With the recent success of comic book adaptations, movie studios of all sizes have plumbed the depths of the comic world in search of promising source material. From the indie hit Ghost World, based on Daniel Clowes’ comic of the same name, to this year’s myriad of offerings based on Marvel properties, it seems there’s no end in sight when it comes to big-screen adaptations of our favorite four-color stories.
Just this year, in fact, it was revealed that Marvel Studios has a schedule in place until 2028. That’s fourteen years of the massively popular Captain America, Thor, and Avengers franchises. In addition to the big names, there are a multitude of more obscure projects in the works as well, such as Ant-Man, helmed by Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright. Combine this with Marvel’s recently announced deal with Netflix — four shows and a miniseries set in the Marvel Universe — and we’re looking at a solid decade of superheroic mutants and twisted masterminds.
Big-screen adaptations need not look towards such prolific sources to be prosperous, though. Films like The Crow and Mystery Men owe their successes to humbler origins. In the case of The Crow, a small, underground comic by James O’Barr originally published by Caliber comics, the film’s eventual popularity outweighed the comic’s by a wide margin. This success led to a renewed interest in the series that proved advantageous for both O’Barr and Dimension Films.
In the end, there is a great quantity of stories from which film creators can take inspiration. Like the discount bin at your local comic shop, directors need only reach in and pull. So here we’ve pulled a few promising options out of the old long box. From one of the earliest examples of superheroes operating under questionable morality to a horrific metaphor for growing up, we look at eight comic books that would make amazing movies.
Quick pitch: The Dark Knight meets Godzilla
When the anthology magazine Warrior rebooted the Miracleman property in 1982, they created a series that would inspire comic book writers for years. Envisioning a new Miracleman, the series — written by comic-book auteur Alan Moore — was among the first to examine the grittier, darker aspects of superheroes.
Featuring one of the longest, most violent fights in comics history, Moore’s run ends with the total destruction of London, the obliteration of its inhabitants and the most emotionally devastating resolution ever put on newsprint.
7 The One
Quick pitch: X-Men meets Dr. Strangelove
Even amongst the eccentric crowd of comic book writers, Rick Veitch is strange. Alan Moore hails him as a genius, and his ability to realize his outlandish concepts has secured him a position in the comics industry for a quarter of a century. Suffice it to say, The One is his masterpiece.
Unfolding in a manner that is equally disheartening and absurd, Veitch borrows the black comedy of Dr. Strangelove and slathers it onto a canvas not unlike Marvel’s X-Men. Embracing these attributes, Veitch employs them to weave a tale of Cold War paranoia set in a world populated by average citizens on the verge of activating their latent superhuman abilities.
6 Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron
Quick pitch: David Lynch directs 8MM
Daniel Clowes’ Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron tells the story of Clay Loudermilk. The comic follows him as he searches for his estranged wife and discovers — inexplicably — that she’s become entangled in the workings of underground BDSM film productions.
If one took the subject matter of Joel Schumacher’s 8MM and imbued it with the surreal aesthetic of David Lynch, the result would be an almost literal film adaptation of Clowes’ Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron. In fact, Clowes’ rambling, dreamlike narrative seems almost perfectly tailored to complement Lynch’s surrealistic tendencies.
Quick pitch: Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas meets Blade Runner
No other comic property seems so ripe for adaptation as Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan. At a time when comic book movies and big-budget, high-concept science fiction stories dominate the silver screen, Transmetropolitan ticks every box on the current list of “What Blockbusters Need.”
Set in the 23rd century, Transmetropolitan follows the life of Spider Jerusalem, a misanthropic reporter heavily based on real-world gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Battling against a corrupt political system, Jerusalem’s escapades span sixty issues and offer enough material to yield a cohesive, engaging — and likely lucrative — blockbuster trilogy.
4 Y: The Last Man
Quick pitch: I Am Legend meets Moon
In many ways, Brian K. Vaughan’s post-apocalyptic epic Y: The Last Man combines the broad strokes of I Am Legend with the loneliness and desolation of Moon. Its dystopian, apocalyptic setting lends itself to big-budget studios, though its offbeat subject matter may cause them some hesitation.
Y: The Last Man invites readers to travel with Yorick, an amateur escape artist and the only male to survive a plague that ravages the world’s population. Following Yorick — and his pet monkey — across the country, readers bear witness to an array of bizarre circumstances including crashed space capsules and a confusing number of girls named “Beth.”
Quick pitch: Homeward Bound meets Pacific Rim
If Pixar ever wants to dabble in more mature subject matters, We3 would be a great place to start. Describing the journey of three “biorgs” — cybernetic animal weapons — who have escaped from military confinement, Grant Morrison’s We3 takes a familiar concept and elevates it above its traditional limits.
Described as a “Western Manga,” the comic’s aesthetic — disregarding its mature content — seems to have been built with CGI animation in mind. With Pixar’s reputation for creating animated films with real substance, We3 seems perfectly positioned within their wheelhouse if they ever decide to shift their focus towards a more adult audience.
2 Heavy Liquid
Quick pitch: Strange Days meets A Scanner Darkly
Reading almost like a sequel to A Scanner Darkly, Paul Pope’s Heavy Liquid is a hard-boiled tale of drug-induced paranoia and extraterrestrial mind manipulation. Following a private detective known only as “S,” the story is illustrated in Pope’s iconic style which features uncanny anatomical exaggerations and washed out colors.
With Richard Linklater’s experiments with rotoscoping in A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life proving that “living animation” is a viable method for creating feature films, such a method could easily — and effectively — be applied to Pope’s Heavy Liquid. The blend of narcotic-fueled visuals and deep, philosophical subject matter seem particularly suited to Linklater’s skill sets.
1 Black Hole
Quick pitch: David Cronenberg directs The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
Charles Burns knows how to creep you out. Coming from the school of body horror — stories whose horror comes from degeneration of the body — his comic Black Hole tells the story of a group of teenagers who get more than they bargained for after a particularly amorous summer vacation.
With its focus divided between portraying the burgeoning relationships between the teenagers and the graphic mutations that occur as a result of them, Black Hole reads like the storyboards of a lost David Cronenberg movie. However, beneath Burns’ story of terror there is a layer of sweetness, a kind of gentleness that is reminiscent of modern independent films.