Marvel regaining the rights to both Blade and Ghost Rider, along with already having that of Morbius and Man-Thing, there’s no time like the present for that Blade Reboot or even a Ghost Rider Reboot, which would be the perfect set up a Legion of Monsters movie. A Marvel Monsters counterpart to the world being built on-screen by the Avengers? Yes, please.
WHO: Luke Cage
WHY: Really? Do we really need a “why” we want to see the hero for hire on the big screen? With all due respect to African prince Black Panther, Luke Cage is where it’s at. Among the rumored Marvel properties in development, a Luke Cage adaptation is right up there with the rest of them. That he’s not been on screen in a major role in any of the Marvel films of the last decade is mind-boggling, considering he’s been affiliated with a number of major superhero teams in Marvel’s canon, most notably the Avengers and Fantastic Four.
A Luke Cage film could be a roundhouse kicking dose of badassery that we need, a straightforward, no-holds-barred action flick that does the combat skills of the street-savvy superhero justice. He has a level of toughness and street smarts that the heroes we’ve seen on screen for The Avengers (so far) don’t possess, as well as constantly bringing a level of social awareness and issues to his storylines that has sometimes been lacking in the stories of other superheroes.
Just imagine what could happen if a great script were put in the hands of the right director. An action flick, it could be, but think of the possibilities of a film that had someone like, say, Quentin Tarantino on board, or up-and-coming director Steve McQueen, both auteurs in their own way who would do the social commentary of the source material justice. So yes, it could be a hugely entertaining film, but also one that has more to say and holds more depth than one might expect from a B-level superhero flick.
WHO: Harley Quinn
WHY: Forget Wonder Woman or even Ms. Marvel, the comic book female I want to see on screen most is supervillain Harley Quinn. The Great DC Debacle Week (that’s what I’ve named it in my head) drew far more widespread, negative attention to the unhinged villain than DC anticipated, which is really a shame, considering the character is one of DC’s most colorful and fascinating. One part sex appeal, one part playful, and about five parts crazy, she started out as Arkham Asylum psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel, but in a weird Florence Nightingale effect scenario, fell for the Joker, went insane, and gave up her medical career for a life of crime.
But make no mistake, she is no mere foil, not a cute little helpmate to Batman’s arch-nemesis. She is legitimately psychotic, as crazy and brutally violent as her partner, and generally exhibits a complete disregard for human life or any sort of moral code. Yet, in keeping with that unpredictability, she has also been known to exhibit unexpected moments of compassion, murky moments of humanity that leave you wondering if she truly has retained a bit of her soul, if she decided it on a whim, or if staying her hand furthers her own agenda.
The only two real relationships she has in her life (her romance with the Joker and friendship with Poison Ivy) are just as unstable as the chemicals in her brain. Other than her lover, Poison Ivy is the only person on earth Harley feels any loyalty to, and the pair have worked together throughout Harley’s career as a supervillain. Her relationship with the Joker is a whole other level of f**ked up, however, a mutually destructive amour fou in which each has tried to kill the other at least as many times as they’ve loved. In their life, love and hate are the same thing, and when the end comes for them, as it always inevitably does, it will probably be with both of their hands wrapped around each other’s neck. Now tell me that’s a dynamic you wouldn’t want to see played out on screen.
Don’t agree with me? Our own Will of Will’s War fame certainly does:
Upon reviewing my list, it seems I apparently have a soft spot for antiheroes and lunatics. I’m sure most of you reading will argue my choices and offer some of your own. Still, I stand firmly by my choices. They’re not all the most well-known of the comic book world’s characters, and we have yet to see a comic book film with the villain as the protagonist. Yet, these five properties have the potential, whether through their own innate, quirky uniqueness, to being able to say something more than just “superhero fights bad guy”, to presenting the world of comic books through a villain’s eyes, to be adapted into five truly great films that can broaden the scope and reach of comic book films to come.
Around the web: