With AMC’s “The Walking Dead” debuting to record ratings and Fox putting “Locke & Key” on the fast track, it seems likely more network executives will cast an eye toward comic books – particularly those that don’t involve capes and tights – when they look to diversify their lineups in future seasons.
Vertigo titles like the urban fantasy “Fables” and the dark comedy “The Exterminators” have been optioned for a couple of years, with Warner Bros. Television now showing interest in Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed “Sandman” and Image Comics’ offbeat adventure/comedy “Chew” being put into play over the summer. But what other nonsuperhero comics are ripe for TV adaptation?
For the answer to that question, we turned to about a dozen contributors to Comic Book Resources, who in turn offered a range of choices, from “Alec” and “Courtney Crumrin” to “Pluto” and “DMZ.” However, these are the 10 titles that received the top votes:
The award-winning crime epic by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso has an immediate hook – Would you kill the person who ruined your life if you could never get caught? – a sprawling cast and a maze of conspiracies, all intertwined with a centuries-old power struggle among 13 families. Although two video game adaptations have been announced, “100 Bullets” has yet to make any moves toward television, a logical venue for its self-contained, but frequently interconnected, storylines, deeply flawed characters and byzantine, overarching plot. And how’s this for inspired casting? Lance Henriksen as the enigmatic Agent Graves, whose briefcase and behind-the-scenes manipulations propel much of the plot.
The heyday of spy-fi TV, when shows like “The Avengers,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Danger Man” dotted the schedule, are long gone, but if any property could usher in a return for the genre, it’s “Casanova,” the psychedelic, universe-hopping tale of blackmail, sex, sibling rivalry and espionage from Matt Fraction, Gabriel BÃ¡ and FÃ¡bio Moon. Sure, finding an actor to portray Casanova Quinn, sauve ladies’ man and the world’s greatest thief, might be a tall order, and the sheer amount of green screen work might be staggering, but the payoff would be glorious.
If The CW is looking for a replacement for “Smallville,” it could do far worse than Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma and Rodin Esquejo’s new Image Comics series about a mysterious, and deadly, private academy. Spencer has described the book as “Runaways” meets “Lost,” but the network could just as easily market it as “Gossip Girl” – a show, with a private-school setting, that already does well for The CW – meets “The Prisoner.” Wait, scratch that: AMC’s remake was a disaster, so let’s stick with “Lost.”
Few comics have as tortured of a relationship with Hollywood as “Preacher,” the renowned series about a down-and-out Texas preacher who, accompanied by his hitwoman ex-girlfriend and a hard-drinking Irish vampire, sets out to (literally) find God. A film adaptation of the Garth Ennis-Steve Dillon series languished in development for eight years – at one point James Marsden was cast as Jesse Custer – before HBO announced in 2006 that it had commissioned a TV pilot. However, network executives abandoned the project within two years, saying it was “just too dark and too violent and too controversial.” Now the property is drifting again toward the big screen, with “A-Team” director Joe Carnahan recently expressing interest. But Jesse, Tulip O’Hare, Cassidy, Saint of Killers, Arseface and the others deserve a TV series that can do justice to the 75-issue saga (including one-shots and the “Saint of Killers” miniseries). If “Preacher” is too much for HBO, maybe Showtime (“Dexter”) could step forward.
Queen & Country
Although 20th Century Fox holds the film rights, Greg Rucka’s spy thriller might better suited for TV, where the dangerous missions, and bureaucratic and political entanglements, navigated by the British Secret Intelligence Service can unfold in an episodic format. Besides, “Queen & Country” draws its primary inspiration from the late-1970s British drama “The Sandbaggers,” so a move to television would bring it full circle. Sort of. Tara Chace, the series’ fearless and self-destructive protagonist, is one of the great characters in modern comics, and would be a magnificent anchor for a weekly spy drama – “Prime Suspect’s” Jane Tennison meets “MI-6” (or, shudder to think, “24”).
Sandman Mystery Theatre
With Warner Bros. Television showing interest in Neil Gaiman’s reimagined Sandman, it’s unlikely the character’s Golden Age incarnation will get his own show anytime soon. But we can dream, can’t we? The noirish Vertigo series, by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis and others, retold the 1930s adventures of Wesley Dodds, the gas mask-wearing vigilante who fought crime using his detective skills and a gun that fired sleeping gas. With pre-war New York City as a backdrop, Dodds and his girlfriend Dian Belmont faced serial killers, brutal kidnappers and criminal gangs in storylines that dealt with corruption, racism, antisemitism and other themes. It’s fertile territory for a cable network like AMC.
Described from the beginning as “‘The Sopranos’ on an Indian reservation,” “Scalped” would seem destined for HBO – although it could just as easily find a home at FX (“The Shield,” “Justified”). Created by Jason Aaron and R. M. Guera, “Scalped” centers on Dashiell Bad Horse, an undercover FBI agent who returns to the reservation where he lived as a child in order to infiltrate Chief Lincoln Red Crow’s criminal organization and bring him to justice for the 30-year-old murders of two federal agents. With an angry and obsessive protagonist – Bad Horse’s FBI supervisor describes him as a “borderline sociopath” – a complex supporting cast in a bleak setting plagued by political corruption, drugs, alcoholism and unemployment, “Scalped” is compelling reading that could translate into appointment television.
The cyberpunk series by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson has been considered as a movie and even an online animated series, but perhaps it’s time Spider Jerusalem and his filthy assistants take their crusade to television. A chain-smoking, heavy-drinking, drug-using renegade gonzo journalist of the future, Spider dedicates himself to fighting the corruption and abuse of power by two U.S. presidents. Armed with the truth and an array of weapons, not the least of which is the “bowel disruptor,” Spider fights to keep the world from becoming even more dystopian. Who doesn’t like a sci-fi tale of political corruption and loss of bowel control? Ellis and Robertson have already cast their protagonist, saying they like the idea of Tim Roth as Spider Jerusalem.
With the “Harry Potter” film franchise coming to a close, it may be an ideal time to adapt this Mike Carey-Peter Gross comic, which follows the inspiration for a series of popular children’s fantasy novels as he grapples with celebrity and a blurring line between fiction and reality. Tom Taylor, best known to legions of fans as the boy wizard Tommy Taylor, makes a living on the convention circuit while standing in the shadow of his father, an author who disappeared at the height of his career. His escape from a kidnapper dressed as the villain of the Tommy Taylor novels begins a series of events that leaves some claiming Tom is fraud, others convinced he’s some kind of messiah and Tom determined to uncover the mystery of his identity.
Y: The Last Man
With director D.J. Caruso convinced that Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s acclaimed post-apocalyptic drama requires a big-screen trilogy and New Line Cinema committed to only a standalone movie, the reasonable solution would be to adapt “Y: The Last Man” for television. There, Caruso, who’s directed TV series like “Smallville” and “The Shield,” could follow the road being paved by Frank Darabont’s “The Walking Dead” to tell the story of Yorick Brown and his monkey Ampersand, the only male survivors of a plague that killed every mammal with a Y chromosome.