Let’s talk about what comic books are.
Comic books are meant to be read individually, offering enjoyment to one person at a time, while movies and television shows are, generally, meant to be presented to an audience. Comics usually present a story in an episodic, with multiple issues needed to be able to read the entire story.
Comic book universes are rich in details from decades of various personalities injecting their creativity into them. However, due to the specificity of the media platform of comics, not all of these ideas become massive successes, regardless of the quality of the idea. Most stories that don’t revolve around a single superhero or group of superheroes tend to be short runs with little overall impact.
Film projects are meant to be eventful. Each movie presents a sequence of events that tell a single story, allowing the audience to go home and be feel fulfilled or, at the very least, like they saw one a completed component of an ongoing tale. This means that, when translating an idea from another form of media that is episodic, aspects of that project need to be shaved off to enable the film to be more easily digested.
This means that short-form comic book projects are the better option for such translation to film. Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are examples of comic books that did not receive a massive amount of fanfare while being published, but translated incredibly well as films (one could say this about most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films; Iron Man, Captain America, Thor; none of these were the most well-known characters prior to the release of their films). Likewise, comic books that are incredibly popular tend to not translate as well, which led to many years of lackluster comic book films (sorry fans of the Donner Superman and the Burton Batman). The Spider-Man and the X-Men franchises; both stupidly popular to comic book readers; have had some hiccups in the realm of film and I feel it is because of this translation issue.
As comic book film and television continues to evolve, experimentation with the unique ideas and concepts that have long been ignored by most of those reading comics would seem fantastic fodder for film and TV projects.
With the Netflix series; the highly successful Daredevil and Jessica Jones, as well as the upcoming Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Defenders, and, apparently, Punisher series; and the ABC series; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, and the upcoming Marvel’s Most Wanted; development of television properties is proving to be a superb way to develop Marvel’s ideas and introduce them to new viewers.
With this in mind, I wanted to spotlight some ideas from the comics that could focus on excellent ensemble casts and tell unique and engaging stories. The goal wasn’t to build a list of tales that can be told with a pile of action-packed sequences, but rather, multi-tiered narratives that lend to emotional investment in a long-running episodic format.
The comic: Introduced in the premiere issue of Savage Tales, a magazine-formatted anthology series, the Man-Thing was a scientist that had been transformed into an unthinking swamp monster made of living plant matter that could sense the emotional state of others. Various speculations are given as to why the creature exists, but when the character moved on to the horror-anthology series Adventures Into Fear, the writing duties were soon taken over by the legendary Steve Gerber, who would go on to define the character of the Man-Thing more than any other.
Gerber’s Man-Thing was the protector of the Nexus of All Realities, enabling him to encounter a host of strange and amazing beings who wished to harm the Florida swamps in which the Nexus, and the Man-Thing resided. The tales are told in ways similar to many horror anthologies, with the Man-Thing’s presences as often a factor, as not.
The series: While it would be possible to build a television series based on Man-Thing fighting alligators week after week, I feel that the better focus would be on introducing the more unusual elements into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Using the concept of the Man-Thing as more of a setting establisher, the series could focus on a wide range of characters who encounter the Man-Thing and interact with the various levels of strange and horrific events that take place near the Nexus of All Realities.
The cast could include Jennifer Kale, as the youthful sorceress-in-training; and Dakimh, her ancient mentor; Andrew Kale, her younger brother; Joshua, her caring grandfather; F. A. Schist, the greedy industrialist; Richard Rory, the hapless radio DJ (or YouTube personality?); Korrek, the time-lost barbarian from a long-dead age; Thog, the ineffective failure of a demon; Foolkiller; dozens of characters can be drawn from the books for the regular cast. Additionally, there are characters from the Marvel Comics that could be introduced in the Man-Thing series for whom there may not be another place for introduction (Morbius, Ulysses and Elsa Bloodstone, Living Mummy, Werewolf by Night, etc.) However the meat of the concept is not, necessarily, in the regular cast.
There are stories from the comic books that could be translated, directly, to create engaging single episodes of an hour-long dramatic series. Adventure Into Fear #18 has a storyline entitled ‘A Question of Survival,’ which could make an excellent, one-shot tale and it’s not the only one. There are a wide array of fantastic, weird, and individualized stories that aren’t big enough for film, but deserve translation into some other format (and, ultimately, some level of updating). This would save a great deal of time in production as the basis for a great deal many of episodes of the series would already be established.
Why they would watch: Man-Thing could do, for the Marvel Universe, what American Horror Story and The Walking Dead manage to accomplish for television viewers. Creating an eerie and twisted view of a universe that we have already viewed in a number of other ways; thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, Daredevil, and the Netflix Defenders series; Man-Thing would be where the element of horror and supernatural could be explored in its totality. Offering viewers individualized anthology horror stories alongside ongoing character arcs, the character of Man-Thing enables a thematic thread through a wide range of horror-themed tales.
The comic: There have been several.
The first debuted in a black and white magazine format entitled Marvel Super Action, which was developed to be the launching platform for a wide array of comic book projects (given that it featured Punisher and Bobbi Morse who would go on to be Mockingbird, it seems like it was actually pretty presentient). It lasted a grand total of one issue, which isn’t fantastic. However, the Weirdworld that was featured in that book would go on to be featured in an array of Marvel anthology titles, including Marvel Premiere, Marvel Comics Super Special, Marvel Fanfare, and Epic Illustrated. The tale is about a pair of elves who get caught up in the battle between the gods of light and the gods of darkness in an alternate dimension.
The second Weirdworld was presented as part of Marvel’s Secret Wars event, as part of Battleworld, where it is the antagonist for hero, Arkon’s, attempt to journey home. The Weirdworld presented as part of this story is, essentially, a Battleworld dump for all those strange, fantastic, and mystical elements that have existed in the Marvel Universe for decades.
The third Weirdworld is an ongoing series that introduces the idea of Weirdworld through the eyes of a teenage girl from Earth, continuing much of the tale presented in the Secret Wars series.
In all of these, Weirdworld is a realm of fantasy: swords, sorcery, elves, fairies, and dragons abound. Thanks to the inclusion of a massive number of critical Marvel ideas that were all but forgotten, Weirdworld adds a level of strangeness; a realm that parallels Earth and where the heroes and villains can travel to engage in remarkably different kinds of stories.
The series: Spinning off of Man-Thing, Weirdworld would present a source for the most amazing aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For all intents and purposes, Thor and his Asgardian people function from pure magic, and it seems likely that this will also be how Doctor Strange is defined, later this year. By introducing elements of magic and the Nexus of All Realities in a Man-Thing series, Weirdworld can be that place that is the origin of all this power; the power to alter reality. Korrek, the Barbarian from Man-Thing, could hail from here, perhaps from fabled Polemachus. His story, told in the first season of Man-Thing, could revolve around his desire to return home from our modern world. When he successfully does so, Becca, a teenager, gets caught up and pulled into Weirdworld where she is forced to survive as she now seeks her own way home.
Why they would watch: This series would enable a swords and sorcery view of the Marvel Universe. Leveraging off the popularity of some fantasy vehicles; such as Xena, Merlin, Game of Thrones, and The Shanarra Chronicles, it would also be a fine place to drop off characters that may not fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at large. Perhaps an introduction of Dane Whitman in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., can be followed up on by having him deposited in Weirdworld where he becomes a regular cast member as the Black Knight. It can create entirely new opportunities for the origins of MCU characters, as well, allowing classic Avengers such as Hercules, Doctor Druid, Gilgamesh, and Sersi.
The fact is that, if taken from the correct approach, Weirdworld would do very well and prepare fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for everything insane that can occur in the comics. You want to drop Hulk into a world where he is weakened and becomes a gladiator? Why not Weirdworld!
Legion of Monsters
The comic: Like a lot of stuff on this list, The Legion of Monsters appeared in an issue of an anthology series, namely, Marvel Premiere, in 1976. In that initial storyline, Ghost Rider, Morbius, the Living Vampire, Werewolf by Night, and, of course, Man-Thing team up to deal with a cosmic event that occurs in Los Angeles. They give in to their baser natures and the tale concludes with a bitter ending for the four of them.
They would never gather again, but the spirit of the Legion of Monsters would continue.
In 1987, a character called the Shroud [http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Maximillian_Coleridge_(Earth-616)]; who… um… just… look him up; I guess, created the Night Shift, a team made up of strange or supernatural characters from across the Marvel Universe as villains who acted as heroes. The Midnight Sons would be introduced in 1992 as a team that included Ghost Rider and an array of supernatural heroes, gathered by Doctor Strange, to do battle against the ancient evil of Lilith. A year later, Doctor Druid (known for being the crapsack Doctor Strange) introduced his team of supernatural investigators, the Shock Troop, made up of, once again, the stranger characters from the Marvel milieu. There are tons of other examples, but my concept for this series is primarily based off these groups.
Some of these ideas were revisited, especially the Midnight Sons (in 2009’s Marvel Zombies 4) and the Legion of Monsters (in Punisher’s amazing Frankencastle story arc), and the Night Shift has alternated between being reluctant heroes and punching bags for the rest of the Marvel Universe. However, each of the stories are rich with concepts that simply do not get fulfilled.
The series: But what if one could commit to follow-through on all these ideas.
Also spinning off of Man-Thing, perhaps season two or three, Legion of Monsters would follow the adventures of Elsa Bloodstone and Jennifer Kale as they endeavor to gather a group of supernatural horrors they can control to battle a host of supernatural threats that they cannot, just as Elsa’s father did for millennia before his recent passing. Michael Morbius, Jack Russell, and Kaluu would round out the human cast, while N’Gantu the Living Mummy and Manphibian would be in the regular cast. Alongside these would be a bevy of guest star monsters, both as temporary allies and as and opponents.
Why they would watch: Conceptually, Legion of Monsters takes a cue from one some of the biggest cult-favorite television shows of all time; including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, and True Blood; by exploring the supernatural world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and introducing the force of heroes who protect the average citizen both from being victims of the monsters, and from learning the truth.
It would offer a rich and diverse look at the various forces that work behind the scenes and give an even greater depth to all the various aspects of horror the Marvel Universe has to offer.
Thanks for checking these out! If there are any that you really dig, let us know on Facebook or Twitter and I might do a whole treatment, in the future!
Next week, I’ll have three titles that can be presented as ‘slice of life’ series to introduce the strangeness of the Marvel Universe through the eyes of the common citizen.
Here are the links to the other articles:
Marvel Concepts that Could be Turned into Amazing Ensemble Shows, Part 3 (Excelsior Models/Models, Inc.)
Marvel Concepts that Could be Turned into Amazing Ensemble Shows, Part 5 (Wrecking Crew, Howard the Duck, Moon Knight)