Comic books have been the source for television programmes before – Batman, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Smallville are perhaps the most famous live action series, and there are many animated series as well – but these were based on well-known franchises. Now, things are different, and in a good way.
Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead has been adapted into a very successful television series. Powers by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming has been filmed as a pilot for FX!, although its future is as yet unknown. Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory has been optioned for a television series at Showtime. Marvel Television is planning adaptations of Alias by Bendis and Michael Gaydos (to be called AKA Jessica Jones) and Cloak And Dagger on ABC. These are not the usual suspects of comic books to be adapted to television. Interesting and different source material is being adapted, so I thought I’d compile my list of comic books that I want on television (in addition to Powers and Chew).
Fell by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith
Ellis has written various police procedurals but this is the one that is a template for a lean weekly police drama. Homicide detective Richard Fell is transferred to Snowtown, a ‘feral’ city worse than the worst inner city. Detective Fell has excellent powers of observation, which he uses to compensate for the ‘three and a half detectives’ for the entirety of Snowtown, trying his best to make the city better. There is an ongoing mystery about why Fell was transferred there, and there is a supporting cast, including the young woman who owns a local bar and the background character of a nun wearing a Richard Nixon mask. Each of the issues so far (the first of the slimline comics to reduce the price with fewer but denser pages) is the blueprint for an individual episode; it’s a shame that Ellis had a computer meltdown that lost his notes for series (the pair hope finish the series eventually).
Global Frequency by Warren Ellis and various artists
A bit of a cheat, this one – a pilot was made, with Michelle Forbes as Miranda Zero, with John Rogers as the writer/showrunner, but The WB didn’t commission the series. However, I still think it would have made a good series. The Global Frequency is a covert intelligence organisation run by Miranda Zero (an alias for a former intelligence agent) with 1,001 people on the Global Frequency, called up when needed for their specific skills through the communication coordinator, a woman with the codename Aleph, to protect and rescue the world from the weird and dangerous. Each of the issues was a standalone story, much like a television series, although I doubt the show would employ a different visual style each episode to match the different artists on the twelve issues that were produced. I‘d still like to see a series for this comic book.
Scalped by Jason Aaron and various artists
I’ve been a big fan of this book for a while now and I’m still surprised that nobody has optioned this for a television series. The shorthand for this book was usually ‘The Sopranos on the Rez’, which is indicative of the nature of the book. The book is about Dashiell Bad Horse returning to his (fictional) Indian Reservation, Prairie Rose, in South Dakota where he gets involved with Chief Lincoln Red Crow, who is starting a casino and has a history of violence. There are many other aspects to the story, including the murder of two FBI agents thirty years previously, organised crime, local politics, Native American culture, and the poverty on the Rez. It’s a great comic book, and I think it would make a great television series.
100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
The book with the great hook: the mysterious Agent Graves gives someone who has been wronged a gun, 100 bullets, the information to confirm the identity of the person responsible and the guarantee that there will be no investigation into any revenge taken. However, there was more going on than just this aspect, which played out over 100 issues written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Eduardo Risso. Like its Vertigo stablemate Scalped, this is another comic book that would make a great television series, with the elements of noir and pulp and violence and intrigue and a sprawling crime saga.
Fables by Bill Willingham and various artists
I haven’t watched Grimm but I have seen some of Once Upon A Time, both of which have to admit to some sort of connection to Fables, and I think it’s safe to say that Fables as a television series would be great because Once Upon A Time isn’t good enough. Fables was developed by NBC back in 2006 but didn’t get past the script stage (NBC would later make Grimm); then ABC got the rights to develop a pilot, but nothing happened (ABC would make Once Upon A Time). No connection, right? Fables, created and written by Bill Willingham, is about all the characters from fairy tale and folklore living in secret in our world (a community in New York City and ‘the Farm’ in upstate New York) trying to survive life here after being forced from their homelands by The Adversary. The fact that it is still going strong after 100 issues is an indication of its quality and its scope for stories. We might not have the television series, but we’ve still got the comic book.
Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
This excellent comic book has had a very complex history in trying to reaching the screen: several film companies have tried, with James Marsden cast in the lead as Jesse Custer back in 2003, but which never got into production; this was followed by Mark Steven Johnson setting up a deal at HBO for a television series to do each issue, including the specials, as an hour of television, but this also fell through. The next name associated with it was Sam Mendes on a film adaptation (using a script written by John August; the previous film scripts had been by Ennis) back in 2008, but this didn’t seem to go anywhere over the next few years, because last year DJ Caruso tweeted to say that he’d signed a deal to direct a Preacher film. However, I can’t find any other details on this try. Despite Ennis being a fan of film (which is evident if you’ve read the series), I think this would work best as a television series to be able to cover all the aspects of the book.
Y: The Last Man by Brian K Vaughan and various artists
Although there is a deal in place to make this comic book into a film, it’s another case where a finite television adaptation would be a better way to service the story of Yorick, the only male mammal (apart from his pet monkey) to survive a plague that wiped out anything with a Y chromosome. What I find stranger is the fact that the writer, Brian K Vaughan, worked as a writer on staff on Lost – surely being involved with all those people could have led to something happening on television? The book is a great comic book, with a great cast, a great story full of humour and adventure amid the depressing scenario – if The Walking Dead can work on television, I believe the same of Y: The Last Man.
Quantum and Woody by Priest and MD Bright
This very enjoyable comic book written by Priest and drawn by MD Bright was the highlight of the Acclaim books of the mid-1990s and was basically an action sitcom with just a hint of superpowers. It was about Eric Henderson, a decorated army man who is also an overly serious black man, and Woody Van Chelton, a fun-loving and lazy white man, who used to be sort-of friends at school; they are reunited at the deaths of their fathers. Due to an accident, they become pure energy, and they have to wear metal gauntlets that have to be slammed together every 24 hours to restore their energy matrix. This is just the reason to keep them together: the fun is the mixing of the opposite personalities as they put on costumes to investigate their fathers’ deaths; Eric chooses the codename Quantum, but Woody just uses Woody. It was funny and smart and silly and I would love to see it as a television series.
The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius by Judd Winick
If we can have an animated pilot for Welcome To Eltingville, based on characters in Evan Dorkin’s Dork, then we should have an animated series for Barry Ween, which was written and drawn by Judd Winick. There was an option for an animated series but nothing has ever happened, but an Adult Swim series would be a perfect home for this hilarious comic book. Barry Ween is a 10-year-old boy with the greatest brain on the planet who invents futuristic devices that nobody but his best friend Jeremy knows about. It is profane, irreverent, smart and hilarious; Winick created three three-issue mini-series back in 2000–2002 but nothing since; however, Winick has been involved in the world of animation since, creating The Life And Times Of Juniper Lee for the Cartoon Network (which he described as Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets The Simpsons), so it’s a shame that he couldn’t get something working for Barry Ween – I know I’d love to see it.