By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist July 29, 2014 at 3:55PM
As we all know, you can’t swing a cat in a multiplex without hitting a comic book movie of some kind (or without being prosecuted on animal cruelty charges). So far in 2014, “I Frankenstein,” “300: Rise Of An Empire,” “Noah” (kind of), “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” “Edge Of Tomorrow,” “Snowpiercer” and “Hercules” have all leapt from the page to the big-screen, with this Friday’s Marvel movie “Guardians Of The Galaxy” soon to join them, not to mention “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For,” and Helen Mirren vehicle “The Hundred-Foot Journey” before the month is out. Ok, not the Helen Mirren one.
With Marvel shifting to three movies a year from 2017 onwards, and Warners/DC ramping up their game as well, we’re only going to be getting more. The field seems increasingly formulaic, with “Snowpiercer” and the enjoyably bonkers ‘Guardians’ as the exceptions to the rule. But the comic book is a broader church than Hollywood sometimes gives it credit for, and when you look away from the countless superhero titles, the medium is undergoing one of the most creative periods in its history, with all kinds of exciting and imaginative new titles, often creator-owned, hitting shelves each week.
The comic book movie genre isn't going anywhere any time soon, but if we have to have some, why not dig a little deeper? So, with Comic-Con in the rear-view and to mark the release of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” we’ve picked out some of the best recent titles that most seem suited to big-screen adaptation. Our picks avoid the traditional superhero titles (though there’s some good work to be found there, with the current “Hawkeye” and “Daredevil” series particularly strong), we’ve kept the picks mostly to those that emerged in the last few years, and we’ve tried to go for titles that are particularly suited to movies rather than TV. Take a look below, and let us know what you want to see translated to the big-screen in the comments section.
What? Horror-noir hybrid from Ed Brubaker (whose work on “Captain America” influenced the recent movie) and Sean Phillips, the pair behind the classic “Criminal.” “Fatale” focuses on Josephine, a seemingly immortal femme fatale with the ability to wrap men around her little finger. The story spans the 1930s to the 1990s, following Josephine as she flees from a terrifying Lovecraftian cult.
Why? A love letter to one of the great cinematic archetypes, as you might imagine from the title, it’s only fitting that something like “Fatale” should return onscreen at some point. Melding horror with noir isn’t exactly a new idea, but it’s rarely been done as effectively as Brubaker and Phillips have done here. Compelling mystery and genuinely unnerving edge conjoin. Lovecraftian horror has rarely translated well on screen, but a solid basis in classic noir could make it more palatable. And best of all, it’s one of a number of books here with a strong female lead: the writers re-invent the femme fatale archetype, cannily making her story into an examination of the wrongs men do to women. The structure of the book (concluding this week with issue 24) might present a screenwriting challenge in terms of compressing the story into a couple of hours, but it’s not impossible, and it’d be a shame to see something so rooted in classic cinema relegated to the small screen.
Who? Having just mixed crime and horror to huge success, “True Detective” helmer Cary Joji Fukunaga would be one of the obvious picks to direct, but we’d be intrigued what “House Of The Devil” director Ti West could do with this sort of scope.
What? Image Comics upended the industry once in the 1990s when a number of major creators left Marvel and/or DC to go into business for themselves, wherein writers and artists would retain rights to the new series. But the company’s been responsible for a new, quieter revolution in the last few years: since 2009, under publisher Eric Stephenson, Image has published a string of hugely acclaimed new titles, letting creators off the leash, and it’s no coincidence that a bulk of the titles on this list come from that imprint. And it’s also no coincidence that the first series Stephenson himself created is a cracker. “Nowhere Men” imagines a world where science occupied the cultural space otherwise filled by rock and roll in the 1960s, with a quartet of scientists achieving world-wide fame through their innovations. Rivalry and drug-addled madness tears the four apart, but an accident on a space station soon forces them back together again.
Why? Riffing equally on "Fantastic Four" and The Beatles, Stephenson (with artist Nate Bellegrade) has created an incredibly dense and detailed alternate world (the books are packed with faux-found-material like magazine clippings and the like, bringing a strong sense of verisimilitude), that's enormous fun to swim in so far. The four central figures, from Syd Barrett-style acid burnout Thomas to giant asshole Simon Grimshaw, are all compelling, and while we were intially a little disappointed at the more traditional superheroics, the series is playing neatly against expectations. "Nowhere Men" has been stricken by delays (Bellegrade wrote movingly about why here), so it’s hard to see the end-game at this stage, but so far, this is one of the most stylish and imaginative series currently publishing, and has real cinematic potential -- it’s “The Social Network” by way of “The Fly.”
Who? Short of giving Shane Carruth a blank check (an idea we fully endorse), “Splice” helmer Vincenzo Natali could be a fun pick for this one.
What? Jonathan Hickman’s become one of the most in-demand comic book writers working right now. While he’s become a big Marvel go-to guy, his best work has been on the titles his own creations: both the nutso alternate-history “The Manhattan Projects” and the “Dark Tower”-ish spaghetti western “East Of West” are must-reads. But in terms of translation to the screen, “Pax Romana” is probably the obvious choice. The conceit is that a few years into the future, with Catholicism dying out, the Holy See manages to invent time travel, and sends a cardinal and a group of mercenaries back in time to the era of the Emperor Constantine to ensure that Catholicism always remains the dominant religion. As you might imagine, things don’t exactly go as planned...
Why? Across all of his oeuvre, Hickman’s shown himself to be ferociously bright and gloriously weird, and this is his masterwork, an incredibly dense, text-heavy treatise, indicating long and hard thought about the implications of its premise (which is fascinating, and which, as Hickman himself says, is about sociology more than it is about religion). The concept might sound worryingly “Timeline”-esque, but the book marries action and brains in a deeply satisfying way, and would have the potential to be a rare tentpole with something substantive to say. The closed-ended story (it’s only a four-part miniseries) obviously would make a relatively manageable film adaptation. The book is in the works to be adapted as a Syfy miniseries, but given the network’s inability to follow up “Battlestar Galactica” with anything of the same quality, we’d rather this went back to the drawing board as a movie.
Who? Kathryn Bigelow would be the dream, but she’s not all that likely to have much interest in any comic book movie (though she was behind “Near Dark” and “Strange Days,” we guess). So what about Tobias Lindholm, helmer of the excellent “A Hijacking”?