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.
Click here for Part 1, featuring: Stardust, Super Max, Deadman, The New Gods, Y The Last Man, Wonder Twins, The Flash
The Dark Knight
The Comic: After his parents are gunned down before his very eyes in Crime Alley (note to Gotham City: rename some of your streets. Forced Sodomy Lane is especially disturbing), young Bruce Wayne grows up to be a dark avenger of the night. Over his 70 years of adventures, Batman has been portrayed in a multitude of ways: a lone avenger of the night; a dark avenger of the night standing on the line between sanity and madness; a lone dark avenger of the night with unlimited resources and abilities; and a homosexual.
The Movie: Despite all of my naysaying and the ensuing death threats, Batman Begins had legs… which usually means people liked it (it’s worth noting that people also like Chris Daughtry). The good news for you folks is that The Dark Knight looks to be more of the same: Chris Nolan is back in the director’s chair, bringing us his grotty vision of a lone dark avenger of the night who in this incarnation is not a homosexual because he loves Katie Holmes (hey… wait a second). Although Holmes isn’t back, replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Also joining the dourness: Heath Ledger as The Joker, Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent (and eventually Two-Face) and William Fichtner as Bank Manager, a beloved figure from Detective Comics #178.
The Probability: This one’s coming out on July 18th, 2008, and is already filming. Nolan and company have been to Chicago and are either on their way to or already filming in London. The question now is what’s the future of this franchise… Batman Begins was able to build an audience on word of mouth and DVD, and that was without recognizable (to the masses) villains or a third act that was any good. With The Joker making for a major marketing figure, The Dark Knight could be a huge smash.
Challengers of the Unknown
The Comic: They’re the proto-Fantastic Four: when four friends miraculously survive a plane crash, they decide to use their ‘borrowed time’ to go on zany adventures, meet aliens, solve big crimes and save the world. Ace is the leader of the group, a hot shit top gun, Rocky is the muscle (which in 50s comics means he is stupid), Prof is… well, take your guess, and Red, the risk taker and daredevil. The original Challengers would be updated and revamped a number of times over the last 60 years, but never managed to really come into their own as Kirby’s next take on them, the Fantastic Four, would.
The Movie: Seven years ago Jack Kirby’s granddaughter let it slip that a Challengers of the Unknown movie was in development. And that was the end of that.
The Probability: I’m actually shocked that this hasn’t been picked up in some format over the years – at the very least, Challengers of the Unknown is dying to be a SciFi Channel TV show. Maybe part of the problem is that the simplicity of the origin feels false in today’s world, but I think something a little heightened would be fun. One of the big problems that Challengers of the Unknown faces in Hollywood is that nobody cares about it: while cult properties such as Deadman or The Spirit benefit from the passion of the people behind the scenes, Challengers of the Unknown is so generic that it’s hard to imagine anyone championing it all that much, even dyed in the wool Kirby fanatics.
The Comic: Spinning out of the pages of Swamp Thing, John Constatine is a streetwise, trench-coated English magician (of the real sort, not the David Blaine sort) who looks an awful lot like Sting. While he’s a magician, Constantine tends to rely on his wit and cunning, usually falling back on magical knowledge and not spells. One part noir, one part fantasy, John Constantine has always been one of the most unique characters in comics.
The Movie: The film Constantine is a rare example of a comic book movie that fucks most of the details – Constantine is now an American, Constantine is now Keanu Reeves – and ends up actually not being half bad. That may just be because while I’ve admired the character I’ve never been a major fan, but the feeling of ‘Hey, that wasn’t as bad as I expected’ seems to have been widespread. And the movie did pretty well. Rumors of a sequel have popped up again and again, often started by producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Lorenzo DiBonaventura; as recently as March they’ve said a Constantine 2 is in the works, it would be directed by someone other than original director Francis Lawrence, and Keanu Reeves would be back. Reeves, meanwhile, goes back and forth on the sequel prospect, and co-star Shia LaBeouf has expressed amazement that Keanu would come back at all. ‘Keanu went through a lot of shit with that movie,’ he told SciFi Wire.
The Probability: If all the talk about Keanu coming back is true, this film has a better than average chance at actually happening. But since I think a huge part of why the first film worked against all odds was Francis Lawrence, it remains to be seen if the film would be any damn good at all.
The Comic: Young news reporter Billy Batson only has to utter the word ‘SHAZAM!’ to get the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. Pre-teen Billy would turn into the grown-up Captain Marvel, and battle such baddies as an evil worm named Mr. Mind and a villain with a similar powers and getup named Black Adam. Captain Marvel’s supporting cast included the Marvel Family – Captain Marvel, Jr, Mary Marvel, Uncle Marvel, three other Billys known as the Lieutenant Marvels (Tall Billy, Fat Billy and, I swear, Hill Billy) and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny – as well as a talking tiger named Mister Tawky Tawny. Silly and endearingly juvenile, Captain Marvel has always been sort of a cult character, except for the fact that Fat Elvis based his whole wardrobe on Captain Marvel, Jr.
The Movie: There have been previous movie versions of Captain Marvel, including a serial and a truly terrible 1970s TV show (as part of the Shazam/Isis Hour). Over the past few years there have been rumors that The Rock would play Captain Marvel (although I think he’d make a better Black Adam), and more recently Jake Gyllenhaal has been named as a possible Big Red Cheese as well. Whoever ends up starring, the movie’s in pre-production: writer John August is penning the script, while Peter Segal, who directed Tommy Boy and The Longest Yard remake, is set to direct.
Probability: A Shazam! movie is almost certainly going to happen at this point. Even if Segal falls off or if August’s script gets rewritten, the project is moving ahead well enough to actually take off. And the basic premise – a kid turning into a superhero – is not only immensely appealing and unique among the current crop of superhero movies, it has competition: Malibu Comics’ Prime, essentially a Shazam! rip-off, has been quietly being developed for a few years. If Prime makes it to screens first, Shazam!’s over.
The Comic: As is often the case with DC Comics, the Seven Soldiers of Victory have many iterations. They were originally the second DC team, premiering after the Justice Society of America, and like that group was made up of individual heroes from other titles: the Vigilante, the Crimson Avenger, Green Arrow and his sidekick Speedy, the Shining Knight, and the Star-Spangled Kid and his sidekick Stripesy. The latest iteration has the Seven Soldiers as a team in concept only – the members (Shining Knight, The Guardian, Bulleteer, Klarion the Witch-Boy, Frankenstein, Zatanna, and Mister Miracle) each played a separate role in stopping an invasion of the Faerie-like Sheeda.
The Movie: Hot off the success of 300, producer Gianni Nunnari (Seven, The Departed) is excited about doing more comic book movies. While chatting up his forthcoming adaptation, Nunnari let spill that he has his eyes on doing Grant Morrison’s RoninSeven Soldiers interconnected group of miniseries as a film.
The Probability: The problem with Nunnari is that he also says he’s doing Warren Ellis’ creator-owned Ocean as a movie, and Ellis says that this is the first he’s heard of it. So Nunnari could be full of some major shit. If he is telling the truth, though, Seven Soldiers seems an odd project to take on, as none of the seven characters have any name recognition (even INSIDE the comic geek world in some cases, like Klarion the Witch-boy), and they never meet up in the story. Still, Morrison created (or reimagined, in some cases) really terrific characters, including a Frankenstein monster who travels to Mars, a superhero who happens to be a newspaper mascot, and a timelost member of King Arthur’s court with a big secret, each of whom would be great in a movie.
The Comic: Lighthouse keeper Tom Curry fucked a mermaid; their son Arthur was born with the great strength and ability to swim underwater of Atlanteans and the bad fashion sense of humans. Aquaman was a relatively forgettable Golden Age character who managed to survive into the modern world because DC was hard up for heroes to feature in its new Justice League comic. Later, Aquaman, whose main power is talking to fish, gained joke immortality in the Super Friends cartoon. Anyone who claims Aquaman as their favorite superhero is highly suspect – don’t leave them alone with your children.
The Movie: The problem with talking about a modern Aquaman adaptation is that it’s hard to figure out where the joke ends and the reality begins. In Entourage, Vinnie Chase played Aquaman for James Cameron and the movie opened bigger than Spider-Man; this led to some joking around about a real Aquaman movie between Cameron and series executive producer Mark Wahlberg. Things got cloudier when Smallville – a show that itself feels like a joke – introduced Aquaman, who was then given a pilot for his own spin-off, which was apparently not a joke. The show wasn’t picked up, but the pilot became very popular on the internet. And in August, Ari Emanuel, the agent who is the basis for Entourage’s Ari Gold, began trying to put together an Aquaman movie here on Earth Prime. It seemed as though Hollywood had finally had a break with reality.
The Probability: When the LA Times reported Emanuel’s interest in an Aquaman movie, the rest of the media scoffed and it seems like the project has slowly withered away and died like Arthur Curry trapped in the Gobi.
The Comic: Petty criminal Patrick ‘Eel’ O’Brian got shot while engaged in a heist and, as will happen, fell into a barrel of chemicals that got into his wound and turned him into a rubbery being without internal organs or blood. Plastic Man has been played for laughs throughout his history, getting wackier and sillier over time, until someone comes along and grits him up (this is inevitable, and has actually probably even happened by now).
The Movie: Plastic Man got his own cartoon at one point, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, where he had a stupid Hawaiian sidekick named Hula-Hula. I guess that was because nobody knows any specific Hawaiian ethnic slurs to have used for his name. It wasn’t until the mid-90s that two nobodies, the Wachowski Brothers, took a crack at a Plastic Man movie. In their script O’Brian is an environmental activist who gets tangled up trying to expose some nefarious group using nanotech, which is how he gets his powers. Script reviews have indicated that the Wachowski’s take was fun, but prohibitively expensive. Their script was shelved, but in recent years Steven Spielberg has made noises about some kind of a Plastic Man CG animated feature.
The Probabilty: After The Incredibles I don’t know if a CG Plastic Man is that interesting. But with FX being what they are today, it’s possible that the script by the Wachowskis is no longer so expensive; perhaps after conquering a family audience with Speed Racer they’ll feel like following it up with Plastic Man.
The Comic: The set-up is simple: mysterious Agent Graves shows up with a briefcase. Inside is documentation that proves someone has ruined your life, as well as a gun and 100 bullets. Those bullets enable you to kill whoever you want – when they come into a police crime lab, strings get pulled and any investigation stops. Without worrying about legal consequences will you find your own brand of violent justice?
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – Agent Graves is involved in the centuries old conspiracy that runs America called The Trust. He and his agents, The Minutemen, have been betrayed by members of The Trust and are engaged in a long and elaborate plan for revenge.
The Movie: Back in 2001 Dave Elliot from Brigade Entertainment told Comics2Film that his company was in the early stages of a 100 Bullets adaptation. Brigade, which is Barry Levine’s production company, never actually got a movie made until this year, with the Irish mobster film The Winter Hill Gang. They’ve optioned more properties, including Evil Ernie, Marvel’s Damage Control and some RPG games, but there’s not been any further word on a 100 Bullets movie.
The Probability: I don’t know what the story is with Brigade, but I do know that 100 Bullets is one of the few serialized works of fiction that I would legitimately say would never work as a movie. The story of The Trust would be trite if condensed into a two hour film, and the concept of the case and the 100 bullets doesn’t seem enough to maintain a whole film. Here’s hoping that this project never actually goes anywhere.
Next: Superman: The Man of Steel. The Invisibles. Wonder Woman.