You may be aware of the somewhat mixed reception that the recent Spider-Man films have been getting. The first got a tentative ‘good but not great’ thumbs up from most, the second has provoked reactions from ‘well, I liked this part, but the rest was…’ to ‘SUCKS SUCKS SUCKS SUCKS SUCKS!’ I’m a little ambivalent about them myself, but there is one thing that has piqued my interest, and that few people seem to have noticed (or, if they have, do not seem to appreciate the impact of).
In both movies, a mysterious man has made an appearance, a man who sticks to the shadows and appears to be either working for or acquainted with both of the films’ major villains. In the second, he is identified in the credits as “Gustav Fiers (the Gentleman)”.
As per usual, a good chunk of the Internet immediately jumped to a variety of wrong conclusions based on misinterpretations of the man’s name (‘He’s Daredevil villain Mr. Fear!’ is one I’ve come across) or simple ignorance of who the heck this guy is. I’ll tell you who he is. Gustav Fiers, AKA The Gentleman, is the main villain in Adam-Troy Castro’s trilogy of ‘Sinister Six’ novels – he is the one who brings the titular group together again, essentially hiring them to carry out his sinister plans. Since the second movie seems to be intimating that at least some of the signature Six members (Dr. Octopus, for one) may well make appearances – also, there is apparently a Sinister Six film in the works, although it remains to be seen how that will pan out – it seems to be a fair bet that he will do something similar in future films.
I’m not going to play the speculation game here, though. Either he’ll bring the Six together or he won’t – we’ll just have to wait and see. However, Fiers’ appearance is significant in and of itself in a whole other way – to the best of my knowledge, it is the first time any superhero novel has been adapted in any way, whether fully or partially, to film.
This could have far-reaching implications. While they’ve never gotten the press that other spin-offs have, superhero literature has been around for a while, and has just as much potential for epic awesomeness as its comic book counterparts. Marvel did a lot of ‘em – there were quite a few X-Men and Spider-Man entries, an Iron Man or two, at least one Hulk novel, plus Daredevil, Captain America, the Silver Surfer, the Fantastic Four, and probably others I’m not aware of. It wasn’t just Marvel, either – DC’s Further Adventures of Batman/the Joker short story collections are excellent stuff (some of these count among my favorite Batman stories ever, in or out of comics), and both Superman and Wonder Woman got similar treatments – and perhaps others as well; I’m not sure.
For the moment, though, let’s concentrate on 20th Century Fox. They own the Spider-Man and X-Men flicks, and they’re the ones who have introduced Fiers – and, as such, are the only ones who seem to be aware of this particular untapped well. So, if Fox is going in this direction anyway (aha! The title!), what else could they do with the literary material available to them? What other books might they turn to for inspiration – and, possibly, outright adaptation?
Well, I do have a few suggestions…
What they’re about: A new incarnation of the Sinister Six is being brought together by the mysterious Gentleman, the new roster comprised of Dr. Octopus, Mysterio, the Vulture, the Chameleon, Electro, and the Gentleman’s equally-mysterious agent, Pity. Together, they challenge Spider-Man to an epic battle that will take him to his limits and beyond. But things are not entirely as they seem…
Why they’re cool: This one may seem a tad redundant. After all, they already have adapted this one, haven’t they?
Well, partially, yes, but there’s lots more. I personally doubt that the bulk of the novels will wind up adapted, for the simple reason that they’re mainly focused on the Gentleman, and he’s not a big enough name to base a movie around. (Although it would tie neatly into the corporate espionage plot that has already been introduced, but no – I’m pretty sure it’s already gone too far in another direction. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if I’m wrong, though.) However, certain parts/aspects of them would lend themselves very well to adaptation – alter Gathering of the Sinister Six (the opening entry) here and there, for instance, and you’d have an excellent blueprint for a Mysterio-based film, or, heck, excise the rest of the Six entirely and replace the Gentleman with Dr. Octopus, and you’d get a seriously formidable Doc Ock tale.
One way or another, the trilogy has lots to offer. All of the villains get some great moments of both humanity and inhumanity – in other words, parts that flesh them out as people, and parts that show them up as the monstrous villains that they are – while Spidey gets to be noble and wisecracking, and is generally himself in the best way. (And while, for various reasons, Mary Jane Watson is unlikely to appear any time soon, if she did, adapting some of her scenes in books one and two would go a long way towards making up for her damsel in distress portrayal in the Raimi films.) They’re good books, and it’s never a bad idea to be inspired by good books.
What it is: The X-Men receive a distress call from their old ally (and Professor Xavier’s one true love) Lilandra, Majestrix of the Shi’ar. A mysterious, star-devouring creature has appeared within Shi’ar territory, threatening the lives of millions. Having travelled across the galaxies to give aid, the X-Men must quickly accustom themselves to the use of a power-enhancing machine that might prove their only chance of victory – but which proves dangerously addictive…
Why it’s cool: I’ll be frank – mutant-rights related X-Men stories have never interested me all that much. I know the struggle for equality against a world that hates and fears them is meaty stuff, and sure, I’ve found some of them compelling, but what can I say, I’m an escapist. The X-Men stories I really like are the ones that take them out of their comfort zone, the ones where they go into outer space, or Asgard, or battle Arcade in Murderworld, or encounter Dracula, or fraternize with leprechauns. (Yes, that happened; look it up.)
In short, it’s the out-there stuff that really appeals to me, and you don’t get much more out-there than a romance with an alien empress while a giant bug eats stars. You would, of course, have to modify things quite a bit, and probably combine Duane’s story with the X-Men’s original Shi’ar encounter (which also has a lot to recommend it) – it wouldn’t be easy. Aliens and Marvel’s Merry Mutants don’t seem like an obvious fit, and perhaps they aren’t, but if you could make it work, you would open up not just the X-Men’s filmic mythos, but that of Fox’s little corner of the Marvel Universe in general. Space wouldn’t just get you the Shi’ar, it would get you the Badoon, the Skrulls, the Brood, the Starjammers (who, as you may recall, I’ve talked about in the past), the Phoenix (the real one this time, not just Jean flipping out) – so much stuff! And in the process, you’d also get a love story set against the potential death of galaxies, along with political intrigue, the seduction of power, tricky questions of morality, and, hopefully, a genuine team story where the X-Men have to fight as a unit, instead of being all about Wolverine.
Furthermore, recent policy decisions at Marvel have rendered this one somewhat more possible. For those of you who don’t know, Marvel and Fox have actually had a fairly friendly relationship lately, and there has been talk of potentially mingling their two franchises to a degree – in other words, giving Marvel access to X-Men movie stuff, and Fox access to the broader Marvel universe.
Obviously, this is exciting news in and of itself, but it also makes ‘X-Men in space’ stuff lots more likely. Why? Guardians of the Galaxy. GotG rocked everyone’s socks off, and introduced several aspects of Marvel’s broader universe, including the Kree and the Nova Corps. It’s not hard at all to imagine the Shi’ar fitting into such a context – and with them, all those other things I mentioned. This could be awesome, people!
I’ll admit that the book itself being adapted is still a fairly remote possibility, but I’m rooting for it anyway. X-Men + space = happy me.
What they are: From his citadel in distant Limbo, the villainous Kang the Conqueror has sent out ‘Time Arrows’ to various points in time. These weapons are designed to cull divergent timestreams – if they are activated, entire realities will be destroyed. With the aid of Cable’s time-travel technology, and aided by Spider-Man, the X-Men must journey across time and space to shut the Arrows down – but in doing so, they may be playing right into Kang’s hands…
Why they’re cool: Now we’re cookin’. The Time’s Arrow trilogy is awesome. There’s time travel goodness aplenty, complete with everything you’d expect – cowboys, robots, dinosaurs, dystopian futures, giant alien slugs, Kang at simultaneously his most villainous and most sympathetic, nice character studies of everyone involved, action galore, suspense galore, comedy, tragedy, epicness at every turn – wonderful, awesome stuff.
Furthermore, it’s awesome in a way that would directly benefit both of the franchises in question. Fox hinted that they might potentially be interested in crossing over the X-Men with Spider-Man when they showed a clip of X-Men: Days of Future Past during the ending credits of Amazing Spider-Man 2 – either that or it was simply a sneaky way of advertising the former film; I’m honestly not sure. Regardless, it would be a good idea – Spidey has long been known as a semi-regular X-ally, and most versions of things feature at least one meeting between him and the team. He doesn’t usually get involved in ‘mutant issues’, but as mentioned above, the X-Men themselves don’t always do that – opening up the team to association with non-mutants could lead to the introduction of ‘mixed’ teams, such as Alpha Flight and Excalibur. (And if you’ve read any of my past articles, you know how I’d feel about that – namely, whee! Also, woo-hoo!)
Even if it did only turn out merely to be a grand, one-time experiment, it would still open up what I will refer to here as the Fox U in a similar way to how Captain America opened up the Avengers franchise – namely, it gave it a past. Past means history, history means a whole new well of characters, events and locations to delve into. Fox has already proved that they have no problem with this sort of thing through the ‘60’s/’70’s period pieces and time travel shenanigans in the last two X-movies – it’s not too much to picture them delving still deeper in both directions. And what’s more, they actually have an advantage here, because their version of such things remains currently untouched – Marvel Films, for instance, is not going to be showing the Invaders kicking Nazi butt anytime soon, because they’ve already shown their version of WW2, which lacked such characters. Fox has no such restraints, and its current buddying up with Marvel introduces the possibility for lots more characters – probably not Captain America, but quite possibly the original Human Torch and Toro, and/or Union Jack, Spitfire, etc. And hey, what about Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy? The Two-Gun Kid? The Black Knight? Time’s Arrow touches on a number of these characters, all of which would be grist in the mill for either possible new movies/franchises, or at least references in the existing ones later down the line. As for possible futures – well, Days of Future Past has already shown us one of those, so no problem there.
One way or the other, even a partial adaptation would open up a staggering amount of doors for the Fox U. The only real stumbling block here would be Kang, traditionally an Avengers villain, and most likely one Marvel would not be willing to relinquish – but heck, that’s not really an issue; the X-Men have battled plenty of time-traveling no-goodniks in their time. Choose one of them, or make something up. Originality is good.
What they are: Spider-Man makes an uneasy truce with his sworn enemy, Venom, as both find themselves on the trail of a mysterious criminal plot involving smuggled nuclear materials – a plot which, it ultimately turns out, is masterminded by a still deadlier foe…
Why they’re cool: OK, so this one is looking to the future a bit. Fox has announced that they’re planning to make a Venom film at some point, and as of this writing, there’s no current reason to believe that it won’t go through. So assuming that this will indeed happen, and that the character isn’t simply blown to pieces at the end of it (which is certainly a possibility, but still) what else are they going to do with him?
Well, I know some Venom fans really hate his transformation from a pure villain to a sort of vigilante figure, but me, I’ve always kind of liked the idea of him being one of those characters that could swing either way, somewhere between Punisher-style antihero and murderous psychopathic monster. If Fox is going to go that route (and giving the character his own movie would seem to be a pretty good indication that they are), then the Venom Factor books wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
Firstly, they’d be good because, while Venom is a prominent character and we get to see inside his head, the novels are still primarily concerned with Spider-Man, and we get lots of web-swingin’ goodness. Interaction between the two is key to Venom’s character – sure, he’s had solo adventures, but the real heart and soul of what makes him tick is this queasy love/hate/tolerate relationship he has with Spidey. Even when they’re on relatively friendly terms, there’s still that whole ‘I’ve sworn to kill you and eat your spleen’ thing hanging over them, and even at his most murderous, there’s still somewhat of a spurned-lover, I-want-you-back aspect that’s in play – Venom’s symbiote used to be Spider-Man’s before he rejected it, after all, and part of the reason that Eddie Brock hates the webslinger so much is that his new best friend is egging him on – when it’s not tempted to try going back to its original host, that is. Not to mention, of course, that Eddie is one of the relatively few Spider-villains to know exactly who he actually is, which he isn’t above exploiting for good or ill. To my mind, it’s one of the most intriguingly twisted hero/villain relationships in comics, and you’d be a fool not to want to at least dabble in it a bit if you’re introducing the Fanged Horror into your universe. Duane’s books would provide plenty of opportunities for said dabbling.
Mind you, not everything in them would be suitable for the screen. Like most Marvel novels, they pre-suppose you’ve read the comics, so they involve several characters that, if they hadn’t already been introduced in-movie, would be tricky to explain, like the Hobgoblin. Also, they were written pre-9/11, and at one point the World Trade Center is involved, which… yeeeeaaaah, that wouldn’t work. But still, if you want a good exploration of how the whole Spidey/Venom thing works, Venom Factor could prove enlightening.
What it is: The nefarious were-pterodactyl Karl Lykos, AKA Sauron, has returned to the Savage Land. As his minions raid the Land’s villages and kidnap their inhabitants, its protector, Ka-Zar, is forced to call on his old friends the X-Men for help. But this is a far deadlier version of Sauron than any have seen before, and they may just be wandering straight into his trap…
Why it’s cool: Yes, I know the Savage Land is kind of a big leap to make for a film series. And yes, I don’t care. It’s unbelievably awesome.
Dude, dinosaurs! Dinosaurs in a Lost World landscape hidden away at the South Pole! All kinds of weird and interesting monsters and mini-civilizations to deal with, and all under the benevolent guardianship of Ka-Zar, who is basically Tarzan of the Saber-Toothed Tigers, which means Tarzan, only twice as cool.
Mind you, I’m not so foolish as to believe that Law of the Jungle would be a one-and-done thing – we’re talking a sequel. Maybe even a sequel of a sequel. You’d probably need a Ka-Zar film first, to set things up, and then maybe an X-Men film to set that relationship up. (You could probably get away with it by making some thematic comparison between dinosaurs/ancient creatures and mutants – the less-evolved meet the more-evolved, different steps on the evolutionary ladder, that sort of thing.) Jungle would be a third step – not impossible, but a ways away.
Then, of course, you’ve got Sauron, who is problematic because, well, we’ve already got a cinematic Sauron, and he’s owned by New Line. There might be rights issues. But A: there’s little enough actual similarity between the characters that I’m betting you could get away with it with a minor amount of legal wrangling, and B: I know Tolkein’s Sauron is considered one of the prototypical Dark Lord villains, but as an actual character, I’ve personally always found him a bit boring – you never even see him, for crying out loud, except in the films, and that’s maybe five minutes of Big Evil Armored Guy and multiple hours of Gigantic Staring Eye, wooooooo.
Marvel’s Sauron is a different story. Say what you will, an evil mastermind were-pterodactyl with hypnotic powers is fun, dammit, and makes for both a great visual and, when written correctly, interesting and distinctive stories. Furthermore, there’s the Jekyll-and-Hyde aspect – when he’s not green and scaly and beaky, Karl Lykos is a genuinely good guy who has no control over his transformations, and dreads his alter ego’s inevitable emergence.
‘Hang on a minute, though,’ you might say, ‘just how are you going to make Sauron work here? I mean, in-comic there was some business about him being attacked at a young age by a flock of pterodactyls escaped from the Savage Land, which was later catalyzed by his mutant powers, and blah blah blah – that’ll work in a comic book, but it won’t fly here.’ True, but I have another idea that might work. There’s been a lot of focus in the Spider-movies on animal DNA – most prominently, in the form of Curt Connors as the Lizard. Well, if a lizard DNA cocktail can turn a regular guy into a lizard-man, what about dinosaur DNA – and what would it do to a mutant? Let’s say that since childhood Karl Lykos has suffered from a split personality disorder that, through hefty amounts of therapy and such, he’s managed to all but do away with. Let us also say that he’s a mutant, and that his powers involve manipulating his own body energy. Let us further suppose that he is a scientist of some sort working with a captured dinosaur specimen from the Savage Land. Now, somehow he gets exposed to the dino’s DNA – either through an experiment that goes wrong, exposure to test specimens, whatever – and somehow this affects the energy levels in his body, and when they get too far out of whack his split personality emerges from its shackles, and uses the extra energy to physically manifest itself as Sauron. Voila!
OK, so, realistically, this is probably a bit of a stretch. It involves a few too many steps along the way, and even if something like it does happen, it’s not likely to be in this form. But if it could, it would be spectacular. Picture an X-Men movie crossed with Jurassic Park crossed with the Tarzan movie of your choice and just a leetle bit of Jekyll and Hyde, and you’ve got a rough idea of what it would be like. Come on, Hollywood, stir your stumps!