Monday, February 16, 2015

Random top ten: superheroes who still don't have a franchise

Last year, Warner Bros. / DC and Disney / Marvel announced their slates of comic book superhero movies through 2020 and 2019, respectively, bringing joy to nerds and neo-nerds the world over as they announced films for fan favorites such as Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Aquaman and Doctor Strange. Add this to a bevy of new network (Green Arrow, S.H.I.E.L.D., Flash, Constantine, Supergirl, Teen Titans) and Netflix (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage) programing, and this is truly a golden age for comic book geekdom.

However, even with all of this, there are still quite a few major heroes that have graced the pages of both DC and Marvel Comics who still don't have their own franchises, whether on the big screen or the small. Here are the next ten that should make the leap:


1. Namor the Sub-Mariner
Namor is Marvel's oldest hero, and he's a fascinating and complex character. Because he is a hothead who puts his Atlantean kingdom first, he as often appears as a villain as he does as a hero. DC may have beaten Marvel into the undersea realm by announcing Aquaman already, but the two characters are different enough to warrant both having franchises. Apparently Universal Studios has a stake in the film rights, which could be tying up this project. But hopefully we'll see Namor appear in some role soon, because he's too good a character to leave in limbo.


2. Hawkman and/or Hawkwoman
Hawkman and Hawkwoman have proven difficult to do on screen, because their costumes can look somewhat ridiculous. The answer, of course, is to use mo-cap suits and add the harness and wings in post-production. That will add to the special effects budget, but if done right, this will make the Thanagarians finally look as impressive as they do in the comics. And make no mistake about it, if done right, these two could be DC's equivalent of Wolverine: savage warriors with badass "Nth metal" weapons - and wings! - that they can summon at will. Their back stories have been a mess, and there are at least a dozen different versions of them, but that just means that the films will be able to tell the best story possible without being bound to all of that muddled continuity. Do it.

Update: both characters have been cast in the WB "Arrowverse" and will debut in the fall of 2015 on both Arrow and The Flash. While they could eventually get their own spin-off series, for now they are being set up to feature prominently on the Legends of Tomorrow series, which will debut in early 2016.


3. Moon Knight
Moon Knight is another "street-level" Marvel hero begging for a Netflix show. There's a little gadgetry and special effects involved here, but not so much that it should let the budget get out of hand. Importantly, though, this is not just another Batman retread. Marc Spector is a disturbed man with a tenuous grasp of sanity. A former mercenary who was beaten almost to death, he believes he was visited by the spirit of the ancient Egyptian god of vengeance, who saved him. Whether or not that is true is anyone's guess, but Spector believes he is now the avatar of vengeance, leading to a whole host of interesting plots.


4. The Doom Patrol
Think reject superheroes crossed with The Outer Limits. This series developed a cult following for DC in the 1960s. It has had various incarnations since then, but a film or series should o back to that original line-up and sense of bizarre wonder that made it stand out in the first place. In the final issue of its original run, everybody died - unheard of for a comic book series at that time. Keep that kind of on-the-edge-of-your-seat unpredictability, and this could be a very different kind of hero show.


5. Martian Manhunter
A shape-changing green Martian, the last of his kind, becomes trapped on Earth and uses his powers to blend in. His innate sense of justice leads him to become a police officer, allowing him to target criminals. Unknown to his partner, he's really the mysterious "Martian Manhunter." This well-loved DC character dates back to the 1950s and was an original founding member of the Justice League. In terms of power, J'onn J'onzz is often compared to Superman, but he has an even more glaring weakness than Kryptonite: fire. There's a lot to work with here.


6. The Runaways
A script for Marvel's Runaways has already been written and Marvel is apparently just waiting for the right time to put it into development. The premise is quite good: a group of teenagers discover that their parents are actually supervillains and decide to runaway and strike out on their own as heroes rather than continue the family business.


7. Static
Another teenager, Static originated on a creator-owned comic label and was then eventually folded into the DC universe. He is from Dakota City, where an experimental "crowd control" gas bomb accidentally mutated a bunch of people during a gang fight. Virgil Hawkins was a bystander, but was exposed and gained the power to control electricity. Afterward, he found himself in conflict with both with the numerous supervillains generated by the "Big Bang" event, and with government agents trying to track down all of the "Bang Babies" like himself.


8. Hourman
Hourman is one of DC's "Golden Age" heroes from the WWII era, and it's such a straightforward concept that it's begging to be added to CW's Arrowverse. Rex Tyler invented a drug that, when taken, gave him superhuman strength, stamina and invulnerability for a period of 60 minutes. In later years, there were darker undertones added to the story: the drug became addictive and negatively affected Tyler's health. The TV scripts practically write themselves.


9. Spider-Woman
Despite the similar names, Spider-Woman has an origin story and power set that has that has nothing to do with Spider-Man. I therefore believe that Marvel Studios owns her outright, although Sony may have a stake in her just because of the name. She is a genetically-enhanced superspy with electric "venom blasts" and over the years she has starred in her own, espionage-focused series as well as being a member of the Avengers. She was recently given a new, more reality-friendly, detective-type costume (pictured), as opposed to her traditional skin-tight bodysuit, which makes me think that Marvel is thinking ahead to bringing her to the screen.


10. She-Hulk
In Marvel Comics, Jennifer Walters is Bruce Banner's cousin and became She-Hulk after receiving a blood transfusion from him. However, unlike Banner she retained her full intelligence when she turned green. In addition to being an Avenger and a member of the Fantastic Four, she has maintained a law practice over the years. That's right, it's "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer" done even better: "Sexy Green Monster Lady Lawyer." Defending superheroes and villains in court is a whole different kind of story, and so this would be a good premise for a Netflix show. After that, we could see Walters pop up elsewhere in the MCU - whether in the court room or in spandex.


Honorable Mentions: The Punisher and Ghost Rider
Technically, the Punisher has had three movies so far and Ghost Rider has had two. However, none of those has been with Marvel Studios and none has really captured the essence of the characters. Now that Marvel has the rights back to both characters, I would love to see what authentic versions of these characters could look like on the screen. While there are a lot of places they could pop up in the MCU, the brutal vigilante and the demon-possessed spirit of vengeance would both be perfect for more mature-audience series on Netflix or even a premium channel like HBO.

Update: the Punisher has been cast in the MCU and will feature prominently on the second season of Daredevil in the spring of 2016. Speculation is that he could get his own Netflix series if he is well received there.