Obscure Characters Superhero Shows Should Use

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

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Who’s that?

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.

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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

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Who’s that?

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.

There's not much cooler than ninja kicking a dragon in the face.

There’s not much cooler than ninja kicking a dragon in the face.

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.

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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

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Who’s this?

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.

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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 Chicagobased procedural soap 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

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Who’s that?

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.

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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

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Who’s that?

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.

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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.

Three graphic novels that SHOULDN’T be movies

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

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

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

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

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

1. Hack/Slash

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

Why not a movie?

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

So what could it be?

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

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

Some great ones.

Some great ones.

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

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

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

2. Barry Ween: Boy Genius

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

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

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

Why not a movie?

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

So what could it be?

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

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

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

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

3. Transmetropolitan

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

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

Why not a movie?

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

Sorry, got distracted there.

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

So what could it be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan at the Movies: Sin City: a Dame to Kill For

It was nearly ten years ago that Sin City swept into theatres, and man alive was it a sight to see at the time. From the way Robert Rodriguez took the exact images from Frank Miller’s original comics and brought them to stark, mostly black and white life, to the way the incredible cast made the pulp dialogue sing. I loved Sin City, and used to watch two of the four stories over and over again from the booth of the Moviedome. So naturally I was thrilled at the talk of a sequel, since there were still Sin City graphic novels very much worth adapting. Which meant that talk of Frank Miller writing new stories to include in the sequel was a little discouraging. First of all, because that lowered the odds of them using the stories I wanted to see on the screen, and second of all, because Frank Miller has lost it.

No, seriously, he’s lost it completely.

Frank Miller did some good comics work in the 80s, but these days he’s gone around the bend, and nothing proves that more than his attempts to revisit past glories. I would have thought that The Dark Knight Strikes Back would have proven that for everyone, but apparently we needed more evidence, and now we have it.

But instead of a fresh installment of what has always been an anthology series, what we got was a movie trying to remind us of the original, by re-using as many of the characters as possible.

Included in the movie are two stories from the comics: Just Another Saturday Night, a short featuring Mickey Rourke’s Marv, back from the first movie’s The Hard Goodbye (the very first Sin City story), and the titular A Dame to Kill For, featuring Dwight from the original’s The Big Fat Kill (played by Josh Brolin, as this story takes place before he had plastic surgery to instead resemble Clive Owen… no, really, that’s what happens). Added in are one new story featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a card shark targeting Senator Roark, who you may remember from the first film’s That Yellow Bastard, part of the Roark family which controls Sin City and keeps it the pit of crime and corruption that it is, and the long-discussed direct sequel to That Yellow Bastard in which Nancy the stripper (Jessica Alba) is out to avenge her savior/lover Detective Hartigan (Bruce Willis, back as a ghostly presence in Nancy’s life), who killed himself in the hopes that it would spare Nancy from Senator Roark’s anger over the death of his horrifying, serial killing, child molesting son at Hartigan’s hands.

Okay. Let’s break this down entry by entry.

Just Another Saturday Night

This is meant to be a quick intro back into the world of Sin City, as Marv goes after four frat boys for setting hobos on fire, ending with two of them being taken out by the army of prostitutes that rule Old Town (because Frank Miller loves him some whores).

What it actually does is underline the problem with this entire movie. Where the first film’s cold open, The Customer is Always Right, provided a perfect intro to the noir storytelling, visual style, and general lack of what you’d call happy endings that we the viewers could come to expect, Just Another Saturday Night shows us that Rodriguez and Miller don’t fully recall how the visual style worked last time while shouting “Hey everybody! It’s Marv! Remember Marv? We all liked Marv vengeance-murdering his way up the criminal ladder last time, right?”

In other words, it’s Marv without the thrills, occasional wit, and “I can’t believe they just did that” winces of The Hard Goodbye. They brought back the characters we loved, with none of the reasons why we loved them. Roll opening credits, and try to lower your expectations.

The Thing With Joseph Gordon-Levitt

I don’t know what this one’s called. I do know that I’ll watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt in practically anything, because he’s awesome.

Sadly the material doesn’t always rise to his level.

Johnny is an interesting character, and his motivations and methods for taking down Senator Roark are unexpected, but this story has the same issues as the rest: it’s a little too grim. I mean, they’re all grim. That’s the point. But the first film had lighter moments. This installment comes closest to recreating that, if only through Johnny’s undeniable charms, but there’s still not a lot of smiles or laughs to be had, and a lot of asking ourselves “Why are you showing this illicit poker game how good you are at manipulating cards, do you want them to know you’re cheating?”

It’s… okay. It would have been the worst if it had been part of the original, but here it’s almost a highlight.

Also Marv is in it. Because heaven forbid we have even one entry without Marv this time around.

A Dame to Kill For

Now this entry had every possible advantage it could. It’s a prequel to The Big Fat Kill, my favourite of the original entries, and (of course) also features Marv as Dwight’s emergency muscle. It has the most returning characters, featuring Rosario Dawson’s violent madam Gail, twin prostitutes Goldie and Wendy, and a re-cast deadly little Miho giving us our only taste of the blood-splattered “holy shit” action sequences of the first film, just with less charisma than when it was Devon Aoki (who had to bow out due to pregnancy). And it has the film’s real breakout performance, Eva Green as Eva Lord, the so-called dame to kill for that’s getting Dwight into more trouble than a trunk full of dismembered cops did last time around.

But it’s pretty clear this was a later entry in the Sin City graphic novels. The narration already feels forced and less engaging. Two minutes into the story and I was already getting tired of Dwight narrating about how hard it was to keep himself under control. And again, there’s less fun, less endlessly quotable moments, less to enjoy here than in its predecessor. It’s still the most fun, the most interesting, and the best written story of the entire movie, but you’re probably starting to get the impression that that isn’t a huge accomplishment.

As to Eva Lord. She might well be the most compelling and powerful female character either movie managed to present (even if her motives become a little cliche and two-dimensional), and Eva Green plays the hell out of her… but it’s hard to deny one little sticking point.

She is naked a lot. I mean, a lot. Which, depending on your perspective, could read as an endorsement rather than a condemnation, I suppose, but here’s the thing. I saw this with several female friends, and the fact that Eva might have been exposed more often than not really started to feel awkward. I could picture other women I know asking how necessary this was, and I didn’t have a good answer.

Now, a certain amount of nudity works well with this role: Eva Lord uses her sexuality to control men, it’s her primary tactic, and she’s adept at it. But I’m just going to admit… they could have dialed it down a touch. One could argue they were just sticking with the imagery from the comics, but if one were to argue that, I would ask one to recall how naked Nancy the stripper was supposed to be, and how many fucks Jessica Alba gave about that.

The answers are “Very naked” and “Zero fucks.” So there were other choices they could have made.

Still, if one were to watch this movie, A Dame to Kill For is going to be your one big highlight. It’s all downhill from there.

Fun fact: Clive Owen was going to reprise post-surgery Dwight, but he had a schedule conflict, so they used prosthetics to make Josh Brolin look like Clive Owen’s Dwight. Which, frankly, is probably better for the story. Less confusing for new people. Not there’ve been many of those.

Nancy’s revenge

And here, at the end, it all falls apart.

That Yellow Bastard wasn’t my favourite of the first film. It’s the one I rewatched the least. Well, after The Customer is Always Right. But it wasn’t bad, it was just bleak. The (possibly) one good cop in Basin City (get it?) goes to prison for lethally defending a young girl from a vicious predator, simply because said predator’s father was Senator Roark, who basically owned the police, and wanted his child-murdering son to be President some day. Roark uses freakish medical science to save his son’s life and regrow some bits that Hartigan shot off, son becomes That Yellow Bastard as a result, uses a released Hartigan to find the girl (Nancy, now a stripper, as I’ve mentioned), Hartigan and the Yellow Bastard face off one more time, Hartigan shoots himself in the hope that Senator Roark won’t go after Nancy if Hartigan’s already dead and unhurtable.

Like I said, bleak. Sin City isn’t a place where a grizzled ex-cop and the much younger woman who’s loved him for half her life get to ride off into any sort of sunset. But apparently that ending wasn’t good enough, so Frank Miller wrote an all-new story in which Nancy, four years later, is still filled with rage and despair, and is trying to work up the nerve to kill Roark for revenge.

And it serves as the final proof that Frank Miller has lost whatever talent he may have had, because it is terrible. Hartigan’s ghost wandering about in torment, Nancy’s narration, the general sluggishness of the plot, shoehorning in Marv to be Nancy’s backup, none of it really works. By the halfway point I found myself just picking apart the continuity issues that having Marv in this story created, as Marv’s presence puts this solidly before The Hard Goodbye. Examples:

  • By the end, Nancy’s lost her love of dancing, died her hair black, has several cuts on her face, and is a vicious killer. In The Hard Goodbye, she’s blonde, unscarred, dancing, and seems happy and well-adjusted. So I’m forced to assume she gets over everything, because no part of the Hard Goodbye could have happened before this story.
  • Also I assume that the Basin City police have zero luck finding either of the people who broke into stately Roark manner and left a trail of bodies in their wake. Nor the Secret Service, who are typically called in to this sort of thing. I know this because Marv and Nancy are just living their lives in relative peace by The Hard Goodbye, which once again, must logically take place after this.
  • Still, you’d think that after Senator Roark was killed in his own home, Cardinal Roark might have had better security.

All in all, having Marv in this story creates a huge pile of narrative problems, and the rest of the story just isn’t good enough to allow me not to notice them. Nancy turning from stripper to assassin and teaming up with a popular character to give the audience the justice-murder they were denied last time plays like bad Sin City fanfic, and the fact that it’s from the original author is just sad.

But what’s really sad, is that since this sequel was such a disappointment and, probably as a result, is tanking at the box office, I’m never going to see an adaption of the Sin City story Hell and Back, which at one point features the protagonist assaulting an enemy compound while high on powerful hallucinogens, meaning it would have been written like Sin City but shot like Spy Kids.

And I wanted to see that. Oh well. Maybe I’ll just find a way to rewatch the original Sin City this week. Or Guardians of the Galaxy. One of those.