Back in 2017, Warner Bros. and DC announced that Todd Phillips’ Joker would be the first in a series of standalone films set outside the DC Extended Universe continuity, now known as “DC Black”. At the time, this seemed like a bit of a gamble – was there really sufficient audience appetite for stories set outside of the main shared universe?
Fast forward two years, however, and Warner/DC’s gamble has paid off and then some: Joker has broken box office records, while Joaquin Phoenix’s lead performance has generated Oscar buzz. The question now is, where does DC Black go from here? True, there’s been talk of an R-rated Lobo film, but that’s about it. So – in the spirit of being helpful – we’ve pulled together this list of comics that are perfect candidates for the DC Black treatment!
10 Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth
After decades of Batman films dating back to the 1940s, it’s fair to say that even moviegoers who’ve never flipped through a comic book are up to speed on the Dark Knight’s mythos. This includes virtually all of the heavy-hitters in Batman’s rogue’s gallery, so an adaptation of Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum – which revolves around the infamous inmates of that dubious institution – seems like a no-brainer.
Certainly, the celebrated graphic novel ticks the mature content box implicitly associated with the DC Black label: Morrison and McKean’s realistic approach to each villain ranges from the terrifying (Joker) to the pitiable (Two-Face). Of course, Arkham Asylum’s dreamlike, supernaturally tinged narrative and trippy visuals might not translate well to screen, but if it’s a failure, it’ll be a spectacular one, at least!
9 The Golden Age
The Golden Age is masterful blend of escapism and historical fiction, offsetting cheesy plot devices like brain-swapping villains with an exploration of McCarthyism, the ideals and price of being a hero, and more. This depth – plus the big and small screen success of another of DC’s alternate history properties, Watchmen – indicates to us that James Robinson and Paul Smith’s Justice Society of America-focused epic could likewise appeal to fans of superhero cinema.
Sure, Golden Age’s sprawling narrative and unwieldy roster of characters would need to be streamlined to fit the time constraints of a feature film (unless DC Black branches out to encompass TV). But so long as the creative team involved can capture the flavour of the 1993 mini-series – and draw parallels between the politics of the 1950s and today – the end result would be a knock-out.
Don’t let We3’s cute “talking animals in mech suits” premise fool you: this is a mature readers book through and through, jam-packed with graphic violence and weighty themes. Arguably Grant Morrison’s most accessible non-superhero book, We3 is also one of the superstar scribe’s best.
Morrison effortlessly juggles surprisingly deep characterization (despite having a trio of animal leads) with intricately choreographed action sequences, all of which is rendered with consummate skill by artist’s artist Frank Quitely. A We3 movie has been stuck in development hell for 13 years now, but we’re optimistic that the adaptation could find a home – and a release date! – under the DC Black banner.
7 Superman: Secret Identity
On the face of it, Superman: Secret Identity is an odd choice for a DC Black adaptation, since Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen’s tale of a boy named Clark Kent who discovers he miraculously possesses the powers of Superman isn’t exclusively targeted at adult readers. What’s more, while it occasionally strays into darker territory, this grounded take on the Man of Steel is unabashedly optimistic.
But with its focus on human relationships and moral dilemmas over superheroics – not to mention the total absence of any villain in the traditional sense – Secret Identity is very much a “grown-up” spin on Superman that moviegoers haven’t seen yet. Better still, it’s a concise yarn that comes to a beautiful and emotionally satisfying conclusion, which aligns neatly with DC Black’s commitment to standalone stories.
6 Green Lantern: Earth One
Forget the disastrous Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern movie: a big screen version of Green Lantern: Earth One would rock hard. Creators Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko use the leeway of the continuity-free Earth One imprint to dramatically shake-up the Green Lantern mythos, shifting the action to the near-future and leaning harder on the lore’s sci-fi aspects – changes that would play brilliantly on the silver screen.
Aside from its superficially enticing qualities, Green Lantern: Earth-One also deals with uncommonly complex ethical considerations that most mainstream comic book cinematic franchises have only flirted with, further bolstering its DC Black candidacy. Toss in its origin story plot – which would map almost perfectly to the three-act structure employed by screenwriters – and you’ve got the makings of a top-notch solo joint practically designed to break the box office.
We know, we know: there’s already a DC Black film titled Joker. However, Todd Phillips’ box office busting R-rated alternative universe origin story doesn’t really draw upon the graphic novel of the same name by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo – a sequel to that movie might, though.
Yes, DC Black is intended to showcase standalone outings; but Phillips seems open to the idea of producing a follow-up, and we can’t see Warner/DC shooting him down if he decides to. Since the graphic novel takes place at the height of the Clown Prince of Crime’s criminal career – at least a decade after the the events of the film – it could prove a good jumping off point for a cinematic sequel (especially its less conventional portrayal of the Batman/Joker dynamic).
4 Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters
In the space of seven years, Green Arrow has gone from being a second-tier DC superhero with minimal name recognition to headlining a popular CW TV series that’s spawned numerous spin-offs. As such, it’s high time that the Emerald Archer made the leap from TV to film, and what better vehicle for this than a DC Black adaptation of The Longbow Hunters?
Still fondly remembered over 30 years after it was first published, writer/artist Mike Grell’s The Longbow Hunters is a self-contained affair that offers up a markedly more hardcore incarnation of Oliver Queen that will be unfamiliar to Arrow viewers. This hard-hitting, gritty approach to the character is a natural fit for DC Black – although the not-so-progressive treatment of Black Canary might warrant a re-think, first…
3 The Originals
The Originals has largely floated under the radar since it hit shelves back in 2004, despite nabbing its creator, Dave Gibbons, the Eisner Award for Best Graphic Novel! It’s a real shame that this slick sci-fi tome failed to find a bigger audience – but a DC Black adaptation could right this pop culture wrong!
Essentially Mad Max meets the Swinging Sixties, The Originals marries brutal biker battles with slick character designs, ensuring that each page drips with as much style as it does blood. Combine this distinctive aesthetic with Gibbons’ streamlined narrative, and you’ve got the template for a worthy addition to the DC Black line-up.
2 Identity Crisis
If you thought Joker was controversial, just wait and see the furore that will erupt following the release of an Identity Crisis movie. Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales’ polarizing mini-series doesn’t shy away from dragging DC’s most prominent characters into far seedier territory than usual: key plot points include sexual assault, conspiracy and murder.
But this is only part of the reason why we’ve nominated Identity Crisis for the DC Black pipeline. The other, more important component is how Meltzer and Morales inject a certain degree of moral ambiguity into proceedings, which should really speak to viewers otherwise turned off by DC’s traditionally infallible pantheon on heroes.
1 Batman: Year 100
It was perhaps inevitable that there would be multiple comics headlined by Batman on this list. Superman may be DC’s flagship superhero, but the Dark Knight is almost certainly the publisher’s most popular character – as such, he attracts the best talent who produce the most memorable stories.
And make no mistake: Batman: Year 100 is a very memorable story, so we have zero regrets about pitching it for DC Black. Indeed, Paul Pope’s four-issue tale has all the ingredients for a cracking alternate universe Bat-flick – a dystopian future setting, a radical reimagining of the canon, and a gripping plot that uses its central mystery as a springboard to discuss issues like individual rights and the dangers of totalitarian governments. C’mon, Warner/DC: greenlight this one already!