Hey-ho, faithful readers! Ready for another Top Ten? Golly-wowzers, I sure am!
In case you’re wondering why I’m in such a good mood, it’s because I get to talk about one of my favorite subjects – characters that I like, but not everyone has heard of.
We’ve all got these. Regardless of your medium of choice, be it TV, comics, movies, etc., you are inevitably going to connect with certain characters over others – and not always the most popular or well-known ones, either. Because this is what happens in any sort of series, or even in a subgenre of stand-alone stories – there are the rock stars of the medium (your Supermen, your Batmen, your Captain Kirks), and then there are the also-rans, the follow-ups, the bands that never quite end up topping the charts.
These are the B-listers, and they are legion – and thank goodness for that, or fiction would be a much more boring place. Big names do not stay big names unless they have lots and lots of people to bounce off of, team up with, and generally put flesh on the universe they live in – and when the big names are off somewhere else, the little guys can have their own adventures. Or sometimes they are the big names in their own worlds; it’s just that they never quite make it in the same way that others did – either way, adventures they have. And they are good ones sometimes, ones that accrue their own fanbases, ones that – to bring us back to the point – just might be worthy of their own movies now that Hollywood is rapidly running through its A-list crowd, hmmm?
So let’s get to it. Ladies and gentlebeings, I present to you my Top Ten B-List Characters who Deserve Movies!
As always, these are in no particular order. Also, while I did not set out to make this a comics-related list, it just kind of turned out that way. What can I say; they suit themselves to this kind of thing, and I’m a nerd.
#10: Magnus, Robot Fighter
Who he is: In the year 4000, humanity has become increasingly automated. Robots, in particular, are everywhere – they act as manual labor, direct law enforcement, and have become indispensable in much of everyday life. This has progressed to the point where if a robot goes haywire, or is used for evil purposes, it poses an extreme danger – for in a world where robots run everything, how can they be stopped?
One particular robot, 1A, having achieved self-awareness, foresaw this situation, and sought to provide society with a countermeasure. Adopting an infant boy, it named him Magnus, and retreated with him to a remote undersea bunker. As the child grew up, he was trained by 1A in various martial arts, becoming so skilled that he could break steel with his bare hands. At length, his training complete, he returned to the continent-spanning city of North Am to become its protector and guardian against robotic malfeasance – Magnus, Robot Fighter!
Why he’s cool: Yes, OK, he wears an outfit that looks like a miniskirt. Har-har, ho-ho, it is to laugh. Now kindly be quiet, because it does not freakin’ matter what he wears. Magnus is awesome.
Picture a Jetsons-esque cityscape of the future, in all its cheesy glory. Now picture that imbued with some actual meaning, with social commentary involving man seizing his own destiny and keeping it out of the hands of machines and stuff. Now picture a dude karate-chopping killer robots into splinters, going up against increasingly outlandish and bizarre mechanical threats, including fiendish robotic aliens and so on and so forth.
All of that is peachy-keen. Magnus, Robot Fighter could be a technicolored slice of nifty, the sort of thing that sci-fi writers dreamed of back in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s when they dreamed up all those rocketships and flying cars. It’s not all surface stuff, either – there’s at least one later Magnus story that examines the nature of robot intelligence, and whether or not these ‘rogue’ robots he’s fighting are truly rogues, or newly-emerging sentient lifeforms that he’s slaughtering wholesale. If you make a good Magnus movie right, it will have brains. Just keep that classic look, don’t succumb to the temptation to make everything all dark and metallic, treat the material seriously, and trust me, a little dubious fashion sense won’t matter.
(And for the record, it is a tunic.)
#9: The Question
Who he is: Vic Sage is a man motivated by intense curiosity. When he sees a mystery, he is compelled to solve it – and the greatest and most baffling mysteries may be found in the workings of the criminal mind. By day, he works as a hard-hitting TV newscaster, but by night, he dons the mask created by his friend Professor Rodor, releases the special gas that binds it to his features, and becomes that faceless foe of evil – the Question!
Why he’s cool: Frankly, the Question would be cool just going by visuals alone. A faceless man in a blue outfit – the first time I saw that, I was like ‘oh, that’s awesome!’ Even if the actual character had turned out to be flat as ten-year-old soda, I would be grateful that such a design existed.
Thankfully, there is more to him than that. As originally created by artist Steve Ditko, the Question was largely just a mouthpiece for Ditko’s objectivist beliefs, taking an extremely hard line on crime and basically being a prickly, snappish sort of fellow in or out of his secret identity. Over the years he’s mellowed quite a bit, becoming a sort of warrior philosopher with a unique outlook on life and a nice line in straight-faced quips. The name has been passed down and messed around with a few times, but for me the ‘classic’ Question will always be good ol’ Vic, snappy threads, faceless mask and all.
So how would a movie portrayal work? Well, the way I’d do it is this – to start with, I’d set it in Vic’s old stomping grounds of Hub City, a place more crime-and-corruption-ridden than even good old Gotham. Given that he’s basically just an ordinary guy without the vast resources available to a Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark, this would give the film a solid grounding in everyday reality and cement him as a man-against-the-world type. Out of respect for his Ditko roots, I’d keep him as the touchy sumb**** he was in the early comics – but (and this is important) only in his public persona as Vic Sage. As the Question, he’s much calmer and cooler-headed, someone who gives the impression of being essentially unflappable and takes on bad guys with a dry joke and a swift punch. There are plenty of superheroes out there who use their costumed personas as an outlet for their aggressive instincts – in the case of Vic Sage it’s exactly the opposite; he’s much better-adjusted as the Question than in his everyday life, and basically uses his prickly regular self to release his aggression so he can be calm and collected while battling crime. That’s how I’d handle him, anyway.
There are few really ‘iconic’ Question stories to base a movie on, so I would go with the introductory chapter of the Denny O’Neil series that more or less introduced the modern version of the character. It doesn’t have any flashy supervillains or anything, but it does feature gobs of gritty atmosphere, a nice story arc, and the first Post-Crisis appearance of the legendary Lady Shiva, so there’s plenty to work with. Bring on the Enigmatic Avenger! (If that’s not his nickname, it should be.)
#8: Night Raven
Who he is: His true name has never been revealed; perhaps even he has forgotten it. An ex-soldier traumatized by the battlefields of WW1, the masked man called Night Raven stalked the dark city streets of the 1930’s, bringing death to those who would prey on innocents. Hardened criminals grew pale at his name, and whispered of his deeds – whispered of the state of his victims, the brand on their forehead – the brand shaped like a raven’s head…
Much has changed since then, and yet much has stayed the same. His arch-nemesis, Yi Yang, shared her gift of immortality with him – a gift that carried a serpent’s sting in the form of agonizing pain. For years, decades, he suffered under this curse, tormented beyond belief, yet unable to put an end to it.
Eventually a cure was found, and the pain ceased – but the immortality lingered. Now, scarred, battered, and two-thirds mad, the man whose name has been lost carries on an endless game of cat and mouse with the woman he hates most in all the world, the one person in the world he cannot kill – and any criminal who gets in his way. When brooding darkness spreads its evil wings, the Night Raven stings!
Why he’s cool: You ever come across a character you’ve never heard of and wonder just why this is?
Night Raven has a pedigree like you wouldn’t believe. He has often been cited as one of the main influences behind the legendary V for Vendetta, long considered a masterpiece. He was very popular during his initial run, shared a book with the considerably better-known Captain Britain (I’ll get to him later, never fear), and has been written and drawn by such luminaries as Alan Moore, David Lloyd, and Jamie Delano. Furthermore, he’s just plain cool.
So why on Earth has almost nobody heard of him? Why has Marvel all but ignored his existence since the early ‘90’s? What’s going on?
I dunno. But it’s nothing a good movie couldn’t cure.
After all, Marvel has a history with such things. Look at Blade – prior to Hollywood getting their hands on him, he was a little-known supporting character from a ‘70’s horror comic who hadn’t made an appearance in years; now he’s a well-respected (if highly specialized) badass. Look at the MIB franchise; that all started with a three-issue miniseries by the now-defunct Malibu Comics line (that Marvel owns the rights to). Stranger things have happened, is what I’m saying, and if anyone deserves to get the Blade treatment, it’s Night Raven.
Why? Well, let’s take a look at the fella. Night Raven, in his earlier appearances, is basically a ‘30’s hardboiled crimefighter a’la the Shadow, albeit with a bit more of a sense of humor. That would be cool enough, but then he winds up getting a heaping helping of Wolverine added to the mixture – he’s now immortal and essentially unkillable, a man out of time, as it were. (Oh, and he’s Canadian, too; half Mohawk Indian.) Not the modern-day, toned-down, bit-more-of-a-nice-guy Wolverine, either, I’m talking berserker rage Wolvie, the guy who seemed like he could snap at any moment – and often did.
So, to sum up – we’ve got a two-thirds crazy, nigh-unbeatable vigilante rampaging through the ages on an endless quest for revenge against the woman who made him this way, a quest that seems more and more like a particularly twisted form of romance as the decades go by. What about this does not sound at the very least intriguing, at the most, friggin’ awesome?
Film-wise, what I would do is treat him more or less like a horror villain – because make no bones about it, this guy may be on the side of the just, but he is scary. Make him a menacing figure who speaks briefly from the shadows in a harsh, damaged voice, and whose face we never see. Team him up with a deuteragonist from whose viewpoint we see things, and who is never completely certain whether Night Raven is going to kill her or not. In slasher movie terms, team him up with the Final Girl. Slowly his secrets are revealed, and he gains our sympathy – but very slowly; taking most of the movie, during which we catch glimpses of Yi Yang and learn that she is even worse, setting the scene for a battle between equals…
Seriously, if there’s one movie I would like to be personally involved in, it’s a Night Raven adaptation. Until then, if someone else wants to do it first, I wouldn’t mind…
#7: Blue Beetle
Who he is: There have been several Blue Beetles over the years, but the best-known is the second, Ted Kord. A student of Dan Garrett, the original Beetle, Kord was with his teacher when he was mortally wounded while trying to stop an evil scientist’s plan for world domination. As the villain’s headquarters were collapsing around them, the dying Garrett urged the younger man to keep his secret and carry on as a crimefighter, but was buried in a fall of rubble before he could pass on the mystic scarab that had given him his powers. Despite this, Kord swore to honor the legacy that had been passed down to him. A gifted engineer and inventor, he designed and built an arsenal of gadgetry, with which he fights crime as the Blue Beetle!
Why he’s cool: The Blue Beetle has had a long and fascinating career over the years, with three bearers of the name so far – Dan Garrett, Ted Kord, and the current one, Jaime Reyes. I’d be perfectly happy with movies starring any or all of them (heck, if it featured Jaime, it’d be the first mainstream superhero film featuring a Hispanic protagonist – at least, that I can think of), but for this list I’ve chosen Ted.
Why? Well, for starters he’s the best known, and was, like the Question, written and drawn by Steve Ditko, which gives him that needed geek cred. For another, he is in serious need of an image upgrade.
See, the Beetle was a fairly obscure hero for quite a while, until he became a member of the late-80’s incarnation of the Justice League, the JLI (Justice League International). There he formed a close friendship with fellow member Booster Gold, and the two quickly gained a reputation as a pair of juvenile pranksters, willing to do anything for a laugh.
This version of the character has a number of fans, and is certainly entertaining, but the fact of the matter is, his time in the JLI absolutely gutted him of his previous characterization. Ted Kord as originally conceived was a sort of Batman figure, a self-made millionaire industrialist who fought crime using his nimble mind and formidable technical skills. I have no problem with him having a light-hearted nature – he had that from the beginning, anyway – but he’s not a clown, he’s a kickass gadgeteer genius! He does not deserve to be thought of as a joke character; the man has talent, and he deserves his time in the spotlight.
What’s more, a Kord BB movie would have the potential for some interesting thematic elements. Magic VS technology, inheritance VS self-reliance, the transition in tone from the Golden to the Silver Age, the nature of legacy heroes – a good screenwriter could have a ball playing around with such toys. It would be visually interesting, too, if handled right – seeing his signature Bug cruisin’ through the skies would be awesome. I’m sure some filmmakers would be tempted to wuss out and make the Beetle-costume dark blue and black or something, because ‘oh no, we’re living in a post-Dark Knight world; we must make it gritty!’ Don’t. Keep that outfit bright and heroic-looking. He’s not called the Dark Beetle; he’s called the Blue Beetle – he must look vibrantly blue.
Give him some cool old Ditko villains to fight, respect the legacy and keep ol’ Ted the way he ought to be, and you would have a hit on your hands! Make it so, DC!
#6: Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld
Who she is: Amy Winston always thought she was a perfectly regular girl with regular parents, until she turned 13. Then she learned a secret kept from her since birth – she’s not only adopted, she’s not from this world! In actuality, her name is Amethyst, Princess of the House of Amethyst in the other-dimensional realm of Gemworld, where, due to some quirk of the way time works, she becomes an adult in her 20’s. Able to travel back and forth between dimensions at will, Amy must battle the evil Dark Opal, and ultimately choose between her adoptive home and parents and the place of her birth.
Why she’s cool: OK, I’ll admit it; I haven’t read too much of this comic. Being that I’m not the target audience and the character has been published spottily in miniseries and such since her initial appearance in the mid-‘80’s, there’s little reason why I should have. However, I do own a couple issues that were bundled in with something else, and they’re really pretty cool. Well-written, beautifully drawn, a classic yet unique high fantasy style – good stuff.
Moreover, Amethyst represents something that is sorely lacking in modern entertainment – a positive, kickass role model for girls. Boys get any amount of shows and comics and movies aimed specifically at them, but girls? They get friggin’ Barbies and Rainbow Brite. True, some notable exceptions have appeared over the years, but in terms of movies, the younger female audience is still getting screwed over.
Amethyst could be a good way to bridge that gap. She has enough ‘girly’ qualities to appeal to a younger female audience, yet is strong enough as a protagonist to have a wider appeal. In essence, she’s something like a female, fantasy version of Luke Skywalker, with a touch of Captain Marvel thrown in. Moreover, the world she lives in (well, the other one after ours) is both interesting and visually appealing, broken into a series of kingdoms styled around various types of gemstones. Picture an overall air of majestic otherworldliness and you’ve got the right idea.
This would be something that mothers could watch with their daughters, brothers could watch with their sisters – the whole family, in short, could watch. The concept has enough potential to appeal to everybody, while specifically giving girls a strong female protagonist that they could look up to. It probably won’t be made anytime soon, because Hollywood people are wimps when it comes to stuff like this, but it should be, dammit! Make an Amethyst movie, you bounders!
Who he is: For long centuries, the mysterious organization known as the Q Society has been preparing in secret, gathering their strength for the end times. They believe that the ancient god of darkness, Tezcatlipoca, is destined to return to the Earth, bringing chaos and destruction in his wake. However, also returning will be Quetzalcoatl, his ancient enemy, and a friend and protector of humanity. With him on our side, Earth may stand a chance against the coming apocalypse – if he is provided with a human champion to inhabit during the process.
Hence, the Q Society have taken it upon themselves to provide one – in fact, many, stretching back in a long line of warriors. And now the latest, a young man known only as Uno, has completed his training and been sent by them into the world to combat a more mundane form of evil until the great battle comes. Clad in a suit of mystic armor that gives him a wide range of formidable powers, he is Aztek – the Ultimate Man!
Why he’s cool: To start with, talk about timely.
This guy is a superhero (hey! Just like the ones who’ve been making mucho dinero lately!) whose job is to stop a coming apocalypse (hey! Just like the one all those people who’ve misinterpreted the Mayan calendar have been talking about!) based around the conflict of Aztec gods (hey! Not-quite-but-close-enough-to just like those Mayan guys!), and somehow, people haven’t made a movie about him already? Hollywood, I think your instinct for milking a quick buck out of popular misconceptions is slipping.
That being said, we’re not going to get an Aztek movie any time soon, so here’s a few of the reasons why we should get one in the future.
First off, see the above. Superhero battling apocalypse. War of the gods. Does this not sound like the makings of a massive blockbuster? You’ve got a great big evil guy duking it out with a great big good guy, with our hero as the latter’s vessel. It never actually came to that in the comics, but you can bet it would in a movie, as no director worth his salt would pass up such a chance for crowd-pleasing special effects. We’re talking about a major punch-up here, with the fate of the planet hanging in the balance. Kaboom! Bang! Pow! Socko! There goes Belgium! Visual spectaculah!
For another, he himself is rather an interesting character. Most superhero origin stories feature the hero struggling to figure out how to use his or her powers and adjust to having them after a previous life of relative normality. Uno has the opposite problem. He knows exactly how to use his powers; the armor gives him about eighty-five jillion of ‘em, and he’s been training in combat since birth. The problem is everything else, as this guy is very much a fish out of water. As a superhero, he is very formidable indeed; as a regular person, he’s hopeless. He’s lived all his life in a Q Society compound, and as a result he is astoundingly naïve. Before he can fight the big bad god and postpone the end of the world, he’s got to figure out how to buy groceries and talk about things that aren’t related to evil-punching. (‘Hi! Can I buy you a drink? I’m a superhero, but I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you that until… hey, what did I say?’) There’s some real possibilities for comedy and pathos here, as the poor dude learns the ins and outs of everyday life while remaining on the look-out for cosmic badness.
True, the character is pretty obscure, but come on, he’s been in the JLA, he was written by critical darling Grant Morrison, he made it into the JLU cartoon – this kid has earned his spurs, and I’ll bet you that if you put him into theaters, it would be a winning investment. Be worth at least a try, wouldn’t you say? *Bats eyelashes*
#4: Captain Britain
Who he is: A college student with a scientific bent, Brian Braddock was interning at the Darkmoor Nuclear Research Center when it was broken into by one Joshua Stragg, the Reaver, an industrial thief planning to steal the Center’s secrets. As chaos reigned, Braddock fled across the moor, followed closely by Stragg’s men.
The rough terrain soon caused an accident, and he was flung from his motorcycle. More dead than alive, he was nonetheless drawn towards a nearby circle of stones – drawn by soft voices that soon materialized into glowing forms, forms which identified themselves as the wizard Merlyn and the Lady of the North Skies (later revealed to be his daughter, Roma).
They informed the dazed young man that Britain needed a champion once more, as in days of old, and he had been chosen. So was he given a choice – one of the two magic objects that were put before him: the Sword of Might or the Amulet of Right. Not considering himself a warrior, Brian grabbed the amulet, and was granted great powers. Ever since then, he has served his country and the world as the hero Captain Britain!
Why he’s cool: Told you I’d be getting to him.
Captain Britain is one of my favorite superheroes, bar none. Over the years he has amassed a rich and multi-layered mythology around himself, drawing on everything from Arthurian lore to Doctor Who, that numerous writers have plundered for ideas. His stories may be based in Britain, but they range across multiple dimensions and have involved just about every sci-fi and fantasy trope you can think of, all mixed up into one glorious blender.
Furthermore, he himself is just a really cool and multi-layered character. Heroic to a fault and dedicated to his cause, he also possesses a short temper, a pig-headed nature, and a tendency to punch first and ask questions later. He’s had problems with alcoholism, he’s struck out at his friends, and overall can come across as a bit of a bastard at times. The thing is, though, he’s aware of his faults, and is constantly struggling with them – in the meantime, however, they make him a force to be reckoned with if you get his goat. The man is a genuine hero through and through, but if there’s one person in the Marvel Universe you do not want to tick off, it’s him.
Mind you, more recent incarnations of the character have depicted him as a bit more clean-cut and with most of his flaws excised. For me, it’s the tightly-wound, flawed-but-heroic version that will always be the ‘real’ CB (also, what the hell have they done with his helmet?) – but it does point to another of the character’s strengths, i.e, he’s one of the few people in comics who can honestly be said to have visibly grown and changed over the years. He changed costumes and powers, he got a girlfriend, he struggled with personal issues, he learned new things about his background, joined a team, saved the world a few times – basically, you could look at beginning-of-his-career CB and the current version and swear they were two different people. It’s how he got from one to the other that makes his history so fascinating.
This makes adapting him, while totally worthwhile, somewhat awkward. Why? I’ll explain.
Most serialized characters that have been around for any length of time will have at least a handful of stories that lend themselves well towards adaptation. In the case of Captain Britain, the obvious choice would be the ‘Jaspers Warp’ storyline, by Alan Moore and Alan Davis. I won’t go into the plot, but if you haven’t read it, do so. It’s a classic, a major turning point for the character, and one of Moore’s better earlier stories.
The problem, however, is that the Jaspers Warp storyline is complex enough that any adaptation would be hard-pressed to capture all of its twists and turns; there’s simply no room for an origin story – which, of course, you would need in an introductory film. Therefore, what I would suggest is not one Captain Britain movie, but two. In the first, we see his origins, his early struggles with the superhero life, and a general introduction of his character. (I would expand the role of Joshua Stragg, a rather one-note, single-appearance baddie in the comics, into that of the main villain – he has enough intrinsic ties to the Captain’s origins that it would seem to be a logical choice.) Following the film’s climax, Merlyn would inform Braddock that he had gone through his ‘baptism of fire’, and was now ready for a truly great challenge – which, of course, he would face in movie #2, which would be a more-or-less straight adaptation of the Jaspers Warp saga. (Also, I would have him start out in his slimmed-down red catsuit phase in the first one, and then have Merlyn bulk him up into his later, Union Jack-bedecked, built-like-a-quarterback look once he’d ‘graduated’, but either way would work. And I’m an obsessive nerd, so of course I’d want that.)
Even if he were only to get one, though, Captain Britain deserves a freakin’ movie. He’s probably the most high-profile B-lister on here; he’s been in the Avengers, fercryin’outloud. Give the man a movie! Preferably two!
#3: Rom, SpaceKnight
Who he is: Long ago, in the far reaches of space, a war raged, a war of savage aggressors and noble defenders. The aggressors were the Dire Wraiths, a race of evil, shapeshifting sorcerers bent on galactic domination; the defenders were the human inhabitants of Galador, a formerly peaceful planet that had, through wisdom and patience, created a utopian society of peace and understanding.
Faced with the threat of annihilation, however, the Galadorians called upon their knowledge of science to defend them, and created the SpaceKnights, spacegoing cyborg warriors sealed inside powerful suits of armor. Knowing their enemies’ malign intentions, the SpaceKnights swore never to rest until the universe was safe from their evil once and for all.
Now, two hundred years later, Rom, the greatest of the SpaceKnights, has tracked the Wraiths to their final hiding place – Earth. There he quickly learns that he will have a long and difficult task ahead of him, as they have managed to infiltrate every strata of society. With the planet poised to fall like a rotten apple, Rom is faced with a task larger than he can complete on his own – in order to do so, he must gain the trust of Earth’s inhabitants. But can he do so in time to save them?
Why he’s cool: Rom: SpaceKnight was one of the more ambitious Marvel comics of the early ‘80’s. The character did crossovers with the X-Men, the Avengers, and scores of others. His saga has long been a fan favorite, and to this day, mentioning his name in a crowd of nerds is bound to get at least some positive reaction.
So why has he not only made no appearances, but scarcely been mentioned in the last three decades? One word: licensing. Marvel has produced an awful lot of licensed comics over the years, the rights to all of which ultimately reverted back to their parent companies. As Rom was one of these, he is now owned by Hasbro, and Marvel can’t touch him with a ten-foot pole.
They have, however, indicated that they would like to, and if Hasbro ever lets them – well, a movie just might be in order. And I hope that someday it is.
Let us take, for starters, the basic premise, which is pretty cinematic in and of itself – B-movie cinema, to be precise. One of the main settings in the story is a small Midwestern town, much like any number of other towns that monsters from space have invaded. The twist, however, is that Rom is not, in fact, a monster; the real monsters are already there, impersonating members of the community (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, anyone?), but try telling that to the townsfolk when they see a metal giant zapping their neighbors with a ray gun. Done right, a Rom: SpaceKnight movie could be a sort of action-packed commentary on old B-movies as a whole.
As for Rom himself, the life of a SpaceKnight is not all fun and games – you’re customized for outer space battle, which means that such things as eating, breathing and most sensory input have been sealed away behind a nigh-impermeable metal shell. As such, he’s a rather tragic figure – a hardened but noble warrior who follows a strict code of honor, he’s been on the job for so long that he’s literally numb to everything else, and has almost forgotten what it was like to be human, something that he is slowly beginning to rediscover. Not to mention the fact that he’s starting to fall for an Earthling girl… If nothing else, the movie would make for a fascinating character study.
More than that, though, it would provide slam-bang action, memorably despicable opponents, a dip into conspiracy-theory paranoia, and, you know, a seven-foot alien cyborg zapping other aliens into limbo. If that’s not enough of an impetus for you, I don’t know what will be. Come on, Hasbro, get it in gear already!
#2: The Creeper
Who he is: After newsman Jack Ryder was cut down in a battle with crooks, an emergency operation by the genius Dr. Yatz saved his life – with certain side effects. These included a healing factor, increased agility and strength, and the ability to immediately change his appearance to that of when he was shot – and given that he happened to be wearing a rather strange masquerade costume at the time, this last one was significant. Deciding to use his new powers against those who tried to kill him, he now fights crime under the unsettling identity of the Creeper!
Why he’s cool: OK, so I like Ditko characters. I make no apologies.
Now, the first thing you may have noticed about my above summation is that it’s a little… vague. There’s a reason for this – the Creeper’s origin is the least coherent and/or interesting part of the character, and has been rejiggered more times than you can count. As such, trying to pin it down is akin to trying to pin down a bar of wet soap – you can do it, but it’s tricky. The only constant is Dr. Yatz; just about everything else is frustratingly slippery.
So if he’s so problematic, why’s he on this list, then? Hold on there, chum; I never said he was problematic, just his origin. The Creeper himself is awesome – moreover, he’s awesome in a number of ways that would lend themselves very well to cinematic adaptation.
To start with, he’s weird, and I mean that in all the best ways. The Creeper is a weird, weird guy. He looks weird, he acts weird (in fact, the jury’s out as to just how sane he actually is), he is weird, and a weird protagonist, when handled correctly, can make a movie – if you don’t believe me, ask Captain Jack Sparrow.
Let’s say you’re a crook, going about your business, when this… thing appears, jumping down from somewhere above. It’s a gaudy flash of inhuman color with an immense red mane, it’s shrieking with laughter and bouncing off the walls, bullets don’t seem to hurt it, and it’s coming towards you. You’d be a little freaked out, don’t you think? Yeah, just a tad.
That, in a nutshell, is the Creeper’s appeal – he’s creepy and funny both in the same package. It’s well-known that villains tend to steal the show from the heroes they fight – well, here we have a hero who would be keeping the show, thank you very much, since it’s difficult to imagine a villain more out there than this guy.
While he does not possess a deeply rich background mythology like some other heroes do, that actually works fine in this case, because it means that a screenwriter would be hard-pressed to mess him up. Is he yellow and red and green? Is he crazy and bouncy and can’t-hurty? Does he still have the world’s weirdest fashion accessory on his back? Does he still transform to Jack Ryder, and obtain his powers through Dr. Yatz? Then you’ve done justice to the character, and the rest is wide open. As long as you have everyone else in the story behave more-or-less naturalistically, keep the atmosphere kind of Noir-ish, and throw in a properly despicable bad guy, a Creeper movie will work, and work well. It’d be gritty enough to appeal to the Dark Knight acolytes, funny enough to provide quotable lines for the ages, and out-there enough to catch critics’ attention – how can it lose?
#1: Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt
Who he is: The infant son of an American husband-and-wife medical team, Peter Cannon was left an orphan after his parents died in the process of wiping out a plague that was ravaging a mountain village. Taken in by a nearby lamasery, young Peter grew to manhood raised by the monks, who, mindful of the great debt owed his parents, trained him in the best that both eastern and western cultures had to offer – including a set of ancient scrolls kept secret and safe by them for long centuries. These held the secrets of tapping the full potential of the human brain, allowing one to perform nigh-superhuman feats. This gained Peter the enmity of a deformed monk known as the Hooded One, a prospective scholar of the scrolls himself who resented being passed over for an outsider.
The time came for him to prove himself worthy of the privilege. In order to do this, he must pass three tests, each of which was concealed behind a door. The first two opened onto tests of skill and athleticism, which he passed easily. Behind the third lay the mountainside.
The third test, the High Abbot explained to him, would be an ongoing one – the time had come for him to return to the country of his birth, and prove himself worthy among his own people, as he never could if he remained here. As a parting gift, he was offered one of the treasures of the lamasery, a chest of priceless diamonds, to help him find a place in his new home.
Reluctantly, Peter obeyed the High Abbot’s commands, and traveled to America, followed by his faithful friend and companion Tabu. There, made rich by the diamonds, he desired only to live in peace and solitude. This was not to be, however, for trouble seemed to follow him wherever he went, often in the form of the Hooded One, who in jealousy and hatred had followed him to the outside world. Now, where danger threatens, you may find he who is known as Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt!
Why he’s cool: OK, here we go again – yes, he wears short pants. Yes, it looks kind of silly. Oh-ho-ho, he looks like Robin, oh-ho-ho, he must shave his legs, oh-ho-ho. What hilarity. Zip thy lips. (Anyway, it’s patterned after the Golden Age Daredevil’s costume, and recent versions have been a lot less exposed, so… yeah. Non-issue.)
Aaaaanyway. His appearance aside, let’s get down to why I think he’s cool.
Now, ‘American dude goes to Tibet, gets powers’ is a cliché that had whiskers back when Superman was a rambunctious fledgling. It seemed for a while like you couldn’t throw a rock in comics without hitting some guy who’d become a superhero thanks to some hoary old monks on a mountainside – and at first glance, it seems like Peter Cannon is yet another example of that. In fact, however, it’s a clever subversion of it, along with the equally-outdated ‘white guy is raised in another culture and is soooo much better at it than they are’ trope.
Consider – yes, technically speaking Cannon went to the Himalayas and got trained to become a superhero, but all of this was beyond his direct control. He never asked to study the scrolls; the High Abbot decided he should. He never chose to go to Asia in the first place, that was his parents; and he wasn’t ‘better at their culture than they themselves were’ – he was just a good student. Heck, when his training was complete, he didn’t want to leave – in fact, that’s one of the most interesting things about him.
Peter Cannon is a hero despite himself. He doesn’t want to be a hero; what he wants is just to be left alone, but the dude has a conscience, and that keeps getting him involved in things he’d just as soon stay out of. The impression I’ve gotten of the character is that he’s actually kind of a misanthrope – he neither likes nor approves of the civilization he finds himself a part of; he thinks humanity as a whole consists of a bunch of warring, xenophobic doo-doo heads, and he wants no part of it, but… well, goldang it; he can’t just do nothing when people are in danger, and… oh heck, might as well put on the duds and fight dumb ol’ crime again. Phooey.
You don’t really get a lot of characters like that in superhero movies. Antiheroes, sure, people thrown into heroism through events beyond their control, absolutely – but folks who just want people, good and bad, to leave them the hell alone? That’s pretty rare; in fact, I’m not sure I can think of a single solid example of it in the genre.
That makes him different, and different is good. Different is interesting. Also, he’s got a built-in appeal in that he’s a cool martial-arts guy, and Hollywood always has room for martial arts guys. Also also, the character, while owned for a while by DC, has recently entered the public domain, so anyone could make a movie about him and get away with it. Any talented new filmmakers out there looking to make a name for yourselves, this is your chance! Show the world something new!