While most superhero movies are based on characters from Marvel Comics or DC Comics, a handful of other characters have made their way to the big screen over the years. Films like “The Crow,” “The Mask” and the Hellboy franchise have turned relatively little-known comic books into household names. While a feature film adaptation is never a guarantee of continued success, it can dramatically raise the profile of independent publishers and creators and bring new fans to the comic medium.
In light of the recent rumors of a third Hellboy movie and the seeming endless announcements about new superhero film franchises, CBR is taking a look at some indie comics characters who should have movies. For this list, we’ll be looking at superheroes and characters from action and adventure-focused indie comics who haven’t had a feature film adaptation.
Top Cow Productions’ “Witchblade” was one of the best-selling and most prominent titles of the mid-to-late 1990s. For two decades, the series followed Detective Sara Pezzini, who wore a powerful mystical gauntlet called the Witchblade. Created by Marc Silvestri, David Wohl, Brian Haberlin and Michael Turner in 1995, “Witchblade” was defined by its mix of urban fantasy and hyper-exaggerated “bad girl” artwork. The character was essentially the center of Top Cow’s shared universe and produced an equally popular spin-off series, “The Darkness,” in 1996.
While Witchblade has had some success on television, and is set to return in a new NBC drama, the character has never been able to make the leap to the big screen. The core concept at the center of the series is fairly transferable, and it could be applied to any number of situations without too much difficulty. While the live-action “Witchblade” show downplayed the comic’s more fantastic aspects visually, a Witchblade film could bring the gauntlet’s organic weapon constructs to life in spectacular fashion.
16. USAGI YOJIMBO
Stan Sakai’s masterpiece “Usagi Yojimbo” stands as one of the most staggering achievements in the modern history of comics. Sakai has written and illustrated his epic saga about an anthropomorphized rabbit samurai for several publishers since 1984. In that time, “Usagi Yojimbo” has earned widespread acclaim and won several awards, including the 1999 Eisner Award for Best Serialized Story. Despite the cartoonish nature of Sakai’s artwork, the series has weaved in folklore and history from Japan’s Edo period. Usagi has even appeared on television alongside multiple incarnations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Thanks to Usagi’s appearances with the Turtles and his comic’s acclaim, the character has a modicum of mainstream recognition. With over three decades of stories to choose from, Usagi is the perfect character to star in an animated feature. Thanks to Sakai’s numerous references to the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa and others, the title has a rich history of cinematic moments that beg to be translated to the big screen.
15. TECH JACKET
Given the continued blockbuster success of “The Walking Dead,” it’s a little surprising that Robert Kirkman’s “Tech Jacket” hasn’t been optioned for a live-action adaptation. Created by Kirkman and E.J. SU in a 2002 miniseries, “Tech Jacket” follows teenager Zack Thompson, who’s given a powerful weapon called the Tech Jacket by a dying Geldarian alien. After permanently bonding with the Tech Jacket, Zack gained a number of abilities, including super-strength, flight and invulnerability. While Zack has irregularly starred in his own comic book, he’s made a few appearances in Kirkman’s “Invincible” as a space-faring hero.
A Tech Jacket movie could be “The Last Starfighter” for a new generation. With the dearth of teenage heroes in film, a Tech Jacket movie could offer a chance to see how a young hero might use Iron Man’s skill set. With the character’s preexisting connection to “Invincible” and the wider Image Comics universe, he could serve as an accessible, kid-friendly entry into a superhero universe that doesn’t have the iconic power of Marvel or DC.
Before Scott McCloud became the world’s foremost sequential art professor with “Understanding Comics,” he gave readers a chance to see his comics theory in action with “Zot!” Published by Eclipse Comics in 1984, the comic offered a light-hearted antidote to the grim ‘n’ gritty comics of the mid-to-late 1980s. The series followed Zot, a teenage superhero from a utopian alternate world, as he navigated the real world with the help of Jenny Weaver and her friends. McCloud was heavily included by manga throughout the series, especially as the title became more naturalistic and character-driven in its final issues.
At its core, “Zot!” is a coming-of-age story that would work in any medium. While most superhero films are sold on grand action set pieces, a feature film adaptation of “Zot!” could break new ground by focusing on the moments that come after the action. Although Zot’s utopian home could provide suitable spectacle, McCloud’s sophisticated, nuanced take on teenage life would give a Zot film a depth that eludes many other superhero movies.
13. THE MAXX
In the early 1990s, “The Maxx” intrigued both comics fans and MTV viewers with a dreamlike tale that was ahead of its time. Created by Sam Kieth in 1995, the series followed the Maxx, a homeless man who could turn into a powerful creature in a foreign realm called the Outback. In that strange world, Maxx protected the Jungle Queen, who looked after the Maxx as a “freelance social worker” named Julie back in the real world. Over 35 issues from Image, the series told a surrealist tale of the interconnected lives of its moderate cast.
Given Kieth’s bizarre creature designs and the expansive Outback, a live-action Maxx film would present ample opportunities for staggering visual effects. While a live-action Maxx film would be an audacious undertaking, a feature-length follow-up to the character’s MTV animated series could also work. The TV show only adapted the first of the comic’s two arcs, and the second arc takes place after a lengthy time jump. With that significant pause, a new Maxx production could retain its fidelity to the comic book series while also drawing eyes to the underrated cartoon.
12. RISING STARS
Although its reputation has faded in recent years, “Rising Stars” frequently drew favorable comparisons to “Watchmen” in the early 2000s. After a mysterious light appeared in the sky over a small town in Illinois, 113 children were born with special powers and came to be known as the Specials. Created by J. Michael Straczynski and published through his Top Cow imprint Joe’s Comics, the initial 24 issue series followed the Specials as they grew into adulthood and ever more powerful.
Since it’s less dependent on the unique storytelling capabilities of comics than “Watchmen,” “Rising Stars” would translate fairly well to the big screen. With a prominent, compelling murder mystery and its large cast, a Rising Stars movie could offer a more serious take on superheroes in a post-Marvel Cinematic Universe world. Since the main series takes place in three distinct acts and time periods, the story would lend itself well to a film trilogy with almost no alteration.
11. MARSHAL LAW
While “Deadpool” gave audiences a fairly loving satire of superhero movies in 2016, “Marshal Law” vivisected superhero tropes starting in 1987. Created by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill, “Marshal Law” follows the government-sanctioned hero hunter Joe Gilmore as he brutally patrols the dystopian city San Futuro. While the character has drifted between publishers, his uncompromising world view and penchant for extreme violence have remained consistent. Despite the character’s distaste for other heroes, “Marshal Law” has crossed over with the Mask, Savage Dragon and even Clive Barker’s iconic monster Pinhead.
A “Marshal Law” movie could be just the thing for people who hate superhero movies. While the comic’s extreme violence would have to be toned down, its nihilistic critique of the superhero genre might have a receptive audience. With its stern-faced lead and the futuristic city San Futuro, a Marshal Law film could be a spiritual sequel to “Dredd.” While it might be a legal improbability, an adaption of the Marshal Law crossover with Pinhead could pit a super-powered fighter against an established movie monster in a bloody no-holds brawl for the first time on film.
As part of the first wave of Image Comics in 1992, Rob Liefeld’s “Youngblood” embodied a generational shift in the comics industry. For a time, the first issue of “Youngblood” was the highest-selling independent comic of all time. The series and its various spin-offs followed a government-sponsored superhero team filled with early 1990s icons, like the archer Shaft and Badrock, a teenager made of stone. While it wasn’t a critical hit, “Youngblood’s” energetic artwork and vibrantly-colored heroes appealed to a large swath of young comic readers.
After the success of “Deadpool,” another Liefeld creation, a Youngblood movie could be poised for success. As Liefeld’s script for an unmade Youngblood movie shows, a Youngblood feature could address the idea of superheroes as celebrities with a cast that could rival Marvel’s Avengers franchise in sheer size. Although the comic has only been published irregularly more recently, it has a cult following that would likely flock to a film that was in the same quippy vein as “Deadpool.”
While Dark Horse Comics is mainly known for its licensed comics and independent creations, the publisher tried its hand at a shared superhero universe with the Comics’ Greatest World imprint. Although the line fizzled out after a few years, it gave birth to “Barb Wire,” which became a movie in 1996, and the relatively long-running series “Ghost.” Created by Eric Luke and a team of editors, the series followed Elisa Cameron, a journalist who died while investigating crime in the corrupt city Arcadia. As the ethereal Ghost, she came back from the dead to seek vengeance on her killers and eventually teamed-up with Hellboy, the Shadow and Batgirl.
In the 1990s, “Ghost” received some acclaim for its complex protagonist and a stylish visual flare. A Ghost feature film could carry both of those qualities over to the big screen. With an all-white outfit and supernatural overtones, a Ghost movie could mix superheroes with elements of horror in a way that hasn’t been seen since “Blade.”
8. X-O MANOWAR
In both the 1990s and a 2010s revival, “X-O Manowar” has been Valiant Entertainment’s most prominent title. Created by Jim Shooter and Bob Layton in 1992, “X-O Manowar” stars a time-tossed barbarian, Aric, who stole the sentient X-O Manowar power suit from a race of aliens called the Vine. After staying on the Vine’s spacecraft for over a millennium, Aric reemerged in the present day. While he’s been paired with Valiant’s other heroes, he’s also waged a one-man war on the Vine homeworld and tried to reestablish the Visigoth empire back on Earth.
With its combination of elements from Captain America, Iron Man and a hint of high fantasy, “X-O Manowar” seems like a cinematic juggernaut waiting to happen. The character stands alone fairly well, and his exploration of the modern world offers a sensible method to introduce other characters. While X-O’s motives might not be the most altruistic, they add a dimension of complexity to the character that would most likely play out well on film.
7. SAVAGE DRAGON
Along with Todd McFarlane’s “Spawn,” Erik Larsen’s “Savage Dragon” is one of two original Image titles that’s continued uninterrupted since 1992. For well over 200 issues and counting, Larsen has chronicled the ongoing saga of the Dragon as he evolved from super-strong Chicago police officer to multiverse-traveling protector. The Dragon starred in his own short-lived animated series in 1995 and has teamed-up with Hellboy, Superman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
With thousands of pages of story and a huge roster of well-designed heroes and villains, the world of “Savage Dragon” could be a stand-alone cinematic universe. Under Larsen’s singular vision, “Savage Dragon” has consistently evolved on the comic page. While the Marvel and DC cinematic universes can be somewhat static, a Savage Dragon franchise could follow that model and reinvent itself into new configurations as the story progressed. A Dragon film could continue his cartoon’s more kid-friendly take on the character, and could also bring the comic’s intense, brutal action to life for the first time.
6. TUROK: THE DINOSAUR HUNTER
While “Turok: Dinosaur Hunter” might be most familiar to the general public thanks to a well-received series of video games on the Nintendo 64, Turok has a surprisingly long comic book history. Originally created in 1954, Turok comics have been released by publishers like Gold Key, Valiant and Dynamite Entertainment. While the character’s earlier adventures cast him as a Mandan warrior trapped in a valley full of dinosaurs, Turok’s high-selling 1990s Valiant series added more science-fiction elements to the concept and wove it into the Valiant superhero universe.
Although the “Jurassic Park” franchise has entertained generations of moviegoers, there hasn’t really been another major movie franchise with dinosaurs in the modern era. A Turok film could fit in that space and offer the visceral dino-hunting action that often eludes “Jurassic Park.” By embracing the aesthetic of the Valiant comics and the famous game, a Turok film could incorporate some sci-fi elements like genetically modified creatures and aliens to offer a wider variety of primal combat options.
5. THE BLACK HOOD
While Archie Comics might be most associated with Archie, Betty and Veronica, the publisher has some superheroes who date back to the 1930s. Characters like the Shield and the Fly have occasionally held down their own titles and were even licensed to DC Comics a few times. In 2015, Archie relaunched their heroes again under the Dark Circle imprint. In “The Black Hood,” Duane Swierczynski and Michael Gaydos reinvented the Golden Age hero as a disgraced cop turned vigilante.
Marvel’s Netflix shows might have perfected a serialized take on street level heroics, but a Black Hood movie could bring that aesthetic back to the big screen. In the same way that Gaydos’ art inspired “Jessica Jones,” his gritty, violent world could take away some of the glamour that most modern superhero movies strive for. With its mix of corrupt politics and a sophisticated take on addiction, a Black Hood movie could offer audiences a level of maturity and intelligence that the general public might not associate with costumed avengers.
When Glory was created by Rob Liefeld in 1993, she was a fairly standard Amazonian superhero in the vein of Wonder Woman. When Joe Keatinge and Sophie Campbell revived “Glory” in 2011, the series seemed to draw equally from 1990s Image titles and Hayao Miyazaki films. Over 12 issues, Keatinge and Campbell crafted a truly epic story that mixed brutal fight scenes with quieter character moments and lush, fluid artwork.
While it may not be the most famous Liefeld creation, a fairly direct adaption of Glory could bring a rarely seen level of sophistication to a piece of western animation. With its time-twisting plot and infinitely big monsters, this would be an incredibly complex project that could only be done justice in cartoon form. While most superhero films shy away from actual bloodshed, a Glory movie could find moments of sanguine beauty and reflection in the midst of its violence.
Most modern incarnations of Superman, including Zack Snyder’s cinematic version, have downplayed some of the more fantastic aspects of the character. While the actual Superman has leaned away from his Silver Age aesthetic, “Supreme” sincerely embraced those tropes. Created by Rob Liefeld as a grim antihero in 1992, Alan Moore rebooted Supreme as an optimistic Superman pastiche that served as a commentary on the nature of superheroes and the comic book industry. While subsequent releases have seen Supreme start to become more like his initial conception, Moore’s reinvention remains the character’s most well-known form.
While the exceedingly dark DC Cinematic Universe has followed a tortured, isolated Superman, a Supreme movie could offer a compelling counterargument. With over a decade of successful superhero movies, general audiences could be responsive to work that offered a meta-commentary on the genre. Besides that, a Supreme movie would give audiences that chance to see the bright, high-flying heroic action and colorful villains that have long been associated with Superman.
Valiant’s Bloodshot is the greatest action hero who hasn’t appeared on screen yet. Created by Kevin VanHook and Yvel Guichet in 1992, “Bloodshoot” followed an amnesiac super-soldier who had been injected with nanites by Project Rising Spirit. As he executed various missions, Bloodshot tried to cut through all of his implanted memories and discover who he truly is in a high-selling 1990s comic and more recent revival.
With his metallic sheen and blood red eyes, Bloodshot would make an imposing figure on the big screen. A Bloodshot movie could combine Bourne-esque international intrigue with the same kind of plots that made Wolverine a household name. While a Bloodshot movie could easily be a symphony of endless gunplay, it could also present a surprising commentary on the nature of violence by taking cues from the recent series “Bloodshot Reborn.” Although a Bloodshot movie was originally scheduled to come out this year, his live action debut will most likely take place in 2017’s web-series “Ninjak Vs. the Valiant Universe.”
By mixing the tropes of teenage superhero comics with the unpredictability and gore of “The Walking Dead,” Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley found a recipe for success with “Invincible.” The comic started out as a deceptively simple tale about Mark Grayson, the super-powered son of the world’s greatest superhero, and grew into a shocking, complete superhero universe over the past 14 years. While Kirkman recently announced the upcoming end of the series, it seems like it’s on track to conclude its run as one of the definitive independent superhero comics.
With a big cast full of colorful heroes and a compelling opening hook, it’s surprising that this hasn’t been turned into a live-action franchise already. The shocking twists and revelations that define the comic book would work incredibly well onscreen and would dramatically upend the general audience’s expectations. In addition to giving teenage heroes a much-needed spotlight on film, an Invincible franchise could escalate nicely, going from earthbound action to interplanetary warfare over the course of several films.
Stay tuned to CBR for all the latest on upcoming comic book movies! And be sure to let us know what indie comics you want to see on screen in the comments!