While Marvel and DC grab headlines – world building and looking for new ways to tell Batman’s story - in an effort to stack humongous TV universes on top of existing or developing film universes, one has to wonder if audiences could start to show signs of fatigue for cape and cowl story lines as the number of super-powered shows continues to grow.
If that ever does happen, though, there are plenty of other rich and unexplored concepts in the slightly less heavily trafficked section of the comic book shop that could follow in the footsteps of NBC’s freshly announced Constantine series, AMC’s developing Preacher concept, and perhaps AMC’s wildly successful zombie drama, The Walking Dead.
Below is a look at nine comic books that lend themselves to that process. The characters in these books may not be as deeply ingrained in our consciousness as Wonder Woman or Spider-Man, but they resonate with both fans and critics and they have been created by some of the boldest minds in comics.
More than that, though, the following comic books all have a demonstrated taste for risk taking and doing unconventional things within somewhat conventional genres; an asset that many great shows have as well.
Y: The Last Man
Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man comic turns the last man on earth trope on its ear. Slacker magician (Yorick Brown) turns into humanity’s last hope and a moving target, while making his way across the country beside his mysterious handler (Agent 355), a geneticist with a guilty conscience (Dr. Allison Mann), and his monkey (Ampersand). Together they dodge cults and Israeli military extremists while trying to figure out why the male half of mankind (and other species) has ceased to be, tossing the world into chaos.
Vaughan’s penchant for idiosyncratic dialogue puts a clever tongue in the mouths of all of his characters, but there is also real heart behind Yorick’s search for a girlfriend (Beth) that is a continent away and possibly dead. Add that to the ample action and the unraveling mystery, and though it’s cliche to say it, this book really does have the a diverse set of elements that make it accessible to all kinds of fans.
Though the concept is still slowly crawling toward becoming a feature, it could certainly work as a TV show if that falls apart, and as a former writer/producer on Lost and as executive producer/showrunner on Under the Dome, Vaughan could certainly be an asset to the process – though his dance card is already pretty full with Dome and his award-winning comic, Saga.
Speaking of Saga, Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples have constructed an uncommonly imaginative story about star-crossed lovers on the run in the middle of a galactic civil war, with a comic that feels like an ever-evolving collage of science fiction elements and visuals that feel both familiar and not.
Despite its position as one of the more acclaimed and fiscally-successful comics on the market (the latest issue ranked 29th among all individual comic sales for the month of December, outselling Superman, The X-Men, and Iron Man), adapting Saga could prove challenging.
To construct the world that has fallen out of Vaughan and Staples’ head, such a project would require a large cast, well-rendered planets, and a ton of either CG or Henson-esque (think Farscape) creations to nail the epic space opera feel of the book. That’s an undertaking that could be prohibitively expensive, but if the book keeps selling and growing, it might force that uphill climb.
Between The Walking Dead, its upcoming spin-off, and The CW’s potential iZombie series, TV probably doesn’t need another zombie show, but an adaptation of Revival wouldn’t exactly be that. Instead, the show would focus on the way that a town copes with the influx of dead people returning as themselves. It’s something that resembles the premise of Resurrection (a mid-season replacement for ABC) so closely, that when the previously attempted Revival show got passed over, it prompted writer Tim Seeley to tell Bleeding Cool:
It’s an unfortunate thing for us, as we had worked with some very talented people to get Revival on the small screen, and we were completely unaware that this novel/script existed. But, I choose to believe that these things just happen some times, and we plucked a low hanging fruit, or simply fell upon a concept that was “in the air.”
Does the presence of Resurrection mean a Revival show will never be? Not necessarily. Remember, while Resurrection was inspired by a novel, Seeley and artist Mike Norton are still unraveling Revival‘s story and all the mysteries therein.
Despite it’s less-than-mainstream name, mature content, and the scarlet letter of an IOS ban for issue #2 and #3, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky are actually unraveling a smart and sweet love story with a bit about awkward sexual discovery thrown in for good measure. Also, the main characters freeze time when they make love, allowing them to rob banks.
That concept is probably a little too goofy for television presently, but there is a larger mystery behind the dual protagonist’s special skill set that might help ground the story in a more serious place.
This one is more “one to watch” than some of the other comic series on this list right now, but Matt Fraction is one of the best writers in comics and this book is too clever to not mention as something that could work as a sexy and fun adventure series for the right pay-cable network.
Thanks to writer Scott Snyder, artist Sean Gordon Murphy, and colorist Matt Hollingsworth, The Wake is presented as a murky and moody underwater horror story that makes you reminisce about The Thing and the psychological horror aspects and claustrophobia of Event Horizon while it eyeballs a much grander story.
In the book – which also reaches into the long ago past and the far away future – a small team of scientists assemble for a secret research mission deep beneath the frozen middle of nowhere to un-spool a terrifying tale of nature striking back against humanity’s relentless probing, in the form of a sea-borne monster that may or may not be our genetic cousin.
The hindrance to making this particular IP into something that would fit onto the small screen is the same as it is for Saga – scope and budget – but it could make a terrific event series with the right partner and a smart and innovative creator that knows how to use resources effectively. Essentially, this is Deep Blue Sea with much more ambition and less camp.
Like Revival, a Ten Grand adaptation could be hindered by the presence of a doppelganger – in this case, NBC’s upcoming Constantine series – but there is something unique about veteran TV and comic writer J. Michael Straczynski’s pulp-y dark and grimy noir book and Ben Templesmith’s dreamy water-colored visuals from the first four issues.
Unfortunately, Templesmith fell off the project – which seems fated for cult reverence and not mainstream success – but the colorful and thematically dark dance between heaven and hell – and the presence of a deeply flawed anti-hero who died and came back to earth to clean up messes and chase the ghost of his lost love – still resonates in the latest issue.
A Ten Grand series would have to follow this same path to stand out and appeal to fans of Supernatural who want to spend their time watching something that goes even further into the dark.
TV’s present hunger for event series’ could be easily satiated by Trillium, Jeff Lemire’s epic romantic sci-fi limited series from Vertigo. Set in both 1921 and the year 3797, the stories converge as a shell-shocked explorer (William Pike) and a stubborn scientist (Dr. Nika Temsmith) meet by way of a mysterious temple that seemingly exists both in the Amazon and on Atabithi, a small planet that houses the last members of the human race.
Atabithi also holds an abundance of trillium, a rare flower that can thwart The Caul, a sentient virus that is pursuing mankind; and the Atabithians, a native race that watches over the flower. As you can imagine, the humans and the Atabithians come into conflict, setting off a chain of events that threatens to rip the universe apart.
If carefully adapted, Trillium could reach a broad audience thanks to its hard sci-fi grandeur and a love story that spans across time and space.
It’s been three years since it went off the air, but networks are still hunting for the next Lost. Enter Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT, a mind-twisting comic about a struggling novelist, a mysterious plane whose passengers all suffer from amnesia, a rogue agent who psychically coerced a city into a blood-soaked murderous rage, and the shadowy government agency (and its many mind-freak operatives) that he is trying to take down.
Kindt’s story is about a third of the way through, but he already has a clear blueprint for the future that he shared with Ridley Scott’s Scott Free productions for a planned theatrical adaptation. These deals fall apart all the time, though, and if Mind MGMT ever comes back out in the open, it could make for an addictive, frustrating, and amazing serialized drama.
The Manhattan Projects
The Manhattan Projects is a seductively bizarre and otherworldly alternative take on scientists Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Harry Daghlian and others who were a part of The Manhattan Project.
Written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Nick Pitarra and occasionally Ryan Browne, the book features inter-dimensional travel, aliens, a shotgun wielding Einstein, a man-eating Oppenheimer, and a talking Cosmonaut dog with back-mounted machine gun, making it both one of the most unique books on the market and virtually un-filmable, but who needs film?
The success of Axe Cop as a part of FOX’s ADHD lineup should open the door for more animated, adult-themed comic conversions, and with the free-range madness going on throughout the pages of The Manhattan Projects and the importance of Pitarra’s Moebius-inspired art style on the soul of the story, an adaptation has to occur via a boundless medium like animation, lest it be an insult to the source material.
These comics and several others embrace a bold type of storytelling with a broad set of characters that can appeal to the kind of wide audience that is needed to succeed in television.
Every network is clamoring to uncover the next big thing, but to do that, networks, broadcasters, and web programmers like Netflix and Amazon have to dig and ably forecast. Remember, The Walking Dead wasn’t a world beater in terms of sales when AMC took a chance on it, so it’s worth remembering that while success breeds interest, a little risk can breed success.