Ever since I’ve been able to read, I’ve always loved comic books. They say you never forget your first time, and while I don’t know how true that is overall (I can’t remember my first slice of pizza, my first cup of coffee, or even the name of my first grade teacher,) I know I will never forget the first time I picked up a copy of Marvel’s “Uncanny X-Men.” It was the winter of 1989, and I was just reading through the small rack of comics at my local grocery store while my mother was shopping. I ended up sitting in the aisle finding myself mesmerized by the awesome tales of adventure from everyone’s favorite mutant heroes, and couldn’t wait to buy as many books as my meager allowance at the time could provide me. I was 8 years old, and I was officially hooked. Not long after that, I saw my first ever comic-book-movie, Tim Burton’s “Batman” on a VHS tape that my dad rented at our local video store. I was given a big box of Dad’s old comics upon discovering my love for superheroes, which included plenty of offerings from The Dark Knight, so I was already familiar with the source material… but this was a movie about comics! Once again, I was hooked.
Ever since that day, I’ve went out of my way to watch every comic book movie and TV show I could, all-the-while building what I’d like to consider a very respectable (and perhaps a bit obsessive) comic collection. Now, over 20 years later, I’ve seen pretty much every comic or comic-related film and TV show you could imagine, from live-action, to animated, to even motion-comics and documentaries about comic books. Some were great, some were not so great, but all of them were based on comic books, so I had to see them! Hollywood found a real market with superhero films and comic-adaptations, and it seems over the past decade or so, they’ve been grabbing up every comic property they could get their hands on… much to the delight (and times disgust) of comic lovers everywhere. With all of that said, though, what puzzles me the most is just how many truly great comics out there were never adapted for the screen… be that the silver screen or the small screen.
So without further ado, here is my Top Ten list of the best comic books/graphic novels to never see any sort of film or TV adaptation. Enjoy!
10: IRON FIST
This one ranks in as the lowest on my Top Ten, because while there has never been a true film or TV adaptation of any kind about Iron Fist himself, he has appeared in cameo or minor roles in a few animated shows (“Super Hero Squad,” “Ultimate Spiderman” and “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”) – just never anything on his own – animated, live-action, or otherwise. For that reason alone (and perhaps because I just happen to be a big fan as well) I’m giving it a pass and still allowing it to make the list. “The Immortal Iron Fist” would seemingly be a shoo-in for a big-budget action movie, but alas, we’ve never seen anything outside the few aforementioned animated cameos.
Iron Fist has really got it all for a great action hero… a master of martial arts with the mystical power of the complete chi-energy manipulation allowing him to extend all of his natural abilities far beyond those of mortal men. A power, mind you, that martial artist Danny Rand-K’ai acquired by plunging his fists into the molten heart of the great dragon Shou-Lao The Undying, thus absorbing his dragon energy and granting him the legendary power of the Iron Fist. See what I mean? This has all the potential in the world to make for a huge hit in the action-adventure, Kung-Fu movie market. While Marvel Studios announced plans for an “Iron Fist” screenplay in 2010, no further news has been announced since, so who knows what the status of this one is.
9: NAMOR: THE SUB-MARINER
Much like Iron Fist, but just a bit more important… The Prince of Atlantis has been seen in a handful of animated cameo roles here and there, but that’s hardly enough (in my humble opinion) to remove Marvel’s first mutant from this list. So instead, I’ll simply rank Namor at #9 and pose one very obvious question here. How exactly is it that one of Marvel Comics’ first ever superheroes, who made his debut in their first ever comic book (1939’s “Marvel Comics” #1) never seen any sort of true stand-alone film or TV adaptation?
As far back as the 1950s, there were talks of doing a “Namor: Sub-Mariner” TV show, on more than one occasion no less, but due to a multitude of reasons, we never saw so much as a pilot. I understand that DC’s “Aquaman” doesn’t get any love either, but come on; Namor is way cooler… at least in my opinion. What baffles me the most about the lack of any sort of Namor adaptation is how great of a job Marvel Studios could do with this film if they gave it a chance. I mean, just think about how awesome Asgard looked in “Thor,” now think about what they could do with Atlantis. If done correctly, this could fit right into the already star-studded Marvel Films Universe, and could even potentially tie-into the Avengers series as well. Back in 2006, Universal Pictures announced plans for a Namor film entitled “The Sub-Mariner” in conjunction with Marvel Studios, but seven years later; we once again have nothing to show for it. Will Marvel Studios’ “The Sub-Mariner” ever see the light of day? If history has taught us anything, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
8: THE RUNAWAYS
One of the most highly demanded titles on this Top Ten list, “The Runaways” features a simple, yet effective story about six teenagers who discover that not only are their parents super-humans who belong to a criminal organization known as “The Pride” – but they are super-humans themselves. With film/television legend (not to mention “The Avengers” director) Joss Whedon serving as the writer for Volume Two of the series, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to assume this is one title we’ll see brought to the big screen long before any of the others on this list. In fact, in 2008 Marvel Studios announced plans to adapt the screenplay, and in 2010 preliminary casting began on a feature-length film. Unfortunately, 2010 also saw a complete halt to the production due to Marvel focusing all of its efforts into the production of “The Avengers.” Rumor has it that “The Runaways” is now planned for a 2014 release, but we comic fans know how rumors go. Guess we’ll have to wait and see on this one.
7: SUICIDE SQUAD
Throughout the years, this team has taken on various forms, members, and even titles… but for the sake of this article; let’s just focus on the newly tied together incarnation of the so-called “dirty-dozen” of antiheroes. The plot is simple enough; “The Suicide Squad” is a team of incarcerated super-villains who act as deniable assets to the US government and accept various high-risk “black-ops” missions in exchange for a commuted prison sentence. Led by Dr. Amanda Waller (who we did see briefly in the “Green Lantern” movie portrayed by Angela Bassett) and based out of Belle Reve Prison, the current incarnation of “Suicide Squad” features several villainous DC fan-favorites including Deadshot, Harley Quinn, King Shark, Captain Boomerang, and various others. Each of the Suicide Squad’s members have been saved from their own death-row sentences by now working for the US Government’s unofficial “Task Force X” – and more importantly, all of them have been implanted with “micro bombs” to ensure their cooperation.
Now, I know you could argue that Harley Quinn was a character that originated in “Batman: The Animated Series” and had a big role in the short-lived “Birds of Prey” TV series, but please keep in mind this is about “Suicide Squad” – not just one of their members. Personally, I think this could be a great way to introduce a lot of so-called “B-characters” in the DC Universe while also making for a very different and interesting approach to the comic-movie market. But hey, that’s just me.
Long before there was “The Matrix” or “Ghost in the Shell” there was Frank Miller’s “Ronin.” Set in the not-so-distant future where New York City is a lawless wasteland following a catastrophic socio-economic collapse, “Ronin” tells the story of a young quadriplegic boy who was born without limbs, yet possesses telekinetic powers who encounters an intelligent nanotechnology known as “Virgo” who in an attempt to control the boy’s psychic powers makes all of his daydreams about being a Samurai come to life. “Virgo” even grants the boy new cybernetic limbs and the works. There’s just one little problem… it seems the boy is actually possessed by the spirit of “The Ronin” – a masterless Samurai from Ancient Japan – and sets off on a thrilling and suspenseful techno-adventure, very reminiscent of the gritty, dystopian style we have come to know and love from Frank Miller.
Back in 1998, Darren Aronofsky inked a deal with New Line Cinema to bring “Ronin” to the big screen… though 15 years later we have still yet to see the movie ever actually get made. Whether or not we ever see this one produced remains a mystery, though personally I would really like to see this genre-bending thriller hit theatres sometime before we have to wait another 15 years.
The multiple award winning saga of fairy tales and folklore come-to-life in the real world might not exactly be a new concept here in the current era of “Grimm” and “Once Upon a Time” – and I’ll get to those two shows in just a bit here – but Bill Willingham’s “Fables” is most certainly one of the best stories dealing with this subject-matter on the market today, and definitely puts a unique spin on it. When “The Fables” are forced from their home realm, which was taken over by a being known as “The Adversary” many of them have to take up residence in the United States, forming a strange community in New York City known as “Fabletown” while others who can’t so easily blend in with human society hide out at “The Farm” up north in rural New York. I know what you’re thinking… sounds an awful lot like ABC’s “Once Upon a Time,” right? Well the way it sets itself apart is how each individual story arc is not only a completely different tale with different characters, but a completely different genre altogether. For example, one arc is a murder-mystery, while another is a classic fantasy thriller, and yet another is almost a buddy-story/road-trip comedy. The highly versatile series easily shifts between contemporary, dark, and urban fantasy while never once managing to lose the attention of the reader.
“Fables” was optioned by NBC in 2005 and was put into development for a television series, but by 2007, the show had never made it past the scripting stage, and instead NBC moved forward on the show “Grimm” set in a similar world where fairy tales are real. In 2008 ABC purchased the rights and set out to finally make the long-awaited TV series, however “Fables” once again suffered the same fate, and by 2010 series creator Bill Willingham claimed that show was “most probably dead.” Instead, ABC launched the series “Once Upon a Time” which while ABC has frequently stated they are “telling a completely different story” and that OUAT has nothing to do with Bill Willingham’s Fables. Whether this is entirely true or not is unknown, as is whether or not we will ever see the “Fables” TV series, much less a movie. Personally, I’d be totally fine with either one.
4: MOON KNIGHT
Marvel’s resident Egyptian God Avatar and vigilante crime fighter is a pretty tricky one for me. On one hand, I totally understand the film industry’s reluctance to move forward on a character that so many people not familiar with the comics just refer to as the “Marvel knock off of Batman” – and while there are some similarities to be sure, there is much more to Moon Knight than might initially meet the eye. This is the story of Marc Spector, a former US Marine and heavyweight boxer who becomes a mercenary and travels to Egypt with an archeological expedition, and upon being mortally-wounded by the evil Bushman, ends up being given a second chance at life by the Egyptian god Khonshu. All Marc has to do for this second chance is take on the mystic armor and act at Khonshu’s avatar on Earth. And thus he becomes the Moon Knight- a superhuman vigilante with powers that increase or decrease based on the lunar cycles of Earth, who is hell-bent on getting his vengeance on Bushman, and takes to a life of vigilante justice to stop criminals everywhere. Combine his lunar-based superhuman strength, durability, and reflexes with a wide array of gadgets and weapons… and of course a very bizarre split personality as he carries the spirit of Khonshu with him., and you’ve got a very in-depth and interesting story to tell here.
Yes, I know, masked vigilante hero who fights crime with high-tech gadgets and awesome fighting skills at night in the inner cities does sound a lot like the other “Knight” in comics… but let’s also consider that Batman doesn’t have to contend a daily inner-battle in his own war-torn mind with a vengeful ancient god, or have any superpowers for that matter. So, with the right screenplay, the right director, and the right dollars backing it, I believe “Moon Knight” could become one of the most popular vigilante superhero movies out there… especially with his on-again-off-again ties to The Avengers. I never said it would be easy to adapt this one… but nothing worthwhile ever is.
3: Y: THE LAST MAN
Brian K. Vaughan’s post-apocalyptic science-fiction hit – “Y: The Last Man” chronicles the story of Yorick Brown, Earth’s sole-surviving male human in a dystopian future where a mysterious plague has wiped out every living thing with a Y chromosome on Earth… everything except Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand who are now trying to find some way to save the human race from extinction, without Yorick being captured and harvested for his semen. Sounds like a great premise for a Sci-Fi movie, right?
It was announced back in 2007 that New Line Cinema had acquired the rights to the series, and had it slated for a film adaptation. This would have been wonderful news for fans of the dystopian drama… but (much like a lot of other titles on this list) the planned film never happened. After years of arguing over scripts, disputes about doing one film or a trilogy, and various other creative differences with the slew of directors lining up to take a crack at it, we fans still had nothing. That is until January 2013, when New Line announced that Dan Trachtenberg will direct the film… with no projected release date announced by the time of this article (late Feb 2013) it still remains to be seen if we will indeed see a “Y: The Last Man” movie… or if we’re just in for more waiting around. So there is some hope here… let’s just hope we don’t go extinct ourselves first.
The cyberpunk sci-fi masterpiece by comics-legend Warren Ellis clocks in as one of the most puzzling titles on this list as to exactly why we have never seen this one adapted. Set in the 23rd century, in a world completely immersed in a decadent, perverse lifestyle of consumerism and overt sexuality, while somehow remaining so conservative and self-centered that no one looks past the present time whatsoever. So much so that no one even knows (or cares) what year it is anymore. Following the misadventures of journalist Spider Jerusalem, who sets off to investigate a cult of people using alien DNA to genetically modify themselves into a new species known as “Transients,” along the way encountering the strange cyber-organic substance known as “information pollen” and coming face-to-face with an oppressive government bent of censorship of any media that could potentially embarrass anyone. Due to the intense and life-threatening side effects of overexposure to “information pollen” Spider soon becomes infected with a degenerative neurological disease with symptoms very similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Diagnosed with only one year until the dementia from his disease renders him completely helpless, it’s a race against time for Spider to reveal the horrible truth behind the vast conspiracies going on all around him.
Patrick Stewart’s Flying Freehold Productions optioned “Transmetropolitan” in 2003, however the production never went anywhere, and in 2010 Warren Ellis announced that due to “production costs being too expensive,” there were no plans to go forward with the film adaptation, and “no production was underway.” An expensive production or not, this is definitely a fantastic, suspenseful, and extremely well-written story that comic and movie fans alike would surely support… and political-enthusiasts on both sides of the bi-partisan extremes would surely hate… which could be the best possible thing for it, as politics create controversy, and as we all know… controversy creates cash! Personally, I would much rather see this as an HBO series (think “Game of Thrones” or “Carnivale” style big budget series) than a feature-film, but at this point I’d happily take either one.
1: THE SANDMAN
One of the most beloved, comic series of the modern era, if not all time, Neil Gaiman’s critically acclaimed dark-fantasy masterpiece is a shoo-in at #1, and easily the biggest travesty on this list. The highly surreal supernatural saga focuses on The Master of Dreams (or simply Dream) embodied in human form, his relationships with his various immortal siblings known as “The Endless” (most notably his sister Death) and his various struggles and challenges with both humans, other supernatural beings, and of course, himself.
With such a rich, in-depth, and brilliantly crafted story, not to mention the supreme honor of being one of only three graphic novels to ever make the coveted New York Times Bestseller List (along with Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” and Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”) – and the only one of those three to never see any sort of film adaptation. However, with Neil Gaiman’s own recent television and film endeavors (particularly his phenomenal work on BBC’s “Doctor Who”), perhaps it’s only a matter of time before we see “The Sandman” grace the big screen We all know how great of a writer Neil Gaiman is, and we also know he can do screenplays just as well as anything else – so it’s not like this would be a major stretch, or difficult to find a screenwriter for it.
As for a director, that one’s really debatable, but for my money I just can’t see anyone other than David Lynch (think “Twin Peaks” “Eraserhead” or “Mulholland Drive” here, and you’ll probably see what I mean) taking on a project this dark and bizarre. But regardless of who directs it – just so long as it is NOT Tim Burton (yeah, I said it) – I’d personally be happy to see anyone work with Mr. Gaiman on this. While no plans have been announced thus far, one can always hope and, well… dream.
I very much hope you all enjoyed my Top Ten list. Even though I did have to cut a few titles out for the sake of this article – and I’m sure I undoubtedly missed a few in there somewhere too – I would like you all to know that I very much enjoyed writing and researching this one. In fact, I’d dare say this is one of the most fun assignments I’ve ever had during all my years of doing this crazy little thing called journalism. Fell free to comment below and give your feedback telling me which titles on this list you agree with, which ones you don’t, or especially… which comics YOU would like to see adapted into a movie or TV series. The titles/rankings on this list are simply my own opinions, and nothing more… and as always, YOUR opinions are much appreciated as well, and I’d love to hear from all of you… regardless if Hollywood does or not! Thanks for reading!!
Dave Harlequin is a professional freelance journalist and Editor in Chief of Stiff Magazine, a bi-monthly horror/sci-fi, alternative culture and entertainment publication available internationally in both print and digital formats through Amazon Publishing. Additionally, he serves on the Board of Directors for North Carolina’s Modern Film Fest, the Awards Committee for the annual FrightMeter Horror Film Awards, and is the Programming Coordinator for the annual multi-genre fandom convention MonsterCon in Greenville, SC. For more info on Dave, Stiff Magazine, and MonsterCon, please visit www.stiffmag.com and www.monstercon.org or follow him on Twitter @StiffMag