Tuesday 11 August 2015

Marvel properties I'd like to see on the screen

Gertrude and Old Lace

Undoubtedly the series I'd most like to see adapted for the screen, Runaways ran from 2003-09 and concerned a group of young superhumans who, as the title suggests, run away from their parents and live a precarious life without adult supervision. Oh, and they run away because it turns out their parents make up a cabal of supervillains called the Pride, bent on total domination. Written first by Brian K. Vaughan and then continued by Joss Whedon, Runaways is fun and irreverant, but plays with high personal stakes for the characters. As well as dealing with the usual superhero cliches - but looked at through the eyes of contemporary kids, which would suit the MCU down to a tee - the Runaways have to deal with the very real consequences of their actions, from heartbreak to tragic death. The six initial characters in the team are Nico Minoru, a powerful witch; Karolina Dean, a solar-powered alien; Molly Hayes, a twelve-year-old mutant with super-strength; Chase Stein, who steals his fathers fire-commanding "fistigons;" Alex Wilder, a strategic prodigy; and Gertrude Yorkes, whose parents are from the future, and who has a flippin' pet Deinonychus. Tell me you wouldn't love to see that onscreen.

Later characters to join the team include Victor, a creation of Ultron (clear links to the franchise there); Xavin, a shape-shifting alien Skrull; and Klara Plast, who can control plants. As well as having a team with a far higher than usual proportion of female members, Runaways embraces sexual and gender diversity, dealing with issues such as homosexuality, gender fluidity and learning to deal with sexual abuse. It's one of the best things Marvel has ever produced, and what's frustrating is that there plans to produce a film version as early as 2008, with Vaughan scripting. These have apparently been shelved indefinitely, although there is some hope they'll be picked up in the future. The concept would probably work better as a TV series or mini-series than a feature, and, although there'd have to be a couple of story tweaks for rights reasons, it has all the makings of a perfect property to bring in the vital teen audience who don't necessarily appreciate all the older heroes being used as the basis for movies and mini-series. Frankly, it's baffling that Marvel haven't found a place for this.

Young Avengers

Perhaps Runaways won't happen, but a few years from now, Marvel may want to create a series or film featuring teenaged characters with stronger links to the established heroes. Young Avengers is, exactly as it sounds, about a semi-official team of youngsters who support the Avengers, several haing links to the main team. The series was originally developed by Allan Hinberg, springing out of the "Avengers Dissassembled" event in 2004, with the kids acting as a potential replacement team for the disbanded Avengers. Marvel doesn't go in for sidekicks in the same way as DC - which has a number of adolescent teams such as the Teen Titans and Young Justice - and this could fill that gap, either as a live action production, or as an animated series tying into the MCU, something that's been suggested before. This initial team was recruited by the Vision, and included characters such as Iron Lad, Hulkling and Patriot , characters who, although they have caried backgrounds, act as the young team's equivalents of Iron Man, the Hulk and Captain America. There's also Wicca and Speed, the twin sons of Scarlet Witch and Vision, and Kate Bishop, who takes the mantle of Hawkeye after Barton dies (he got better). Even Cassie Lang, daughter of Scott "Ant-Man" Lang and already part of the MCU, takes her place as Stature.

Kid Loki
Better, for me, is the relaunch series by Kieron Gillen that started in 2013. This includes some of the original characters, and new additions too. This series is more like Runaways in tone, dealing with the difficulties of young adulthood, responsibility and sexuality. (Wiccan and Hulkling are a couple, among several non-hetero characters, something which Marvel have consistently failed to bring to the screen. I'm fairly certain there hasn't been a single homosexual character in the MCU, while DC's Gotham, Flash and Arrow have featured several characters who happen to be gay.)  Loki is involved as a semi-good guy, killed, reincarnated and now in a younger form (Loki's totes bi and genderfluid too, as it goes). Other new characters include the modern holders of the names Marvel Boy and Miss America. Some years down the line, this could be a great way to reinvigorate the MCU with new, younger characters that retain links to the heroes of The Avengers and Age of Ultron.

Ms. Marvel

Ms. Marvel really, really needs to make it onto the screen somehow. To clarify, I'm not talking about the original Ms. Marvel - Carol Danvers - but the current holder of the title, Kamala Khan. Long story short, Danvers has promoted herself to Captain Marvel and is set to headline her own movie in 2019, and presumably will enter the Avengers movies after that. Ms. Marvel currently has her own title, which is set to continue (with a new issue one) after the big Marvel relaunch this September. A Pakistani-American teen, Kamala is Captain Marvel's number one fan (and Wolverine's, and Spider-Man's, etc) and when her Inhuman birthright was activated, she took on her hero's former name as her own crime-fighting persona. She's teamed-up with all three of the aforementioned supers over the last few months, in a series that is doing what The Amazing Spider-Man used to do: show an ordinary teenager trying to do good while juggling the struggles of school, love and life, and learning that with great power comes great responsibility, dontchano.

Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan
Kamala is adorable, brave and resourceful, and come September, is going to be part of the All New, All Different Avengers. Her adventures have been almost universally well-received, except by angry right wing racist types, and there have been numerous instances of young girls dressing as her for conventions and play. She's fantastic. Unfortunately, the very things that make her work so well in the comics might make her a hard sell for the movie and TV execs. Her close conceptual links to Captain Marvel will make it difficult to incorporate her into the MCU until after the Captain Marvel movie premieres, and would depend on that character's reception. Her powers, not unlike Mr. Fantastic's, involve much stretching and "embiggening," which is still tricky to pull off in live action without it looking horrendusly cartoonish or utterly unpleasant (at least the recent Fantastic Four movie was deliberately going for the latter). And there's the whole Muslim angle. It would be wonderful for the many, many Islamic kids living in both East and West to have a high profile superhero to identify with, but it's very hard to imagine the bigwigs at Disney signing off on that one.

I really hope they take that chance though. To see Kamala fighting bad guys on the streets of New Jersey while stopping to get Spidey's autograph would be wonderful. If she's not well known or popular enough to headline her own movie or series, then she could easily be incorporated into either the main Avengers franchise or the aforementioned Young Avengers. She could cross over with Runaways or Agents of SHIELD (the latter has already occurred in comics). If the powers are tricky to pull off, or the character is too much of a risk for a live action production's budget, then maybe an animated series/movie? I would truly love to see Kamala kicking ass onscreen.

Spider-Man - but on TV 

We've another Spider-Man reboot heading to the big screen soon, plus plans for one or more animated features. This could very well be more Spidey than anyone actually wants for a while, but I feel the best avenue for the character is as an ongoing television series. Spidey works best given time to explore his character and his relationships, and a serialised format would actually allow time for his many trials and tribulations to play out. He's a character who needs breathing space. It would also allow time to feature his huge rogue's gallery, without having to shoehorn them all into a couple of films.

There's a supporting cast already available - Charlie Cox and Vincent D'Onofrio could easily make appearances as Daredevil and the Kingpin, respectively, and with characters like Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and the Punisher joining the franchise, Spidey could be the front of a broad ensemble of characters. It's unlikely to happen; Spider-Man is the most lucrative comicbook characterin the world, and that means studios are going to want to pile money into movies in the expectation they'll make shedloads back. The best we can hope for on TV is yet another animated series. In any case, I hope this is the last reboot for a long while. Recast if necessary, but just keep the story going. Ten years down the line, we could have Peter Parker acting as sensei to Miles Morales. Twenty-five years down the line, his daughter could be headlining her own films as Spider-Girl. Let it run.

Spectrum and The Blue Marvel

As mentioned above, there is a huge skew towards white male characters leading all Western cinema, particularly comicbook and superhero films. The genre was a little better at this a few years ago, but not great. Considering the Blade trilogy starring Wesley Snipes helped bring superhero movies back on the map, black heroes have been relegated to supporting roles (Anthony Mackie as Falcon in The Winter Soldier and Ant-Man, Terrence Howard as War Machine in the Iron Man trilogy and Age of Ultron, Halle Berry as Storm in the X-Men franchise) or headlined pretty terrible films (Will Smith as Hancock, Halle Berry again in Catwoman). Only the Black Panther, to be played by Chadwick Boseman in Civil War and then his own movie, looks set to buck the trend. There's also a deficit of female heroes; Scarlett Johansson has played the Black Widow as a supporting character in four films, going on five, but has yet to headline one, in spite of fan demand and a script already existing. She's had a lot more focus than Scarlet Witch, the Wasp, the aforementioned Storm or any version of the Invisible Woman. The poor quality and reception of the Elektra and Catwoman films seems to have put studios off female-led comicbook movies for some time (because having a major actress in the lead was so clearly what was wrong with those flicks), but finally, things are slowly picking up with both Wonder Woman and the Carol Danvers version of Captain Marvel planned for the next few years.

Out of the many, many characters that could be focussed on to help redress this balance, two appeal to me particularly. Spectrum is the current alias of Monica Rambeau, who has also been known as Photon, Pulsar, Daystar and more, and was the first woman to take the title of Captain Marvel, years before Danvers. She was created by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr. in 1982, first appearing in The Amazing Spider-Man, and was totally based on Pam Grier. She's an incredibly powerful character with the ability to manipulate and transform into any wavelength of electromagnetic radiation. A confident, sassy black woman with the ability to literally turn into light and throw lasers at her enemies - who wouldn't want to see that on the big screen? (Apart from racists with weak masculinity issues, I mean.) Rambeau has been ignored by the MCU for way too long - she once led the Avengers, for pity's sake.

The Blue Marvel assists Spectrum with her powers.

The other character I would love to see is Dr. Adam Brashear, the Blue Marvel. Even more powerful than Spectrum, the Blue Marvel is essentially Superman without any of the girl weaknesses. In fact, he'd have to be pretty seriously depowered just to make a film featuring him feasible at all. As well as being a scientific genius, his exposure to extradimensional radiation has gifted him superhuman strength and speed, virtual invulnerability, the power of flight, and the ability to generate and manipulate energy and antimatter. He's Dr. Manhattan, but without the personality problems. Created by Kevin Grevioux as recently as 2008, the Blue Marvel was a continuity implant, operating in the 1960s in-universe. He was a powerful and popular superhero with links to the Kennedy administration, but wore an all-encompassing headmask to hide his face. When his colour was revealed in a major battle, he was forced to retire from crime-fighting, since the American public wouldn't accept a black superhero. This would make for an incredible period piece along the lines of The First Avenger or X-Men: First Class. A modern day sequel for the ageless could follow, perhaps involving both Spectrum and Luke Cage, who work with him in the comic series Mighty Avengers (as a street level team, both Spectrum and Blue Marvel are far overpowered for the Mighty Avengers, but still).

Oh, and the Blue Marvel has his own Fortress of Solitude. On the bottom of the frickin' sea. That only Namor the Sub-Mariner is allowed to visit. That is cinema.

The Twelve

The Twelve was a limited series released a few years ago and written by J. Michael Straczynski, who has tons of TV and movie experience, including scripting work on the Thor movie. It's the story of twelve obscure-as-hell superheroes from Marvel's predecessor company, Timely, who get frozen at the end of WWII and revived in the present day. Folllowing their attempts to adjust to modern life, while solving a series of unexplained murders, the series dealth with contemporary politics and values. It's rather like a less cynical Watchmen.

The team includes costumed crime fighters (the Phantom Reporter, the Blue Blade, Mister E, and the Laughing Mask); superhuman heroes (Captain Wonder, the Dynamic Man, Rockman, the Fiery Mask); and individuals with supernatural powers (the Witness, Master Mind Excello, and the original Black Widow, one of the earliest female superheroes in comics). The twelfth member is a colossal mind-controlled robot called Electro. That's a lot of characters to cover, although given the line-up for Captain America: Civil War, Marvel isn't afraid of helming a busy movie. A couple of the character names might need to be changed for clarity - Black Widow's real name is Clair Voyant (!) so that works. The comic could adapt extremely well to cinema or, perhaps even better, given that most of the characters aren't superpowered, the lower budget option of a Netflix series. Chris Evans or Samuel L. Jackson could even cameo.

L to R: Master Mind Excello, Mister E, Electro, Blue Blade, Phantom Reporter, Rockman, Dynamic Man, Captain Wonder, Black Widow, Fiery Mask, Witness, Laughing Mask

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