Monthly Archives: October 2016

Three graphic novels that SHOULDN’T be movies

So last time I talked about some comics/graphic novels that I really, really want to see as movies. Like, if they film Atomic Robo: The Savage Sword of Doctor Dinosaur? I will be at that theatre every day. Cinematic obsession unseen since my “Who hasn’t seen Inception yet” days. This time, we’re gonna look at comic stories that I don’t– well it’s all there in the title.

But this is not a hate blog. I’m not going to just rant about hating World War Hulk. Nobody wants that. Probably. Doesn’t sound like fun. No, I’m going to try the trickier path. See, I love comics, I love movies, and the overlap of that there Venn diagram is a big part of my DVD/Blu-ray collection (larger than James Bond, about par with “shows canceled too soon by Fox”). But it doesn’t always work. And I’m not talking about the ones that are just done really, really badly, your Steels and your Batman and Robins and anything, anything featuring the Fantastic Four. Batman and Robin may be irredeemably bad, but it doesn’t mean that movies starring Batman can’t work. We know that they can. No, I’m talking about when the source material just doesn’t work as a two-hour motion picture.

Examples: I haven’t actually seen The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, because in 2003 I didn’t hate myself enough, but if I had to guess what went wrong, said guess would begin when “lack of understanding of the source material” locked eyes with “comic book movies need to be action packed thrill rides” across a crowded room, and, well, that’s how car chases through the non-existent streets of Venice are born (it is alleys and canals, people, no one is driving cars anywhere). There is a way to adapt League of Extraordinary Gentlemen well, but it’s been done and it’s called Penny Dreadful. Watchmen did a decent job of adapting the story beats and visuals of the graphic novel to the screen, but not any of the deconstruction of the genre and the actual medium that made Watchmen a classic. V For Vendetta did its best, but there is just no way to fit the entire complicated game of dominoes that is V’s revenge plan into two hours, so they lobotomized it more than I was happy with.

He didn’t just want to kill the Leader, he wanted to reduce the entire system the Leader created to rubble, and– no, no, not why I’m here.

So here’s some stories that I love, but which should not be live action movies.

1. Hack/Slash

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Cassie Hack was a shy, unpopular, dorky girl until her mother, the lunch lady, started killing her bullies, committed suicide after Cassie turned her in, and then came back from the dead and started killing kids again, forcing Cassie to re-kill her. From there, Cassie went on the road, hunting and killing as many “slashers” (undead horror movie murder machines) as she could. While hunting a rumoured slasher known as the Chicago Meat Man, she met Vlad, a disfigured, massively strong, but kind and caring man who became her closest friend and ally. The comic, created, written, and occasionally drawn by Tim Seeley gained enough street cred as a concept that they scored several crossovers with actual horror movie villains Chucky (Child’s Play), Victor Crowley (Hatchet), and Herbert West (Reanimator), the last of which hit some publishing difficulties but found a neat way to tie West into the slasher mythology. Cassie also became an official Suicide Girl, in a cross-promotion featuring a one-shot where Cassie joined the Suicide Girls to hunt a killer living on the ‘net, and an SG “pictorial” of Cassie drawn by Tim Seeley.

Why not a movie?

See, before my last blog went over 2000 words talking about three things, I was thinking about including it as a comic that should be a movie, but… feels like it might turn out a little basic, you know? Unless you start with the Lunch Lady (and please, god, don’t make an entire Hack/Slash movie about Cassie’s teen years, we want the ass-kicking goth girl), it’s one act of setting up the concept, one act of setting up the latest slasher, and a climax. It’s not… big enough for what comic book movies need to be these days, and I’d hate to see it get steamrolled by the Marvel Machine.

So what could it be?

Years back Hack/Slash was moving towards a movie, something they were confident enough about to plaster “In development for a major motion picture” on the cover of the comic issues for a spell, but it never materialized. The new rumour is one I like better… a possible TV show.

Hack/Slash is a series one-off arcs featuring various monsters, in which a larger plot begins to loom involving the origins of the slashers and the coming monster apocalypse led by the slasher messiah, Samhain. So, cases of the week with a larger, serialized narrative running underneath. Not only is that my jam, apparently, but it’s the model for nearly every cable drama out there, and some network shows as well.

Some great ones.

Some great ones.

Now, a network might not be the answer, nor the basic cable world, because Hack/Slash embraced the violence, gore, and sex of the horror genre as much as the comic book industry would allow. Like most of American society, comic books are fine with violence, love sex, but are terrified of nudity. I’m certainly not saying Hack/Slash needs to be a gore ‘n’ boob fest like Game of Thrones… Winona Earp did okay saying “We’re adapting the character, but she gets to wear a full shirt and pants.” Cassie Hack can still be Cassie Hack if they give her more to wear than a miniskirt and a mesh top. But they should not be on any network that is going to blanch at the tropes that the horror genre is built on.

In short, it doesn’t need to be Game of Thrones, but it should be somewhere between Supernatural and Penny Dreadful. So we’re looking at Showtime or HBO’s slutty kid brother, Starz.

Now if only I had that sort of control over network decisions. Because I’d love to see this show, but I’ve been hurt before when pilots didn’t get picked up.

2. Barry Ween: Boy Genius

barry_ween2

Barry Ween, age ten, is the smartest human being to have ever lived. He began experimenting and inventing as soon as his body developed the motor skills necessary to wield a soldering iron. Currently, he and his best friend Jeremy get in adventures involving aliens, secret government agencies, sasquatches, transdimensional telepathic apes… but mostly the consequences of Barry’s experiments.

I. Love. Barry Ween. It’s hilarious, it’s got a surprising amount of heart, and Barry’s foul-mouthed boy genius (though it’s earned… when you’ve accidentally knocked the Earth off its axis, a “Fuck. Hope you brought a jacket,” is the right response) is a character like no other.

But please never make a live action movie out of it.

Why not a movie?

Because the second you cast an actual ten-year-old as Barry you’re either making something kid friendly like Spy Kids or shooting for shock value like Bad Santa. And I don’t dislike either of those movies… I actually quite liked Bad Santa back in the day… but neither of them is Barry Ween. Barry swears and, when necessary, kills more than a kids’ flick would allow, but not enough to be called shock comedy. Plus, I don’t want to watch Barry hit puberty in the sequel. Creator/writer/artist Judd Winnick kept Barry and Jeremy at age ten for all three miniseries and it worked just fine.

So what could it be?

You know what I don’t get about this live-action Lion King movie they’re working on? Other than why it exists given that the original is readily available and the stage version tours constantly? Why they’re calling it “live action.” What percentage of that movie isn’t going to be CG? Is it… none? None percent? No, I suspect that they’re calling it “live action” because there’s a perception that live action is better and more bankable than animation, despite the fact that Pixar and Dreamworks exist.

An animated Barry Ween? Now that would be fun. And it wouldn’t cost millions of dollars to turn Jeremy into a dinosaur with an afro (yes, that happened). There isn’t a big market for R-rated animation, something Sausage Party didn’t do a lot to help… but without the budget that live-action blockbusters require… how much does Pixar spend, let’s see… Finding Dory cost $200 million? Jesus Christ.

Okay, so, probably not going to spend that much to make Sausage Party money. But you know where more R-rated animation is thriving? At the risk of repeating myself, television. Archer, BoJack Horseman, Rick and Morty, F is For Family… sure, some of these are still more PG-13 (Archer will show butts and say “shit” but that’s where they draw the line; BoJack Horseman wisely avoids any sort of nudity and limits itself to one “fuck” per season, always from a friend he’s betrayed), save for F is For Family and Rick and Morty’s uncensored DVD, but it’s a better fit. Especially given that Barry’s adventures tend to be single-issue stories, and the one big multi-part would work better as a season premiere/finale kind of deal, rather than one single film.

Also I’m now a little bit enamored with the idea of a Barry Ween/Rick and Morty crossover. Rick and Barry are both irritable geniuses who invent and experiment more to keep busy than for any grand purpose, they each have a clueless kid sidekick who sometimes drags them down a nobler path which sometimes causes bigger problems, and alcoholic, misanthropic, possible galactic super-villain Rick Sanchez might be everything Barry’s afraid of turning into… or worse, might be his best-case scenario.

3. Transmetropolitan

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This might seem like cheating. I’ve already talked about a TV show based on Warren Ellis’ excellent graphic novel Transmetropolitan. But I’m going a different way this time because I already suggested two TV shows. I mean, I was going to say Barry Ween should be an animated movie, but talked myself out of it…

Quick summary for those who don’t recall/weren’t with us… in the slightly distant future, Transmetropolitan is about journalist Spider Jerusalem, who is dragged out of seclusion in the mountains due to obligations to his book publisher, and ends up devoting one of his books to the impending presidential election between incumbent the Beast, whose election drove Spider into the mountains in the first place, and the Smiler, who seems a more benevolent leader but whose smile hides a dark side.

Why not a movie?

There’s no way to condense the weaving, trippy, future sci-fi/political into two hours. There is not. Not even six hours if you did a trilogy, and you shouldn’t plan it as a trilogy because your first movie needs to be self-contained, god damn it. Don’t spend a chunk of your movie setting up a sequel you might not get. Looking at you, Independence Day: Resurgence. Twenty years since the last movie and you don’t tell a complete story? Fuck you and everyone who greenlit you.

Sorry, got distracted there.

So no, there is too much story for a movie. Which is why I was pitching it as a series back when. But…

So what could it be?

Transmetropolitan would be an expensive film or TV project for anyone, given that it takes place in a future that is both scarily familiar and entirely alien. Alien enough that there’s an issue devoted to how people who are woken up from cryogenic suspension can’t adapt and end up homeless. So as fond as I once was of the idea of Transmet for television, it would require so much green screening that it would make Attack of the Clones look like Mission: Impossible.

Because it’s… Mission: Impossible uses mostly practical effects, and… look it made sense to me.

A major part of Transmet is Spider Jerusalem’s prose. Storylines are narrated by excerpts from Spider’s articles. They put out at least one special issue that was a compilation of Spider’s articles. So there is one growing medium where it would fit right in… podcasts.

Yeah, okay, you got me, podcasts do kind of seem like what celebrities do when nothing else is working out for them, but narrative podcasts can be a lot of fun. Look at the growing network of Nightvale Presents… not just Welcome to Nightvale, with its biweekly tales of bizarre horror besetting a small desert town, but also Alice Isn’t Dead (performed by Fringe’s Jasika Nicole), and Within the Wires. Get the right voice as Spider, maybe bring in the odd guest star like Welcome to Nightvale does, and you’ve got a great

Tell the Transmet story through Spider’s articles. Or a mixture of articles and journal entries. Get the right voice as Spider maybe something in a Dean Winters or Will Arnett, maybe bring in the odd guest star like Welcome to Nightvale does, and you’ve got a great listen. Sure, it won’t last indefinitely, but nothing does.

Wow. Way to end on a down note. Let’s not do that next time…

Three graphic novels that should be movies by now

Funny how a disappointing theatrical tour, three script projects, and some anxiety about turning f… four… thirty-ten can really make you forget you have a blog, huh? Mostly those first two things. I meant to blog about the tour but what creative energies I had in the humid Ontario summer were devoted to that pantomime play I was supposed to be writing… then to the new webseries I want to film… then to a stage play, because damn it that’s still a thing I do. Add that to the script for our Fringe show, and you get quite the full year, writing-wise.

But hey, this still exists, and I still have thoughts on stuff, so, in the words of John Wick, yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.

To my topic for today, then.

I think we all know that comic book movies are the hot ticket at the box office and on the varying things we call “television” these days (streaming services are pretty different from the way TV worked for its first half-century, you must admit). Superhero movies are popular enough that in a year where nearly everything got clobbered at the box office, from cartoon adaptations to long-delayed sequels to popular 90s movies (hey, that worked like gangbusters last year) to the few actually, legitimately fun summer flicks (that admittedly were a sequel and an ill-advised reboot that still worked out okay), only two types of movies seemed to be golden tickets: Disney/Pixar cartoons (or adaptations thereof), and superheroes. Not just Civil War and Deadpool, either. Even superhero movies met with hatred from critics and… um… all of my friends, apparently… did huge box office numbers. (For the record, yes I am planning to get the extended cut of Suicide Squad, I’m hoping its closer to David Ayers’ vision and further from the vision of the editing firm that made a good trailer and then somehow got asked to do the final cut of the movie based on that.)

(Okay there was one mild exception, and it remains to be seen how Dr. Strange will fare, but still.)

As a result, studios are scrambling to find comic book stories to get onto the screen. Marvel scraped most of the underwritten suck off of their popular but narratively weak event book, Civil War, keeping only the basic premise (people want superheros to stop running around all willy-nilly, Captain America says “Nuh uh,” Iron Man says “Yuh huh,” they fight) and spinning it into one of their better movies. Though one I want to talk about later. On the TV side, The Flash did their own spin on the universe-rewriting book Flashpoint (“How much can we use? Flash going back in time and there being consequences? That’s literally it? Okay, well, let’s go for it.”), Jessica Jones jumped straight to the climax of her debut book, Alias, and Agents of SHIELD is mixing things up by introducing the least cool, least interesting, least popular character ever to use the name Ghost Rider.

He doesn’t even ride a motorcycle, for gods’ sake. How am I supposed to get excited about this.

But there is a dark side to this story mining. Batman V Superman leaned a little heavily on Frank Miller’s work with the character, something he’s spent the last 15 years warning people not to do by morphing into a depressing parody of himself. And the internet will just not stop throwing around speculation that Marvel’s moving towards a Planet Hulk movie, something I really, really wish people would give up on, not because of dislike for Planet Hulk specifically (although why do a Hulk movie in with that little non-CGI Mark Ruffalo), since I didn’t read it, but because Planet Hulk led to World War Hulk, and World War Hulk was a garbage fire. Seriously, you’d have trouble filling 20 minutes with what they laughably called a “plot” in that book.

So here’s some graphic novels that should be movies but somehow aren’t. No, not all of them are superhero stories. A comic book movie doesn’t need capes to be the best thing ever.

1. Queen and Country

Art by Tim Sale

Art by Tim Sale

Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country comics (and three novels) tell the stories of Tara Chace, operative for the Special Operations Section of MI6. In short, she’s a spy and sometimes assassin for the British government. The series blended the intense spy action of an operative on a mission in hostile territory with the more real-world bureaucracy intelligence agencies face: red tape from above, inter-agency tensions, the favours that need to be traded to get the better-funded Americans to give up intel. And Rucka managed to make both sides work as engaging stories.

Why a movie?

Look at what Sam Mendes did with the opening sequences of the last two Bond movies and tell me you couldn’t great an excellent sequence out of the first issue of Q&C: in London, the Operations staff wait for confirmation a Russian general turned operative for the Russian mob is in the country they heard he’d be in so that half a world away, Tara can pull the trigger on her first assassination. She takes the shot, gets clipped by his security, and must get away from her pursuers and across the border with a purloined burqa, a well-used car, fake identity papers, and in a clever move to keep the border guard from looking too closely at her forged passport, an “accidentally” dropped nude photo and an embarrassed smile. Try to pull that one off, Jason Bourne.

This all leads to her being used as bait by MI5 (the FBI to MI6’s CIA) when her target’s people come to London for payback… while being forbidden to use a gun because MI6 operatives can’t carry within the UK. Maybe you don’t quite have a movie there, but you are on your way to at least a Sicario’s worth.

The push continues for female led action movies, within the comic genre and without. Look at the undying fandom for Agent Carter. Tara Chace is a female James Bond, more grounded and with less style but more swagger, and freed of the “But is he still relevant outside of the Cold War” think pieces that plague Bond, as she and her supporting cast were designed for the post-9-11 world.

So why isn’t it one?

Development hell. Apparently they’ve been trying for a while. Ellen Page was even attached to play Tara back in 2013. Maybe if Wonder Woman does Deadpool numbers they’ll make some progress…

So who would you cast?

Tara Chace: Ophelia Lovibond

Photo:  Jeff Neumann/CBS ©2014 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Photo: Jeff Neumann/CBS ©2014 

Okay, so, if you haven’t been watching Elementary, this one’s a little obscure. You’d probably know her best as the Collector’s assistant who tries to steal the Power Stone in Guardians of the Galaxy, and that’s… not helpful to my cause here. If you have, then you recognize her as Kitty Winter, particularly clever survivor of a brutal serial killer who finds a path to recovery as Sherlock’s new apprentice. She brought the exact right mix of tough and capable with an undeniable layer of pain at her center that I’m looking for in Tara Chace. Tara is forced to survive a hit by running at the man with the gun and counting on that throwing off his aim, then comes into work the next day. Kitty survived her ordeal, and with the scars still fresh, started trying to solve crimes (even before Sherlock took an interest). Maybe she’s on the obscure side, but this is my dream cast so shut up.

Paul Crocker: Mark Strong

Mark Strong as Blackwood - Sherlock Holmes movie

Not really much to say about this one. You need someone to play the head of the department, the one who orders the kills but also has to play the politics game to keep the operation moving and his operatives alive? You want Mark Strong.

Tom Wallace: Johnny Lee Miller
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Tom Wallace is Tara’s immediate superior and probably closest friend. He’s been in the department just long enough to get promoted to Head of Special Section and out of the field. Ten years ago this would have been a gimme for Colin Firth (even without having seen him go full badass in Kingsmen), but the age gap doesn’t quite… okay, fine, I just want to see Sherlock and Kitty back together, but it would still work.

2. The Sixth Gun

Art by Brian Hurtt

Art by Brian Hurtt

An Apocalyptic western fantasy set after the Civil War, the Sixth Gun is the story of six pistols, each with their own power, that combined have the potential to destroy and remake the world. When Becky Montcrief inherits the Sixth Gun from her father, she reluctantly joins forces with ethically grey gunfighter Drake Sinclair to protect the world from those looking to unleash the guns’ true purpose, including supposedly dead Civil War general and part-time dark sorcerer Oliander Bedford Hume, his crazy wife, and his, well, call a spade a spade, four horsemen.

Why a movie?

Because the lush and terrifying magical old west dreamed up by writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hutt cries out for a live-action adaptation. Because it’s a great (recently completed) story that more people should know about. And sure, like Preacher, it’s way too long a story to be told in one installment, but the first six issues work as a great standalone adventure of four people trying to stop the end of the world, ending in an epic battle at a fort called the Maw. And if the first movie sells, you have material for one of those ongoing franchises studios are addicted to. Even just hitting the highlights, you could manage at least five movies and three spinoffs.

So why isn’t it one?

They tried to adapt for TV recently (a better fit, if you want to pick nits), but the pilot didn’t get picked up, and there’s been little interest since then. Because people are stupid and hate fun.

So who’d you cast?

You know what, here’s a cast photo from the unaired pilot, featuring Game of Thrones/Narcos’ Pedro Pascal as Drake and Leverage’s Aldis Hodge as, I assume, Gord, a key ally they pick up at the Maw, and that’s… that’s about perfect. Only two more to add, I reckon.

General Hume: Clancy Brown

A big guy with a bigger voice, Clancy Brown proved his world-ender bonafides a few times by now, most relevantly in Carnivale, where he played a preacher with dark occult powers out to rebuild the world in his own image. I mean cross out “preacher” and write in “general” and you’re there.

The Widow Hume: Eva Green

The Widow Hume possesses the Fifth Gun, which can heal any injury, even death. The gun restores her youth, at the cost of her sanity, something that is clear in the way Hurtt draws her eyes. Eva Green, an MVP in anything she appears in lately, does crazy and scheming very well, and has some of the most expressive eyes in Hollywood. Perfect fit.

3. Atomic Robo

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Built by Nikola Tesla in the early 20th century (in a world where Tesla became a wealthy inventor and Edison is remembered as a demented supervillain… a better, stranger world, in other words), Robo (who’s atomic powered) earned his citizenship covertly fighting Nazi super scientist Baron von Helsingard during World War 2, and has since used his position as owner/operator of his father’s company, Tesladyne, to advance science and fight off the villains, kaijus, Lovecraftian horrors, and highly improbable giant ants that turn up when science goes wrong.

Why a movie?

Because creator Brian Clevenger (who also created the similarly hilarious 8-Bit Theater) has created a whole world and alternate history filled with action packed weird science adventures. Robo alone fought Nazis, trained with Bruce Lee, and got stuck in the old west after a temporal incident with his least favourite and least probable nemesis, Doctor Dinosaur.

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A meeting with Lovecraft unleashed a formless horror that fought Robo in four different time periods simultaneously, one of which involved his employees accidentally building an evil supercomputer.

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Tesla was part of a secret government group including Annie Oakley and a young Harry Houdini, among others. Atomic Robo has fought sci-fi villains up one side of the 20th century and down the other, plus ongoing adventures in the modern day. There is no end to the ridiculous fun the Atomic Robo team have dreamed up, and all of it would look amazing filmed for IMAX.

So why isn’t it one?

Because Atomic Robo’s an indie comic and studios like brands. Every now and then someone comes sniffing, and Clevenger tries to aim them towards Volume Five, The Deadly Art of Science, in which a young Robo ventures out of his father’s lab to work with pulp vigilante Jack Tarot and his daughter Helen, aka the Nightingale, to foil a plot by Thomas Edison. Tesla eventually has to lend a hand as well.

So who would you cast?

Robo: Joel McHale

Robo’s either going to be CG or a giant suit, but his voice is important. Much of the humour of Atomic Robo comes from how ridiculous or annoying Robo finds his adversaries, be they physically impossible like the giant ants attacking Vegas, infuriatingly nonsensical like Dr. Dinosaur, or just jerks like the Nazis. And Dr. Dinosaur. You need someone with a good dry wit who can also nail an angry rant, and to me that’s a job for Community’s Jeff Winger.

So come on, studios… nearly everything the CW superhero shows do prove that you love catering to my tastes. Get catering!

(But seriously, Marvel, I know you love to milk whatever seems popular for all its worth, but ignore the Planet Hulk chatter. That way lies madness.)