Remember that time John Oliver did a deep-dive into the US bail system, and how it’s weaponized to keep lower-income people, especially African-Americans, in jail? The best way to combat that right now is The Bail Project, a charity committed to paying the bail of those who can’t afford it, so that, say, being arrested for protesting police brutality doesn’t financially cripple you. Visit them at https://bailproject.org/, spread the word, and if you can spare a donation, they can always use it.
Back to it.
Okay, here we go… 21 shows ranked! And let me say… this might have been the highest-quality season since I started doing this. Shows that would have made the top ten easily in previous years, if not the top five, are down where we used to find shows I’d make fun of. There are some very high highs, but none of the low lows that marred previous years. No Iron Fists or Inhumans, or even bland Cloak and Daggers or wildly inconsistent Gothams. The worst we have is “Okay, but not nearly their best work.”
But first, press F to show respect to the following fallen shows.
Arrow. How crazy is it that the grand mack-daddy of all superhero crossovers, Crisis on Infinite Earths, got adapted on network television all because of the success of a show about Green Arrow, of all people? Arrow wasn’t always the best Arrowverse show… actually according to these annual rankings, it wasn’t ever the best Arrowverse show from the first year there were other options… but, as the name suggests, without it, there wouldn’t be an Arrowverse. No duelling speedsters, no spaceship full of time travelling misfits, no annual crossovers putting Defenders to shame over and over… no Beebo. You did good, Arrow.
iZombie. In the general scheme of things, five seasons was pretty much just right for their overarching storyline of the zombie outbreak and subsequent conflict with humanity. In another sense, five seasons was never going to be enough time to spend with Liv, Ravi, Clive, Major, Payton, and even ne’er-do-wells Blaine and Don E. This show was a delight, and I’ll miss its core cast for a long time. You were the least faithful to your source material of any show I’ve covered, lacking even a character in common with the comics, but you were special while you lasted.
Krypton.I admire Krypton’s dedication to self-improvement. From halfway through the first season, they did their best to find more interesting takes on their story. And they delivered a decent Lobo, a solid General Zod, and by second season a really interesting Brainiac. They were just way too confident they’d have as much time as they wanted to tell the story, and that was not the case. So… are we done with shows about the pasts of famous heroes named after the place they’re from? Smallville lasted a decade, sure, and Gotham made it half that, but Krypton is over after twenty episodes and Metropolis seems to have died in development. So… we’re done?
Legion. Some shows can’t run indefinitely. Some shows need a set plan. And Legion was one of those. Noah Hawley brought us a three-act story told over twenty-seven mesmerizing episodes, with a stellar cast and visual flair like nothing else. There has never been a show like Legion. There may never be again, because you can’t be Legion if you’re trying to be like something else.
Preacher. To my chagrin, I think Preacher’s legacy will be how weirdly unbalanced the pacing was. The slow-burn first season and the final season’s race for the finish line almost feel like different shows. They spent three years really digging into key moments from the comic run, then when AMC said they had one year to wrap it up, they had to slam on the gas to get to the climax. Still… they delivered an amazing, gonzo yet character-driven adaptation, one which provided some key lessons (including not taking your time in early seasons) for the even-less-probable Garth Ennis adaptation The Boys. I wish it had run another four years, but I’m glad I had it while it lasted.
Swamp Thing. We hardly knew ye, Swamp Thing. You delivered the exact Swamp Thing series we needed, a perfect fit to the R-rated tone of every other DC Universe show they’d made (prior to Stargirl). You had great takes on a lot of DC’s magic characters, characters I’m mad I won’t get to see again. Apparently, the only people who didn’t think a dark, horror-themed Swamp Thing was the way to go were the people running your network. Idjits. Here’s hoping the CW reairing it in a desperate bid for fall programming leads to a revival.
Watchmen. Series creator Damon Lindelof brought us a collision of the dark side of America’s history and the possible future of Alan Moore’s world of masked crimefighters, twisted masterminds, and one living god with a broken view of time, mixing real-life atrocities and racial tensions with the aftermath of the Watchmen graphic novel, and it was great. He poured every idea he had into this one season… meaning he had nothing left in the tank to keep it going. Like Alan Moore before him, he never envisioned a follow-up. So for now at least, Watchmen ends again as one self-contained story, and we should be thankful we got it.
Marvel TV as we knew it. For the past half-decade, there were two sides to live-action Marvel entertainment… Marvel Studios, as run by Kevin Feige, reporting directly to Disney; and Marvel TV, run by Jeph Loeb, reporting to Feige’s former boss Ike Perlmutter. And while fanboys clung to the hope that the Marvel TV characters would appear, or at least be referenced, in any of the movies, people paying attention (such as me, hello) could tell they were very clearly separate worlds that would never mingle. But now Feige has been put in charge of the movies, TV and comics, so Marvel TV as we knew it now yields to Feige’s empire, and everything from before is cancelled. And maybe that’s for the best, because while we might lose the smaller, street-level stories like Daredevil or Runaways, frankly Jeph Loeb brought too much of Smallville’s old “No flights, no tights” aesthetic to Marvel TV, leading to an apparent fear of seeming “comic-booky” that made the whole franchise a little… bland. Basic. Routinely embarrassed of their source material. (Google, find a supercut of Marvel Netflix characters hating their costumes from the comics–no? Damn it.) The fanboys are waiting for the Defenders, Runaways, Agents of SHIELD, and Inhumans to find their way to new seasons on Disney+ or Hulu, but… I wouldn’t hold my breath on that. Expect, at best, reboots. Eventually. Probably best to say goodbye to them all now and beat the rush later. So farewell, Cloak and Dagger; bon voyage, Runaways; via con Dios, Agents of– what’s that? Still on? For how many weeks? Huh. First to arrive, last to leave, I guess.
Honourable mention: I don’t include animated series in these things because a) that feels like a hole with no bottom and there are already 21 shows on the list… again…; b) I don’t know how to find most of them; c) I’d mostly be comparing cartoon shows made for pre-teens to Preacher and how do you even do that, even Riverdale was a stretch. But all of that said, if you can find a way to watch Harley Quinn, then do it, because oh my god it’s so hilarious, and also weirdly heartfelt. Do what you have to, but check it out.
Apparently YouTube videos whose ads donate to BLM charities are a moving target, as YouTube pulled the last one right after I posted it. I’ve replaced it with this one, which hopefully also works, so give it a spin, and while you’re doing that, check out this list of ways you can help fight racism. Find something that works for you, then meet me in the next paragraph.
No, really, I’ll wait, go do that. Done? Okay, let’s get going.
Alright nerds, we’re through the technicals, into the performances. Some of the most brutal, hard to call categories coming at you, ’cause there was some talent this season.
Let’s see if I can do them in a sensible order for once.
The Wentworth Miller Award For Best Guest Star
Putting aside series regulars and major recurring characters, who brought something special to their limited appearances, as Wentworth Miller did on The Flash as Captain Cold?
These people did!
Honourable mentions: Haley Joel Osment as a formerly famous child hero on The Boys was just perfect casting; Neal McDonough made one last appearance as Damien Darhk on Legends of Tomorrow, and was delightful as always; and of all the alumni they brought back for Arrow’s final season (damn near all of them), the one who most reminded us what they brought to the show, and how much they’re missed, was Paul Blackthorne as Quentin Lance. His brief reunion with Oliver and Earth-2’s Laurel Lance was particularly emotional.
Bronze: The Crisis Cameos, Crisis On Infinite Earths
Really all I can do here is present a complete list, except for the dozen and change that were pretty clearly recycled footage from DC Universe streaming shows.
Robert Wuhl reprising Knox the reporter from 1989’s Batman; Burt goddamn Ward reprising Adam West’s sidekick Dick Grayson; Wil Wheaton as a doomsayer; The Tick’s Griffin Newman hosting a trivia night; Erica Durance as both Supergirl’s Alura and Smallville’s Lois Lane; Johnathon Schaech reprising Jonah Hex; Tom Welling back as Smallville’s Clark Kent (punching out Lex Luthor, no less); Kevin Conroy from Batman: The Animated Series bringing his iconic Batman voice to live-action for the first time; patron saint of this category, Wentworth Miller, as the voice of Leonard Snart on an alternate-Earth Waverider; Tom Ellis bringing Lucifer Morningstar to the Arrowverse, face to face with John Constantine; Ashley Scott back in costume as the Huntress from the short-lived Birds of Prey series; John Wesley Shipp reprising his 1990 Flash one last time; Black Lightning finally joining the crew; Ezra Miller giving us a brief meeting of the cinematic and television Flashes; and original Crisis author Marv Wolfman hitting Flash and Supergirl up for autographs (he loves the team-ups, you see).
Is that everyone? I think so? And each one delightful.
(If I had to pick one, it’d be Tom Ellis by a nose, but I don’t so I won’t.)
Silver: Thomas Lennon as Mr. Mxyzptlk, Supergirl
A quick lampshade-hang about why they’ve swapped out the original actor for someone less dreamy, and Mr. Mxyzptlk came back to Supergirl, and he came back doing what Mxy does best… being an adorable trickster and screwing with the fourth wall. And Thomas Lennon excelled, always finding the humour in Supergirl’s 100th-episode trip backwards through the past four seasons, as Mxy and Kara tried to find a moment to tell Lena Luthor the truth about Kara that maybe wouldn’t destroy either their relationship or the world. Some of them destroyed the world.
I could really go for an annual Mxyzptlk appearance, if that’s an option.
Gold: Jemaine Clement and Jason Mantzoukis as Oliver Bird and the Big Bad Wolf, Legion
I feel like we discussed this episode and it’s rhythmic climax plenty last time. So for now I’ll just say that it was an immense delight seeing Jemaine Clement back, and the only thing that improved it was having Jason Manzoukis show up as the (symbolic) Big Bad Wolf, shouting to Oliver not to wait before teaching the baby about syphilis.
And then they rap battled. Come on.
Such a great episode, and these two (with help from Jean Smart) really anchored it.
The Tricia Helfer Award for Rookie of the Year
What new characters on an established show really brought something special, like the way Tricia Helfer’s Goddess Charlotte kicked Lucifer up to the next level?
Honourable mentions: Switch on Legion made the entire season three story possible, but she sometimes felt like more of a device than a character; Connor/Superboy was a fun addition to Titans, but he more created his own subplot than added to what had been the main story; Natalie Dreyfuss was great fun as Ralph Dibny’s long-awaited true-love-to-be Sue Dearbon on The Flash, but was only in three episodes, and due to reasons probably won’t be back.
Bronze: Iain Glen as Bruce Wayne, Titans
I’m not a big fan of “middle-aged Batman” in general, and I’m not sure what Glen was going for with that Brooklyn accent… sometimes it seems “neutral American” is too tricky an accent, so actors from, in this case, Scotland, aim for something more regional… but damn having Bruce Wayne around was a good and necessary addition to this show. Given how much of Titans revolves around Dick’s difficult history with his complicated surrogate father, never seeing him throughout season one was kind of awkward. Whether Bruce was there in person, or an illusion created by Raven, or a hallucination brought on by Dick’s guilty conscience*, Bruce added a lot to the season, and if you could roll with the accent, Glen was kinda killing it.
*That last one was actually pretty great, and involved Bruce Wayne doing the Batusi with burlesque dancers, and it was amazing.
Silver: Naomi Ackie as Bonnie, The End of the F***ing World
Series one of The End of the F***ing World was about James and Alyssa running from their traumas; series two was about having to confront the consequences. And so it made sense to have the consequences of their crime-ridden road trip personified in Bonnie.
The End of the F***ing World has always been about broken people finding inadvisable ways to face their traumas, and series two brought a new style of trauma to the mix in angry, confused, vengeful Bonnie. “I learned about punishment from a young age,” she tells us. Bonnie was raised with abuse and discipline instead of love, and now she has them mixed up in her head. Led astray by what she thought was love, she was personally wronged by the events of series one, and has come to deliver punishment to James and Alyssa. Poorly thought-out, at times hilariously inept punishment. Bonnie makes our road-tripping duo into a trio, and was a welcome addition.
Gold: Shayan Sobhian as Behrad Tarazi, Legends of Tomorrow
In the third season finale, hacker and freedom fighter from the future Zari Tomaz finally altered her past/our present enough that her dystopia never happens… which means that her family was never hunted by a government that hated metahumans and also Muslims (I think we know any fascist American regime, fictional or currently-in-progress, is gonna come at Muslims), so her brother Behrad was never killed by ARGUS agents, so she never inherited the Zambesi air totem from him… and never joined the Legends. And also her last name is Tarazi now? Don’t fully get that last bit. But anyway, the last moments of the previous finale saw Zari erased from the team’s history… and replaced by Behrad.
So that left Shayan Sobhian with a bit of a trick to pull off… make this new character feel like a long term part of the team, make his relationships with the other Legends feel lived-in, and make us like him enough that we’d be invested in him sticking around instead of checking our watches wondering when “Internet Celebrity Zari” was going to blow over and things would go back to the way they were last season.
And damned if he didn’t nail it.
Behrad instantly felt like an old friend. Whether he was being best bros with Nate and Ray, or revealing that he’d had a secret tryst with Charlie the shapeshifter (which they probably kept on the DL since her primary form looks exactly like Nate’s ex), or dealing with his vain, shallow older sister Zari finding out he’s a time traveller, Behrad was a welcome addition from episode one, and I was quickly frightened something bad was gonna happen to him since he was only credited as a guest star.
And his presence let them do something fun and new with Zari, which was neat.
Okay. Here we go. But first… one piece of new business.
Every year, some show in the rankings has been in its last season, but never enough to keep the list from growing from seven to twenty-two. But we’ve hit a point where there are enough that they’re killing themselves down to a more sustainable level. Thus, some farewells.
The Tick. Oh, The Tick… like always, maybe you were just a little too cult to live. But while you lived, you were nailing it. Wait– you had one fewer episode overall than Iron Fist? No wonder God has forsaken us.
Gotham. You were never the best show, not by a wide margin, but there were flickers of greatness… well, pretty-good-ness… that meant you weren’t the worst, either. Well, okay, sometimes you were the worst, but not recently.
The Gifted.You may have been the Agents of SHIELD of Fox’s X-Men universe, the red-headed stepchild not allowed to play with the other kids, but you did your best. Still, that Disney buy-out was your death. And come on, man, you did not have the ratings to be ending on a cliffhanger.
Literally all of Marvel Netflix. In the beginning, you set a high bar for comic TV, but you never quite matched those first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Until the end you struggled with pacing issues, unnecessary side characters, inability to pick a main villain, and a refusal to do anything too “comic booky.” And yes, you bungled the big crossover. Still, the franchise had more good than bad overall. Even Iron Fist was starting to get its act together. Was Jessica Jones’ third season a fitting send-off for the entire franchise? No, and that’s irrational, it couldn’t have been, that would have required a second, hopefully better Defenders series, maybe involving the “Who can stop Luke Cage, King of Harlem” fight they kept teasing, but “proper send-off” wasn’t on Netflix’s agenda. Disney+ was your franchise’s end. Via con Dios, Defenders.
The idea that the Marvel movies and TV shows share a universe. Not even Agents of SHIELD, which is normally first in line to name-drop any event from the movies, acknowledged the events of Avengers: Infinity War. And given when season six takes place, and when Endgame takes place, it would have to. So… guess that’s over.
Now, on with the show! (I apologize if the last two posts maybe drained some suspense out of who’s taking the top spot.)
You know, it’s a damn shame I already wrote, like, a dozen blogs about The Office, because I could sure say some more things about how lethally toxic Angela and Andy were as a couple. And how I don’t even know who I was supposed to root for in that story.
But no. We closed that book.
So previously I covered big crossover stories that I feel could be done even if they probably won’t. But hey, they already did Invasion!, and I wouldn’t have guessed that, so who knows. Today, though… instead of depressing myself by pitching ideas they could use but won’t, I’ll depress myself a little less by looking at the big, classic stories that neither Marvel nor DC could possibly do justice to.
I don’t know why I do these things either. But it’s no sadder than wondering how Marvel Studios could integrate the Fantastic Four if they got the rights back. I mean it’s pretty clear that Fox is going to keep making terrible Fantastic Four movies every seven years until Emperor Trump shuts down Hollywood for being too liberal and all the studios move to China. I don’t know why, maybe they’re just trying to dilute Marvel’s brand, but it’s clearly going to happen.
1. Secret Wars
Now, there’s a few Marvel event books under this particular banner. The mid-80s miniseries (and subsequent sequels) in which the all-powerful Beyonder gathered the heroes and villains of Earth for a battle-royale on his artificial Battleworld; the infrequently shipping mid-2000s miniseries in which Nick Fury discovers that the nation of Latveria (once and future domain of Doctor Doom, but at the time a democratic ally state) has been funding America’s tech-based supervillains, and thus leads a covert team of to attack, which has consequences down the road; and the most recent Secret Wars, in which a years-long storyline about the Marvel multiverse collapsing ends with the main and Ultimate Marvel universes fatally colliding, and Doctors Doom and Strange saving what they can in a new Battleworld.
I could cover all three of them, but only one really fits here. I don’t think anyone is really clamouring for an adaptation of the original Secret Wars. It’s pretty thin, narratively speaking, which makes sense because it was written to sell a toy line. And it got its name from focus groups finding that kids reacted well to the words “secret” and “wars.” Also, the MCU simply doesn’t have enough interesting, Avengers-level villains to pull it off. That’s why the only way to get all of their film characters (but never their TV characters) together in one movie is to have them fight either Thanos or each other.
The 2004 Secret War has its issues as far as adaptation goes. A) the MCU has no equivalent to Latveria except maybe, maybe Sokovia (who could hardly afford to spend money on American supervillains), and B) there has never been a Marvel movie villain where we had to stop and ask where they get the money to fund and fuel their high-tech weapons. The Marvel movie villains are mostly arms dealers and interplanetary despots, not bank robbers with gimmick suits. But… if they were really inclined… the basic premise would make for a hell of a Captain America sequel. So they actually could do this one if they wanted.
The latest one, however…
Why would they want to?
Because like the great Crisis On Infinite Earths, grand-daddy of the Event Crossover, which we’ll get back to, this event existed to clear the deck. It ended the Ultimate universe experiment, save for Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales, who was brought into the main MCU. It paved away some things they wanted to be done with (the re-aged Steve Rogers, the evil Tony Stark, the still-existing Fantastic Four), and let Marvel start fresh with new ideas. Some new ideas. A couple of new ideas. They didn’t go post-FlashpointNew 52 crazy or anything.
Marvel Studios is coming up on the end of Phase Three, the culmination of over ten years of interconnected films and largely ignored TV projects. It’s also the end of the contracts for their main stars. All in all, a great time to clean house and start fresh. Doing a Secret Wars-type story would let them reboot and recast without going full Amazing Spider-Man.
So why can’t they?
Because for all of the craziness happening, the army of Thors and the wasteland of Hulks and the extra-wastey wasteland of zombies and Ultrons, all of that, Secret Wars was ultimately a story about Victor Von Doom and Reed Richards. Doom is triumphant, he has reforged reality in his own broken image and rules it as a god, and it all falls apart when Reed arrives. The fate of the Marvel multiverse comes down to a grudge match between these two classic, eternal rivals.
And the Marvel Cinematic Universe just does not have an equivalent.
The closest thing they have to a Reed Richards is Tony Stark, but his first and greatest nemesis in the films is himself. Tony can’t exactly wrestle his own arrogance for the fate of everything. They simply don’t have anything or anyone on par with Doom to serve as the other half of the equation. The 2004 Secret War has some elements and characters the films lack, but with a little wrangling Sokovia could replace Latveria, Falcon or Ant-Man could replace Wolverine, and they could just suck it up, stop shunning the TV branch, and put Luke Cage and Daisy “Quake” Johnson in a movie. But they have nothing in their arsenal to replace Doom. Not even Loki.
2. Crisis On Infinite Earths
I’d save this for last but I already went and brought it up, so… here goes. Crisis on Infinite Earths is the grand mac-daddy of all universe-shifting crossovers. DC editorial decided that their complex multiverse of overlapping characters was a little messy and confusing, and thus commissioned a massive event miniseries to tidy things up. Every single character in DC’s stable made at least a brief appearance, even some they’d just acquired. Worlds ended, heroes and villains died, including Supergirl and the Flash, and in the end there was one Earth in which the survivors all co-existed. The DC universe changed forever.
Okay, sure, within twenty years and change there was a multiverse again and nearly every character they’d killed had come back (I can name two who stayeddead, but you don’t know them). Creators who grew up reading comics tend to bring back the stuff they loved as a kid. But, you know… it’s still basically different.
Why would they want to?
Because this is the dream crossover. Forget Supergirl visiting Star City or even the Avengers meeting the Defenders, this is the impossible dream. The stuff fan trailers are made of.
I’m talking Grant Gustin racing Ezra Miller. Fellow Supermen Brandon Routh and Tyler Hoechin throwing Henry Cavill a brood-intervention. Stephen Amell and Justin Hartley in an Arrow-off. The Dark Knight meets the Caped Crusader. Get weird with it, and all to stop a threat so big it takes upwards of five Supermen and three Flashes to bring it down.
So why can’t they?
Dude, think about it. Are you really going to be able to talk Christian Bale back into the batsuit? No. No you are not. Michael Keaton won’t be much easier, Christopher Reeve is dead, and 1990’s Flash, Superman Returns’ Superman, both Lois and Clark of Lois and Clark, and the 1970s Wonder Woman are all playing other characters in the DCW-verse.
Plus the only Joker you’re going to be able to get is Jared Leto and nobody wants that.
And which Earth would die to sell the stakes? Smallvile? Lois and Clark? You’re gonna get fans and ex-stars complaining on Twitter whichever you pick.
It’s the impossible dream for a reason. Even a Crisis on Two Earths (comic-wise, the first time the Justice League met the Justice Society), where the TV and film universes collided, would be a bit of an ask.
3. Secret Invasion
In case you were wondering if Marvel naming things based on focus groups liking the word “secret” was a thing of the past… well, we can’t be sure. Maybe writer/architect Brian Michael Bendis just wanted the homage.
Secret Invasion was the culmination of a story Bendis had been cooking since he took over the Avengers books. After a massive prison break which led to the newly formed New Avengers discovering an illegal, black-books vibranium mining operation in the Savage Land run by SHIELD, it becomes clear that some sinister force has infiltrated the global peacekeeping force. And, as time goes by, they learn whatever it is has infiltrated Hydra and the Hand as well. After Civil War splits the team in half, Luke Cage’s rogue Avengers find out who this shadow force is: shapeshifting alien would-be conquerors the Skrulls have mastered a new form of infiltration, one that no hero, despite magic or supersenses or being Reed Richards, could detect even when it was right in front of them.
So the question then began… who was a secret Skrull? Who could be trusted? Did the Skrulls orchestrate Scarlet Witch nearly wiping out the mutants or the Civil War that turned hero against hero? And when a ship full of heroes dressed like it was still the 80s crashed in the Savage Land, were any of them friends finally returned?
The answers were “Five people of note and some nameless SHIELD agents,” “Pretty much everyone,” “No,” and “No, that was just a waste of five incredibly repetitive issues.”
Why would they want to?
It combines both of Marvel Studios’ favourite tropes: heroes fighting heroes, and a climax involving fighting a giant horde of faceless alien minions. Plus, as we’ve learned from Winter Soldier, Civil War, and basing their film franchise around the Infinity Gauntlet, they love harvesting their event books for film plots. Not enough to fully give in to the endless cries for a Planet Hulk movie (looks like one scene from Thor: Ragnarok is all those people will get), but still.
Also, the story leading up to the event book was great. The years-long build-up, from the jail-break through to the secret within SHIELD and all the way to the big Skrull reveal and the two teams wondering who on the other side was a secret Skrull, it was one of the best slow-burn builds in recent memory.
So why can’t they?
Weirdly the fact that the build-up is the only good part of Secret Invasion isn’t the problem. Sure, it was savagely under-written, what with spending five issues on the go-nowhere Savage Land plot while the Skrull Queen gave a series of repetitive, half-issue monologues about change. Sure, the climax is hot garbage, since it boils down to all of the heroes lining up on one side of Central Park, shouting “Hey Skrulls, come fight,” and every Skrull in the global invasion saying “Yeah, sure, be right there.” Sure, the title doesn’t even make sense, since the Invasion stops being in any way Secret by the end of issue one. But the Civil War comic was also badly paced with a half-assed conclusion, and that movie turned out fine.
No, the issue is that there’s no real way to do the build-up. Are they going to slip some hint that not all is well into every phase four movie? That’s just going to lead to awkward, tacked on scenes that draw complaints, like Thor and his Vision Spa in Age of Ultron. And the reveal will make less sense without an established race of hostile shapeshifters like the comics have. Which brings us to another problem… Marvel Studios doesn’t have the rights to the Skrulls. They’re tied up with the Fantastic Four, so Fox owns the film rights. And as we know, Fox doesn’t give these things up easily.
Gonna break the format here, because “Why can’t they” is perfectly obvious. Marvel and DC the publishers don’t really get along these days, a state of affairs exacerbated by ex-Marvel head Joe Quesada pulling some dickish moves back in 2010. Which is sad, because back in the day, DC/Marvel crossovers were a frequent event, from their beginnings in Superman Vs. Spider-Man to the Teen Titans teaming up with the X-Men to the well intentioned but ineptly executed DC Vs. Marvel (or Marvel Vs. DC, depending on the issue number), which at least created the interesting experiment Amalgam Comics. And then after a hiatus, they managed to join forces one last time for the greatest inter-company crossover ever.
JLA/Avengers (or, again based on issue number, Avengers/JLA) is filled with classic moments. The Justice League saw Dr. Doom ruling Latveria, the ruins of mutant nation Genosha, Hulk tearing through the military, and the Punisher shooting up gangs (until Batman broke his own “don’t interfere” rule to whoop on him), and decided that this world’s heroes just don’t try. The Avengers saw Wonder Woman addressing the UN, Superman being deified, and the Flash Museum (“They have a museum dedicated to a speedster!” shouted an enraged and envious Quicksilver. “A museum!”) and decided the heroes of this world overstepped, ruling as gods for the public’s adoration.
It also had the best “fight-then-team-up” sequence of any comic ever… Batman and Captain America trade a few jabs, testing each other out, then Batman essentially says “You might be able to beat me, but it’ll take a while. Want to figure out what’s actually happening instead?” And off they go.
And then history gets twisted, creating an alternate past where the DC and Marvel universes had known about each other for years, to the point of getting together each Thanksgiving like the JLA and JSA used to do. And Hawkeye and Green Arrow exchange the one piece of dialogue that’s missing from most DC multiverse stories (especially this season of The Flash)… “For the last time, we’re Earth One, you’re Earth Two!”
But it’s not to be. If Marvel and DC the publishers aren’t getting along, one can probably count on Marvel Studios and Warner Brothers to be just as reluctant to get into bed with each other. Even if people would pay all the money on Earth to see Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man go three rounds against Batman.
Sadly, this will also prevent comics’ one-time weirdest inter-company crossover…
Archie Meets the Punisher. That happened. That is a thing that two companies agreed to make and paid people to write and draw. Multiple people, actually, because the Archie scenes are all drawn in the Archie house style, while a different artist drew all the Punisher scenes in a more appropriately gritty fashion. It’s fascinating in how audacious it is just for existing, in how committed they are to a team-up that makes no sense and should not be, but still somehow turns out worth reading.
So in that spirit… how much do I want to see Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle set loose amongst the teen-drama-fuelled noir mysteries of the CW’s Riverdale?
So. Goddamn. Much.
It would be so weird and so stupid and so, so mesmerising. But Marvel won’t let their Netflix characters cross over with their own film branch, so that there is a pipe dream. A ridiculous, near-indefensible pipe dream.
Maybe in Riverdale’s fourth season they’ll get desperate enough to do Archie Vs. Predator.
Next time… I return to a long-neglected blog series, discussing things that do exist instead of things that don’t.
Not so, Hypothetical Strawman. Can I call you H-Straw, by the way? I assume I can, like I assume everything you’d theoretically say.
Anyway, H-Straw, that was obscure characters I thought the various TV properties could use. And frankly, obscure characters are having their heyday. Wild Dog, Ragman, Prometheus, Citizen Steel, the third Ghost Rider, Misty Knight, and Mon-El all have or had prominent roles on comic TV shows this season. Black Lightning is close to getting his own show. The best comic book TV series this season was about an X-Man only hard core fans are familiar with. Powerless has pulled out Global Guardians member the Olympian and Justice League International mainstays Green Fury (later “Fire,” but that only made sense because she was paired with “Ice,” formerly Ice Maiden) and Crimson Fox. Well, sort of Crimson Fox, she actually wasn’t really similar to– I’m drifting.
And bigger than any of that, the most anticipated superhero movie of 2017 stars Rocket Raccoon and Groot, two characters who were greeted five years back not with “At last, those guys,” but “Is Marvel just screwing with us now?”
Today we’re looking at major characters who are bizarrely absent from major live-action adaptations in the bizarre hope that doing so will somehow conjure them into a TV show or movie.
Look, sometimes it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
I’ve brought this up in the past, but since it still hasn’t happened, it bears repeating.
Is Wonder Woman the most powerful woman in the DC Universe? Not quite. Sure she’s up there, given she makes Batman nervous, can go 12 rounds with Superman, and was the God of War for a spell (an excellent story that is tragically being retconned out of canon, but so is goes), but you know what Wonder Woman can’t do? Cripple the armies of Darkseid just by saying “Parademons turn into corgis” backwards.
Daughter of famed magician, Golden Age magical hero, and sometimes mentor to Batman Giovanni Zatara, Zatanna Zatara came onto the scene in the late 60s, becoming a member of the Justice League during the hallowed “Satellite Era,” known as the group’s Silver Age pinnacle.
No, that was not word salad, it makes perfect sense. Welcome to comic books.
Zatanna inherited her father’s powers: she can make almost anything happen just by saying it backwards. She’s been an off-again/on-again lover to John Constantine, had the lady-balls to make a slightly tipsy pass at Batman, but more than that, she’s become a natural leader, as the head of the currently defunct Justice League Dark. She is, without question, the most powerful magic user in DC canon. Well, the most powerful human magic user. Comparing her to the Spectre, the embodiment of divine wrath, or the unquantified power of the ancient and ageless Phantom Stranger is probably unfair.
And her only live-action adaptation so far is two underwhelming episodes of Smallville*, and that is hardly good enough.
*Not… I’m not saying they were underwhelming for episodes of Smallville, but “underwhelming” was kid of Smallville’s default state. At its very best, it whelmed within reasonable expectation.
Where should she be?
They are, possibly, slightly ahead of me on this one. Warner Brothers has been kicking around an adaptation of Justice League Dark for a while, sometimes called “Dark Universe.” There’s an animated Justice League Dark movie out there which might help give the concept legs, or might make it redundant. Sure, my enthusiasm for the project diminished a little when Guillermo del Toro (who first pitched it) left the project, but it’s still kicking around DC films. It’s been rumoured to be one of several scripts DC is trying to get into position to replace The Flash on their 2018 docket. (Which, man, if they want to fill that gap, they are running out of time.)
But it’s not enough to get her into that movie. That’s key, but more important than having her in the movie? She should be the lead. They might be trying to centre it on John Constantine, but that’s a mistake, and not only because it might keep Matt Ryan from playing Constantine in the DCW-verse. It risks Zatanna, DC’s most powerful sorceress, becoming yet another victim of Trinity Syndrome.
Using Guardians of the Galaxy as our model, Zatanna should not be the Gamorra to Constantine’s Star Lord. Zatanna should be the Star Lord, and Constantine the Rocket Raccoon. His character is far better suited to the wise-cracking misanthrope who is half-dragged into doing the right thing.
Zatanna’s been the lady in the fishnets for long enough. It’s time for a Zatanna project that lets her be a star.
Jennifer Walters, cousin to Bruce Banner, needed a blood transfusion to save her life. When Bruce gave her some of his gamma-radiated blood, she ended up receiving a lesser version of his powers, becoming the sensational She-Hulk. While she may not be as strong as her cousin, she does retain her personality and intelligence, something Bruce only managed for a stretch in, I wanna say the 90s?
As such, while extra-tall and green, she still maintains a legal practice.
There was almost a She-Hulk movie back in the 80s, which Bridgette Nielson was supposedly starring it, but it never made it out of script development.
Where should she be?
A while back, there was a run of her comic in which a firm wanted to hire Jennifer Walters… but not She-Hulk. This was a surprising turn when I heard about it, because until then, I didn’t even know Jennifer could change back and forth. I thought she was just She-Hulk 24/7. Turns out she was only in She-Hulk form all the time because she wanted to be. Jennifer likes being taller, stronger, powerful. And, sure, less plain.
This might make for a good TV series. There’s a good story there, one that separates it from the other “female cousin of a better known male hero” show. A powerful woman being asked to keep her power in check by her (presumably) male-driven firm? Or, you know, something Patriarchy related.
Supergirl tackled feminist issues throughout the first season, though in a more scattershot fashion. Jessica Jones did a great job with rape survival and abusive relationships. But as it turns out there are more than two ways to discuss feminism. A She-Hulk series about fear of female power would be a new take on issues that seem all the more important after the first serious female US presidential candidate was defeated by an unqualified garbage monster.
Plus, this would play into what Joss Whedon discovered was missing from the Hulk movies prior to Avengers. The movies spent most of their runtime treating Banner becoming the Hulk as a tragedy, when we as an audience just want the thrill of watching him Hulk out and cut loose. For She-Hulk, those moments when she gets to transform are a release, and we’d be right there with her.
Perhaps ABC could find room for it after the inevitable end of Agents of SHIELD, or if Inhumans doesn’t take off. I know it might seem like a decent fit for Netflix, especially if the lawyer aspects have as much to do with the superhero elements, but it would be more suited to a network, case-of-the-week structure than the Netflix “One story in 13 episodes” model. Also I worry that if Netflix did it, the show would end up being called “The Sensational She-Green-Guy.”
3. Robins Who Aren’t Dick Grayson
Perhaps the earliest* and most iconic of the Kid Sidekicks in comic book history, Robin has been the title of Batman’s partner since his first appearance way back in 1940. Batman’s had a Robin since the last time America wasn’t doing enough to hold back the Nazis.
(*Some of the pulp stories, like Doc Samson and his contemporaries, might have beaten out Robin, I really don’t know.)
There are five in total, not counting Carrie Kelley from The Dark Knight Returns, which I don’t, because Frank Miller is racist, crazy, and crazily racist, and Batman V Superman gave him too many props as it is.
Dick Grayson is the original, the son Batman never had, the first to move out of his surrogate father’s shadow. As Nightwing, he’s been a hero and a leader in his own right, one so popular that DC head Dan Didio learned he literally couldn’t kill him off if he wanted to.
Jason Todd came second… he was the angry one, picked up off the streets when Batman caught him stealing the Batmobile’s wheels. He’s also the one killed by the Joker, but a couple of decades later he came back, adopting the Joker’s old name of Red Hood. He was a villain for a while, angry at Batman for not avenging him, but gradually worked his way back into the family. He’s still the black sheep, the most violent, and the only Robin occasionally okay with killing.
Tim Drake is the first Robin by choice. Whereas Dick and Jason were orphans Batman took in and taught to be Robins, Tim figured out Batman’s identity on his own, and deciding that Batman needed a Robin, broke into the Batcave and demanded the job. He’s also the first of the Robins to have his own comic. Eventually known as Red Robin, he’s become every bit the leader as Dick through Young Justice and the Teen Titans. He’s probably the smartest, and if you asked any of the other Robins who their favourite was, they’d each say Tim.
Stephanie Brown, usually known as Spoiler but for a time a surprisingly good take on Batgirl, was Robin for a brief period when Tim gave up the job. It turned out Batman only gave her the gig in an attempt to lure Tim, her ex-boyfriend, back into the role. She ended up starting a massive gang war in an attempt to earn her way back– you know, the story only gets ugly from there. Really ugly. Moving on.
And last but least only in stature, Damien Wayne, created by comics legend Grant Morrison at the beginning of a many-year run on Batman. Dick Grayson was the son Bruce Wayne never had, but Damien was the son he didn’t know he did have. Son of Bruce’s lover/nemesis Talia al-Ghul and grandson of A-list Batman villain Ra’s al-Ghul, Damien was dropped on his father’s doorstep (well, the water entrance to the cave) at the age of ten. After spending time with his father, he turned his back on his upbringing with the League of Assassins and devoted himself to being the new Robin. He died at the hand’s of his mother’s soldiers at the end of Morrison’s run, but if death couldn’t keep down Jason or Stephanie (I told you that story got ugly. I TOLD you.) it certainly couldn’t keep down Damien. He’s definitely arrogant, doesn’t always play well with others, but tries his best to be a Robin his father can be proud of. On the outside he begrudgingly tolerates his surrogate siblings, but there are subtle signs he’s come to like at least two of them.
Of these five, the only live action adaptation we’ve seen is Dick Grayson, always as Robin, and the best of them is the one where he’s played by Burt Ward. People are so eager to see Nightwing in something that there was a fan cry to have Nightwing on Arrow, a show that has never acknowledged the existence of Batman.
There is talk of a Nightwing solo movie, but like Man of Steel 2, Suicide Squad 2, Gotham City Sirens, Dark Universe, and basically any DC film project that isn’t Wonder Woman, Justice League, or Aquaman, talk is all there is.
Where should they be?
As long as Fox has a lock on the TV rights to all things Batman, we’re stuck with the movies. But Warner Bros will keep making Batman movies as long as their business model depends on blockbuster film franchises. So, if The Batman starts introducing Robins, you have room to spin them off into their own movies. Pad out the DCEU with Bat-family properties, just like they do in the comic branch. Sure, have a Nightwing movie, but instead of having Batman show up in a similar role to Tony Stark in Spider-man: Homecoming, have Tim swing by. Show the sibling relationship of the Robins. Also Batman, just, you know, less Batman.
BvS already established that Joker killed a Robin, so a live-action adaptation of Under the Red Hood (already an animated movie) could not only introduce Jason Todd’s Red Hood, but also involve Nightwing, and if you fudge the story a little, Tim Drake as well. Then bring them back to the Batcave for Son of Batman (also already an animated movie) and finish the quartet.
Plus there’s every chance that bringing in the younger Robins can help shake off the notion that the DCEU isn’t fit for younger audiences. Of course it would help to, you know, be more suitable for younger audiences.
4. Doctor Doom
Yes I know that Doctor Doom has been in four movies so far. I also know that of the three that made it into theatres, they haven’t come within a parsec of doing Marvel’s Greatest Villain right.
But sadly, a key part of the Marvel Film Formula is “The villain is a one-dimensional representation of the hero’s flaws,” so even if Fox stopped making increasingly worse Fantastic Four movies every seven years out of what at this point I can only assume is spite, and gave Marvel back the film rights, Marvel Studios is unlikely to nail him either. Let’s move on.
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman isn’t a classic graphic novel for adult audiences, it’s the classic graphic novel for adult audiences. Sandman was one of several books DC had in the late 80s where they decided “You know what… if we slapped “Mature readers only” on these things, told the writers they didn’t have to be superhero comics anymore… then they could really do some cool stuff,” and started the Vertigo imprint.
The basic premise… well, master author Neil Gaiman could never write a basic premise, but the nickel tour is that the series revolved around Morpheus, aka Dream, one of the Endless. The Endless were nigh-immortal beings who represented various forces driving life: Dream, Destiny, Destruction (who left the family), Desire, Despair, Delirium (formerly Delight, but then drugs happened), and inspiration to goths worldwide in more ways than one, Death.
As his name suggests, Morpheus/Dream* rules over the Dreamlands, where we all go when we’re asleep. And you do not want to cross him if you value your sanity. And then a bunch of fascinating stuff happens, and it’s all amazing and you should just read it.
(*You’re not gonna be able to call him Morpheus much. Thanks, Matrix movies.)
Where should he be?
People have been circling a Sandman movie for decades to no avail. Joseph Gordon-Levitt came closest, but has since left the project. So here’s my hope. My desperate hope. Now that Sandman’s successor as the flagship title of Vertigo, Preacher, is doing well on AMC, and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is apparently about to be the best show on TV, maybe, maybe someone will finally realize that you cannot do this story justice in two hours.
Hell, one two hour movie is barely enough time to establish why Dream and Lucifer don’t care for each other, let alone cover the classic story… huh. Pro-tip. If you’re going to write about Sandman, you’re going to need to learn synonyms for “classic…” Um… iconic, vintage, time-honoured… Let alone the exemplary story in which Lucifer gets his revenge by closing up Hell and handing the key to Dream.
Why is that revenge? It takes time to explain that. This is my point. The story is complex and needs time to breathe. A movie would only be enough time for the Dead Boy Detectives introduced partway through.
No, I won’t explain who the Dead Boy Detectives are, read Sandman damn you.
An epic fantasy covering multiple times and a nigh-endless supply of fascinating characters, Sandman could be the “new Game of Thrones” everyone’s been looking for since the old one got an end date.
(The new Game of Thrones is Westworld, but I for one encourage competition.)
I mean… they don’t have to have John Constantine show up, just because he’s in the first arc. I mean they could. That’s an option. And, you know, there’s no strong reason not to ask Matt Ryan to reprise the role. Doesn’t necessarily mean that this hypothetical HBO Sandman show would then be part of the DCW-verse.
That would just be a special little secret for me. Us. For us is what I meant.
Superheroes and comic books are big on both the big and small screens these days, but despite the Marvel empire being built on “Everything’s connected” and DC not having sold all of its shiniest toys to Sony and Fox, there is still a weird Chinese wall between each company’s film and television divisions. DC, as we know, maintains separate film and TV universes and, in most cases, doesn’t allow overlap. Marvel claims to maintain one, consistent universe, spread across the Avengers-based films, Defenders-based Netflix shows, and redheaded stepchild Agents of SHIELD, but Brooklyn 99 and The New Girl cross over more often than any of those branches, limiting the characters the TV branches can use even beyond being banned from using the word “mutant.”
They have, however, found some clever workarounds.
Agents of SHIELD isn’t allowed to use anyone that’s been in a movie, or is a street-level hero in New York, or that Marvel might want to pitch elsewhere. But they have been having one of their better seasons by basing it around a surprisingly effective portrayal of Robbie Reyes, the least popular, least successful, and objectively least cool* version of Ghost Rider. Meanwhile, across the aisle, Arrow’s been having a similar resurgence of quality, and it’s obscure characters all the way down over in Star City. Wild Dog, Mr. Terrific, and Ragman have joined the team, and there have been episodes not only featuring but named after 80s D-listers Vigilante and Human Target (sadly not Mark Valley’s Human Target from the 2010 series getting a Constantine-style revival, but I’ll take any Human Target I can get).
So I say, keep on keeping on with this trend. DC and Marvel each have hundreds of characters to draw on, so why let the big names being embargoed slow you down?
Assuming Marvel Netflix is limited to street-level crime fighters, that Agents of SHIELD can’t touch anyone who could possibly have their own show or movie, and the DCW-verse has to stay away from Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, and Shazam (though they got Superman this year, so who knows), here’s some characters they should be considering bringing to the small/streaming screen, and some casting thoughts, because welcome to my brain. Hey, I have to live in here.
*No, not because he’s Latino, because he doesn’t even have a motorcycle. You can’t be the coolest Ghost Rider without a flaming-wheeled motorcycle.
For Supergirl: Mary Marvel
Maybe you’re familiar with the original Captain Marvel, known for yelling “Shazam!” to get his powers. Ten year old Billy Batson was gifted powers by the wizard Shazam. By yelling his name, Billy became an adult with powers just shy of Superman’s. Also without the vision or breath powers. Lately, they’ve stopped calling him “Captain Marvel” (having grown tired of competing with the many, many Marvel characters with that name) and just started calling him “Shazam” (given that most people call him “the Shazam guy” as it is).
Now, Shazam does have a movie in the works, and even though the only thing I know about it is that Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson is playing his nemesis Black Adam, they probably wouldn’t let a different Billy Batson come to Star, Central, or National City. Which is a shame because every day that DC isn’t casting one of the Stranger Things kids as Billy is an opportunity wasted.
But there is another.
Every iteration of Captain Marvel/Shazam begins with Billy, yes, but before long the power of Shazam is being shared by a team. And the first person on that extended list? His long-lost twin (or more recently foster) sister, Mary.
Of all the superhero shows, none have embraced bright, cheerful optimism like Supergirl. But no DC character has, historically, been as bright, innocent, or hopeful as the Marvels, being children given adult bodies with the powers of gods. So I can’t help but think there’s a fun opportunity to have Supergirl need to deal with someone whose unbreakable cheer (and strength) outshines even her own. And while Billy Batson’s probably on lockdown, Supergirl the show has a history of ducking around embargoes by using less known siblings: no Lois Lane, but her sister Lucy; no Lex Luthor, but his sister Lena and mother Lillian are lurking around National City. Having the DEO need to make a road trip to Fawcett City and encountering Mary Marvel would fit right in.
Hell, given her name, you could even fit in a meta-commentary on how, thanks to Zack Snyder, there’s a perception that DC is all grim and dark and broody while Marvel is bright and fun and colourful. Sure, you’re not going to be able to launch a defense of the film branch easily, but still… Oh! Or have Winn or newly gay Alex get a bit of crush on Mary Marvel, only to find out that she’s actually a neonate girl and man was that dream he/she had last night inappropriate in hindsight… Man, this could be such a good episode and they’re probably not going to do it and why do I do this to myself…
Who to cast?
Millie Bobby Brown and Adrianne Palicki.
If you’re going to do the Marvel Family, you’ve got to do it right. That means big, imposing, adult for the hero, and small child for the alter ego. Adrianne Palicki certainly has the imposing, ass-kicking credentials, although a complicated relationship with DC. She got the lead in a Wonder Woman pilot from David E. Kelley, who proved that he’s much better at writing lawyers than Amazon warrior princesses and thus the infamously bad show wasn’t picked up. She then entered the superhero world as Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse on Agents of SHIELD. But since she was written off the show for a spinoff that, again, didn’t get picked up, she might be willing to jump back to the DC side.
But you can’t skimp on mild-mannered Mary Batson, either, and remember what I said about how perfect any of the Stranger Things kids would be as Billy? Millie Bobby Brown captured the internet’s attention as Eleven for a reason. Mille and Adrianne both have good experience as badass, powerful women, and would make a fun duo as Mary Marvel’s various halves.
Maybe if I yell “SHAZAM!” enough I’ll turn into a staff writer on Supergirl and can make this happen…
For the Defenders (et al): Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu
It’s kind of all there in the name. A master martial artist who rebelled against his evil father and decided to use his skills for good. He did a turn as an Avenger a roster shake-up or two ago, easily standing as an equal to Captain America, Thor, Spider-man and the others. Also, of all the superheroes based exclusively on “Super good at real-world martial arts” (Karate Kid, Judomaster, Richard Dragon, sort of but not quite Iron Fist), at least this guy’s actually Asian.
See, the Marvel Netflix shows have a problem with Asian representation. A lot of shows do, a lot of western media does, but it’s a little extra notable when every single Asian character in the Defenders franchise is attached to one of two doomsday ninja cults. Sure, yes, having the Asian guy be a martial artist, you’re steering into stereotype. But their bar is currently set low enough that there aren’t many directions to go but up here.
Also, he once used Pym particles to become giant and kung fu-fight a dragon.
More people show know about this guy. Oh, and did I happen to mention that his evil father was old-school pulp villain Fu Manchu? How much to I want to see Fu Manchu and Luke Cage go round and round? A lot.
Who to cast?
I would say Mark Dacascos, but Agents of SHIELD already used him as Discount Magneto and they do hate to double-dip… so let’s say Remy Hii.
Remy Hii’s familiar to Netflix as Marco Polo’s Prince Jingim, Kublai Khan’s son and heir. So not only is he familiar to the network, he’s also used to action scenes and the weapons (other than fists and feet) Shang-Chi would be packing. And he wouldn’t be fighting a foreign language (Steven Chow), being over 50 (Steven Chow again), or being someone I haven’t heard of. I am not currently up-to-date on Chinese film stars, I’m sure I’m sorry, let’s move on.
For The Flash: Firehawk
Lorraine Reilly was a senator’s daughter who was fighting a crush on hero Firestorm when she was kidnapped by one of his nemeses, Henry Hewitt, later known as Tokamak, who attempted to imbue her with Firestorm’s powers to use her as a weapon against both her father and Firestorm. He was largely successful, but Lorraine broke free of his control and became a hero in her own right. Although never to the same level as her male counterpart, because comics and sexism and all of that.
Flash already introduced Henry Hewitt in season two (specifically, and fittingly enough, in “The Fury of Firestorm”), already had him turn dark, named him Tokamak, and gave him a fixation on Firestorm’s power set and a grudge against Team STAR Labs. Why not have him try to get some delayed payback by trying to make his own Firestorm? And before you ask “Why have two people with those powers,” Strawman I’m making up, think how many speedsters are on that show right now. Flash, Kid Flash, Reverse Flash, Zoom, Jesse Quick, Savitar… Now consider how many people in Star City, good or evil, have decided that a bow and arrow is their weapon of choice. Actually, don’t bother. The answer is eight. Eight people, not including League of Assassins flunkies, said “Eh, nuts to guns, I’m-a use a bow.” Two Firestorms won’t hurt anything.
So given that a) they already know how to do the effects, and b) Firestorm and the Flash go way back, that’s why they introduced him on that show in the first place, and c) Firestorm is tied up protecting the timestream on Legends of Tomorrow, why not bring Firehawk to Central City? Give Flash someone to team up with who doesn’t star on a different show or live in a different universe.
Who to cast?
You know who’s killing it lately as a woman who has to break free of her maker’s programming? Evan Rachel Wood.
Dolores is a “host” in Westworld permanently assigned to one of the uglier narrative loops. (Although the finale may suggest why.) As such, she’s also one of the first to attempt to rise above it, and Evan Rachel Wood fully captured her transition from damsel to badass. As a bonus, depending on things go in tonight’s season finale, she may have a steady gig on Westworld for a while, and cable series have different shooting schedules than network, so she’d in theory (and what more does this discussion require than “In theory” have availability for sweeps month Firehawking without danger of getting booked on whatever the next Chicago–basedproceduralsoap drama is.
I mean she might choose to do movies like previous Firestorm Robbie Amell did, but hey, I can hope. Mostly. Sort of. I remember the basic mechanisms of how to– shut up.
For Agents of SHIELD: Abigail Brand, Agent of SWORD
In his run on Astonishing X-Men, Joss Whedon (who created Agents of SHIELD, which would be handy) introduced a subdivision of SHIELD: SWORD (Sentient World Observation and Response Department), who monitor extraterrestrial races and threats to protect the Earth from invasion. Abigail Brand, half alien herself, is its head.
Marvel and ABC recently announced plans for a new Inhumans TV series. This makes sense, since it was Isaac Perlmutter, head of Marvel Entertainment, who wanted to adapt the Inhumans, and not Kevin Feige, head of the now-separate Marvel Films. Despite the fact that Inhumans have been a major part of Agents of SHIELD for three seasons now (the focus might currently be on Ghost Rider, but the back half of the season is shaping up to again be Inhumans-centric), the new show has been said to be focused on the classic characters such as Black Bolt and Medusa, and will not be a spinoff of Agents of SHIELD. I see two ways this could play out.
First, this could be the first Marvel property to actually acknowledge, and even crossover with Agents of SHIELD. It’s free of the TV/movie division drama, unlike the Avengers; it would be on the same network, unlike Marvel Netflix; it would (probably) be set in the present day, unlike Agent Carter. All the barriers that thus far exist to keep Agents of SHIELD in its own little lonely box would be, in theory, gone. And between Avengers, Defenders, the ratings spike that happens every time the CW shows crossover, and the absolute lack of a ratings bump that happens when Agents of SHIELD does a shoe-horned, one-way, desperate-plea-for-attention excuse for a movie tie-in episode, the network has to know that having Coulson and Daisy/Quake come face to face with Inhuman royalty is the way to go.
Second… they could not know that and not only continue to neglect SHIELD (which they might be considering cancelling once it hits a syndication-friendly 100 episodes), but demand they stop doing Inhuman stuff.
In the first case, SHIELD already established that the Kree, who created the Inhumans, were concerned that they were active again. SWORD would be the perfect way to bring Coulson and Black Bolt together to deal with impending Kree actions. In the second case, Agents of SHIELD would need a new playground, since they’d be kicked out of their current one. In which case, since SWORD and SHIELD have a patently obvious link… it is all there in their names… SWORD could be the new thing for their fifth (and if Marvel won’t let a second ABC show acknowledge them, almost definitely last) season.
Who to cast?
Once upon a time, rumours circulated that Joss Whedon was looking to cast one of his frequent fliers, Felicia Day, in the role for the Avengers movie.
Obviously that didn’t happen, but that doesn’t make it a bad idea. Felicia Day has the exact geek appeal that Agents of SHIELD and the DCW-verse look for in casting choices. Also she’s familiar with the showrunners from her work on their older Joss-backed projects, Dr. Horrible and Dollhouse. It would be fun to see her take on a more badassed role.
For The DCW-verse in general: Ambush Bug
Created by Keith Giffen, Ambush Bug started as a comic relief villain for Superman, only to decide he’d rather be a (largely incompetent) hero, and eventually became popular enough to star in a sequence of miniseries and specials over the next two decades, all from Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming, the definitive Ambush Bug creative team. One of his signature traits became DC in-jokes and satire of DC itself (and some Marvel).
You know that whole “breaking the fourth wall, being aware he’s a comic/movie character” thing Deadpool does that everyone loves? Ambush Bug was doing it nearly a decade earlier. Let me posit something to you… the DCW-verse is in its fifth year. Arrow just celebrated its 100th episode. We’re nearing the point where a show can start to get away with the occasional self-referential humour episode. (Some might argue Arrow’s 100th started this off with the opening speech-referencing exchange “My name is Oliver Queen—“ “We know who you are.” “Everyone knows who you are!”) Supernatural’s done a handful of those over the last few years, and they’re all great.
Ambush Bug’s one power is the ability to teleport anywhere, even between universes. So Ambush Bug could visit all four of the DCW-verse shows for a fun, comic relief, non-crossover crossover. Or just for random episodes. You know, I can picture the DCW-style “My name is Oliver Queen/Barry Allen” opening now…
“My name is Irwin Schwab. That’s not the name I’m super famous for or anything, but—you know, I’m getting off track here. When a scientist of the planet Schwab sent his clothes from his supposedly doomed planet, hoping that his wardrobe would survive, only to have it intercepted by a giant radioactive space spider… I think? That’s what I heard, but I didn’t actually… I mean it sounds right… I found the bug-like suit, and gained the ability to teleport, ambushing people. So, Bug, Ambush, there’s something there, I feel. I discovered a universe full of repeating tropes and gloomy heroes, and now have made it my mission to help these teen soap multiverse heroes be someone else… something else. No, just that first one.”
“Ambush Bug! I am… Ambush Bug. Did I make that clear? Yes? Good.”
Who to cast?
This looks like a job for Danny Pudi.
Ambush Bug is a little bit crazy and a lot of self-reference. And six seasons (and a movie? Not yet) of nailing quirks, pop culture, and meta-jokes on Community as Abed Nadir prove Danny Pudi’s got the chops to make Ambush Bug a fun addition to the DCW-verse instead of an annoyance only I enjoy.
Will any of these shows do any of this? I don’t know. Frankly I couldn’t have predicted any of the characters Arrow pulled out this year (maybe Prometheus). But they’d all be fun to see.
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.
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 nearlyeverycabledrama out there, and some networkshows as well.
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 hurtbefore when pilots didn’t get picked up.
2. Barry Ween: Boy Genius
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.
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…
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
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
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
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 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
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
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.
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.
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.)
It is, as Hardison from Leverage often said, the Age of the Geek. And nothing drives that point home like the massive surge in superhero properties being adapted to the big and small screens. There are those in the media questioning whether the market’s getting saturated, but my opinion remains largely unchanged:
The two largest players in the superhero market, Marvel and DC, are developing two very different tactics to exploit this.
Marvel, as anyone in western society is now aware, has the Marvel cinematic universe, a series of interconnected films that range from “kind of okay” to “amazing” in terms of quality, but “acceptable” to “massive hit” in terms of box office. After Guardians of the Galaxy became the year’s biggest success story (beating out Captain America, the X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Transformers) despite having no A or even B list characters, Marvel Studios is seen as pretty much bulletproof at the box office. They’re also trying to expand into television, but Agents of SHIELD’s so-so reception and slow-bleed ratings mean it’s come the closest to being their first failure, it remains to be seen how Agent Carter will do at midseason, and their Netflix series are still at least a year away.
DC, on the other hand, is swiftly moving to dominate the television landscape. Arrow is into its third season, and now has a spinoff in the Flash; Gotham has opened strong on Fox; Constantine and iZombie are still on the way; and deals are in the works to bring the Titans and Supergirl to TV next year. If even half these projects achieve Arrow-level success (the first step towards Smallville-level success, something I am defining here exclusively by its ten-year run and not how warranted said run was), DC will be dominating the TV market. On the other hand, they haven’t had a movie that’s an unqualified success since 2008. Since The Dark Knight, they’ve managed “moderate hits that aren’t fondly remembered” (The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel) and “outright failures,” (Green Lantern, Jonah Hex), with their next big movie raising a few concerns.
But who’s dominating which medium isn’t what I wanted to talk about. No, it’s clear that both companies want a piece of all the pies. The difference in tactics comes down to how their various properties are interacting. Marvel and DC have taken different paths here, with Marvel bringing all of their film and TV projects into one shared universe, while DC has built a Chinese wall in between film and television, and with their shows already spread across three networks (five by next year if everything goes forward), that looks to get worse before it gets better.
So let’s take a look at each strategy. See how they stack up.
Pro for Marvel: Everything is connected!
Well, everything except Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four. You know, the A-list properties.
This is slightly harder to describe than I thought. Let’s try a story.
There’s a moment in Batman Forever when Bruce Wayne asks newly orphaned Dick Grayson what he’s going to do next. “The circus must be halfway to Metropolis by now,” he says. And so excited was Young Me in that moment, that quick little reference to Superman’s home city, that I barely even noticed how wooden Val Kilmer’s delivery was, and briefly forgot how ridiculous this movie was in general. And this is something Marvel movies manage each and every time. They are filled with references to each other and Easter eggs pointing elsewhere in Marvel lore.
And if one quick reference to Metropolis can brighten Batman Forever, imagine what that can do for movies that are actually fun, like Iron Man or Captain America. Or, to a lesser extent, Thor. And when all the various characters get to interact in one movie? Well, The Avengers happens. A massive success that everyone loves. Yes, okay, getting Joss Whedon to write and direct it certainly helped. Just throwing all the characters into one movie and hoping it works out isn’t a recipe for The Avengers, it’s a recipe for the largely reviled third X-Men movie.
Yes I am looking right at you when I say that, Zach Snyder. DO NOT SCREW UP THE JUSTICE LEAGUE, I AM NOT 20 ANYMORE, I MIGHT NOT GET A SECOND ONE IF YOU SCREW THIS UP.
That said, the interconnected Marvel Universe is also a demonstrable cash cow. Not only was the Avengers a massive success, every single movie since then has enjoyed a bump. Iron Man 3, Thor: the Dark World, and Captain America: the Winter Soldier all out-grossed their predecessors (something not every superhero franchise has been able to say lately), and Guardians of the Galaxy rode the Marvel name to box office supremacy.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is working so well that everyone wants a piece of the action. Warner Bros./DC is trying to bolt right to the big money by fast tracking Justice League instead of spending the time/capital on individual franchises. Despite the demonstrable diminishing returns on their current Spider-Man plans, Sony is trying to build their own cinematic universe off Spider-Man and his various… villains? That’s the plan? Really? That is going to crash and burn so hard… Fox is rejuvenating the X-Men (and releasing a Fantastic Four movie they seem weirdly reluctant to talk about), and Universal is trying to get into the game by making a connected universe out of Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein. Which could work…
…or it could not.
On the other side of the fence…
Con for DC: Everything is in a silo
Meanwhile, everything DC is doing is compartmentalized. There’s the new cinematic universe they launched with Man of Steel, and are trying to kickstart into full Marvel mode through Batman V. Superman: Cameos of Justice. Then there’s what’s known as the “Arrowverse,” the CW TV universe that started with Arrow and has expanded into the Flash. Constantine’s off on his own on NBC, and Gotham isn’t tying into anything.
Nor should it, really. I mean, they snuck in a Queen Consolidated Easter egg in the second episode, but really this show should take place at least a decade before Oliver’s fateful voyage on the Queen’s Gambit, 15 years before his return to Starling City.
So no, Stephen Amell’s Arrow and Grant Gustin’s Flash will not be joining Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot and the rest of the BvS cameos in the Justice League movie. Nor will John Constantine be swaggering into Starling or Central Cities. Which is a little sad in its own right, but there’s a bigger problem.
Have separate continuities if you want. DC is often built around the idea of a multiverse anyway. It’s the fact the characters from one continuity seemingly can’t appear in any of the others for fear of confusing the audience or whatever that’s killing us.
Smallville was banned from having Batman or Bruce Wayne appear. They brought in Green Arrow, Flash/Impulse (long story), Cyborg, Hawkman, Aquaman, Black Canary, the Legion of Superheroes, even Booster Gold… but never Batman, because they didn’t want to mess with the films. And now Batman, Superman, and their respective cities are verboten to the Arrowverse. Reportedly, the producers of Flash were told to cut a Luthorcorp Easter egg from the pilot, and it remains to be seen what sort of crackdown on Bat-verse references is going to spill out of Gotham being on the Fox network.
There is some small hope that it might be less stupid going forwards. The president of the CW network teased the possibility of Arrow crossing over with the proposed Titans series heading for TNT. And Supergirl will share a showrunner with Arrow and Flash (besides the ever-present Geoff Johns), and its network, CBS, is from a corporate perspective the CW’s older, more successful brother, both of them being owned by Warner Brothers, owners of DC Comics. So there’s some talk that Supergirl might not necessarily stand alone like Gotham or Constantine.
Except how would either of those even work? Arrow has had zero mentions of Batman, Gotham, Wayne Enterprises, anything (the leaked pilot of the Flash does, but it remains to be seen if that lasts until broadcast). How do you have a Titans show, starring Batman’s ex-sidekick Nightwing, cross over to a show where Batman doesn’t exist? Moreover, there are no aliens in the Arrowverse. They just introduced superpowers on the Flash, but neither series is currently touching aliens. So how do you have Starfire? And if there’s no Superman in the Arrowverse, does it even make sense to have Supergirl?
And it doesn’t even have to be like this. When Superman Returns came out, Smallville was still on the air. Whatever prevented Superman Returns from being the franchise launcher they hoped, people being confused by the multiple Clark Kents wasn’t it. And the producers of Gotham certainly aren’t planning to pack up and call it a day when Batman V. Superman opens partway through what they hope to be their second season. And their animation division keeps cranking out product regardless of what the characters are doing in live action.
Marvel can’t have Spider-Man or the X-Men turn up in the Avengers because they sold the film rights in order to keep the doors open after the comic crash in the 90s. Warner Bros. doesn’t have that excuse, yet they act like that anyway. And it’s maddening sometimes.
Con for Marvel: Everything’s connected, but nobody’s talking
The Marvel cinematic universe has introduced film and TV audiences to a nitpick comic fans have known and traded for years: “Why wouldn’t [x-character] call [y-character] for help?”
Happens all the time. “Superman could have stopped the riot in Arkham Asylum in five seconds. Why not call him?” Or, one I asked recently, “Captain America is the head of SHIELD, why is he letting a crooked weapons developer and the general in her pocket push Iron Man around like this?”
And while answers exist (Batman is able to protect Gotham because the criminals are afraid of him, not because they’re afraid that he’ll tell on them to Superman if they’re too mean), the single greatest argument against this nitpick is “He was busy, read his book.” Of course Captain America couldn’t bail out Iron Man, he’s been going through hell with the Red Skull. Of course Wonder Woman couldn’t come to Gotham, she’s been dealing with civil war on Olympus for months. Of course Green Lantern hasn’t been around to help the Justice League, shit is falling apart out in space.
The movies don’t have that. Avengers movies aside, we check in with Tony Stark or Captain America once every two years. Less than that for the Hulk. So we don’t have any idea what they’re doing between movies. So here’s a quick list of questions that arise when everyone’s movie is connected but nobody appears in each other’s movies because Robert Downey Jr. isn’t free. (Some spoilers for The Winter Solider and Iron Man 3)
Tony Stark’s house gets blown up by terrorists, after which said terrorists kidnap The President of the United States off of Air Force One, and nobody thinks that maybe SHIELD should get involved? Captain America has nothing to say about any of this?
Captain America has to bring down three heavily armed helicarriers in the Winter Solider, and for backup he brings Black Widow and some guy he met while jogging? This doesn’t seem like something that Tony Stark, the guy who helped design the helicarriers, or Bruce Banner, the unstoppable rage monster, might be useful for?
Actually forget them. Where the hell is Hawkeye? Black Widow finds out SHIELD is compromised and Clint Barton wasn’t her first phone call? They were partners! She joined the Avengers to help out Hawkeye for gods’ sake, and when their mutual employer turns on her, she doesn’t even try to get word to him? He even has experience bringing down helicarriers! Managed it with two fucking arrows!
And where the bloody hell is Thor since his last movie? He left Asgard at the end of the Dark World to hang out with Jane, and since then… what? Just bumming around Europe? “Pagan anarchists” (oy…) got their hands on an Asgardian weapon, an Asgardian criminal was on a rampage in the southern US, and Captain America was being hunted for treason, and Thor just doesn’t give a shit.
Everyone knows Coulson’s alive again, right? I mean, that’s got to be clear by now. He wasn’t exactly keeping his head down in the first season of Agents of SHIELD, and now he’s being publicly hunted by the US government. I have to believe Tony Stark would have noticed he’s not dead by now.
Swear to god, if they open the second Avengers movie with the team hanging out together and the implication that they’re in regular contact, fans would be within their rights to riot.
But that aside, there’s another problem with the Cinematic Universe’s approach.
Pro to DC: no one is beholden to anyone
The greatest flaw of Agents of SHIELD’s first season is that they didn’t have an interesting plot or an engaging villain for 15 episodes. Their money storyline involved the Hydra revelation from Winter Soldier, so they couldn’t really kick that off until after Winter Soldier had opened: eight months and sixteen episodes into the season. As a result, and I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, they hemorrhaged viewers and good will and only barely squeaked out a renewal thanks to corporate synergy making low ratings acceptable. The fact that they did nothing but spin their wheels up until that point is a whole other conversation, but the fact is their first season’s stories were beholden to the Winter Soldier’s release date. It remains to be seen what impact Age of Ultron will have, but for their sake, I hope it’s “none,” or at least “none until the third season” (if there is one, given that their second episode this season tied their series low point).
The Arrowverse doesn’t have that problem.
The Arrowverse can do whatever the hell it wants to do. We’re not going to connect to the Justice League movie? Fine, we’ll build our own Justice League with the Atom and Firestorm. Can’t use Batman? Fine, but we’ll borrow whichever of his villains you aren’t using. Ra’s Al Ghul’s available now, right?
In a strictly narrative context, they don’t have to hold anything back until the next movie opens. They’re not beholden to Zach Snyder’s plans. They can crossover as much or as little as they like, and when finale season rolls around, I imagine both Flash and the Arrow will be a little too busy with their own problems to come bail each other out.
Likewise, Gotham is free to play around. They won’t have to stick to someone else’s vision of Batman or the Penguin’s journeys. I doubt they’ll get too experimental, but they have some breathing room.
So while not being connected to the movies or several of the other series can be frustrating, it’s also the reason Arrow is thriving while Agents of SHIELD fizzled.
Also, nobody ever has to ask where Superman was during the Starling City earthquake.
So the two strategies have their strengths and weaknesses. Linking all the movies works like gangbusters (a few narrative holes aside), but letting TV shows do their own thing seems to be working out better than chaining them to a movie release schedule.
Do I want to see Titans and Supergirl cross over with Arrow and Flash? Damn right I do. Am I afraid that the Flash won’t be in the Justice League? Damn skippy I am. But am I glad that they’re getting to tell their own stories on their own terms? You’d better believe it.
An extremely hectic weekend means this is coming a couple of days late, but here we go.
And so we come to the end of my look at upcoming comic book TV shows, what they should avoid, and how they can set themselves apart. My only regret? I seem to have done them in no particular order. Not even broadcast order, since Gotham’s pilot comes the day before Agents of SHIELD’s premiere.
But that’s neither here nor there. Ladies and gentlemen, readers of all ages… Mr. John Constantine.
Coming in late October (sensibly close to Halloween), Constantine is based on the DC/Vertigo (DC’s mature readers line) comic Hellblazer, and oddly not on the current DC comic Constantine. Well, they both star the same guy, but since the TV show isn’t about to cross over with the Justice League anytime soon, it’s clearly more based on Hellblazer.
John Constantine is a surly, somewhat amoral magician and conman who, to his frequent annoyance, is one of the few people capable of keeping demons and/or monsters at bay and defending the Earth. He’s been lurking around the comics for three decades, first as a supporting character to Swamp Thing, then as the star of his own comic (the longest running in Vertigo history), and currently as a rogue mystic in the main DC continuity, star of his own book and one of the few consistent faces in the occult super team Justice League Dark.
There was also a movie starring Keanu Reeves but we needn’t discuss that.
And now he’s coming to television. And I’d like him to stay there for a while, so here’s what I see as ways for him to do that.
Challenge: Don’t just be a crime procedural with demons
I get it, Constantine. Procedurals are popular. From the CSIs to the NCIS’s to Castle and Bones and the Hawaii Five-0 team. They’re comfortable and don’t challenge the viewer. But trying to mimic them is where everything started to go wrong for Agents of SHIELD. They sold themselves as Marvel movies come to television, and then delivered NCIS: Fringe Division. Only less cool than the tie-in the Fringe implies.
Not that the procedural format is easy to avoid. Many, many shows I like still require a certain amount of “case of the week.” Most of them US basic cable dramadies: Burn Notice, White Collar, Leverage, mismatched pairs/teams solving problems while, and this is the important part, dealing with some larger plot in bits and pieces.
Now from the trailer, it looks like this is happening. Something sinister is hinted to be on the horizon, and Constantine is right at the center of it. That’s good. That’s a good start. But what’s going to separate you from the bland procedurals is what you do with this. The Mentalist and early Agents of SHIELD had larger plots as well: the Mentalist was hunting Red John, the serial killer who murdered his family, and Agents of SHIELD had its weekly hints about Coulson.
But they didn’t go anywhere.
I gave up on the Mentalist when it was clear that they would never truly make any progress in catching Red John until the show was over, and that stretching this plot out was practically giving Red John magic powers. Seriously, he kidnapped a medium that the Mentalist (no, I cannot be bothered to look up his name right now) liked, then somehow convinced her that she was dead, haunting the Earth, and could only be contacted by seance.
Even if you DO believe in hypnotism this feels like a stretch.
I already discussed what Agents of SHIELD did wrong for its first dozen episodes, so let’s move on.
The key is to use procedural, case of the week elements and build something bigger, darker, and more sinister. Look at Hannibal. It dressed itself up as a crime procedural that happened to be darker than most, and used that to create a visually gorgeous masterpiece unlike anything on television. Your key move here? World building. The magical world of DC, and Vertigo before it, is a rich and complex place filled with rival magicians, demons, gods, and cults. There is so much you can do with all that.
Oh, yes, also don’t forget that your lead character is a lying, scheming, con artist whose saving grave is that he happens to target the bad guys more often than the good. You might not be able to show him smoking on screen (for serious, NBC? That’s just–wow), but don’t lose sight of any of that.
Opportunity: I mentioned world building, right?
Remember all those rival magicians and whatnot I just mentioned? Well, good news: nobody else doing DC stuff on television or in movies is using them. Well, none of them except Shazam, but that lot barely count. Gotham and Arrow aren’t even touching magic, none of the magical characters are on Zach Snyder’s Justice League radar, you can go to town here.
Good first steps I’ve seen involve sneaking the Helmet of Fate into an early episode, opening a door for Doctor Fate to return to television (following a two episode stint on Smallville). Jim Corrigan has been cast, which presumably will lead to an appearance by his alter ego The Spectre, the personification of the wrath of God. And if the success of Arrow and sharp drop in ratings for early Agents of SHIELD teach us anything, it’s that audiences do eat this stuff up. Building your show’s universe with characters from the comics is a trickier path for you, since the magical characters lack the recognition of Deadshot, Deathstroke, and the Flash, but there’s still some great potential here. I’ve discussed this in the past, but here’s my wishlist, complete with casting suggestions. Hey, Arrow keeps casting people I like in their show, and they’re doing pretty well for themselves.
1, The Phantom Stranger
Phantom Stranger has been lurking around magical events in the DC universe for a while now. He’s a mysterious entity, who appears when he’s needed, and typically assists other heroes in overcoming something big and mystical. In the current continuity, they’ve made it pretty clear that he’s Judas Iscariot, cursed to wander the Earth as a stranger to all while running odd jobs for God as punishment for his betrayal. I mean, they never say the names “Judas” or “Jesus,” but it’s still really clear. That said, I’d advise skipping that while you’re on network TV.
He works for this show because he exists between the forces of Heaven and Hell. Neither angel nor demon, he’s exactly the sort of ominous ally Constantine might need while he’s trying to work the two factions against each other (side note: please have him work Heaven and Hell against each other, that just seems obvious).
Casting suggestion: Idris Elba. The thing the Phantom Stranger needs most is gravitas. It’s got to be clear that if he’s here, something serious is about to go down. And the more imposing he is, the more fun it’ll be when Constantine doesn’t give a fuck about how imposing he is. And if there’s one thing Idris Elba can seriously bring to the table, it’s power and gravitas.
2. Swamp Thing
As I said above, Constantine and Swamp Thing go way back. And when you’re ready to move beyond angels, demons, and ghosts (which you should), Swamp Thing opens doors to the elemental realms. He’s the guardian of the Green, the force that links all plant life. And this frequently puts him at odds with humanity. Admit it, it’d be fun watching John have to match wits with a plant monster. If I have to explain further I’m not sure we can be friends. I mean, do I have to draw you a diagram here? He’s Groot with an expanded vocabulary.
Casting suggestion: Ron Perlman or Clancy Brown. Hellboy or the Kurgan. Even before you put the prosthetics on, they’ve got the size, the gruff demeanor, and the deep, booming voice needed to bring Swampy to sinister yet slightly lovable life.
Post-90s Eclipso is a textbook attempt to redeem a silver age concept that was a little ridiculous. Originally a super villain that only came out during eclipses, Eclipso was re-invented in the 90s as a god of vengeance who had gone rogue and was imprisoned in a black diamond. If you hold the black diamond (or a fragment thereof) and feel rage, Eclipso will either possess you (if you want to harm the object of your rage yourself) or manifest as a construct (if you want the object of your rage harmed but not by you), take your vengeance, and then just go nuts on the world in general. Well, as long as he stays out of direct sunlight.
Constantine’s an exorcist. Eclipso would make for a hell of a recurring nemesis.
Casting suggestion: Robert Englund. Eclipso is cruel, vicious, and fancies himself as having a wicked sense of humour, so who better than Freddy Krueger?
4. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, ZATANNA.
Zatanna is the most powerful sorceress in the DC universe. She can basically make anything happen just by saying it backwards. She’s put in some time with the Justice League, primarily back in the late 70s/early 80s, but typically works solo. Like Dr. Fate, she’s no stranger to television, having popped by Smallville a couple of times, but she’d fit in much better here.
In any continuity, Constantine and Zatanna have history. Former lovers turned occasional allies, even if the alliance is sometimes reluctant on Zatanna’s side (he is, as I have implied, not the easiest guy to get along with). In current comics, she’s also his surrogate conscience. She pushes him to do the right thing, when it’s often clear the wrong thing suits him better. It’s even implied that she used magic to try and alter his personality to be more heroic, because noble though she tries to be, sometimes she’s willing to cross lines other Justice Leaguers wouldn’t. Which caused some problems during the classic story Identity Crisis that I don’t have time to go into.
She’s an ideal addition to Constantine’s supporting cast. She is the ideal addition to Constantine’s supporting cast. And if she’s popular, which how would she not be… maybe a spin-off would be in order? And if that happens, I know a writer you could get for relatively cheap to work on it. (Hint… it’s me. Me over here. This guy.)
Casting suggestion: Sarah Jones. She’s taken a couple of swings at television already (as the FBI agent tasked with hunting down time-displaced criminals in Alcatraz and the morally shady count room manager for the Savoy casino in Vegas), but nothing that’s lasted past a season. But she’s got a great intensity and a habit of outshining more famous co-stars like Sam Neill or Dennis Quaid. She needs a hit like I need Zatanna in this show. And then on her own show. Which you could hire someone else to run, if you needed to… Bryan Fuller’s probably too busy between Hannibal and American Gods, isn’t he? Damn it, why can’t he just write everything…
And that’s the lot. Well, okay, there’s also Agent Carter and iZombie, but they’re not until mid-season and I do not have much to say about them. And Supergirl and Titans haven’t been officially picked up yet (although Supergirl’s super close–I apologize for the wording, I see now that was the wrong thing to do). So we’ll call that a wrap.
Next time… other stuff. It’s been a busy day, I’ll figure that out later.