We all know and love the unstoppable juggernaut of box-office domination that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and we’re somewhat morbidly fascinated with DC’s misguided attempt at a shared universe birthed from Zach Snyder’s inexplicably slow-moving fever dreams. That’s all well and good, but what about those graphic novel properties out there in the wastelands of indie comics publishing, practically begging to be plucked from niche obscurity and plastered across the silver screen? For every Kickass, Scott Pilgrim or I Kill Giants, there are like 20 titles ripe for the big screen treatment. Even In a time when The Boys and Umbrella Academy are releasing new seasons & Netflix has gleefully gifted us with an honest-to-god adaptation of The Sandman, there are still some IP’s out there we’d love to see get the film treatment (if they’re *done right*). Listed here are ten prime examples of graphic novels that we feel are overdue for a movie.
Scud the Disposable Assassin
A live-action adaptation of Rob Schrab’s tale of a vending machine-spawned robot assassin learning to live, love and brutally murder in the big city of Neo-Dells, if we’re being honest, might not be the easiest IP to adapt. However, a CG-animated feature that manages to stay close to the source material is way too enticing to dismiss, if for no other reason than to watch non-comics readers have their minds blown at the character of Drywall, a rag-doll looking collection of zipper-pockets with infinite space on the inside. Add in Shakespearean werewolves, a rival assassin/love interest named Sussudio, cyborg mafiosos, noodle warriors fighting a mech war to fund their movie, and Benjamin Franklin as a voodoo necromancer and you’ve got a cult flick any genre enthusiast would be crazy to miss.
A road trip story with echoes of The Wizard of Oz that doubles as a treatise on the cyclical nature of abusive relationships, Skottie Young’s Middlewest has creative ideas and astonishing visual concepts to spare. The story of Abel, a young boy on the run from a father who proves to be a monster in both senses of the word, and the found family he makes on his travels is not only visually arresting, it has genuine moments of poignancy and emotional stakes. Abel is running from his father who he loves, but also hates for the abuse he’s suffered. He is terrified of the supernatural way his father’s anger manifests, but more scared of the fact that that trait has been passed on to him. Anyone who has found themselves wondering if they’re doomed to take on the worst traits of the people who raised them can find themselves in this narrative. Anyone else can enjoy the fantasy, adventure, and sci-fi elements.
Hard Time: 50 to Life
After the travesty that was the Howard the Duck movie, comics scribe William Gerber (the creator of Howard) deserves a win, even a posthumous one. This comic, which takes place almost entirely inside the walls of a prison, is as good an example as any of Gerber’s thought-provoking ideas and subversive ideology. As 15 year old Ethan Harrow tries to navigate prison life after being involved in a school shooting and being railroaded by a judge looking to appear tough on crime, he begins to realize that certain powers have awakened within him that may help him to make it through his 50 to life sentence in one piece. Imagine a movie that’s part Shawshank Redemption, part Chronicle and part Lars Von Trier’s Elephant, with a cast of morally compromised characters (on the inside and the out), along with a power-set that promises interesting metaphysical narratives as well as some really cool looking FX. Added bonus: no duck boobs.
One of the biggest wasted opportunities in the past 20 years in our opinion was Sliders, an initially interesting sci-fi series featuring a group of friends navigating a slew of alternative realities. It ultimately fell victim to its own lack of ideas and a boring series arc. By the time it was finally, mercifully cancelled most of the original cast had already gotten out of Dodge. Rick Remender’s Black Science was the multiversal drama we wanted Sliders to be. The tale of Grant Mckay and his league of anarchist scientists lost within the multiverse never misses an opportunity to explore high concept science-fiction in mind-blowing ways. Throughout the book’s run we were treated to worlds where magic is real, hallucinogenic mind trip universes, D&D fantasy worlds, Roman soldiers with jet packs, technologically advanced Native Americans at war with the Third Reich, gaseous psychic parasites, and a cute-as-a-button fluff creature who wants to defile your corpse. Through it all we have Grant dealing with the consequences of his actions not only in creating the device that sent his team & his children hurling into the multiverse but also the choices that led to that fateful action, playing out in infinite permutations. A movie dealing with those concepts and characters, particularly now that Marvel & DC are connecting all of their IP through the idea of a multiverse, could be not only a super cool FX driven blockbuster, but also a thought-provoking treatise on the human condition.
I Hate Fairyland
Another Skottie Young joint, IHF is the story of Gertrude, a little girl brought to the titular Fairyland to go on an enchanted adventure, only to get stuck there, not aging, for 40 years as she cannot seem to complete a single quest she’s tasked with. Now an alcoholic, insanely violent and bloody-minded drifter, Gertrude wonders the pastel-colored realm of Fairyland constantly in a barely-contained rage, her only companion being a Jiminy Cricket style housefly conscience/guardian equally as bemused as she is. An irreverent animated film in the vein of Loony Tunes with just enough under the table adult humor to make it interesting for everybody, along with a visual style emulating Young’s art style sounds like a winner to us. Maybe not an Oscar contender, but cult status is guaranteed.
Imagine your kid goes missing in the woods one day. A year goes by without any sign. Everyone, even your spouse, starts to suspect you. Your family falls apart. Then one day the feds call you, they’ve picked up a person of interest. He’s in his mid-twenties, dressed like Conan the Barbarian and has enough medieval-style weaponry to occupy Helm’s Deep indefinitely; also, he says he’s your son…and the DNA matches. That’s just the first issue of Joshua Williamson’s fantasy epic Birthright, a story of mages, god-kings, spells, portals between worlds, warriors, orcs, fairies, monsters and a family just trying to rebuild from tragedy even as the world around them becomes a bizarre nightmare. The unique design aspects of this book alone would make an adaptation one of the most visually arresting flicks ever. Add in the emotional stakes and just enough fun banter between Mikey and his “older” brother Brennan and you’ve got a blockbuster on your hands.
Inked in watercolors by Dustin Nguyen, Jeff Lemire’s Descender is one of the most gorgeous graphic novels ever. The story is sheer sci-fi brain candy. After an event where planet-sized robots dubbed “Harvesters” suddenly appeared out of nowhere and nearly wiped out mankind, robots have been outlawed. Ten years after that event, an android named TIM-21 wakes up to discover that he is not only one of the last robots in existence, but also the most wanted being in the universe. Tim-21 sets out on a journey to find his human “brother” along with his robotic dog Bandit and a mining bot named Driller, even as he’s pursued by the military, the so-called “father of robotics” and bounty hunters looking to profit off the destruction of outlawed automatons. The only problem with this movie is the inevitable comparisons with Stephen Spielberg’s AI. Of course you could get around that by getting Spielberg to direct this one as well. Movies like Alita: Battle Angel prove that the technology is there, and imagine the minds blown when they adapt the sequel series Ascender and the story takes a hard left turn to fantasy with witches and vampires.
Whatever you might think of Earthworm Jim creator Doug Tennapel’s personal politics (which have gotten him no small amount of criticism) you can’t deny that his early foray into graphic novels is a great read. Dr. Michael Ong is a scientist working for the government in their occult and paranormal research center, dubbed “Creature Tech” by the locals of Turlock, TX where the facility is located. Ong has a contentious relationship with his pastor father and a general disdain for the rednecks in the small town, due to his staunch atheism, but he finds everything he thinks he knows challenged when he’s unwillingly joined with a symbiotic alien and a zombie gentleman from the 19th century re-enacts his plans to resurrect a giant space eel. Ong will have to team up with a blue human-sized praying mantis, learn the secrets of his new symbiote and re-examine his faith to save the day and get the girl. Tennapel’s visuals and quirky sense of humour lend itself to an adaptation, particularly a CGI animated feature done in the style of something like Despicable Me or Monsters vs Aliens. The questions of faith versus science and the assertion that those two things are not as separate as they may appear to be is also a theme that could lead to some conversations that could be vital in the current climate of discourse.
Seven to Eternity
If Robert Jordan wrote comics, what he came up with would probably look a lot like Seven to Eternity. A gorgeous mix of western and fantasy tropes, Rick Remender’s tale of morality and temptation is an example of world-building that every other comic writer should read while taking detailed notes. In a dying world, an exiled knight named Adam Osidis is tasked with capturing a demagogue known as the God of Whispers, (also known as Garlis or The Mud King) and taking him to a place where his power will be stripped from him and the world will be freed. What starts out as a simple story in the vein of 3:10 to Yuma takes many turns and bends until the readers finds their sympathies pulled in wholly unexpected directions. Garlis rules the world by joining his soul to those who hear his offer and accept it, so what will happen when he offers Adam maybe more than even he can refuse? A movie with a high enough FX budget to realize the unique and imaginative visualizations of magic, some great make-up artists to create the various creatures present in the book, and some choice casting could be not only a blockbuster, but keep the writing intact and I’m just gonna say it; you’ve got Oscar bait.
Alex Elder is a typical if somewhat overly moody teenage boy. Of course things got really weird for him after he died. The late Brian Augustyn’s tale of a teenage vampire and the world he finds himself unwillingly and violently drawn into is a prime example of legendary penciler Humberto Ramos’ gorgeous artwork, but also a super ambitious horror/adventure story encompassing not only vampires but also werewolves, dragons, a coven of monster hunters, the knights templar, angels, demons, the devil, and God himself. As Alex is guided by vampire BFF Joe and a Grigori named Ekimus, he begins to realize he has been granted abilities no other vampire has, and he’ll be called to use them to save all of creation from the machinations of Lisseth, the mother of all vampires. The epic story, which goes all the way back to the biblical creation, would lend itself fabulously to multiple entries in an ongoing film saga, even beyond the source material, as a lot of future arcs were hinted at in the final issue but never realized.
And there you have it. Are there any indie books we missed? Feel free to mercilessly dress us down over it in the comments!