Comic fans love to debate Marvel vs DC, but when it comes to movies, there’s no arguing: Marvel has been both more prolific and way more successful than DC has been in this latest burst of superheroes at the movies. Marvel’s been able to bring not just their A-list characters – Spider-Man, The X-Men and The Fantastic Four – to profitable life, they’ve also translated B and C-list characters – like Blade, Ghost Rider, and Elektra – into movies, with varying degrees of success. With their new funding and distribution deal, Marvel is going to have two movies a year hitting theaters, with next year bringing potential blockbusters Iron Man and a reboot of The Incredible Hulk.
Whither DC? The company is owned by Warner Bros, meaning they have an easy synergy between comics and movies, something Marvel had to fight to establish. Warner Bros rebooted their two big superhero film franchises, Batman and Superman, with some success, over the last two years, and they’ve done moderately well with properties from their Vertigo line of non-superhero books, but DC’s vast library of characters and concepts have been seemingly relegated to TV cartoons and direct to DVD movies.
Lately there has been some theatrical activity on the DC Comics front, with projects getting announced right and left. That seems like a cue to take a look at the properties Warner Bros and DC Comics have been toying with over the last few years. There are actually a large number of projects that have been percolating in one form or another for the last decade, since the resurgence of superhero movies – enough to warrant a five part series.
Over the rest of the week I’ll look at different DC properties and their journeys to the screen; I’ll also weigh in what I think the chances are that there will be an actual motion picture at the end of the tunnel. If you have some inside info that I don’t have about one of these projects, feel free to drop me a line – or just write if you think I’m wrong on my guesses.
The Comic: An illustrated novel more than a comic book, Stardust tells the story of Tristran Thorn who, promising the most beautiful girl in his rural village that he will retrieve a fallen star for her from the beyond the wall that separates them from the Faerie world, sets off into a land of pre-Tolkein fantasy, meeting up with monsters, witches and, of course, faeries.
The Movie: Matthew Vaughn dropping out of X-Men 3 was bad news for the rest of us but great news for fans of Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess’ fantasy novel. Vaughn was a huge fan of Stardust for years, and has original art from the book hanging in his house; leaving the world of mutants gave him the opportunity to focus on the world of Faerie. Vaughn assembled a cracking good cast, including Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes and Peter O’Toole. The film, which is completed and coming out August 10th from Paramount, has been getting very positive early buzz; Drew McWeeny from Aint It Cool News saw it in New York a few weeks ago and thought it was terrific.
The Probability: This one is finished and being released in August. So I would say that there's a better than average chance you being able to catch this film in your local theater... especially since it's going to be a big wide release.
The Comic: Technically, Super Max isn’t based on any specific comic book, but it will use the character of Green Arrow. Green Arrow is Oliver Queen, a bleeding heart liberal and rich industrialist who decided to take up the bow and arrow and use it to fight crime. Not the most practical concept, but still much more impressive than what the likes of Paris Hilton do with their money. Oh, and because he’s a good guy, Green Arrow doesn’t like using the kinds of arrows that kill people (ie, arrows), so he uses a whole bunch of ‘trick arrows,’ including boxing glove arrows, glue arrows and net arrows.
The Movie: Super Max is part of the recent deluge of DC Comics-related projects to be announced, coming about after David Goyer found himself unattached from the big screen adaptation of The Flash. The original concept comes from newbie Justin Marks (now attached to every 80s nostalgia project in town), and it was just a jailbreak story set in a supervillain prison. When Goyer got involved he had the idea to use an existing comic book character, and Ollie Queen, a hero with no super powers but a very specific moral code, seemed the best choice to frame and incarcerate. Goyer intends to fill the movie with all sorts of easter eggs only comic fans would get, including plenty of low rent DC supervillains out of costume.
The Probability: This is a killer concept, one that would appeal to people who never even heard of Green Arrow. Plus it could be done relatively cheap. On the downside is the fact that nobody's ever even heard of Green Arrow, and nobody likes prison movies. And there's another factor at play here: would Green Arrow be involved in a potential Justice League movie? Since his sidekick is a founding member of the Teen Titans, would he be in any way involved in a potential Titans film? Is DC really worrying about continuity between their films on any level? Probably not, but if Justice League finds itself heading into production, it could jeopardize Super Max, if only because they don't want to have too much of this B-list character out there.
After circus acrobat Boston Brand is murdered while performing on the trapeze, he is offered a second chance by the Hindu goddess Rama Kushna – he can come back as a ghost who can possess mortal bodies in order to get justice for his own death. Falling somewhere between Ghost and DOA, Deadman has been a cult character within the DC Universe, getting brought back again and again in his own book and to guest star in the books of others, but he’s never been a really prominent figure.
The Movie: A couple of months ago I was there when Guillermo Del Toro, one of the producers of a projected Deadman film, met Arnold Drake, the guy who created Deadman along with legendary artist Carmine Infantino (although it would be Neal Adams’ version that became iconic). Drake died not long after, but at the very least he got to see how excited and full of ideas Del Toro was. The film remains in the script stage, but Del Toro says that his vision for the movie will remain very faithful to the comic, and will include many aspects from the character’s storied history, including his twin brother, Cleveland Brand.
The Probability: Guillermo Del Toro might be one of the busiest men in Hollywood, and he loves to get attached to new projects – it’s just a function of how enthusiastic (and how much of a fanboy) he is. Deadman has been seen as a potential directing gig for him, but if that’s the case we’ll probably never see it. If Guillermo sticks to the producing side, and if Warner Bros sees money in a supernatural superhero (the decent box office for Ghost Rider doesn’t hurt), Deadman could actually happen in the next year or two. Of course, Del Toro still has to convince the studio to hide the face of whatever star is hired to play Boston Brand behind hideous ghoul make-up.
The New Gods
The Comic: Legendary comics creator Jack Kirby left Marvel Comics and set up shop at DC in the early 70s to work on a series that was cosmically vast, filled with hippie dippie weirdness and sci-fi pulp goodness. The New Gods was the title of the book and of the race of beings Kirby was chronicling; the New Gods were split between the good inhabitants of utopian New Genesis and the evil beings who populated the nightmarish hellhole of Apokolips. The New Gods seem to be the successors of the Old Gods – probably the gods of the Norse mythos – and live outside normal time and space near The Source, an incredibly powerful energy that is one of the very building blocks of the universe. Kirby’s stories were filled with epic bombast, and included a cast of hundreds. Some say that The New Gods, with a hero who turned out to be the son of the villain, wasan influence on the mythology of Star Wars.
The Movie: In 1998 Warner Feature Animation began developing a movie based on Jack Kirby’s New Gods. Comic veterans Mike Mignola and Mark Evanier were brought on board – Mignola was redesigning Kirby’s characters for the film while Evanier was a creative consultant. For a while the cartoon was on the front burner, but a series of theatrical failures at the end of the 90s led to The New Gods slowly disappearing from sight, and Warner focusing almost solely on TV and direct to DVD animation.
The Probability: The New Gods have shown up in various DC-related cartoons, and may one day end up with their own cartoon show – TV cartoons seem to be where DC properties flourish. It’s probably safe to say that, unless Warner dives back into feature animation, we’ll never see a big screen New Gods – the whole concept is too big and campy to ever make a decent live action film.
Y: The Last Man
The Comic: One day all of the men in the world suddenly die… all except amateur escape artist and magician Yorick Brown and Ampersand, the helper monkey he’s been training. Teaming up with Agent 355, who works for a secret US government group and Dr. Allison Mann, a geneticist who wants to bring men back into the world, Yorick sets out on a global journey to discover why all the men died, and to find his missing girlfriend.
The Movie: Y: The Last Man is a huge story that spans 50+ issues of a comic book and that lasts four years in the story. Condensing that into a feature is no easy task, so producer David Goyer has turned to creator and writer Brian K Vaughn to do the work. Vaughn recently handed in a draft of the script that Goyer loves. "The neat thing about his adaptation is that it's 70% the comic book, but he did a great job adapting it," Goyer told Superhero Hype. "He changed what needed to be changed. It still has that Brian K. Vaughn flavor, but it goes in a different direction, and the ending of the film in fact is different than the ending in the comic book will be.” Which is good news, because the reveal of the cause of the worldwide manicide was a little lame in the comic book. Now Goyer has turned his attention to finding the right director for the project; meanwhile, Shia LaBeouf has expressed interest in stepping up and playing Yorick.
The Probability: There’s a lot of heat under Y: The Last Man right now. The project’s in very active development – hell, it got a name drop in The Hollywood Reporter this past week. And if LaBeouf is interested that could make all the difference; after the sleeper hit Disturbia and the upcoming Transformers and Indiana Jones IV, the world will be LaBeouf’s oyster, and his commitment to the project would probably be enough to get it off the ground. He’s a great fit for the character, and the movie would strike a good balance for him between commercial product and something a little smarter.
The Comic: After original Super Friends sidekicks Wendy and Marvin were deemed too lame even for a terrible Saturday morning cartoon, the Wonder Twins were invented; Zan and Jayna, brother and sister from the planet Exxor. When they touched their hands together they could shapeshift: Zan into any form of water, including steam or ice and Jayna into any animal (real, alien or mythological). They also had a pet space monkey, named Gleek. For reasons that will forever be unknown, DC Comics incorporated these retarded characters (who look like Donnie and Marie) into their universe in the pages of Extreme Justice, one of the worst bits of shrapnel to come from the Image Comics explosion.
The Movie: How screwy has Warner Bros been in regards to Marvel’s film success? In 2002 they started up a Wonder Twins movie (in association with – I shit you not – Gaylord Films) after the success of Spider-Man. It boggles the mind that this was a project that they thought would be appropriate for human beings at all, but especially as a reaction to the excellent and well-done Spider-Man movie.
The Probability: This project is, as far as anyone knows, completely dead. However, DC has been undergoing a sickening nostalgia wave that includes having the current Justice League take up residence in the Super Friend’s Hall of Justice, so there’s no telling what some genius is going to come up with in the coming months.
The Comic: The Flash is without a doubt the most successful ‘legacy’ character of all time. There have been, to date, four main Flashes: Jay Garrick, who was Flash during the Golden Age of comics and belonged to the Justice Society; Barry Allen, whose debut as The Flash is recognized as the beginning of the Silver Age of comics; Wally West, the former Kid Flash who took over after Barry died in the mega-crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths; and Bart Allen, Barry’s grandson from the year 3000 (it’s a comic book, roll with it) who came back to our time to be the kid superhero Impulse and who, after the mega-crossover event Infinite Crisis got rid of Wally West in an ambiguous fashion, aged to adulthood and became The Flash (okay, even for a comic book that’s stupid). All of these characters have their superspeed in common, and the last three all wore variations on the same outfit. Jay Garrick wore a big saucer on his head.
The Movie: The Flash has already been brought to live action during the post-Burton Batman craze. The Flash TV series was pretty goddamn rotten, though, even if the suit he wore worked pretty well. Now as comic book movies have become their own accepted genre, The Flash is working his way back to the screen. For a long while David “my name keeps turning up in this article” Goyer was going to direct, with Ryan Reynolds playing Wally West. All of that changed a few months back when Warner Bros let Goyer go from the project, saying they had a different vision than he did. Their vision must have been ‘Make The Flash a complete piece of shit,’ since they immediately brought on Shawn Levy, the guy behind Night at the Museum, to direct. According to sources Levy, who is known for movies that are supposed to be comedies but are stultifyingly unfunny, isn’t intending to make a comedic Flash film, but rather one with a lighter tone than the very dour Batman and Superman movies of the last few years. I actually can't complain about that.
The Probability: While Levy coming on board indicates that The Flash is getting a new burst of speed, the truth is that Levy is attached to about eight thousand projects. Since he’s scrapping Goyer’s take on the character, Levy needs to start back at the script stage (not that his movies have good scripts. He just needs a list of set pieces to give to the special effects guys), and that means development could take forever. If a script he likes happens and he has the time between other projects, Levy could very well jump on The Flash in the next year or so, but my hunch is that the movie will just fade away.
Next: The Dark Knight. Shazam!. Seven Soldiers.