You’re not crazy, it’s been forever since the last installment of this five part series, which I told you would play out over the course of a week. Now, maybe on Earth-C* a week lasts this long, but here on Earth Prime this is way late. Sorry. My original intention was to do this as one article, but when the list of movies expanded to about 40, it became obvious that it should be a series; then it turned out that it takes an insane amount of time to write and prepare one of these articles, so five in one week quickly turned out to be really, really hard.
Now Crisis on Infinite Comic Adaptations is back, and I’ll try to wrap this up quickly, but I’m not setting a timeline.
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
Superman: The Man of Steel
The Comic: The last son of Krypton, rocketed from his exploding homeworld as an infant, Kal El was raised by a Midwestern couple to be Clark Kent. His alien heritage gives him massive strength, the power of flight, X-Ray vision, heat vision, super breath… you name it. His Midwestern American heritage gives him a sense of decency, justice and right and wrong. In his trademark blue and red outfit, Superman battles aliens, monsters, mad scientists, and the urge to punch that annoying fruit Jimmy Olsen right into orbit.
The Movie: Leaving the X-Men franchise, Bryan Singer spent a whole lot of Warner Bros’ money making Superman Returns, a film set in the same continuity as the Richard Donner film from the 70s (and Superman II as well). With all of that cash, people expected the most amazing spectacle of all time – instead they got a mezzo mezzo Superman in Brandon Routh who spent the whole movie picking things up and moping over the fact that Lois Lane got married (to a guy who ends up being the hero of the movie, by the way). To make matters worse, it turns out that Lois’ child is actually Superman’s, conceived during the events of Superman II when he lost his powers (otherwise his Kryptonian seed would have blasted a hole in the back of Lois). Bryan Singer has promised fans that the sequel would be more like Wrath of Khan, which I guess means it’ll star Ricardo Montalban.
The Probability: Everybody talks about The Man of Steel like it’s a lock for next year, but I wouldn’t hold your breath unless you’re Superman himself. Superman Returns was, by just about every possible metric, a disappointment that barely made it to 200 million dollars – the new blockbuster benchmark – only after Warner Bros flogged mercilessly over the finish line. The general bad word of mouth on the film will make the studio antsy about a sequel, and Singer has promised more action and fun, even though he would have a smaller budget than the first film. The movie is technically moving forward, but don’t be surprised if, after finished Valkyrie, Singer just moves into his Harvey Milk biopic – the film suddenly has competition from Gus Van Sant – and The Man of Steel sort of just melts away into never happening.
The Comic: Created by William Moulton Marston, the guy who invented the lie detector and who lived in a three-way marriage, Wonder Woman is an Amazonian princess with bulletproof bracelets, a magical lasso and an invisible plane. Her history has been complicated and often silly, but the basics remain the same: a strong woman from an all-female culture, Wonder Woman has come to Man’s World to fight for truth, justice, and occasionally bondage.
The Movie: Wonder Woman’s movie has been in development for about ever. You’ll remember that the character successfully made the transition to the screen on TV in the 1970s, with Linda Carter influencing many a young geek’s adolescent development by squeezing into that costume. The show was originally set in WWII, like the original comic, and eventually moved up to the 1970s. A Wonder Woman feature film began getting buzzed about early in the 21st century, with Sandra Bullock’s name getting thrown around a lot for the lead role. But producer Joel Silver never seemed to find a script that he liked – at least a half dozen writers have taken a swing at the film, none of which stuck. Eventually the movie ended up in the hands of Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon… and then nothing happened for two years. After word got out that Silver had bought up a Wonder Woman spec script (interestingly enough set in WWII), it became official that Whedon was off the project, due to the ubiquitous creative differences.
The Probability: Joel Silver loves to talk about this film, which is a good sign for those excited about a Wonder Woman movie. The fact that he couldn’t make it work with Joss Whedon is probably not a great sign, though, and neither is the fact that the latest script is set in WWII, something none of the other scripts were. This means that Silver probably doesn’t even have a specific vision for the character or movie, and is just trying everything and seeing what sticks. That could mean that a terrific idea will strike and the movie will be suddenly happening, or it means that everyone involved could keep dicking around for another decade. I’m leaning to ‘dicking around’ – female superheroes don’t sell comics, let alone get butts into theater seats, and Warner Bros’ forays into superhero movies have yet to yield the kind of big hit that would make them feel better about taking a risk on this picture.
The Comic: Grant Morrison’s seminal Vertigo comic series is a mindfuck combination of scifi, adventure, conspiracy, spirituality and politics. Focusing on an underground cell dedicated to fighting physical and mental oppression from another dimension, the Invisibles are a motley crew of spies, rebels, magicians, transsexuals and time travelers.
The Movie: If you ask Grant Morrison, someone already made a movie out of The Invisibles – it’s called The Matrix. The writer has been very vocal about believing that the Wachowskis, avowed comic nerds, lifted his concepts, characters and plot almost whole. Morrison’s pretty easy going about the whole thing, though, and I have to say that while I can see the similarities, both stories are dealing with archetypal characters and concepts, so some overlap could be expected. The production design of The Matrix certainly owes a debt to the comic book, though. At one point the BBC was going to make an Invisibles TV series, but that fell apart. Grant Morrison has made the first two scripts to the show available on his website – click here to read those. Sometime after that there was talk of an Invisibles feature film; the movie would focus on the action-oriented Volume 2, which brought the team to America to discover the truth behind Roswell and the AIDS virus, among other things. This was seen as more commercially viable but also a way to avoid comparisons with the first Matrix film.
The Probability: This project is probably dead in the water. Now that the series is completed and the full story told, someone with an interesting vision might be able to do something with it, but the cultural moment of The Invisibles feels like it’s passed. Perhaps Grant Morrison’s series could be the next Lord of the Rings – a potentially unfilmable sprawling epic that is waiting for just the right person to come along and make it breathe.
The Comic: Doc Will Magnus created the responsometer, a device that let him build a team of robots based on metals – there’s Gold, the leader; Iron, the strong one; dumb Lead; insecure Tin; quick to anger Mercury; and babalicious Platinum. The team was always one of DC Comic’s C-list groups, getting brought back every couple of years due to creator interest rather than fan insistence. The robots, who can change their shape and have abilities related to their base metals, fight larger than life villains like Chemo (not a cancer treatment but a big chemical monster) and a giant racist evil egg named Egg Fu.
The Movie: Lauren Shuler Donner, wife of Superman director Richard Donner and producer of Fox’s X-Men series, is producing a movie version of the Metal Men. Geoff Johns, a comic writer and one-time assistant to Donner, helped develop the concept into movie form, while the script is being written by Eric Champnella, who has a story credit on Mr. 3000. Donner has said that the Metal Men would be miles away from the X-Men, stressing the humor and adventure elements of the original comics.
The Probability: This property is a money making machine in waiting. A well-made, kid friendly film featuring CGI Metal Men in a real world environment could not only be a major smash, it could be a marketing bonanza. Think of the pajamas, toys, video games and possibly animated TV spin-off… funny, lovable superhero robots who can change shape is like a perfect synergy of things that interest 9 to 13 year old boys. The film’s in active development, and I think this movie has a real chance to actually happen in the next two years.
Books of Magic
The Comic: An English boy with glasses learns that he’s to become the most powerful wizard in the world. Along with his owl companion, the young man must learn to control his powers so that he can grow into his destiny. Harry who? This kid is named Tim Hunter, and the character, created by Sandman scribe Neil Gaiman, premiered years before the first Harry Potter book.
The Movie: The original Books of Magic miniseries, where Timothy Hunter meets a number of DC Universe magical characters and gets a tour of the occult, has been in development for a number of years. The latest word came in 2004, when Swedish directors Simon Sandquist and Joel Bergwall (they directed the original The Invisible, which recently flopped as a David Goyer remake) were brought on board. Neil Gaiman had been privy to the script development, and said that while he thought the latest draft, by Matt Greenberg, writer of 1408, Reign of Fire and Halloween H20, was good, but had almost no resemblance to his story or characters. In fact, Gaiman said he’d rather if they changed Tim Hunter’s name so as to not disappoint fans looking to see a Books of Magic movie. He also revealed that John Constantine, one of Tim’s tour guides, couldn’t be in the movie because of rights issues. In some drafts he had been replaced by a character named John Ariel.
The Probability: To be honest I’m shocked anyone was even working on this in 2004. While Gaiman doesn’t believe JK Rowling ripped him off and that they were just using similar archetypes, the basic premise of Books of Magic would look like nothing but a Harry Potter clone these days. Perhaps the film is being considered as a possible post-Potter franchise that could slake fan’s thirst for more movies about English boy wizards.
The Comic: The future is a corrupt, scummy place, and only Spider Jerusalem has the journalistic skills to expose it all. Inspired by gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson, Spider lives in The City, a sprawling megametropolis where consumerism and stupidity have run rampant. Created by frighteningly prolific writer Warren Ellis and artist Darick Robertson, Transmetropolitan is a biting satire of the modern world and a forum for Ellis to hold forth on politics, society and life in general.
The Movie: The obvious fancasting of Spider Jerusalem would be Patrick Stewart, aka Jean Luc Picard. Twenty years ago, that is. But that hasn’t stoped Stewart himself from talking about how much he’d love to don Spider’s trademark red and green glasses, as well as produce the film version. Creator Warren Ellis has gone on the record as saying that he would approve of a Transmet film with Stewart in the lead, but that nothing has actually happened, and it’s been a bunch of year since anyone has even mentioned it.
The Probability: If there’s a God, this movie project is dead, dead, dead, at least as far as Patrick Stewart is concerned. The guy’s just too old to play the role, and it would be distracting to have Professor X running around shirtless and covered in tattoos and doing tons of drugs. Transmet itself would make a really great movie, but it would have to be one that just sheds most of the comic storyline and tells a cyberpunk story about a gonzo journalist – think Blade Runner but with Hunter S Thompson.
The Comic: Sgt. Frank Rock is a hard-battling NCO in WWII who hates war but believes in his duty and supporting his men in Easy Company. Fighting all over the Eastern Theater of Operations from North Africa to Germany, Sgt. Rock was DC Comics’ longest running and most popular military hero – even more popular than The Haunted Tank. The Haunted Tank had the ghost of a Confederate general guiding a WWII tank. Later the tank married an automobile, setting the stage for My Mother the Car.
The Movie: Sgt. Rock has been in development for decades. What’s bizarre about this is the fact that the comic on its own features nothing supernatural, nothing superheroic and nothing weirder than two-fisted tales of men making impossible kills, the sort of stuff you see in any big action movie. When the WWII revival hit, it seemed like Sgt. Rock was a shoe-in for adaptation under the aegis of Joel Silver; Arnold Schwarzenegger was, unbelievably, set to play the role for a while, with Rock having been turned into the first generation son of a German immigrant. Later, Bruce Willis was attached and writers as diverse as Brian Helgeland and John Milius have written scripts. Milius’ script, which is drenched in the word ‘fuck’ and violence, would make a damn great WWII action movie no matter what the lead character’s name is. Sgt. Rock is again in active development, with John Cox (who writes for CommanderBond.net) scripting. Silver Pictures VP David Gambino recently told IGN that they’re considering doing Sgt. Rock 300 style – not mostly naked, but in front of green screens.
The Probability: I’m scratching my head that this movie hasn’t happened already. Sgt. Rock has no fanbase to complain, no well-known mythology to service, and no special aspects to sell to movie fans: this is just a rock-em sock-em WWII adventure story. Rock’s character trait of hating war but still doing his duty is a killer concept in today’s world where we hate the Iraq War but have to be careful to let everybody know how much we support the troops, plus Rock is fighting in ‘The Last Good War,’ and it would be nice to be reminded what a just cause is. Sgt. Rock would be a terrific actioner, without the need to focus on the weepy ‘We love the Greatest Generation’ stuff so many recent WWII movies have – it would be pulp adventure. I imagine the only thing keeping the movie from really happening is the difficulty of finding an American leading man who can capture Rock’s craggy tough-guy attitude.
The Comic: Before Frank Miller got all into fascism and noir, he was into samurais and ninjas (check out his Wolverine work with Chris Claremont), and he brought that interest to his first creator-owned series. Set in a near-future dystopian New York, Ronin is about a quadriplegic telekinetic who is the reincarnation of an ancient Japanese ronin (masterless samurai). Think cyberpunk meets Akira meets Seven Samurai – with lots of red.
The Movie: Frank Miller is HOT right now. After Warner Bros found themselves covered in 300 cash, the studio optioned Ronin. 300 producer Gianni Nunnari is again producing; a few months ago it was announced that Sylvain White would be directing. White most recently directed Stomp the Yard, but let’s not hold that against him – he also directed the direct to DVD I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, and that’s a much worse thing to hold against him. Recently, though, it was announced that White’s next film would be the adaptation of the video game Castlevania.
The Probability: This had a lot of momentum going, but the announcement that White is doing Castlevania next, it’s unclear where Ronin stands. Frank Miller has said again and again that he’d prefer if all future movies based on his comics were directed by himself – could he step in and do Ronin after he finishes The Spirit? Since he’s supposed to do Sin City 2 next, probably not. It’ll be interesting to see where the project goes, especially as it’s a property that would benefit from being done in the 300 style.
Next: Justice League. Lobo. We3. Watchmen.
* Home world of Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew!