With the announcement on Monday that Marvel has at last established a television division, with veteran writer Jeph Loeb at the helm, the obvious question for comics fans is what characters might be winding their way toward the small screen.
Several of the company’s most recognizable properties are presumably tied up in licensing agreements with other studios (although, curiously, Sony reportedly returned all television rights to Spider-Man in September). However, even if you take characters like Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and Ghost Rider out of the equation, Marvel has numerous comic concepts ripe for adaptation as live-action TV series. Here are just seven:
Marvel seems more interested in laying the groundwork for a Black Widow movie — hey, with Scarlett Johansson in the role, who can blame the studio? — but the character is equally suited to an action series. Natasha Romanoff could take Sydney Bristow and Nikita with one hand tied behind her back. Slowed aging, combined with Natasha storied past as a Soviet operative with false memories, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and a superhero opens up endless possibilities for flashbacks interwoven into contemporary espionage adventures — or entire arcs set in different decades. Throw in guest appearances by her one-time love interest Hawkeye, and you have a winner.
The short-lived 2003 series inspired in no small part by the 1999 film Three Kings, The Crew was sparked by Christopher Priest’s desire to “write a good buddy book,” using a somewhat unlikely group of buddies: White Tiger (Kasper Cole), a New York City narcotics officer and acolyte in the Wakandan Panther Cult; Junta (Danny Vincent), a con man and ex-spy; Justice (Josiah “Josiah X” Bradley), son of Isaiah Bradley, the black Captain America; and War Machine (James Rhodes), pilot and one-time Iron Man. Set in the No Man’s Land between Brooklyn’s Little Mogadishu and the exclusive gated community of Princeton Walk, The Crew ended before it moved past character introductions and the origin of Josiah X. However, Priest laid the groundwork for an examination of family, friendship, gentrification, crime and so much more. It would be a great series for a cable network like AMC, HBO or Showtime.
Heroes for Hire
It’s like Burn Notice, but with superpowers. What more would an executive at USA or TNT need to hear? Luke Cage (aka Power Man) and Daniel Rand (aka Iron Fist) are superheroes who operate a private investigation and protection agency with the support of their secretary Jenny Royce and lawyer/business manager Jeryn Hogarth. It’s a solid premise that becomes more interesting, and more complicated, by occasional assistance from Colleen Wing and Misty Knight (Daniel’s love interest), private investigators whose clients’ goals — at least in the TV series — may not match those of Heroes for Hire.
The Incredible Hulk
Okay, so the two feature films didn’t exactly set the box office on fire. But there was a time, more than three decades ago, when The Incredible Hulk kicked off CBS’s top-rated Friday-night lineup and loomed large on the television landscape. If you’re unfamiliar with the series — surely you’ve seen reruns on Syfy — it took a Fugitive-like approach to the Hulk story, with Dr. David Banner (you can call him Bruce) hitch-hiking across the country searching for a cure for his condition, and frequently helping the people he meets. He’s pursued by a newspaper reporter, who believes the Hulk killed Banner and another scientist. If that sounds similar to Bruce Jones’ 2002 shakeup of the comic, that’s because it is — minus the conspiracy overtones. The new TV series, now with a CGI Hulk rather than a six-foot-five body builder in green paint, could embrace those conspiracy elements, as Banner struggles to control the monster while being pursued by the Hulkbusters. Add Betty Ross, General Ross, Rick Jones and Doc Samson as supporting characters, and Abomination, Absorbing Man, Glenn Talbot, the Leader and MODOK as villains, and voila!
Marc Sumerak and Mike Hawthorne’s 2005 miniseries is ideal for Disney XD, the Walt Disney Company’s channel targeting boys, or maybe ABC Family: Adam Aaronson is popular, a straight-A student and captain of the football team. However, while in a fight with his high-school rival, Adam is injured, and soon discovers that he’s a robot constructed by the man he thought was his father. What’s more, his father’s former employers consider Adam to be stolen property, and are determined to get it back. High-school drama, action, adolescent wish fulfillment — Machine Teen is just begging to be adapted for television.
I hesitate to suggest Power Pack as a live-action series, if only because the budget constraints of weekly television might lead to difficulty in depicting the Power children’s powers (for instance, in the 1991 TV pilot Jack’s “cloud form” was eliminated, and he was instead given shrinking abilities). But I figure if Doctor Who and Smallville can pull off decent special effects — well, mostly decent — on tight budgets, then Marvel/Disney should be able to do the same. Plus, I want to see CGI versions of alien allies Aelfyre Whitemane and Kofi Whitemane, Smartship Friday and the menacing Snarks. Super-powered kids fighting alien reptiles while keeping it all secret from their parents? Who doesn’t want to watch that?
Given that this is U.S. television, it’s probably inevitable that an adaptation of Union Jack would cast an American in the lead role — a California cousin of the Falsworth family, no doubt — if not change the setting entirely. But I can’t worry about that. Union Jack brings together so many terrific elements — a fantastic costume design, a legacy, espionage, the supernatural — that it’s a shame he’s not more popular in comics. Surely there’s a place for a vampire-hunting, Nazi-fighting masked adventurer/spy on television. It’s The X-Files meets MI-5/Spooks.
There were plenty of other candidates obviously, like Doctor Strange, Sentinel and Cloak & Dagger (although the latter has had a difficult time working outside of the original ’80s concept). What Marvel characters do you think would translate well to live-action television?