OK, chances are the vast majority of you have heard of the Avengers movie that’s coming out next summer – and if you haven’t, then I’m sorry, but you fail at nerddom. It’s a big, big deal, they’ve been building up to it for years, everyone’s psyched and so am I. (And if by some chance it happens to suck, someone is going to reread this in a year or so and laaaaauuugh.)
All that is fine and dandy. (Except the laughing part. Up yours, obnoxious hypothetical future laughers!) To me, though, it raises an obvious question – if it does succeed and become a sensation (and oh man, here’s hopin’), then what other teams might get the treatment? Assuming people scramble to emulate its success, what will be the result? Which other ones deserve a look?
Well, I’m here to speculate about it, now aren’t I? Yes indeedy-doo. So that being the case, I present to you my top ten other comic book teams that should get movies!
Two notes first. One: as always, these will be in no particular order, and two: I am not including the Justice League on this list, despite it being an obvious candidate for an entry. This is because they’ve been teasing us with rumors of one for years now, and it’s looking like it might finally get made. This list is for not-in-the-works-yet entries, not likely-soon-to-appear ones. You may consider it an unofficial eleventh entry, if you wish.
Who they are: The world’s first super-team, in or out of comics, the JSA featured some of the best and brightest of the Golden Age. Including such luminaries as Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash (original versions) as well as more obscure characters such as Johnny Thunder and Dr. Fate, the Justice Society was a mighty force against evil, and continues as such even today!
Why they’re cool: Most of you could probably see this one coming. The JSA are comic book legends, after all, and any true fanboy/girl knows of their status as the original team in comics. None of the others would be around today if it weren’t for them. They had to be on this list.
However, there might be a few complications to putting them on the big screen. As noted in my Golden Age list, the GA Flash and Green Lantern, core members of the team, would be problematic in a movie since your average Joe Schmoe thinks of the Silver Age reboots of the characters, and he would be lost and confused and wander out of the movie with great big puppydog eyes and demand his money back – or so seems to be the current market theory. Basically, DC already has a GL movie, and a Flash film is probably going to be in the works one of these days, and both involve/would involve the later interpretations of the characters, so a JSA film would probably not include the originals in order not to water down viewer recognition. Also no Wonder Woman, for similar reasons.
However, this would not necessarily be an obstacle if handled correctly. After all, the JSA has lots of other characters on its roster, including such characters as Hourman, Mr. Terrific, etc., that will likely never get movies of their own anyway – so why not stick ‘em in a team movie? Make it a period setting a’la Captain America or The Rocketeer, have a good director who understands such things at the helm and won’t try and make the characters edgy or dark, give ‘em a good set of baddies to punch, and you’d have some good old-fashioned Golden Age action. Woohoo! Make it happen, DC!
Who they are: When danger threatened the world, the brilliant scientist Dr. Will Magnus created a team of six shapeshifting robots to help defend it. Given the monickers of Gold, Platinum, Mercury, Iron, Lead and Tin, with each possessing the unique abilities of their namesake metal, they are the Metal Men!
Why they’re cool: OK, going by what I said in the intro to this list, this is perhaps cheating just a little bit, since there actually were plans being discussed for a Metal Men movie just a few years back. But A: those plans seem to have sputtered out, which as far as I’m concerned puts them back on the list again, and B: I freakin’ love the Metal Men, and there was no way on Earth that I wasn’t going to include them here.
Now, a lot of people seem to think of the MM as just a goofy Silver Age throwback – and to be fair, they’ve got a point; the team is very much of the time they were created in. To which I cheerfully say ‘so what?’ The Metal Men may be goofy, but they are gloriously goofy, redolent with the utterly bonkers pseudo-scientific flavor that makes certain corners of the Silver Age so much fun to poke around in. We are talking about a team whose main villain is a mindless walking container of random chemicals named Chemo who somehow came to life and grew to a gigantic, destructive size. We are talking about a team who once starred in a story entitled “Birthday Cake for a Cannibal Robot”. The glory, people! Think of the glory!
And that’s just the type of story they’re generally in – the Metal Men also feature a team dynamic that has remained largely unchanged for decades, for the simple reason that it works. Robots they may be, but the core of their appeal is that at heart, they’re as human as anybody. You’ve got stalwart Gold, steadfast muscleman Iron and slow-but-dependable Lead, but to my mind the real draw of the team is in the other three members. Mercury is an arrogant hothead who nonetheless can be depended on in a pinch, Tin is an insecure nebbish on a never-ending quest to prove himself equal to the others, and Platinum (or ‘Tina’ to her friends) is… well. A little confused. See, she’s the only female robot of the bunch, and thanks to a faulty ‘responsometer’ (their version of brains, basically), she’s head-over-heels in love with Doc Magnus, who might feel the same way about her if it weren’t for the fact that she’s, y’know. A robot. Doesn’t stop her from trying, though, and the series has gotten puh-lenty of mileage out of it. (For those who are wondering, I’m not including the recent addition of Copper because I really know nothing about her, and I prefer the classic team anyway.)
Movie-wise, this would probably be best if ‘twere another period piece, because seriously, this team has never really gotten out of the Silver Age, and it’s the only way you could include details like Tina’s stewardess hat and Magnus’ pipe that he’s eternally chewing on. In terms of tone, a sort of superhero dramedy would be best, I think – the MM are funny and should be presented as such, and yet there are elements of drama, even of tragedy, in Tina’s doomed-from-the-start love for Doc, Tin’s desperate need to prove himself worthy, and the basic plight of robots living in a human world. It’s a bit of a tricky balance, but with a little care you could get a movie with laughs as well as pathos, which I think make for the best sort of comedies, anyway.
Who they are: After most of the members of Stormwatch, a UN-sponsored superteam, were slaughtered by an alien enemy, the survivors decided to form their own team from the wreckage of the new. Making their new headquarters onboard the mysterious Carrier, an immense “shiftship” of unknown origins capable of interdimensional travel, they dubbed themselves the Authority and dedicated themselves to getting the job done by any means necessary. Since then they’ve had a few members come and go, but remain devoted to battling evil with extreme prejudice.
Why they’re cool: OK, I admit it – I haven’t really kept up with the Authority over the years. I read their first collection when it came out, and liked it well enough, but not to the point where I had any particular desire to buy volume two. My general preference is for the lighter side of things, and the Authority is decidedly dark.
That being said, there’s no denying that they’re one of the more creative and unique superteams out there. You’ve got a seemingly-ageless “Century Baby” with godlike powers (the second one, actually), a Tibetan version of Hawkgirl, a planetary shaman, a woman with machinery for blood, the “God of Cities”, and a pair who are basically Batman and Superman if they were a gay couple. Together, they fight crime – or rather, not so much crime as bad stuff in general, and they don’t so much fight it as bash it until it stops moving. When these guys get into fights they tend to wreck cities, and their enemies include armies of clones, an invasion from an alternate Earth, and, oh yes, God. (Or something claiming to be God, anyway.)
I’m guessing you’ve probably guessed why these guys are on the list, right? The Authority were practically designed for the screen – its general style is even described as “widescreen comics”. Everything about them screams big-budget extravaganza. You like special effects? An Authority movie would require tons of special effects. You like explosions? How ‘bout exploding city blocks, that work for you? You like characters with visual flair that would jump off the screen? Check out the woman in the British flag with electric powers (or, OK, the Singaporean flag at the moment), or the woman covered in liquid metal, or the guy in a white-and-yellow costume with a halo around his head. You like fight scenes? You’ve got all you can stomach.
Plus, one cool thing about an Authority film is that, basically, it’s almost impossible to mess up. Think about it – what’s one of the most common complaints about comic book movies? That’s right, it’s that things have been needlessly darkened up, with the characters killing where they normally wouldn’t and breaking their moral codes strictly for shock value. Yep, can’t do that with the Authority, because they already do that stuff. Their moral code is basically ‘get the job done’ – short of portraying them as out-and-out psychopaths or taking away their powers to make them more ‘realistic’, there is no way to ruin an Authority film short of doing the things that bad directors wouldn’t be doing anyway. You give this to a good director, and you’re guaranteed a success, but even if he’s replaced with an idiot, it won’t be a total loss. How many films can you say that about?
Mind you, this isn’t to say there wouldn’t be some bumps along the way. To start with, the problem with having a team comprised largely of hand-me-downs from another book is that in order to understand where these characters come from, you have to read that book first, something that you can’t depend on your average moviegoer having done in advance. Basically, either you spend a lot of time explaining the backstory of the characters, each of whom comes with a complicated personal history, or you make a Stormwatch movie first, which would carry the same problems. Oh yes, and there’s that whole ‘gay couple as part of the team’ thing. Ye-ah. That might cause a little controversy. Wouldn’t play in Peoria.
That being said, there are ways around those things, and there’s no denying that a successful adaptation of the book would probably be a big hit. Whether it’d be to everyone’s taste is another issue – if you like your heroes on the light and fluffy side, you’d want to stay far, far away from these guys – but for those in the mood to see some good old-fashioned grand-scale blow-up-osity with a hint of the mind-boggling added for good measure, an Authority film would be tailor-made.
Who they are: And there came a time when the various sidekicks in the DCU got together for a case and said ‘hey, we make a pretty good team! Wanna do this again?’ And thus the Teen Titans were born, lasting through multiple decades and incarnations, with many characters being added and dropped along the way. And lo, it was good.
Why they’re cool: The Titans really do have something for everybody. They’ve been through a ‘wacky teen adventures’ phase, a ‘serious superteam fighting for the Earth’ phase (more than one, actually), a ‘younger counterpart to the Justice League’ phase, and so on. Each has its fans, and the team really has progressed so far past its initial concept that it’s amazing.
It’s this same ‘multiple choice’ aspect that would make the Titans attractive as a movie. You could either hook in the younger audience with a kid-friendly take on things, or court their parents with a more mature take on things – or, for that matter, both! It’s not often that comic book flicks can be described as ‘family movies’, but a Titans adaptation might just be able to pull it off.
There is one slight glitch, though. As previously stated, all of the original Titans started out as sidekicks, and since there haven’t been any DC movies that feature sidekicks yet (in fact, they’ve actively avoided them), this might be a bit of a problem. Again, the bigwigs in charge seem to think that we poor, simpleminded audience members might be lost and confused if things are progressed past what has already been shown in theaters. So going by that logic, we’d first have to have a Batman film featuring Robin, a Green Arrow film with Speedy, an Aquaman film with Aqualad, etc. So yeah, at that rate we should have that Titans flick ready by… hmm… ‘bout 2075. That work for ya?
Seriously, though, if you weren’t going to go that route, the best way would simply be to do what the cartoon version did – not address their background at all. It’d be rather disingenuous, but it could happen. Or hell, there are enough original Titans characters by now that you could just feature those – it’d be a little weird, but you could do it. Either way, it’d be worth a try.
Who they are: Alpha Flight are Canada’s premier superteam. Under the employ of the Canadian government, they have been through many changes over the years, but one thing has always remained constant – their unceasing devotion to and protection of the Great White North!
Why they’re cool: One beef I have with superhero comics is that almost all of them are set in America and starring Americans. (This even applies to a number of foreign comics.) Alpha Flight is not exactly a dramatic leap away from that, but hey, I’ll take what I can get – a Canadian superteam is a good start in the right direction.
That’s semantics, though – as a team in and of itself, Alpha Flight has an interesting dynamic to it. Three of its core members have Inuit or First Tribes mysticism as part of their origin, which means the team has battled magical creatures and gods a bit more than your average group of heroes. Plot-wise, the Flight has been put through a lot of really confusing stuff over the years – hell, Guardian, the team’s nominal leader, has been killed and brought back something like three times now – but they still have their devoted fans, and have earned a positive reputation over the years.
In terms of movie-making, AF has two big positives going for it. One, it’s basically the Canadian version of the Avengers, so if the Avengers go well, a Flight movie probably would, too – they’ve got roughly the same dynamic, and could even be introduced as rivals to the American team if sequels end up being made. (Think about it – the Avengers have to go up north for some reason, there are turf issues, ‘this is our territory’, etc. Practically writes itself.) Number two, the Flight have close ties to one of Marvel’s biggest cash cows ever – Wolverine, baby. In the comics, he had his first super-gig alongside them. Therefore, if Marvel ever wanted to tie its Avengers and X-Men franchises together, this would be an excellent way in which to do it. True, the Flight haven’t been featured in movie-Wolvie’s backstory as yet, but the great thing with a character like him is that there are decades of his life that are open to exploration – you could plug in just about anything and it would make sense. So you feature him to bring in the X-fans, bring in the Avengers to usher them into the ‘main’ Marvel movie universe, and voila! A new franchise is born, and ushers in who knows how many possibilities for expansion and crossovers – and we’d get a really cool movie out of it, if some of the talent behind movies like Thor and Iron Man were given the task to flesh things out for the new franchise. Come on – am I the only one excited by this concept?
Who they are: Disabled scientist Niles Caulder, aka “The Chief”, gathered together three misfits, all changed by freak accidents that had given them incredible powers, but alienated them from society in the process. Under his guidance, they became a force for good. Since then, the roster has changed many times, but still the team fights the good fight as the Doom Patrol!
Why they’re cool: All right, confession time again – I have not yet read Grant Morrison’s famously surreal run on the Doom Patrol, which is what most people will probably be thinking of when they see this entry. I have, however, read a few highlights of their original run, and gained a fair knowledge of the rest through cultural osmosis, so I still consider myself well-enough informed to write about them here.
That being said, why are they here? Simple – the Doom Patrol are the ultimate oddballs. Long before Morrison came on the scene, these guys were plumbing the depths of glorious weirdness. They were weird, their villains were weird, their stories were weird – even their name was weird. And yet somehow, it all fit together. Somehow, it all worked. The team has hit a few bumps in the road since then – after all, ‘glorious weirdness’ is not the easiest thing in the world to get right – but when they’re hot, they’re hot. They have long since earned the reputation of a team to be reckoned with, and the real people to call when there’s something strange in the neighborhood – after all, they know it when they see it. They are it.
Cinematically speaking, the Patrol are just begging for some cinematic auteur who knows his way around the truly bizarre. David Cronenberg, for instance, could do wonders with these guys, or Tim Burton if he stretched himself a bit. Hell, if you want to hire foreign talent, there’s always Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Hand these glorious freaks over to someone who knows what to do with ‘em and you’d see some interesting results, mark my words.
Who they are: Four men, each highly qualified in their fields – pilot “Ace” Morgan, professional daredevil “Red” Ryan, champion boxer “Rocky” Davis and scientist “Prof” Haley – are the sole survivors of a plane crash, each coming out of it virtually untouched except for stopped watches. Taking this as a sign that they are “living on borrowed time”, they decide to devote their lives to the pursuit of adventure, making the most of the time they have left. Joined later by computer genius June Robbins as an “honorary Challenger”, they face the strange and unusual and battle threats to humanity as the Challengers of the Unknown!
Why they’re cool: Basically, the Challengers of the Unknown are as simple and direct as you can get. They don’t have superpowers, they’re just four normal dudes going up against giant monsters and aliens and such with their wits, their bare hands, and a series of nifty gadgets. These guys are hardcore – their whole philosophy is that they’re only alive through a fluke of fate anyway, and hence they have no fear of death and will frequently do things like leap out of office buildings with confidence that they’ll work something out before they hit the ground. And if they don’t – hey, their time finally ran out, no biggie. They’re something like the Ghostbusters if the ‘busters were suicidally brave and had a mean right hook.
That describes their cinematic appeal in a nutshell, really. Take Ghostbusters, cross it with Die Hard and a hint of Godzilla and play it all absolutely straight with nary a trace of winking, and you’d have something like the ideal Challengers movie. Tricky? Yes. Worth having a go at? Absolutely. I mean, seriously, does the above description not sound like pure, undiluted awesome? I say it does, and this is my list, so on it they go.
Who they are: Following the apparent death of the rest of the X-Men, Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde were recuperating on Muir Island off the coast of Scotland when they encountered Rachel Summers, the second Phoenix, during her escape from Mojo, the extradimensional tyrant. Before the adventure had wrapped up, the UK’s defenders Captain Britain and Meggan had become involved in it, too. Deciding that they worked well together, the five formed a new team – Excalibur!
Why they’re cool: Excalibur has gained quite the cult following over the years, despite it being one of the more minor and esoteric of the X-Men spinoffs. Why? Simple – it’s fun.
Now, as with any relatively long-lasting comic, the series had its ups and downs and was far from perfect in spots. The parts that people tend to think of when they think Excalibur, though, were the issues created by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis, and those were pure, giddy goodness. The team romped through multiple dimensions, encountered alternate versions of themselves, fought universe-threatening villains and kooky aliens, and had a jolly good time in the process. It’s one of those lightning-in-a-bottle situations – there was just something about Excalibur that clicked. Overall, it’s an immensely enjoyable series.
If correctly translated from page to screen, I have no doubt it would be an immensely enjoyable movie, also. Mind you, the process of fitting it in with the currently established X-movie universe would be… mixed, but not impossible. To start with, both Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler have already been introduced, so it’s simply a matter of maneuvering them into proximity with one another. Rachel Summers, of course, might be a leetle hard to explain, but hey, it could be done. The real stumbling block, of course, would be Brian Braddock and his girlfriend – in order to have an Excalibur film, you’d basically have to make a Captain Britain film first. And I am just fine with that, thank you, as Captain Britain is one of my all-time favorite characters, and will doubtless show up again in a future Top Ten. So yes, not a stumbling block at all, so far as I’m concerned – more like an added bonus.
Tone-wise, an Excalibur flick would have to be a combination of epic battle scenes and giddy whirliness, emphasizing sheer mad innovation over more traditional superheroic fare. You’d need a director with a real flare for visuals – Tarsem Singh could do the trick, if he had a good writer on his side. An odd duck it would be indeed, but one well worth viewing.
Who they are: Abducted by the alien Shi’ar, air force pilot Christopher Summers was separated from his family and forced to toil in the slave-pits of the tyrannical Emperor D’Ken. After attempting and failing to assassinate the despot, he was sent to a mining camp as punishment, where he encountered various other prisoners of the Shi’ar. Dubbing himself Corsair, he led a break-out that culminated with the hijacking of a starship. He and his newfound allies now roam the universe, fighting against D’Ken’s tyranny as those daring space pirates, the Starjammers!
Why they’re cool: I know, I know – I’m kind of pushing the X-Men tie-in thing here. But really, there are so many dusty corners to the X-universe that have gone unexplored in the movies so far, and the Starjammers are a prime example. I mean, come on; they’re a group of space pirates with members including a giant reptilian pacifist, a seductive cat/skunk woman named after a Pogo character and a swashbuckling cyborg! That’s just cool! The Starjammers are awesome; end of story.
Furthermore, they have connections to the X-Men that offer up intriguing story possibilities. To start with, Corsair is Cyclops’ dad, so if they ever wanted to delve into his background, that would be a good place to start. Also, introducing the Starjammers means introducing the Shi’ar, which ushers in… well, basically a whole lot. Yes, it would complicate the cinematic X-world to a great degree, but that’s good – expansion of a franchise beyond its basic premise equals greater complexity, which means better stories and more things to hook in new viewers. And hey, even if they did ultimately decide not to link it up to the X-universe to preserve the ‘purity of the concept’ or what have you, you’ve still got space pirates! Bam! End of story.
Of course, the main issue with making Starjammers into a movie is making sure it doesn’t come across as a Star Wars ripoff – which, let’s face it, is really what it seems like if you go by just the basic premise. The trick to avoiding this problem, as I see it, is to emphasize the more unique aspects of the team. First off, they’re pirates, and for all the trope’s presence in pop culture, we haven’t really gotten a good ‘space pirate’ movie yet that I know of. Play up that side of things, and you’ve got a rip-roaring old-style swashbuckler on your hands – but in spaaaace! (Pigs not included.)
Furthermore, there are two more important differences here from SW – one, this hero is not from around… there. Sure, he adjusts to his new life pretty well, but it’s still a huge, staggering changeover – Luke may have been a hick from Tatooine, but at least he was aware that he was part of a wider universe with multiple alien races. Corsair doesn’t get that luxury. From what little I’ve seen of the show, it’s something like the set-up in Farscape, which is almost universally praised as awesome, so there you go.
Two, the Shi’ar are not an “evil empire”. They’re not necessarily a good empire, but they’re not bad guys – they may be colonial expansionists, but they’re reasonable enough as a whole, and do have a strong sense of honor and loyalty and whatnot. The issue is more that their leader, in this case, is evil. If you included his sister Lilandra as one of the ‘Jammers (which has actually happened in the comics), then it wouldn’t be a case of destroying the Empire, but saving it through putting someone better on the throne. This would add a level of nuance that is not often seen in space operas, and overall make it a more intelligent flick.
So – Starjammers. Spaceships. Pirates. Awesome! Let’s move on.
Who they are: On an alternate Earth, WW2 never ended. It stretched on over the decades, gradually growing more and more brutal, until finally one side won – and it wasn’t the good guys. The Axis, grown strong beyond imagining, crushed all opposition, until finally America, the one country strong enough to resist it to the last, fell. The stars and stripes were lowered, and a swastika now fluttered on the flag of the White House.
There was, of course, some initial rebellion, but it was quickly squashed – all except one group. The country’s superheroes, defiant to the last, formed a team to battle the invaders and crush the Nazi menace once and for all. Led by Uncle Sam himself, the very spirit of Old Glory, they are the Freedom Fighters!
Why they’re cool: I don’t know about you, but personally I am seriously burnt out on WW2. I know it was an epic conflict that changed history and killed millions and there are who-knows-how-many stories of survival and courage that came out of it, but that’s the problem – there are thousands of stories like that, and it seems like we’ve seen almost all of them. Think about it – has even a single year gone by in the past couple of decades that did not include at least one WW2 flick? Yes, it’s something that should be remembered lest we repeat our mistakes and blah blah blah, but for cryin’ out loud, we remember it already! Take a break!
That being said, I do make an exception for the comic book version of things. In comic books, WW2 was transformed from… well, itself into a conflict peppered with tights-wearing heroes mowing down acres of goose-steppers with their bare fists and going up against cartoonish bad guys armed with everything from immense war machines to zombies and death rays. Just how the actual earth-shaking conflict is reconciled with superheroes decking Hitler has always fascinated me, and while we saw a bit of it in Captain America, the Freedom Fighters live in Comics Dubya-Dubya-Two.
In fact, they live in a world where Comics Dubya-Dubya-Two has expanded past its logical limits, which is what would make it, as far as I’m concerned, an absolutely fascinating movie. Imagine – an alternate America under martial law, roamed by fiendish Nazis sporting modernized weapons and uniforms, basically Nazis unlike those we’ve ever seen on film before. And the only people who can stop them are Golden Age superheroes? Man, sign me up!
I suppose I should talk about, y’know, the Freedom Fighters themselves, shouldn’t I? Well, they’re a pretty motley bunch, but they include some classic characters, such as Phantom Lady (who is largely famous for her cheesecake covers, but I digress), the Human Bomb (see my Golden Age Top Ten for why I think this character is awesome), the Firebrand (a badass, even if he does wear a pink shirt), and oh yes, freaking Uncle Sam! Whatever you may think of Uncle Sam as a symbol, you cannot deny that seeing him punching out Nazis would be extremely awesome.
I really don’t think there’s any more to say. Superheroes fighting the Third Reich against a modern American background. If there’s not at least a part of you that goes ‘Woo! That would be epic!’ at that concept, then you may be on the wrong website. Make it already, Hollywood!
Honorable mentions: The Seven Soldiers of Victory, the Legion of Superheroes, the Invaders, Agents of Atlas.