by Joel KalowOnce upon a time, the Western was the most commoditized genre in Hollywood. For decades, filmmakers threw their proverbial 10-gallon hat into the ring – usually with a Warren Oates or a Clint Eastwood or a John Wayne attached – and tried to say something new with the raw materials at hand. In the modern Hollywood industrial era, comic book movies have taken the reigns from the Western. Formally, it makes sense, as comics are already a visual medium. Commercially, it makes even more sense, as it allows the higher-ups in Hollywood to cynically play to the fantasies of the men and women who grew up dreaming of an adaptation of that comic about the guy who can talk to ants.
As an unabashed nerd and reader of comics, I spend a solid portion of each day thinking up comic-to-film adaptations that could never, will never, and often shouldn’t ever be adapted. Here are my top five titles that ought to be put into production.
(James Robinson & Tony Harris)
Right from the beginning, Starman was a different kind of comic, with a unique style and lead character to match. Born in the mid 90s – wherein comics’ quality matched that of Hollywood’s output (AKA trash) – Robinson and Harris created not just a character for the ages, but a whole city full of legacies and alliances and most of all, history. Starman tells the story of Jack Knight, son of Ted Knight (the Starman of the 40s), and his personal journey of growing out of his father’s shadow and accepting what it means to be a hero.
A character like Jack Knight, whose humor and eccentricities defined him above any superpower, deserves an actor who can juggle multiple modes at once. My pick would be the always terrific OSCAR ISAAC.
The story of Starman rests on the idea of legacy; of living up to the ideals passed down from generation to generation; to unbreak the bonds that shackle some to undeserving fates; to ultimately be a hero. With The Iron Giant (my pick for greatest superhero movie ever), director BRAD BIRD already made a movie that perfectly encapsulates many of these ideas, and I believe he would be a perfect fit for the material.
4. Strangers in Paradise
Strangers in Paradise opens simply enough. Francine Peters and Katina “Katchoo” Choovanski are best friends and roommates, only Katchoo is in love with Francine. To complicate matters, David Qin, a nice born-again Christian artist, enters the girls’ lives, with a secret past and an insatiable love for Katchoo. But that’s just the surface of what turns out to be one of the densest mythologies in all of independent comics; an interconnected web of characters that spans ex-husbands, aging rock stars, and secret underground crime syndicates. Strangers in Paradise operated as a romance comic, a satire of modern America, and an outrageously violent thriller all at once, without ever losing the thread of what made the comic special.
In my dream adaptation, KATEE SACKHOFF would play the brash and ultimately tragic Katchoo, and JENNIFER CONNELLY, the kind and slightly clueless Francine.
To direct, I would love to see LEXI ALEXANDER (Punisher: War Zone) take a chance at balancing the more intimate relationship drama with the bombastic, Rambo-meets-Thelma-and-Louise-style violence.
(Bryan Lee O’Malley)
We already have one incredible Bryan Lee O’Malley adaptation (the exceedingly wonderful Scott Pilgrim vs. the World); why not another? Seconds follows Katie Clay, chef, restaurant owner, and occasional fuck-up, as she is granted the ability to go back in time to fix past mistakes by eating mushrooms. The convoluted premise is all a guise for a deeply felt story about our inability to change the past and let things go. Think Groundhog Day, but with fewer groundhogs and more spirits that live in dressers.
Katie Clay needs to be played by an actress with the perfect mix of sarcastic, dry wit and genuine warmth and compassion. I pick EMMA STONE.
To direct, I would offer up a relative newcomer to the business: MARIELLE HELLER, whose Diary of a Teenage Girl was one of my favorite films of 2015.
2. MIND MGMT
MIND MGMT opens with true-crime writer, Meru, reporting on a mysterious flight, one in which all of the people on the plane developed amnesia. From there, Kindt unravels a story entrenched in paranoia, where no one can be trusted, not even yourself. Beyond the fun sci-fi concepts that are played with (psychics, immortals, mind readers etc.), MIND MGMT is essentially about trauma and the aching pains of memory lingering even when those memories are taken from you. No comic has ever made me unable to guess where the narrative was going on the level of Kindt’s masterpiece.
Casting the lead of such a comic is difficult. Meru is a totally clueless protagonist, constantly thwarted by forces so powerful that it takes a while for her to even accept them. At the same time, she is strong and brave, a character bent on learning the truth and sharing it with the world. After her quietly magnificent turn in Sicario, EMILY BLUNT is my pick.
The director of this film must be able to make good use of silence, to pick through heavy jargon without losing clarity, and to most importantly translate the compassion and empathy Kindt has for his characters onto the screen. For me, that director is SHANE CARRUTH, of Primer and Upstream Color fame. His work tends to be more experimental, yes, but the story of MIND MGMT is so fractal and messy (as is the tendency with psychics), that I think he is the best person to translate the material.
1. Doom Patrol
(Grant Morrison & Richard Case)
Let me get this out of the way: I think Morrison and Case’s run on Doom Patrol is possibly the single greatest run on any comic, ever. It’s a beautifully somber tale that deals in equal parts absurdity and pathos. A group of outcasts that are truly ostracized from society, the core members of the Doom Patrol make up the strangest comic team there is. Throughout their run, Morrison and Case created some of the most unusual concepts ever seen in a comic. Doom Patrol’s gallery of rogues ranged from The Brotherhood of Dada (an anarchistic group fighting against reality and reason) to an Illuminati-esque cabal of villains who lived underneath the Pentagon, seeking to get rid of all abnormalities (while they themselves reveled in the abnormal).
Beyond the core three members of Robotman, Rebis (the physical combination of a white man and a black woman who covers themselves in bandages at all times) and Crazy Jane (a sufferer of multiple personality disorder, wherein each personality has their own superpower), Doom Patrol often threw in even crazier characters, most memorably with Danny the Street, a sentient piece of pavement and a transvestite who loves to help the heroes almost as much he loves to host drag performances.
Morrison has had a knack throughout his career of playing to the weirdest possible ideas, and then taking them another step forward, and it often doesn’t work. But in Doom Patrol, he’s at his finest, never tossing out a concept for the sake of being weird but as a commentary on some facet of the human condition. For, above anything else, Doom Patrol is about what makes a person a person, idiosyncrasies and all.
I won’t bother casting all three leads, but I will cast the heart and soul of the team: Cliff Steele. An arrogant former racecar driver who got in a near-fatal accident that resulted in his brain being replaced by a large and clunky piece of metal, Steele (a.k.a. Robotman) is a character that never seems to let the past go. His ghosts haunt him like a disease, and it is this that drives his sense of heroism. I don’t think many actors could pull this role off the way JOHN BOYEGA could, with his mix of affability and inner torment. You’ve all seen Star Wars, but check out Attack The Block to really see what I mean.
Choosing a director for Doom Patrol was actually a fairly easy decision: the WACHOWSKI siblings have proven time and time again that they can carefully balance high-concept action with gentle character drama, and that they know how to handle the so-called “dregs of society.” Make this movie yesterday, Hollywood!