The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand with no signs of slowing down. The DC Expanded Universe, meanwhile, is stuck playing catch-up (and seems to be struggling to do so). A few expensive misfires here and there (looking at you, Fantastic Four) haven’t put much of a wrinkle in what we all know to be true these days: comics are experiencing their biggest renaissance since, like, ever.
It’s not just the big name superheroes like Batman and Spider-Man continuing to cash checks in the zeitgeist, either. Over in the print world, creator-owned books are experiencing their own renaissance, with more original, independent series and miniseries on the shelves than ever before.
Indie comics can be hit or miss on the big screen. Fitting a complex, 60+ issue arc into a two-hour run time can be a monstrous challenge, and sequels are never guaranteed. But they’ve fared well on the small screen, with the most obvious example being ratings powerhouse The Walking Dead. Expectations for AMC’s Preacher are through the roof as well.
With the success of smaller Marvel properties like Jessica Jones over at Netflix, it’s only a matter of time before TV and streaming services start looking for their own Walking Dead among the indie comic titles on the market. With their ever-expanding original content lineup, Netflix is especially primed to pick up a few indie comics and give them a 13-episode audition. So listen up, guys and gals: here are the top 15 indie contenders we want to see turned into Netflix shows.
15 The Wicked + The Divine
Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine tells the story of teenaged Laura who, after attending a concert by pop star/goddess Amaterasu (think of her as the Beyonce of this comic's universe), meets a mysterious group called “The Pantheon,” who are basically gods from all sorts of mythologies in human form. Each member of The Pantheon used to be a normal person before being chosen as the host for an immortal deity. This happens every 90 years or so and the catch is this: members of The Pantheon only have two years to be gods, and then they have to die.
The hyper-violent comic gets extra aesthetic points for merging classic gods with the styles of famous pop stars throughout history (Baphomet as an Elvis-lookalike, Lucifer as a female David Bowie, etc.), all while maintaining a fairly grounded and realistic world that highlights the frightening abilities of its main cast.
Given the graphic content, Netflix is one of the only content providers who could take on a faithful, unrated adaptation. Hire Ryan Murphy as the showrunner and Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black) to portray Lucifer. The rest will figure itself out.
For many fans, 2012’s Dredd is the one that got away. The film is considered a financial failure, but unexpectedly fantastic reviews, solid performances, and positive word-of-mouth gave the film a solid cult following that has sustained itself for years after its flop at the box office.
Rumors of a Dredd 2 have circulated on and off since that time, with the film’s star, Karl Urban, among the most prominent advocates for more of exec producer Alex Garland’s vision of the character. Another movie probably won’t ever happen, but hey! There’s Netflix. Urban recently sowed the seed for the possibility of a streaming pickup when he was quoted as saying, "conversations are happening."
With a budget of $45 million, Dredd wasn’t the most expensive comic book movie film to date (for context, season 1 of Daredevil is estimated to have cost $56 million), so it’d be pretty easy to translate to the small screen without losing a lot of quality. Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby would be the only cast members who absolutely need to return, and while Alex Garland has moved on to bigger and better things as a director, he could return in an executive producer role and leave the heavy lifting to someone else.
Ales Kot’s Zero, published by Image, is probably the best indie comic you’ve never heard of on this list. The story follows a spy named Edward Zero between 2018 (when he begins his career with The Agency) and 2038, when he’s a retired, disillusioned alcoholic musing over a world he claims he helped destroy.
The story is a complete deconstruction of the spy genre, focused on the psychological effects of violence and the moral questions that superficially go unanswered in other espionage stories. Each issue is mostly self-contained and features the work of a different artist, while the series as a whole maintains a light continuity and consistent, ominous existential dread.
A TV adaptation of Zero is supposedly in development, though the only source of that news has been creator Ales Kot and the last update came back in 2014. A Netflix miniseries would be a fantastic way to tell the story, and as long as we’re compiling our wish list, cast Cillian Murphy as Edward Zero and put someone with David Lynch-like sensibilities in charge.
12 American Vampire
Understandably, we're big fans of this comic here at Screen Rant. American Vampire is Batman writer Scott Snyder’s most high-profile and long-running original series to date, published under DC’s Vertigo imprint. With artist Rafael Albuquerque, American Vampire tells the story of Skinner Sweet, an Old West outlaw who becomes the first in a new strain of vampire species – the American vampire – powered by sunlight and immune to everything but gold.
The story starts in the 1800s and runs throughout major periods in American history (currently, they’re somewhere in the '60s). Also featured is Sweet’s protégé, Pearl Jones, an aspiring actress in the 1920s who runs afoul of a coven of European vampires and is saved in a pinch by Sweet, who transforms her into the second American vampire.
Cast Charlie Hunnam as the rough-and-tumble Skinner Sweet, someone like Carey Mulligan as the tough-but-vulnerable Jones, put someone of Frank Darabont’s caliber in the driver’s seat, and we could get the vampire show equivalent of The Walking Dead.
11 Sex Criminals
Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals by Image Comics is one of the most successful and critically-acclaimed independent, creator-owned comics on stands today. It tells the story of librarian Susie, who meets a guy named Jon at a party. They have a few drinks and wind up in bed together, where they realize that their orgasms have the power to freeze time. It’s weird, but stay with us.
The series’ wit and fully-realized characters have made Sex Criminals a top pick among comic critics since its debut, and the book has picked up significant credibility for its feminist themes. The Eisner-winning series was recently optioned for Universal TV, but given its mature themes and content, it would be a much better fit over at Netflix.
Cast Kat Dennings or Alison Brie as Suzie and someone with the all-American appeal of John Krasinski as Jon, and you’ve got a real contender for Netflix original programming.
10 Pretty Deadly
Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Pretty Deadly is a rare bird on the indie comics scene. Along with American Vampire and Jonathan Hickman’s East of West, it is one of the few high-profile Western genre comics available today. Mixing strong female characters with a Mignola-esque mythological sensibility, Pretty Deadly is one of the most inventive stories ever seen in the medium.
It tells the story of Deathface Ginny, the daughter of Death and reaper of vengeance, as she fights against dear old dad and his acolytes, including his top enforcer, the mysterious and engrossing Big Alice.
Deathface Ginny needs an enigmatic actress like Lily Collins behind her, while Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie would be a natural for Big Alice. As a show, Pretty Deadly would need someone with David Milch-levels of attention to detail, so, well hey, why don’t they just hire David Milch?
There are numerous reasons why Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal, published under Marvel’s creator-owned Icon imprint, would make for a great TV show, but the main one is this: while Criminal’s stories take place in the same world, each story arc is self-contained and features new characters. Anthology series, anyone?
An adaptation would need a bit of a light touch. The series is pretty gritty, but also teases crime genre clichés along the way, so a bit of self-referential playfulness would benefit the showrunner in charge. If True Detective's Nic Pizzolatto could manage that (and curb a bit of his own worst storytelling instincts), he could have a shot at redeeming himself with a new anthology series after True Detective season 2.
Think of what the MCU is trying to accomplish with its Defenders lineup — self-contained series focusing on each character, all leading up to a team-up miniseries mirroring the arc of the big-screen characters they share a universe with.
Mignola’s properties could follow a similar trajectory, beginning with a Hellboy series that adapts the first several story arcs in the comics, before spin-off shows featuring Abe Sapien, Sir Edward Grey and Lobster Johnson get their own seasons. All of that could lead up to a B.R.P.D. maxi-series that brings most or all of the characters together for larger, shared adventures.
We’d want to see fresh blood in charge of the new Hellboy adaptation, but Guillermo del Toro could stay on as a producer or creative consultant. If a movie isn't in the cards, why shouldn't a series be?
Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel and Rod Reis’ C.O.W.L. over at Image Comics tells the story of the Chicago Organized Workers League (the eponymous C.O.W.L.) which is basically what you’d get if superheroes decided to unionize. The plot balances superhero action with political intrigue, and shows a darker side of the genre as the heroes struggle with in-fighting and disillusionment, and make morally questionable decisions not to protect the people of their city, but their own power and celebrity.
Sharing strands of DNA with Alan Moore’s celebrated Watchmen, C.O.W.L. has earned some criticism for its slow pace, and was ultimately cancelled with issue #11 and without much by way of closure or resolution.
Slow burn plots are tough in comics where most story arcs last between three and six issues (and many more miniseries cap out around four), but are perfectly suited for TV, where audiences have a bit more patience to explore worlds and characters. Imagine Mitch Glazer’s Magic City (or heck, Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men) but with superheroes. That’s a show we’d watch.
6 MIND MGMT
Matt Kindt’s MIND MGMT from Dark Horse begins with writer Meru as she investigates the circumstances surrounding a mysterious airline flight, and the book just gets weirder, more interesting, and more inventive from there. Mixing spies with psychic abilities and all sorts of narrative twists that will have you questioning the reality within the book, MIND MGMT is never dull, to say the least.
With the right showrunner and writers, it could also be turned into one of the most dynamic and unique shows of all time. The book has been optioned for a film with 20th Century Fox, with Ridley Scott on deck to bring the story to life. But this was way back in 2013, and not much has been revealed about the project since.
The series runs 36 issues, and while that’s a tall order for a two-hour runtime, Kindt has stated that he doesn’t mind if an adaptation doesn’t follow his work to the letter. Still, bringing him on as a creative consultant for a streaming series would allow the right showrunner to tell the story Kindt intended to tell in 36 issues, and would make for an incredibly unique entry in the mix.
5 American Born Chinese
American Born Chinese is a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, released in 2006 by First Second Books. It’s one of the more literary entries on this list, and while an independent film adaptation might suit the story as it was told, there are numerous directions that a series could explore.
The book is a coming-of-age tale that explores racial stereotypes of Asian ethnicities, and has been critically acclaimed over the course of the past decade. The art might translate better to animation, but a live-action adaptation along the lines of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World could also suit the story.
At the end of the day, American Born Chinese would make for a thoughtful drama that is sure to end up a critical darling — in the right hands, of course.
4 Paper Girls
You can’t talk about independent comics without bringing up Brian K. Vaughan sooner or later. As one of the (if not the) most prolific creator-owned writers in comics today, Vaughan’s stories have a lot of potential for adaptations in other mediums. Though his Y: The Last Man and Saga are far better known, his latest series Paper Girls, with artist Cliff Chiang, might actually be a better contender for a small screen adaptation.
Set in 1988, Paper Girls is about a rough-and-tumble group of, you guessed it, paper girls who find themselves at odds with a group of time travelers and end up in a much bigger battle than trying to avoid the neighbor’s dog.
The series has received tons of critical acclaim, and has kind of a nostalgic John Hughes vibe throughout. TV, movies and comics are on the lookout lately for strong heroines, and Paper Girls has plenty. A high-quality series from Netflix under Orange is the New Black showrunner Jenji Kohan could bring Vaughan’s sure-to-be classic comic the care and respect it needs to succeed as a show.
3 Deadly Class
Another '80s-set comic series to consider is Rick Remender and Wesley Craig’s Deadly Class, a hyper-violent story about King’s Dominion High School for the Deadly Arts, which is described as the most dangerous high school on earth. The reason? The students are all training to be assassins when they grow up. It’s like Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, if it was run by Dexter Morgan.
The story has coming-of-age undertones and serves as a clever metaphor for how most of us choose to remember high school. As a streaming series, Deadly Class could be the Buffy the Vampire Slayer of the Netflix generation. Still, it would be better to take advantage of Netflix’s unrated standard, preserving all of the violence and graphic content of the comic.
Either way, each episode would make the violent scenes from A Clockwork Orange look like giant tickle fights by comparison.
2 Southern Bastards
Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour is basically The Dukes of Hazzard meets No Country for Old Men. Set in Craw County, Alabama, the series follows Earl Tubb, an old Southerner who returns to his hometown to take care of some family business. Though he’s just passing through for a few days, problems in Craw County come to a head and Earl decides to solve them. With a baseball bat.
From the local BBQ joint where all the action takes place to the series’ Big Bad (and high school football coach, Coach Boss), Southern Bastards examines small Southern towns with its tongue firmly in-cheek ,while providing readers with genuinely palpable, believable drama.
Stick Graham Yost of Justified fame on this one, and cast Sam Elliot as Earl Tubb. At the very least, it’ll be the best show about a baseball bat-swinging old Southern guy you ever did see.
We don’t totally understand what’s going on in Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s critically-acclaimed Image title Injection, but we sure as hell like it. It tells the story of five colleagues who, as part of a think tank called the Cross Culture-Contamination Unit, did something bad involving science and the internet that basically “poisoned” the world. Now, years later, they’re trying to fix what they did as it slowly starts creeping back into our reality.
It’s a bit like The X-Files or Game of Thrones, in that we don’t get too close to the magic or supernatural or whatever’s at play here, but we see enough of it to know it’s a threat, and the main characters understand it well enough (even if we don’t) that we can’t help but keep reading to see what everyone will do.
A supernatural X-Files grounded in really, really archaic medieval folklore could be a great ensemble piece for Netflix, and the mystery of the narrative combined with the quirkiness of the characters means that you can really only trust Vince Gilligan (of Breaking Bad fame) to do it justice. Heck, he could even bring in Aaron Paul as Robin Morel.
Did we forget any of your favorite independent comics? Let us know in the comments.