By Ben Smith
In honor of my all-time favorite comic book team, the Guardians of the Galaxy, who are inexplicably starring in their own major motion picture, I've decided to embark on a quest to reveal the 5 most deserving superhero concepts in need of a big screen adaptation. As a lifelong comic book fan, nobody has enjoyed this golden age of superhero movies more than me. As a little boy, I never could have dreamed I’d one day be watching an Avengers movie, much less a movie starring Rocket Raccoon.
For the purposes of this list, I will not be covering projects already in development, so characters such as Black Panther, Ant-Man, Dr Strange, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Iron Fist will not be discussed, no matter how much I love them (especially Iron Fist and Ant-Man).
No, the glorious goal of this (destined to be) monumental list is to uncover the hidden gems in the annals of comicdom that would translate easily and expertly to live action. Much like the aforementioned Guardians of the Galaxy, this won’t be the obvious characters that everybody already knows, but instead the so-called lower tier characters that sometimes lend themselves to more daring and experimental approaches to storytelling, thereby making fans of those comics all the more passionate and devoted to them.
It's an admirable goal, as far as lists go, and I hope to not fail you. Let us begin.
Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's series about a team of celebrity mutants that filmed their battles for a reality TV show, was ahead of its time and is brilliantly complex. Like the Guardians of the Galaxy, its unique blend of comedy, drama, and action is ready-made for a big budget popcorn movie. It has equally absurd characters on the level of a Rocket Raccoon, like my beloved Doop, along with flawed anti-heroes like U Go Girl and The Anarchist. Originally taking over the X-Force comic book series before getting their own X-Statix comic, it's one of the funniest comics ever made, with its satire of the (at the time) burgeoning reality television phenomenon, and the faux celebrity culture that comes along with it. It's also one of the few comics to nearly bring my robot soul to tears, after the death of a major character later in the series. The popularity of the X-Men movie franchise could only help make a potential X-Statix project a rousing success. They could maybe even swing a Wolverine cameo, just like the comic.
Recommended reading: X-Force #116 - 129
THE LEGION OF SUPERHEROES
At one time one of the most popular comics being published by DC, the Legion has fallen on hard times in the decades since. Set 1000 years in the future of Metropolis, teenaged aliens with powers unique to their species, and inspired by the legend of Superman, decide to band together as a team of heroes to fight the forces of evil. In the first appearance of the Legion, team founders Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl travel back in time to meet Superboy, in an effort to recruit him into the Legion of Superheroes. In subsequent appearances, more team members were introduced, and they became popular enough to headline their own stories, and eventually their very own comic. Because of the futuristic setting, the Legion was one of the first superhero comics where the characters aged, got married, died (and stayed dead), and had a long-running continuity that carried over from comic to comic, which was not common for comics of the time. Eventually, the Legion comic would be one of the top sellers for DC comics in the ‘80s, before multiple reboots changing the history of the team and the characters would make the book to confusing and intimidating for anyone but the most devoted of readers. Much like the X-Men, the Legion boasts a roster of strong female characters, including the telepath Saturn Girl, the beautiful Dawnstar with her tracking powers, the precog Dream Girl, and Shadow Lass, who can surround herself and others around her in fields of darkness. The rest of the team is filled with characters like Cosmic Boy with his powers of magnetism, Lightning Lad and his power to (surprise) shoot lightning from this hands, the size changing Colossal Boy, the shapeshifting Chameleon, and my personal all-time favorite DC character, the uber-genius Brainiac 5. They’re basically the X-Men set in the far future, with time travel and Superman, which should basically be a recipe for printing money.
Recommended reading: Action Comics #858 - 863
A satirical comic book series from the mind of (my favorite comic book writer) Warren Ellis and artist Stuart Immonen, Nextwave was simply hilarious from beginning to end. Whether battling Dirk Anger and the Agents of H.A.T.E., a giant green dragon wearing purple pants, or a red dinosaur in a smoking jacket, this comic series never failed to deliver on the laughs. Much like the Guardians (I know, I know I keep mentioning them, but they’re my favorite team okay) they took little used characters from previous comics and brought them together in a new team, mixed in high comedy and exciting action, and created great yet underappreciated stories. Team members included former Avenger Monica Rambeau, the foul-mouthed android Machine Man (think Bender from Futurama), the mutant Boom-Boom, Captain **** (you can imagine for yourself what expletive the censored letters might spell), and monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone. Elsa Bloodstone, in particular, was a stand-out, after previously starring in her own mini-series as a blatant attempt to copy the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with no success. Ellis reinvented her as a hard-nosed smartass, always ready with a sarcastic comment while in the middle of kicking much ass. Frankly, if I didn’t have you hooked after red tyrannosaurus rex in a smoking jacket with pipe, this isn’t going to be the list for you.
Recommended reading: Nextwave Agents of Hate #1 - 12
The Metal Men is one of the few comics DC was producing in the 1960s that I still find incredibly enjoyable to read today. While Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko were reinventing the superhero comic over at Marvel (DC may have started the process by revamping The Flash and Green Lantern, among others, but Marvel took it to another level) DC was producing mostly bland fare that hasn’t aged well at all. The Metal Men is the exception to that very generalized rule. The Metal Men were advanced intelligent robots created by Dr Will Magnus, each with powers and personalities relative to their namesake metal. For example, Mercury is liquid at room temperature, and can melt and squeeze through small spaces. Gold is the leader of the team and can stretch his body like Plastic Man. Iron is the strongest of the group. Lead is the least intelligent of the characters, but his thick lead body makes for a good shield against radiations and lasers. Tin is the smallest and weakest metal, and is very self-conscious about it. Platinum is the female of the group, and can stretch or spin into long filaments. Platinum also provides the most entertainment, as she continuously maintains a crush on their creator, with him repeatedly spurning her advances. Not only do they have wacky adventures against absurd villains and monsters, they spend the whole time bickering, and the writers would even sneak scientific facts about the metals into the stories. Educational and entertaining, with wacky robots and giant evil manta rays to boot. What’s not to love?
Recommended reading: DC Archive Editions: Metal Men
This might make even the most seasoned comic book fan do a double take, but Rom: Spaceknight was a deceptively entertaining comic book series. The character was licensed from and based on a Parker Brothers robot toy, one of the first in the new field of electronic toys. While the toy was ultimately unsuccessful, the comic ran for 75 issues over seven years. Most comic fans might dismiss it as nothing but a toy comic, but writer Bill Mantlo took a blank slate toy robot and turned it into a incredibly engaging space epic. Rom is an android hero created on his home planet of Galador to battle the Dire Wraiths, villainous shape-shifting aliens that invaded their planet. Along with other Spaceknights, they track the Dire Wraiths across the galaxy, in order to banish them to a limbo dimension using their specialized weapons. Rom tracks the Wraiths to Earth, where they are posing as ordinary humans, and he meets a woman named Brandy, who he quickly falls in love with. Since only he can see the Wraiths true forms, to regular humans he looks like a hostile alien invader randomly atomizing human beings, instead of banishing evil aliens to limbo. Those elements of being feared and misunderstood echo the X-Men, while adding space-faring action, and the element of unrequited love between Rom and Brandy. Only when his mission is complete can he return to his body and regain his humanity. The concept proved so popular that The Dire Wraiths appeared in other Marvel comics like the X-Men and Spider-Man, and still appear to this very day in books like Guardians of the Galaxy (I had to get in one more reference). Unfortunately, Marvel’s license to use the character of Rom has long since expired, but I can’t imagine it would cost them that much money to regain the rights.
Recommended reading: Rom: Spaceknight #1
There you have it. Hopefully my list delighted and intrigued you, and maybe even inspired you to seek out some of these comics to read on your very own. Anything I can do to spread my love of comic books, and these characters in particular, is a distinct joy of mine, and I consider it to be the primary reason I exist (despite what my wife and kids might tell you).
If you enjoyed this, feel free to let me know, and you can follow me weekly at www.comicscube.com, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/comicscube.