Is it apparent yet that I take a particular interest in comic-related properties? Especially the ones from DC? Well, we’re back on that topic for the nonce. What’s key this week is that we had another announcement from Fox regarding its upcoming series Gotham. Apparently it’s young Bruce Wayne, not Captain Jim Gordon, who will be the main character of this show about Gotham before Batman.
I keep waiting for some piece of news about this series to make me in any way excited to see it. No, that’s not true… I keep waiting for someone involved in this series to say “Just kidding, we’re not making this show at all. Can you imagine? Wow. That would be awful.” Because everything they’ve announced has sounded terrible so far.
“It’s about James Gordon before Batman, featuring Bat-villains before they were the Bat-villains!” No.
“Twelve year-old Bruce Wayne will also appear on the series!” NO.
“Actually he’ll be the main character! The series will follow him from childhood in the first episode to finally putting on the cape in the last episode!” NO. “We’ll have early versions of the villains too! It’ll be just like Smallvi–”
I watched Smallville. I watched Smallville for an entire damned decade. I have, in weaker moments, considered picking up the complete series box set on DVD. But I don’t want to do it again. One of the things I love about Arrow, one of the things that’s made it easier to convince others to watch it? It’s not Smallville. It’s an improvement on Smallville in nearly every way, most notably in that Oliver might not be calling himself Green Arrow yet, but in the very first episode he was still fighting crime with a god damned bow and arrow.
In short, of all the projects circulating based on comic properties, this one is the absolute least appealing, and yet it’s the one that’s basically guaranteed to be on TV screens by year’s end. They’ve been greenlit without even shooting a pilot. The Flash series doesn’t have that kind of guarantee. Millions of dollars will be thrown at a series that has the most “This is a bad idea” red flags coating it since they made a TV show about cavemen from an insurance commercial.
So, here’s five TV series based on comics they could make instead that would be nigh-infinitely better than ten years of Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle and Edward Nygma dealing with high school and peer pressure.
1. Gotham Central
This is the one that occurs to literally any DC comic fan a few seconds after they hear about Gotham. So let’s start here. It’s about the Major Crimes Unit of the Gotham City Police Department, attempting to solve crimes without leaning on the Bat-signal. This almost was a TV series back in 2003, but after Birds of Prey crashed and burned Warner Brothers put a halt on all Batman-related TV (well, live action, anyway). So here’s how they could make this a great series.
Premise: Commissioner James Gordon (who wasn’t in the comic but we’ll put him in the show as a recurring character) struggles to root out the corruption that infested the GCPD prior to his appointment, in a cautious alliance with the Batman. His greatest accomplishment in the public eye, the Major Crimes Unit, is also the biggest source of tension in the department itself, as key positions were given not to GCPD veterans, but to transfers from Metropolis, such as openly gay Captain Maggie Sawyer. After one of their own is killed in a drug bust that brought them face to face with Mr. Freeze, MCU detectives Marcus Driver and Rene Montoya make an appeal to Sawyer and Gordon: no Bat-signal. They’re going to catch Freeze themselves, to prove that Gotham cops can solve Gotham crimes… even if some of them, like Montoya’s new partner, are more used to the squeaky clean streets of Metropolis.
Now, you couldn’t have Bat villains every week, and sometimes they wouldn’t be able to get the win without Bat-assistance, so this could descend into a bland “procedural with sci-fi elements,” like Agents of SHIELD in the first half of its debut season. So to avoid this, let’s have some long plots. Specifically, something you often see in better Batman stories: the growing tensions between established organized crime families like the Falcones and the newly emerging “freak mafias” under figures like Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot, Roman “Black Mask” Sionis, and the real crazies like Joker, Scarecrow, and Two-Face. Make Penguin, Black Mask, and Carmine Falcone regular players to give the MCU some big bads to contend with as they struggle to shut down the gang violence.
–Jason O’Mara (Life on Mars, Terra Nova, Vegas) as Detective Marcus Driver, GCPD veteran out to redeem the department by proving real cops don’t need the Batman to solve crimes for them.
–Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) as Renee Montoya, personal protegee of Jim Gordon who as a uniformed officer dealt with the worst Gotham’s streets and precincts had to offer.
-as long as I’m dreaming, Idris Elba (The Wire, Thor) as Montya’s new partner, Crispus Allen, a Metropolis transfer disgusted by the corruption that still infests the GCPD.
–Sarah Jones (Alcratraz, Vegas) as Maggie Sawyer, head of the MCU, who transferred from dealing with crimes involving aliens, monsters, and Superman in Metropolis to worrying that every unsolved homicide might be the Joker in Gotham.
–Victor Garber (Alias, Eli Stone) as Carmine Falcone, fighting a two front war against Gordon’s attempts to root out his crooked cops and the Penguin’s attempts to rule Gotham’s underworld, all while trying to keep his son Alberto’s growing psychosis hidden.
–Mark A. Sheppard (Firefly) as the Penguin, Gotham’s second biggest (and rising) mob boss, whose vicious and unforgiving nature makes him a terror despite being short and seemingly harmless.
–Peter Krause (Six Feet Under, Sports Night) as Jim Gordon, Gotham’s top cop on a mission to redeem his department and his city.
–David Marciano (Due South, the Shield) as Jim Corrigan, the corrupt head of CSI, whose side business of selling key bits of evidence is endangered by Gordon’s crusade. He’ll be driven to greater and greater lengths to keep his activities hidden.
Other stories: With the Falcones in the cast, make season two a loose adaptation of The Long Halloween; no adaptation of Gotham Central would be complete without including Half a Life, in which Montoya is outed as a lesbian and kidnapped by an amorous Two-Face, and Soft Targets, in which Joker starts picking off cops and civilians with a sniper rifle; the Black Mask launches a savage and destructive bid to make himself the king of Gotham’s underworld, which forces an uneasy alliance between Falcone and Cobblepot, but will the MCU play ball with the devils they know to stop something worse?
God this series could be so good I just depressed myself.
One of the best superhero comics of the 90s, featuring reluctant legacy hero Jack Knight.
Premise: Decades ago, scientist Ted Knight created the cosmic rod: a weapon powered by cosmic radiation Knight was able to harness. For a brief time, he used the rod to fight crime as Starman, defender of Opal City, until his mental breakdown. Now he’s passed the rod to his son David… but when David is shot dead by the son of Starman’s oldest enemy, the Mist, it falls to Ted’s younger son Jack to take up the mantle and save the city from the Mist’s comeback crime wave… with the unexpected aid of immortal supervillain the Shade.
Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who, Broadchurch) as Jack Knight. He’d rather just buy and sell antiques and collectibles, but after his brother’s death he makes a promise to his father to carry on the mantle of Starman part time, growing from reluctant protector to true hero.
Alan Alda (MASH) as Ted Knight, genius inventor, who struggles with depression and guilt over misuse of his earlier inventions. Jack’s promise came with a catch: Jack will be Starman if Ted tries to turn the energy he uses for the rod into a new, global energy source.
Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) as the Shade, an apparently immortal villain with deadly shadow-based powers. When Ted Knight was Starman, the Shade was robbing banks for fun, but comes out of retirement when the Mist’s crime wave threatens his preferred home, Opal City. He becomes an ally to Jack.
Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) as Nash, aka the new Mist. The Mist’s son Kyle is his heir apparent, and his daughter Nash a shy, stuttering disappointment. But when Jack kills Kyle to avenge his brother, Nash sets out to make herself a true villain, becoming a more deadly Mist than he brother ever was.
Mark A. Sheppard (Supernatural) as Jake “Bobo” Benetti, a former small-time supervillain who, after a few bank robberies, decided being super-strong and tough didn’t mean evil was the life for him. Becomes a reluctant hero in his own right.
Other stories: A series obsessed with the past and future, you’d have flashbacks to Ted’s Starman days and, why not, a season set in space as they adapt the classic arc Stars My Destination. Also of note is the O’Dares, for whom being Opal City cops is the family business. Black sheep Matt is corrupt at first, but his past life as legendary Opal city lawman Brian Savage calls out to him, and with the Shade’s help he works to undo the damage he’s done to his city and family name.
3. The Boys
Based on the graphic novel series by Garth Ennis, in which… oh, who am I kidding. This is a series about super heroes that makes Game of Thrones look like the Gilmore Girls, no network would touch this thing.
3. Top Ten
Another cop series, this one set in a world where literally everyone has powers. Not just powers, but costumes and code names to match. In this world, Top Ten are the cops.
Premise: Like I said, everyone in the world has some sort of power, so the local precinct of Top Ten must deal with crimes involving aliens, robots, gods, and super-powered serial killers. All part of a day’s work.
The book has a huge cast. I’ll stick to the highlights.
–Amber Tamblyn (House, the Unusuals) as Robyn “Toybox” Slinger, the new girl on the force with a small arsenal of toy-sized robots suited for light combat, forensics, and other tasks.
–Adam Baldwin (Firefly) as Jeff Smax, Robyn’s partner, a grizzled veteran officer who happens to be a massive, blue, super-strong, nigh-invulnerable half-ogre from a fantasy realm who joined Top Ten after a failed career as a dragon slayer. Oh yes, he also has an intimate relationship with his twin sister, because in his home dimension that’s apparently okay.
–H. Jon Benjamin as the voice of Kemlo “Hyperdog” Caeser, the talking dog in a human-shaped exoskeleton that’s the sergeant in charge of the division.
-Mark A. Sheppard (Battlestar Galactica) as Duane “Dust Devil” Bodine, a cowboy-themed veteran trying to break in his rookie partner.
Other stories: Avoid the trap of being just a procedural with powers through the original book’s long arcs. A murder in the robot ghetto that leads to a drug lab and a conspiracy that goes all the way to Top Ten’s bosses in Grand Central, an alternate reality where Rome never fell (although the locals claim everyone else is from “an alternate reality where it did”), and the serial killer known as the Libra Killer, which connects to legendary “science heroes” the Seven Sentinels. Beyond that? Keep the tongue in cheek homages to classic comic characters and stories flowing. Make sure to include the story where Balder, brother of Thor, is killed by Loki in the God Bar, causing Smax to deliver the classic line “Nobody move in a mysterious way.”
Also the one officer who delivers the “official warning” before raiding a drug lab: “Ahem. Hey you in there, you’re dead.”
Spinning out from the woefully short-lived series The Pulse, reporters Ben Urich and Sally Floyd start the news site frontlines.com to report on what’s really happening in the super powered world.
Premise: Ben Urich becomes a leading force on reporting on the new, stranger world that has arisen in the wake of the Battle of New York (which we know as the climax of the Avengers), but is let go when his paper downsizes its reporting staff in favour of pulling stories off the wire. Sally Floyd convinces him to become a more responsible Rising Tide, investigating the hidden stories behind SHIELD, AIM, the Dark Elf incident in Greenwich, and everything else happening in the Marvel cinematic universe, only through journalism instead of cyber-anarchism. So basically, all that stuff we thought Agents of SHIELD was going to do.
–John Schneider (Smallville, Dukes of Hazzard) as Ben Urich, veteran journalist out to expose the truth behind this new wave of heroes, gods, and monsters.
–Eliza Coupe (Happy Endings, Scrubs) as Sally Floyd, who pulls Ben into the world of cyber-journalism.
-Mark A. Sheppard (Leverage) as their contact at SHIELD, who sometimes gives them legit scoops and sometimes feeds them disinformation for his own ends, and it’s hard to be sure which he’s doing at any given time.
Other stories: We all thought Agents of SHIELD was going to be the glue holding the Marvel cinematic universe together. Well, it isn’t. But the fact that we’re this disappointed that it isn’t shows there’s a market for that. And with four new street-level series hitting Netflix soon? There’ll be even more to glue together. Frontline would do what the various Frontline miniseries always did: show us what’s happening off camera during the big events.
Warren Ellis’ classic cyberpunk graphic novel set in a chaotic dystopia that’s uncomfortably similar to the modern day, starring rage-filled journalist Spider Jerusalem.
Premise: Renegade gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem is living a quiet life hidden in the wilderness, having become disgusted with society in the aftermath of the previous presidential election. Sadly for him, he still owes his publisher two more books, and when they track him down to his mountain hideaway to remind him of his debt, Spider returns to The City, a sprawling metropolis where consumerism, sex, and drug culture have run amok. With the aid of his “filthy assistants,” as he calls them, Spider attacks the establishment through his articles, eventually being drawn back into the political arena as his old nemesis, “the Beast,” seeks re-election against a charming challenger, Gary “the Smiler” Callahan (largely believed to be a satire of British PM Tony Blair).
–John C. McGinley (Scrubs) as Spider Jerusalem, the crazed journalist out to save or destroy society by shoving its face in The Truth.
–Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck) as Channon Yarrow, the original “filthy assistant” who also served as Spider’s bodyguard.
–Mila Kunis (Black Swan, That 70s Show) as Yelena Rossini, his second “filthy assistant” who gradually grows into his apprentice.
–Louis CK as Mitchell Royce, Spider’s long-suffering editor and the one person who might qualify as his friend.
-Mark A. Shepard (Doctor Who) as “The Beast,” incumbent president.
–Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex, Frost/Nixon) as The Smiler, the opposing candidate who seems like the lesser of two evils… at first.
Other stories: In addition to Ellis’ long-plot of Spider and the Smiler, do what sci-fi does best, man. Hold a mirror up to society and show us what we’re doing wrong. Wield The Truth as forcefully as Spider Jerusalem does. Take particular aim at cable news, as broken and dysfunctional an industry as you could name. And make Yelena’s transformation from “rich guy’s daughter with an internship” to “woman who could destabilize a government with an op-ed” one for the ages.
So, there you go. Five TV shows that in a just world would each be ten times more critically acclaimed and as much as twice as popular as “Smallville with Batman.” Six seasons and a movie for each one or we don’t deserve nice things.
And the best part, Warner Brothers and Marvel Studios? One or the other of you already owns every single character, title, and major plot I’ve mentioned. You can take any of these ideas and run with them, and not owe me a damned thing, and I’ll just be happy the project is happening.
Although, that said… if you need a cheap showrunner, I’m available.