(A quick note – despite my best efforts, this one is running a little long. If any of you are in a hurry at the moment, I’d advise you to skip this one for now and come back later when you’ve got a little time to spare.)
I’m sure most of you are aware that DC and Marvel are currently quite enamored of reboots when it comes to their movie franchises, brought on by the success of the Dark Knight movies. While I can’t argue against those being good movies, I do object to is the precedent they’ve set, as the concept of strengthening a franchise over time’ seems to have fallen by the wayside, to be replaced by ‘if the current version is getting even a tiny bit of bad press, scrap it and start all over’. Never mind the fans that the original franchise already has, oh no – we’ve got money to make.
My personal opinion is that studios should simply allow for more than one ‘official’ continuity. In other words, if you’ve got a new idea for a currently in-use character that you’re chomping at the bit to make, just go ahead and make it and leave the ‘official’ franchise in place, to be continued when someone’s got an idea to pump new blood into it. Meanwhile, all sorts of ‘alternate’ stories can be told with the character, keeping them in the public eye and guaranteeing good box office when the franchise goes forward.
Just imagine the possibilities inherent in the concept. Hey, directors – think Batman worked best in the Golden Age? Great – make a Golden Age Batman movie. Have a controversial-but-boundary-expanding interpretation of Superman’s origin? Go ahead and make that puppy. Think you could have made a Spirit movie a million times better than Frank Miller’s? Now’s your chance to prove you’re right! Do things that have never been done before! Put Hawkman underground! Give Superman a fear of heights! Give Wonder Woman molten cheese for blood and make Green Lantern allergic to the color pink! It’s all good, I tell ya! IT’S ALL GOOD!
Ahem. Anyway, if these sorts of films ever did start to get made, there’d be an obvious name for them, one attached to a DC imprint that has since been abandoned, but is fondly remembered. It’s called ‘Elseworlds’, and here’s where I finally start getting to the point.
Elseworlds, you see, were a series of one-shots and graphic novels devoted to alternate takes on the denizens of the DCU, putting them (as the cover blurb put it) “into strange times and places – some that have existed, and others that can’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t exist”. In other words, ever wanted to see Batman as a space adventurer, or Superman as an Elliot Ness figure in gangland Chicago, or Wonder Woman filling Aquaman’s role as ruler of Atlantis? Chances are they’re in an Elseworld somewhere.
So assuming that my little notion of Elseworlds movies ever did get off the ground, a logical first step would be to adapt some of the pre-existing Elseworlds, wouldn’t it? Of course it would! So which… ah, screw it. You all know I’m going to do a top ten of them. It’s right there at the top. So I guess I might as well stop blathering and get on with it. As in last time, they’re in no particular order.
What it is: In the future of the DCU, things have seriously devolved. In the wake of a rash of brash, violent new vigilantes, the old guard have largely retired. Disillusionment is the word of the day, as the public cowers in fear of their theoretical ‘protectors’, and wonders where its heroes went.
Thankfully, hope is on the horizon. After many years of solitude, Superman has returned, and he’s making it his mission to stop the chaos. Drawing what’s left of his old colleagues to his side, he sets out to show the world what heroism really means.
All well and good, but it’s going to get worse before it gets better. There are various different factions – some of villains, some of heroes – that don’t necessarily want Superman and his allies to succeed, at least not in the way he wants. And if the sinister predictions of the Specter are to believed, we may just be facing a superheroic Armageddon…
Why it’s cool: All right, this one was a gimme. I mean, whether or not you’ve heard of Elseworlds, you’ve probably heard of this – it’s one of the most well-known graphic novels ever made. Furthermore, this thing is just epic – it’s got armies of heroes duking it out, clashes between good and evil, explorations of the grey areas that lie between good intentions and cold hard realities, the whole shebang. It would be quite the complicated task to adapt it into a movie, but it would be worth it – it’s great stuff, and in an era where something as complex as Watchmen gets adapted, surely Kingdom Come isn’t completely out of the question?
And really, this thing actually stands a much better chance than some others on this list, because it’s been extremely influential lately. I mean, its version of Wonder Woman’s battle armor has made it into continuity, as has the name and costume of Red Robin, the character of (or at least, a look-alike version of) Magog, one of the primary antagonists, and the actual character of Kingdom Come Superman came back in time and joined the JSA. I personally think it’s all getting a bit silly at this point, but the story and characters have been referenced so often at this point that I’m frankly amazed they haven’t adapted it already. Go ahead and get it out of your system, DC!
What it is: It’s 1961 in Gotham, and a feeling of change is in the air. This is exemplified by the city’s newest protectors – Batgirl and Robin. They’re young, reckless, in love, and out to clean up the town come hell or high water.
This inevitably brings the two into conflict with Bruce Wayne, a hard-boiled detective in the GCPD. He sympathizes with them, but he’s got to do his duty nonetheless, and that includes arresting vigilantes. This may change, however, when both he and the dynamic duo run afoul of the city’s newest crimelord – a sadistic, pasty-skinned woman by the name of Bianca Steeplechase, known to some as a bit of a joker…
Why it’s cool: OK, I admit it – it’s been a while since I read this one, and so my plot synopsis might be a tiny bit off the mark. That being said, this is a pretty nifty little miniseries. The plot isn’t too terribly innovative, but it does a good job mating film noir with the issues of the early ‘60’s, such as rebellious youth. The real strength of Thrillkiller is in its characters and its visuals – there are some really interesting twists on the bat-mythos here, such as the fact that it’s Batgirl who’s the original hero, not Batman, and while the latter does eventually show up (not really a spoiler; his name’s in the title, after all), he’s the one imitating her, not the other way around. Furthermore, in Bianca Steeplechase we have one of the few Elseworld Jokers who really stand out from the pack – she’s not just a gender-flipped version of the standard archenemy, she comes across as genuinely intimidating, a beautiful, sardonic vixen with Sapphic tendencies and a character that mixes an icy calm with a wicked, smirking sense of humor. As for the visuals, Dan Brereton’s painted artwork is stunning, and gives the world of Thrillkiller a vibrant, pop-art look that’s a feast for the eyes – you can spend hours just flipping through the pages, examining one panel or another.
It’s this visual aspect that makes me think Thrillkiller would be great as a movie – it’s got lots of great design elements and bold colors that would pop like popcorn on the big screen. Plot-wise, you’d probably have to also incorporate elements from Thrillkiller ’62, the sequel, which wraps up the plot from the original and – guess what! – features the first use ever of Harley Quinn in non-BtAS comics, more than three years before she would get her own solo series. So even though pruning the plot down enough to fit a screenplay might be tricky, you would still get the first ever use of Harley Quinn in live-action. Now tell me that wouldn’t be cool.
(One proviso, though – any successful adaptation of this would have to have someone at the helm who is not afraid to use vibrant color. Making this a sleek, silvery, monochrome affair like so many other films these days would tear the heart and soul out of this thing. Color, people! We like color! It’s colorful!)
What it is: The year is 1889, and young dilettante Bruce Wayne has just returned home to Gotham City after a lengthy stay abroad. While the public assumes he’s simply been gadding around Europe, in reality Wayne has been studying and training, honing his mind and body under the tutelage of the era’s finest authorities on assorted subjects (including Sigmund Freud). He has returned home because he is ready – ready to don a frightening costume and protect the innocents of Gotham as the Batman.
But unfortunately, he is not the only traveler fresh off the boat from Europe – there is also another man with a secret. One who is similarly cloaked in mystery, and yet is well known by a name he carved out in terror not too long ago in the streets of London: Jack the Ripper. Now he has begun to leave his mark on Gotham as well, evading even the Batman’s grasp – and this is bad news for him, because as far as your average Gothamite knows, he may as well be the Ripper…
Why it’s cool: Gotham by Gaslight would deserve a mention here even if it was lousy, since it is generally considered to be the first ‘official’ Elseworlds book, even if the imprint was actually started somewhat later. Thankfully, it is, in fact, quite good, with a tightly-written story that keeps things gripping while developing its universe. The Elseworlds formula got a little stale after a few years, and some were pretty lazy, but this is the first, and they were clearly going all out to make this thing work. The artwork was done by early-in-his-career Mike Mignola, and it’s great stuff – a particular stand-out sequence is the final showdown between hero and villain. The sequence where the Ripper hurtles desperately down the streets of Gotham trying to escape the Batman almost makes you feel sorry for him, not an easy task when you’re dealing with Jack the Ripper.
This would actually be a pretty easy one to adapt, since Hollywood has done quite a few action-packed neo-Victorian films recently, and this falls squarely into the category. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Sherlock Holmes movie, but if they can do that, they can certainly pull this one off without much trouble.
What it is: It’s an oft-told tale – as the Planet Krypton rumbles in its death-throes, a scientist and his wife send their baby son rocketing towards Earth, the last survivor of an advanced civilization. In this case, though, the rocket is intercepted en route by a portal in space, which instead sends it crashing down on the hellish planet Apokolips, to be claimed by its ruler, Darkseid. He has been monitoring the situation, you see, and he knows full well the possibilities inherent in a Kryptonian infant.
Years later, the young Kal-El has been raised to adulthood by the tyrant, and now serves him with unquestioning loyalty as his ultimate warrior, the Superman. Shortly after his reveal as such, he is sent to New Genesis, Apokolips’ ancient enemy, to deliver a planet-destroying bomb. In the wake of this, however, he is sent hurtling across the galaxy to crash-land on the place he was originally intended for – Earth.
Confused and alone on this new world, Kal-El soon finds himself walking the streets of Metropolis. Befriended by street people, he starts to learn the alien values of selflessness and generosity, and begins to question his previously unthinking devotion to Darkseid. As the New Gods’ war spreads to Earth, which side will he take?
Why it’s cool: Superman working for Darkseid. Holy crap. The idea is sheer genius – it’s simplicity itself, but who would normally ever think of that?
It’s well-executed, too, taking the opportunity to examine Kal-El’s base nature. The same qualities that make him the ultimate hero in the regular DCU – i.e, his sense of loyalty to his adopted world and unswerving devotion to a cause – make him a fearsome force for evil under Darkseid’s tutelage. He himself is never portrayed as evil, even when committing evil acts such as, oh, killing a planet – he’s simply doing what he sees as his duty, and once he realizes the wrongness of his actions, he’s quick to atone for them. The realization itself is a long and arduous process, though, as it should be – priorities don’t just switch themselves at a finger-snap, you know.
Despite its relative obscurity and heavy immersion in the New Gods mythos, this would be a relatively easy project to to sell to the movie-watching public, I think, because the basic idea is so simple – Superman goes somewhere else than Earth and is raised by bad folks rather than good folks. The backstory would have to be toned down a bit, but that aside, it would make for an excellent special-effects-laden blockbuster, if handled correctly.
What it is: The year is 1928, the place is Metropolis, and Professor Thaddeus Lang has just been kidnapped. The crime was witnessed by one Jimmy Olsen, newsboy, who tells his tale to Clark Kent, reporter at the Daily Planet and an old friend of the Professor’s daughter, Lana. Deducing that the kidnappers were members of the League of Assassins, a middle-eastern cult, the two seek out Bruce Wayne, hard-boiled soldier of fortune and the one person Lana can think of who might be able to get her father back.
It turns out that Professor Lang had found proof of the existence of the long-lost city of Argos, a city that had come into being through the use of the legendary Godstone, a weapon of incalculable power. Ras al Ghul, the League’s leader, wants to get his hands on it so that he may destroy civilization and start over, while Alexi Luthor, an avaricious science-pirate, will settle for merely ruling the world. While all this is going on, both Kent and Wayne are about to uncover some things about themselves that will change their lives forever…
Why it’s cool: This is definitely one of my favorite Elseworlds. It’s pure, pulpy goodness from end to end.
I mean, check this out. We’ve got a Bruce Wayne who’s basically Indiana Jones and a Clark Kent who could be played by Jimmy Stewart and hasn’t discovered his powers yet. We’ve got huge Jules Verne-esque conveyances, ancient cities, mysterious Egyptian tombs, chases across the rooftops of Paris, and glimpses of a Krypton that clearly owes quite a lot to John Carter of Mars. Basically, this is a great big love letter to the pulp genre and everything in it, and if you like that sort of stuff, Elseworld’s Finest is one heck of an enjoyable read.
What’s more, it’s the sort of thing that would translate very well to film. I can picture it as a sort of a cross between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Its characters are distinct enough from their standard counterparts that you don’t need to know much about the DCU to enjoy it, always a plus when you’re trying to hook in a non-comics-reading audience (although there are some nifty mythology gags if you look for them). Even the way it’s written is broad and cinematic – there are moments that are just plain designed to have thrilling theme music playing behind them. I tell you, this wouldn’t just be a hit, it’d likely spawn a legion of sequels.
What it is: World War Two has just ended, and America is trying to piece itself together again. This also extends to America’s superheroes, who had fought so hard for their country, and, like all soldiers at the end of a war, find themselves suddenly needing to readjust to the world.
Among the most successful of these is one Tex Thompson, also known as the Americommando, who had fought the Nazi menace from within and was, it seems, the very man who shot and killed Hitler. This earns him an enormous amount of public acclaim and influence, which he parlays into a political career, speaking out against the looming menace of communism. Claiming that the country needs a new champion to defend it, he oversees the creation of a new and powerful superhero – Dynaman.
But all is not going so well for the rest of the country’s heroes. An amnesiac Manhunter is on the run from a mysterious group of ruthless men who are trying to kill him. Johnny Quick, now divorced from fellow hero Liberty Belle, has become a bitter, chain-smoking recluse. Starman is wracked with guilt over his role in the creation of the atom bomb, while Hourman struggles with his growing addiction to the pill that gives him his powers. And meanwhile, neither Thompson nor Dynaman will prove to be exactly what they seem…
Why it’s cool: This is really only technically an Elseworld, as writer James Robinson had intended it as a story set in the past of the regular DCU. DC had other plans, though, so it was declared separate from regular continuity. Hence it has a very different feel to it from most other Elseworlds, as it deals with the regular versions of actual DC heroes from the period, with none of the wild, imaginative twists that are typical of the rest of the Elseworlds line.
That being said, it’s quite a good read. As you may have gathered from my previous Top Ten, I’m quite a fan of the (actual) Golden Age, and while I generally prefer my old-style heroes to be handled with a bit of a lighter touch, this is certainly a story that does them justice. It’s a dark, complex tale, redolent with the looming paranoia of the McCarthy years and generally evocative of an era that is coming to a close, with no assurances as to what comes next. It’s somewhat reminiscent of a more fanciful version of Watchmen, minus that general vibe of Alan Moore-ishness.
As a movie adaptation, this would have the advantage of being about characters that only a fairly select group of fans really know about anyway, so they would be able to look at them as stand-alones rather than getting bogged down in a lot of continuity issues. Sure, it’s dark and violent and complex, but hey, as indicated above, so was Watchmen, and they made a movie of that one, didn’t they? I think a Golden Age adaptation would work just fine, especially since it concerns both WW2 and anti-Communism, two themes which have already been covered with great success in multiple pictures.
What it is: The time – some point in the mid-‘40’s. The place – Gotham City, a tough town filled with tough people.
As the story opens, the body of a beautiful woman is found floating in the city sewers. It belongs to Selina Kyle, glamorous owner of the ritzy Kit Kat Club, and mistress to many of the city’s most powerful figures. With all the dirt she had on them, there’s no doubt about it – this was a case of murder.
So who did it? Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot, the racketeer? Jaded playboy Bruce Wayne, or his suspected stooge, the Batman? Perhaps it was Edward Nigma, the jittery bank employee who’d been cooking the books for her, or Jack the Poker Joker, two-bit card-shark. The only thing that baby-faced PI Dick Grayson knows is that it wasn’t him – but since he’s one of the main suspects, he’d better find out who did do it before he lands in jail…
Why it’s cool: Boy, talk about a natural for a movie. Every single panel of this comic feels like it was taken directly from an old film noir flick. This thing’s got style to beat the band, and positively wallows in cinematic grit and gloom. The tough PI, the ruthless gangsters, the femme fatale – it’s all here, everything a good noir needs. It’s even got plenty of stuff that is not featured in your average noir, but would improve it anyway, like sewer alligators and a vigilante in a bat costume.
The interesting thing about this, though, is that while Batman’s name is in the title, it’s not really about him. Oh sure, he’s in it, and plays an important role at times (and there’s an eminently cool scene involving a roadster that transforms into the Batmobile), but the actual story has more to do with Gotham City as a whole, bless its noirish li’l cotton socks. Every bat-character used here is stripped of the usual freakish touches (for instance, the Joker analogue looks perfectly normal), but they still remain recognizably themselves.
Heck, Nine Lives is even printed horizontally as opposed to vertically so that the artwork can indulge in widescreen shots and pans. It’s practically a movie already, and a really good one, for that matter. If some hotshot director used the book as a storyboard, a’la Robert Rodriguez with Sin City, they’d have a surefire hit on their hands, I’m tellin’ ya.
What it is: The year is 1888, and the city of New York is not the greatest place to live. The corrupt Boss Tweed and his Tammany Hall party run the town like their own personal playground, while the poor Irish laborers who do their bidding are forced to work for ridiculously low pay. And there’s no point in turning to the cops for help – while a few good apples exist, the bulk of them are as brutal a breed of thugs as the type they’re supposed to put down.
Against this heated backdrop, two troubled souls are about to converge. One of them is Kyle Rayner, ex-gang member and aspiring political cartoonist, who has just come across a magic ring acquired by chance in an old junk store. He uses the powers granted him by it to better the lives of his fellow slum-dwellers as the Green Lantern. The other is Carol Ferris, daughter of “Big Ed” Ferris the war profiteer, and aspiring suffragette.
The two meet and slowly begin to fall in love. Things are not smooth on the road to romance, though, as both have problems of their own that make things difficult. Kyle must contend with the actions of Tammany Hall, who want to shut him down, and is worried by the murmurs of unrest that have been sweeping through Hell’s Kitchen. None of this is helped by the actions of Alan Scott, the sadistic leader of the Bowery Greens, who holds a grudge against him for leaving the gang. Carol, meanwhile, is already betrothed to blue-blooded police Inspector Hal Jordan, a match that has been all but forced on her by her father, as he craves the respectability which such a match would bring.
Things come to a head as strikes and riots break out across the city, protesting the actions of Tweed and his cronies. Can Kyle keep the peace, come to grips with his former life, and still manage to stay together with the woman he loves?
Why it’s cool: While I personally have gotten awfully tired of New York as a setting for a story, there’s no denying that the place has a fascinating history, and Evil’s Might evokes that nicely. It’s as much a period piece as it is a superhero story, and it’s a very unconventional example of the latter, at that – most superheroes are at least vaguely on the side of the law, but here the law is part of the problem.
Really, though, while the period background is a nice touch, the core of the story is timeless. At its heart, Evil’s Might is a love story, a relative rarity in comics these days. I mean, yes, there are plenty of heroes out there who have love as a subplot in their books, but it’s rarely the actual focus. Here, though, it’s the central theme, and it’s very well done – while the plot may deal with all sorts of other meaty issues, it’s the absolutely pure and authentic love between Kyle and Carol that drives the story forward, despite all odds and obstacles. When Carol tells her snooty society friend to put a sock in it because “that’s the man I love”, you believe it immediately – and then it switches to the guy with the energy ring flying around and doing hero stuff, and that’s cool, too. If you like love stories, period dramas, or kick-ass superhero action (or all three), I can’t see how you’d go wrong with Evil’s Might.
As for the movie aspect of things, I could see it being adapted as a sort of superheroic Gangs of New York, with a touch of Irish folklore thrown in. The plot is somewhat complex, but it’d fit pretty well as that of a movie, I think.
(Oh, and apropos of nothing – I really love the reimagining of the Golden Age GL suit that Kyle wears in this. I’d even say it’s superior in some ways to the original, and that’s saying something.)
What it is: “For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost” – so the (paraphrased) saying goes. And such is the case here, as a nail lodges itself in the tire of Jonathan Kent’s car, preventing him and his wife from making a trip. No big deal, usually, except this particular trip would have resulted in the discovery of a child – a child in a rocket that fell from the sky – a child whose arrival now goes seemingly unnoticed…
Cut to the present day, where the DCU is somewhat different from the one we know. Oh, most of the same heroes are present, but they live in a somewhat darker world. Lex Luthor is now mayor of Metropolis, and is funding an orchestrated campaign of xenophobia against metahumans, claiming that they are alien invaders planning to infiltrate society and bring it down from within. As Earth’s premier heroes, the Justice League is worried, but not unduly so. After all, they’ve got hotshot reporter Lois Lane covering the story on their side – surely if they simply lay low for a while this will all blow over, right?
And perhaps they would have been right, if events had proceeded at their normal pace – but suddenly, things start going wrong. All over the world, heroes are being attacked, kidnapped and otherwise subdued. As the danger mounts, the JLA is forced to conclude that the hate campaign is right – there is an alien presence on Earth. And it’s being directed against them…
Why it’s cool: This is somewhat similar to The Golden Age in that it’s dark, complex and involving, and is primarily concerned with evoking an age of heroes – in this case, the Silver Age. It differs, though, in that it’s not as dark (despite the fact that quite a few people die and the danger is quite literally of global proportions) and not quite as complex. It’s not as psychological as The Golden Age – the aim of that story was, basically, to prove that those silly old heroes had some depth after all, whereas The Nail assumes we already know that, and is simply concerned with providing a rip-roaring story of the DCU based on just one little thing being different.
Really, with as many Silver Age fanboys as there are at DC right now, I’m amazed this hasn’t been adapted already. Sure, you’d have to seriously tone down all the references to more obscure heroes and such, but that aside, The Nail could make for quite a respectable movie.
What it is: Aged thespian Robin Grayson is approached by Elana Karadian, a young graduate student researching material for her thesis. She wants to interview him about his connection with the Batman, a mysterious hero of the downtrodden during the Industrial Revolution. Grayson is more than willing to do so, as he’s delighted that someone is finally interested in the subject.
The tale he spins begins in 1906, as railroad worker Bruno Vanekow returns home to Gotham after many years spent out west. A most unpleasant reception awaits him – his parents are dead, killed in an appalling factory fire that claimed the lives of dozens of workers. It’s common knowledge that Joseph Chillingham, the factory’s owner, had ordered the doors chained shut to prevent walkouts, and is hence responsible for the disaster, but no one can touch him – after all, he’s rich.
This, he learns, is just one of many such stories, as the rich industrialists who run Gotham routinely mistreat and overwork their employees, causing accidents and ruining lives. Desperate to do something to balance the scales, Bruno dons a masquerade costume and begins robbing the tycoons of their valuables to raise money for the poor and unfortunate, rapidly becoming known as the Batman, or simply “the Burglar”. At the same time, another masked figure has entered the scene, a mysterious union organizer known as the Cat, who urges the workers to stand up for their rights.
While all this is going on, a serial killer is stalking the streets of Gotham, killing young women and leaving behind items and messages that seem to be connected to the Chillingham fire. The corrupt establishment is eager to frame the Batman for the deeds, linking him in with the union as well so they can shut down everyone they dislike. With the police on his trail and people counting on him, Bruno must find the killer himself before he’s caught…
Why it’s cool: Just going by the plot description, you might say this is practically the same thing as Evil’s Might, and it’s certainly true that they share many plot elements – a turn-of-the-century setting, an impending strike, evil rich folks, etc. However, the two have very different focuses – while Evil’s Might is primarily a tale of political corruption, Golden Streets is a more street-level story that features a Robin Hood-esque hero. Basically, one is about rich people oppressing poor people while the other is about poor people oppressed by rich people. Also, the fact that the latter is being told as a tale from the past lends it a more mythic feel – we may assume that the Green Lantern of Evil’s Might became a legendary figure in the following years, but we know Golden Streets’ Batman did, because people are mentioning him as such in the present. (Not to mention, of course, that we finally get an alternate Bats who is not called Bruce Wayne, which is notable in and of itself.)
Movie-wise, this is very much a story of struggling immigrants. I can picture someone like Martin Scorsese or the like sinking his teeth into this and coming up with something cool. Plus, the narrator-in-the-present thing has been done multiple times before in movies, so that should be a good indicator of what the results would be.
(Oh, and another similarity between Might and Streets is that I seriously dig the costume, although it really makes very little sense here. I mean, it’s supposed to be a stolen masquerade outfit – just what was the guy masquerading as?)
Honorable mentions: Superman: Red Son, Superman and Batman: Generations, JSA: The Liberty File, Superman: Speeding Bullets, and JLA: Age of Wonder.