Edited by Robert Beach
As we enter the dog days of the summer season, the ramp up is getting started for all the fall series dramas, which translates to “A ton of superhero and comic book shows.” This fall alone we’ll be seeing Flash, Arrow, Walking Dead, Gotham, Supergirl, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Jessica Jones. All of that is before Lucifer, Preacher, Agent Carter, and Legends of Tomorrow kick up in the winter. With Krypton, Teen Titans, Static Shock, and #4Hero still in the development cycle, I’d expect plenty more superheroes on TV before we see non-superhero adaptations like Southern Bastards or Sex Criminals. As such, I thought I’d get in on the act by taking a look at the top 12 comics that should be TV shows.
UFOlogy is a comic from the highly underrated creators at BOOM Studios. The main focus of UFOlogy is on the small town of Mukawgee and two high school kids who became embroiled in a bizarre alien conspiracy within the town. What works so well about the comic is how unobtrusive the conspiracy elements are to the very compelling small town introspection of the series. A lot of the emphasis is on the small town miasma of family ties, how the past influences our lives, and attempts to make a future beyond the confines of the small town. Unlike a lot of similar sci-fi allegories like E.T. or Super 8, UFOlogy keeps the sci-fi weirdness of its premise grounded in driving the narrative rather than defining the subtext. The alien landing and first contact story isn’t a metaphor for some greater theme; it’s just what kicks off all these other characters on their own, more introspective, journeys. Combine all that with the very trippy, ‘50s B-movie-esque visuals and UFOlogy is a small town drama with a sci-fi twist that’s just begging to be made into a show.
Before the Avengers were some of Marvel’s biggest superheroes of all time, the Hulk was probably their third most well known character after Wolverine and Spider-man. Fans of the ‘70s TV know that Hulk already had a TV show that lasted a respectable 5 season and 3 TV movies. Given that Hulk’s already been done on TV, it’d be easy to rework elements of the classic show for a modern revival, especially today’s advances in special effects. The biggest monkey wrench would be the connection to Marvel’s cinematic universe as a lot of cool Hulk villains and characters like The Leader or Doc Samson would be off limits for a small-scale adaptation. Even so, Marvel seems reticent to produce another Hulk film, but audiences are clearly interested in more Hulk. A TV show would be a great compromise even if it was just Hulk fighting disposable monster bad guys each week.
Ninjak is one of the many great comic books from Valiant that’s currently flying under a lot of people’s radar. The story is about a ninja who is also a secret agent, basically grounding it in the same zone as Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe. It’s a fun comic with a lot of creativity and a strong character focus. Ninjak easily could’ve ended up as just a conglomeration of popular tropes and trends given how many similarities he has with popular heroes, but the comic really emphasis his personal identity over his outward artifice. Ninjak would honestly work as an adaptation of any given medium, yet he could still work very well as a TV show with the higher quality of cable shows nowadays.
C.O.W.L. is an excellent Image Comic that revolves around the Chicago Organized Workers League, a superhero union working in Chicago in the 1960s. The comic recently concluded its first installment with a spectacular 11-issue run. The story is a very strong character piece that focuses on a wide array of C.O.W.L. members in order to afford the story a lot of depth and make the world seem more textured. It’s an engaging read that touches on issues of race, sexism, worker’s rights, politics, and the nature of how we adapt to changing times. Additionally, a lot of the super powers on hand could be easily accomplished with limited special effects required. The series' initial run was well written, but I get the sense there’s still a lot of stuff the creators wanted to bring in we didn’t get to see, so a TV adaptation or continuation of the story would be really great. Given the success of a lot of period shows these days, along with our continuing love of political skullduggery, C.O.W.L. would be a great way to capitalize on both while also connecting to the popularity of superheroes.
8. PHANTOM STRANGER
I am a huge fan of ‘70s comic books, and one of the best comics from that time was The Phantom Stranger. Phantom Stranger is, fittingly enough, a very strange character from DC’s collection of mystic and magic characters. He was a mysterious man in a hat and cape who wandered the Earth and seemed to posses omniscience. The best genre definition for his ‘70s comic series might be urban fantasy as it usually involved the Phantom Stranger being drawn to a mystic situation of some kind, usually involving elements of horror or weird fantasy. It was a strong comic despite his weirdness. Phantom Stranger is an engaging lead thanks to his genuine desire to help people and his sense of optimism. He’s like John Constantine only without the cynicism or manipulation, a mystical Doctor Who. Given the major success of other horror/fantasy shows like Grimm, Teen Wolf, and Supernatural, it’d be pretty easy to adapt the key elements that made Phantom Stranger great.
7. MOON KNIGHT
Another example of my love for ‘70s comics, Moon Knight was a marine named Marc Spector who became the avatar for the Egyptian moon God Khonshu. His stories were a weird but creative mesh of vigilante action in the style of Batman, and weird horror storytelling was popular at the time. Since then, the character’s undergone a lot of changes; while I don’t think there’s really a lot of strength to Moon Knight’s character, he’s developed a unique aesthetic blend of gothic crime, urban horror, and paranormal fantasy. That kind of genre blending is pretty popular nowadays as seen on shows like True Detective, so keeping a major emphasis on visuals and style over substance could make for a great show. Noted that Daredevil has already been a very solid hit for Marvel, a Netflix streaming Moon Knight show could be a real hit.
6. THE OUTSIDERS (BY JOE SIMON & JERRY GRANDENETTI)
If there’s one thing I love even more than ‘70s comics, it’s ‘70s comics written by Captain America co-creator Joe Simon. Simon is one of the most underrated talents in comic history, a man with an amazing ability to blend ‘60s style high-concept imagination with legitimate subtext and meaningful storytelling. I’ve already showcased his amazing Prez comic book from 1973, but this time I want to focus on his excellent 1975 comic book The Outsiders as seen in the short-lived DC anthology comic 1st Issue Special. The Outsiders were a group weird genetic mutants and alien experiments that are most reminiscent of the monsters from Monsters vs. Aliens. Even though the characters only ever appeared in one comic book, I maintain that the characters could be a real hit if they got another chance. Simon really was a brilliant creator and that shows with the Outsiders, though the work of Jerry Grandenetti (the co-creator of Prez with Simon) is amazingly showcased with these characters. Despite how little info we have on all these characters, they’re so visually striking and unique you feel compelled to see more of them. What’s more, they work perfectly as an X-Men-style group of heroes defending a populace that ostracizes them.
5. THE BLACK HOOD
The Black Hood is one of a large stable of superheroes owned by Archie Comics’ Red Circle division. A lot of the Red Circle heroes are unique and enjoyable; Black Hood is undoubtedly the most versatile and engaging of the bunch. He’s been adapted in a number of great series, though I think the most recent Dark Circle imprint version is one of the best. It cast the Black Hood as a unique anti-hero depicted as an incredibly flawed, amoral, and broken person who just happens to also fight crime. That dark and honest storytelling is fairly emblematic to a lot of great, recent cable shows like Mad Men or Breaking Bad. Even if that version proved too harsh for audiences, there are plenty of other engaging interpretations such as a Hispanic motorcycle riding superhero or as a quasi-urban legend vigilante in the vein of the Punisher. Archie Comics remains one of the best kept secrets in comic books right now and a character like Black Hood could really be a break out hit for them.
Ghost was part of a shared universe superhero experiment put together by Dark Horse comics under their Project Black Sky umbrella. The comic revolved around a mysterious, technological device that allowed demons to possess Earthly bodies; however, the device backfires when a woman ends up spiritually trapped between Earth and Hell granting her super strength, flight, intangibility, and the power to vanquish demons. Ghost is one of the best superhero comics of the modern era because Ghost is such an amazingly hardcore superhero. She’s cut from the same brutal and uncompromising cloth as Batman or the Shadow, a dark avenger that focuses on punishing the guilty more than anything else. It’s incredibly rare to see a woman superhero take on the role of dark, serious avenger; it’s even more rare for that woman to have high-level super powers like Ghost has. Her range of abilities might seem a little restrictive. Given that CBS is making a Supergirl show this fall and Legends of Tomorrow will feature Hawkgirl, the Atom, and Firestorm, I don’t think it’d be that much of a stretch.
3. HELL BREAK
Hellbreak comes from the very fine folks at Oni Press. The comic is about a special ops team run by a vague, yet menacing, corporation and the Catholic Church. The team’s mission is to descend into Hell and rescue the souls of the possessed. That’s such a brilliant idea I’m amazed it’s taken people so long to come up with it, but Hellbreak remains an amazing comic regardless. The tactical team dynamic is solid, and the idea there are multiple different kinds of Hells that can mess with people’s heads opens a lot of room for possible storylines. Best of all, it could work as an action-oriented cable show where the psychological character focus can be furrowed directly into the action scenes, which can cater to the trend of horror/action genre mash-ups.
2. HOWARD THE DUCK
As I said earlier, I love ‘70s comics, and it doesn’t get more ‘70s than Howard the Duck. I get that Howard The Duck is one of those characters most folks like to write-off as far as adaptations go after his previous iteration failed so hard. I still think there’s potential in the character. The character has always worked really well as a parody of the more kid-friendly elements of previous eras in comics dragged along with the rest of the paraphernalia, forced to find a new place in a universe that demands angst and adult storytelling. Marvel’s growing reputation as a less mature, superhero producer Howard could work as a great parody of a lot of the competition, spoofing the stripped-down aesthetics of Fox or the faux maturity of DC. It’d be pretty easy to adapt the character using CG or live action, though best of all, his place on the Z-list of superheroes would make it easier for Marvel to add in additional characters without needing to worry about them popping up in a superhero film later.
Nailbiter is one of the best comics currently being published. It’s a brilliant send up to high-concept crime stories, sleazy aesthetics, and genuine social commentary woven expertly into a crime thriller narrative. The plot revolves around the town of Buckaroo, Oregon, a city that produced 16 of America’s worst serial killers. The story is full of twists, turns, and weirdness all swirling around the mystery of how one small town can produce so much murder and mayhem. It’s an amazingly well-produced series that already has the pacing and design of a TV show, often taking time out from the main narrative for compelling asides. It zeroes in the focus on the series' wide array of characters. With the rise of horror shows and the equally high-concept crime show Twin Peaks, a consistent force in the television landscape, Nailbiter is the perfect candidate for a TV show. It’s slick; it’s smart; it’s brimming with style and real meaning, and it fits perfectly into so many of the major trends that dominate television today.