The Walking Dead. Preacher. Legion. Premium and basic cable has proved to be the ideal home for mature, uncompromising comic book adaptations that wouldn’t fly on network TV and are too long-form and ambitious to be constricted to film. Even the latest TV hit American Gods, while based on a novel, has a comic book pedigree (it’s written by famed comic writer Neil Gaiman).
Yes, the time has never been better to greenlight even more adult comic book series for the small screen. Indeed, the wheels are already in motion for TV shows based on Vertigo series like Y The Last Man, Scalped, as well as Dark Horse’s Sin City.
Given that premium cable now has production qualities closer to cinema than ever before, while allowing for lesser constriction on content, it’s an ideal time to continue to prove that comics aren’t just for kids, and they can push the boundaries of the medium far beyond the likes of Supergirl, Arrow, and Gotham–or even Marvel’s more adult-oriented Netflix series.
With that in mind, here are 15 other classic mature comic tales that would be perfect for television, as along as the right creative team comes along that can truly do the source material justice.
15. Rat Queens
This quirky fantasy Image comic series has been a cult favorite ever since its launch in 2013. A tale of foul-mouthed medieval characters including Hannah, Violet, Betty, and Dee, it combines super-powered action, a unique mythology, and plenty of ribald humor.
There has been a push from the get-go to get some sort of film or television adaptation for the property, including a WETA produced animated film series, but that announcement, made in 2014, hasn’t been updated since, and the project appears to be in limbo.
We think either an animated or live-action Rat Queens series would be absolutely kickass, introducing a whole new audience to its winning cast of empowered female characters. As long as a cable network can give it the creative freedom and lack of content restrictions required to let it shine, the possibilities are endless.
A critically acclaimed Vertigo series based on classic Viking folklore? In an era where Game of Thrones and Vikings are huge television hits, Northlanders seems ripe for the picking to be the next binge-worthy action-adventure series.
The original comic series (which ran from 2008-2012) consisted of three arcs, each fronted by a different protagonist, supporting characters, and time period. The concept of a Viking anthology series would add a new dimension to the historical fiction TV genre, allowing for intriguing narratives that sprinkle real-life factoids into exciting Viking lore.
Plot points including the fall of Norse culture and the rise of Christianity are captivating, and the series’ brutal gratuitous violence is perfect for strong stomached viewers with premium cable subscriptions. Game of Thrones is nearing its end, so we’d say the timing couldn’t be more perfect to give Northlanders a shot at TV success.
13. The Boys
While Garth Ennis is most well-known for creating Preacher (and his run on The Punisher), he also wrote The Boys, an entertaining black comedy series from Dynamite Entertainment. And it would certainly be a great property for television.
The Boys would be the perfect counter-programming for viewers suffering from superhero fatigue. Why, you may ask? Because it deals with an elite squad of CIA operatives intent on stopping supposedly superpowered do-gooders after they engage in risky behavior that threatens national security–often in the most violent way possible.
The Boys are also blessed with extraordinary abilities which they use in fine, murderous, and ultra-bloody fashion, all of which could make for great grisly premium cable fun (the series’ blatant sexual content also makes it only appropriate for MA-viewing).
12. American Vampire
You could argue that thanks to True Blood, The Strain, Penny Dreadful, and The Vampire Diaries, the vampire television sub-genre may be a little too over saturated at this point, but allow us to attempt to persuade you otherwise.
American Vampire is a terrific Vertigo title that also functions as a western. It features the anti-hero Skinner Sweet, a gunslinger that’s turned bloodsucker after he’s attacked by vampires of the classic European variety. But Sweet isn’t your average vampire–he’s the next evolution, one who is impervious to sunlight and has enhanced speed and strength.
The series traces his violent adventures across a variety of time periods including World War II, while also introducing a vampiric heroine named Rose. There’s loads of atmosphere and multi-layered storytelling to be explored here, and it could easily be the next big television smash hit.
11. Human Target
Please try to wipe that lame 2010 Fox series of the same name from your memory, because it was the second worst adaptation of the DC/Vertigo title of the same name featuring detective/bodyguard Christopher Chance. (For what it’s worth, the top honor goes to a short-lived 1992 series starring Rick Springfield.)
The key to the character’s appeal is taking on the appearance and persona of the clients he’s sworn to protect in order to take down assassins and other nefarious entities who stalk them, and the effect his unusual profession has on his psyche. This is ripe for a mature television adaptation that delves into his complicated psychology and dangerous line of work. Sure, the character made an appearance on the 5th season of Arrow, but he deserves to be front and center with his own series with no content restrictions.
This Eisner and Harvey Awards winning Image Comics series (written by Brian K. Vaughn) is a space opera on as a grand a scale as Star Wars, but its grand vision could totally be adapted for television. A tale of two lovers who hail from warring alien races and flee for a better life with their young daughter, Saga is a sci-fi actioner, family drama, and love story all in one.
Described in promotional materials as “Star Wars meets Song of Ice and Fire,” Saga could well be the next Game of Thrones with a cosmic twist. Oddly enough, Vaughn isn’t keen on a small screen adaptation, saying in 2013 that he created the series “to do absolutely everything I couldn’t do in a movie or a TV show. I’m really happy with it just being a comic.”
Be that as it may, the series has been referenced in several TV series, including The Big Bang Theory and Supernatural, so an eventual cable series seems more of a question of if, not when. Let’s speed things up, shall we?
9. Ex Machina
As we mentioned in the intro, Brian K. Vaughn’s popular Vertigo series Y The Last Man is slowly but surely making its long-awaited journey from the comics to the small screen. But what of Ex Machina, his fascinating political superhero thriller?
Mitchell Hundred is the costumed adventurer The Great Machine, who has the power to communicate with other machines, and can disable them by simply speaking. His powers help spare one of the World Trade Center Towers on 9/11. Instead of keeping his identity a secret, however, Hundred makes it public, running and winning the mayorship of New York City, navigating a complex web of political land-mines and costumed adventures along the way.
That’s the type of emotional and daring programming that would make for must see television, exploring the political spectrum of American politics of our not-too distant past to comment on our perilous future.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the idea of a modern world where fairy tales exist has been covered already, thanks to network shows like Grimm and Once Upon A Time. But it can be argued that both shows ripped off their premises from Bill Willingham’s acclaimed Vertigo fantasy series Fables. (In fact, the comic series had been pitched unsuccessfully as a pilot in 2005, several years before either of those series debuted.)
Fables shows a world where classic characters like Snow White, Cinderella, and Pinocchio try to live in secret in modern times, and the conflicts their presence perpetuates in the real world. It discusses political and societal themes through a fantasy prism, showing a truly unique fusion that hasn’t been explored in quite the same way in any other fantasy tale. And while a cinematic adaptation has been in the works since 2015, it feels too limiting for such a vast story.
Warren Ellis’s captivating Wildstorm series (which ran from 1998-2009) could become the new X-Files under the right creative team. The storyline revolves around the Planetary organization (also known as “Archaeologists of the Impossible“) who are tasked with discovering the secret history of the Earth. Elijah Snow, The Drummer, and Jakita Wagner are a fascinating trio of metahuman adventurers who tackle aliens, monsters, and shadowy military organizations, while also facing off against The Four, a variation on Marvel’s Fantastic Four (if they were opportunistic villains).
The small screen possibilities of a mature television adaptation of Planetary are boundless. With its head-scratching theories, thoughtful philosophies, layers of intrigue, and action-packed adventure, it could be the next water cooler cable series inspiring just as many fan-theories as The Leftovers, Westworld, and Twin Peaks.
Phonogram is one of the must unique titles on this list–and comics in general. A tale of phonomancers (i.e., magicians whose powers are derived from pop music), it manages to combine fantasy with a John Hughes/Trainspotting/High Fidelity-esque look at youth culture, all focused on young adults whose lives literally revolve around their taste and passions in music (often to their detriment).
The series’ striking graphics would look fantastic adapted to the small screen, and the end result could be a mix of American Gods and Vinyl (if the latter show wasn’t an unfortunate case of style over substance). Phonogram could be the next great YA dramedy about making the tricky jump from your 20s to your 30s, all backed with a killer soundtrack. It would require a keen eye, however, to make the characters well-rounded and likable–and avoid making them hipster music snob clichés.
5. Grimm Fairy Tales
Perhaps the most sexually explicit title on our list, Grimm Fairy Tales can only be properly adapted by a network willing to fly caution to the wind with its ribald renditions of classic fairy tales. The dark fantasy series revolves around Dr. Sela Mathers, a professor of literature with the ability to teach life lessons through iconic fairy tales. Sadly, her students rarely listen, and she spends just as much time defending the innocent.
But the true focus of the story are the fairy tales themselves, which are far darker, sexual, and violent than the original source material, but they still end on a moral lesson for readers to either change their ways or suffer a similar fate. This intriguing multi-layered approach could be a fascinating experiment on television, pushing the levels of adult content to titillating and controversial heights.
Warren Ellis’s cynical Vertigo series focuses on Spider Jerusalem, a Hunter Thompson-esque gonzo journalist living in a the 23rd century, intent on causing societal mischief by taking on the abuse of power over the course of two United States presidencies. Along with his “filthy assistants,” he takes a stand that brings him considerable notoriety, while also putting himself in danger.
Sounds like a pretty topical idea for a television show, doesn’t it? And with its cyberpunk/transhumanist backdrop, there’s a whole layer of societal commentary that not only deals with our chaotic present, but also our uncertain, technocratic future. A Transmetropolitan show would be like Blade Runner meets the lovechild of House of Cards and Mr. Robot. It’s about time someone brings this fascinating dystopian series to television.
Neil Gaiman’s beloved dark fantasy comic series featuring the title character (and his many other monikers) has been in film development hell ever since the late ’90s, and while it seemed that actor Joseph Gordon Levitt had finally got the property off the ground (optioned to both star and direct), he eventually bowed out due to creative differences.
Why has this process been so arduous? Because Sandman has too much story potential to be constrained to film. Just ask screenwriter Eric Heisserer, who quit working on the script because he felt it needed to be a television show.
Oddly enough, a series based off a supporting character from Sandman made it to television first: Lucifer, which debuted on Fox in 2016. But the truth is that the world of Sandman belongs to premium cable, and until HBO or another network bites the bullet, we’ll just have to dream of an appropriate adaptation of Gaiman’s tale exploring how the world of dreams and reality intersect in mesmerizing ways.
Ever since Terry Gilliam’s aborted 1980s adaptation, there has been a growing consensus that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s groundbreaking classic Watchmen would work better as a television miniseries than a feature film.
And even with Zack Snyder’s 2009 movie still fresh in our minds, a big-budget premium cable adaptation should still happen. Why? Because Moore’s densely plotted 12-issue series simply can’t be completely covered in a movie, no matter the length.
It would take 12 episodes (or more) to fully explore every major plot reveal and characterization. Just a few years ago, Snyder was in contact with HBO to pitch a series, and while that idea seemed to dissolve, Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, Lost) appears to be picking up where he left off. This may still happen yet. Will it be live-action or animated? Will it add new storyline elements (a risky proposition), or stick close to the source material (…giant psychic squid, another risky proposition)? We’ll have to see if it comes to fruition first.
1. 100 Bullets
There have been rumors of a 100 Bullets movie or television series in the works for years, and to be honest, it’s kinda maddening that the Brian Azzarello Vertigo series created in 1999 still hasn’t made it onto the small screen. It’s probably the one adult comic series that would make the easiest transition to the medium.
The premise revolves around a shadowy organization that equips victims with the ability to take revenge. They’re told the guns they use have untraceable bullets, letting them get away with murder. But while that may be true, they eventually get coerced into a world of contract killing and political intrigue.
A crime drama full of murky anti-heroes, sex, violence, and unpredictable plot twists would be a perfect match in the modern television landscape where all great characters exist in shades of gray. It’s beyond time for 100 Bullets to blast through the television screen and into our hearts.
Well that concludes our list of adult comic series like Preacher that deserve to make the jump to TV. What titles would you add to the list? Tell us in the comments!
Preacher season 2 airs on Monday nights at 9pm on AMC.
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