Adapting graphic novels for the screen is usually a studio’s short cut to built-in audiences and already established visuals. When done well, they can emotional death and kickass visuals. When done poorly, you get Frank Miller’s The Spirit. In the coming year, most of the graphic novel adaptaions we’ll be seeing are returning properties. 300 and Sin City are both getting sequels, and The Walking Dead returns for its fifth season. But what about those gems that are just waiting to be brought to life? Here we choose five graphic novels that Hollywood should start paying attention to.
WE3 by Grant Morrison
Take the talking animal adventure Homeward Bound and reimagine it as a techno thriller and you’ll start to get an idea of this tale that pits animal instincts against human engineering. After a military program that turns test creatures into weaponized cyborgs is botched, its lethal subjects are poised for termination. Three prototypes escape and embark on a fractured journey to try and find what they once knew as home. The animals communicate to each other through a rudimentary computerized speech–think of the first texts your mother ever sent you–which results in a story that finds depth in its sparseness. No doubt this would be a bizarre film, but it’s kinetic energy, American backwoods beauty, futurist overtones, original protagonists, and pointed examination of military practices would make for something really memorable.
Black Hole by Charles Burns
This stark tale of high school kids in ’70s-era Seattle unfolds like a lucid nightmare as it revisits pubescent growing pains, wreckless first loves, and the endless alienation felt by teens trying to fit in. But what makes more feverish than an acne outbreak is the mutative disease spreading throughout the community. Contracted sexually, the infection quickly passes on from one hormonal teen to the next, creating a band of outcasts who strike up their own refuge in the local woods. While the mutations look like they popped out of a Cronenberg film and range from concealable growths like a small tail to horrible facial disfigurement, once the infected become targeted for murder, all that matters is whether you have it or not. Set in a time when bathroom walls were the closest thing to facebook, and told through the haze of stolen liquor and passed joints, Burns’ masterpiece woefully re-kindles that complicated period of adolescence when you thought life didn’t exist past high school. This feels like such an easy film to pitch: it’s Dazed and Confused, Kids and David Lynch all hooking up at a kegger, so it’s no surprise that it’s been in development purgatory for years now. David Fincher has been attached to the project for a long time, but allegedly turned down a script by comic royalty Neil Gaiman & Roger Avary to re-work one himself. Currently, Brad Pitt’s Plan B entertainment owns the film rights, so there’s hope it won’t be too long before everyone’s talking about that wild 8 minute long teenage tentacle sex scene.
Chew by John Layman
Since telekinesis and pyrokinesis are just made up words for things that don’t really exist, writer John Layman came up with some new ones for his story about an FDA detective working in a world where Avian Flu has caused serving chicken to be outlawed. Tony Chu is a ‘cibopathic,’ which means he gets a psychic impression from everything he eats, including where it was raised, how it died, and every memory in between. The only thing Chu doesn’t get a reading from is beets, which means he’s dining on the flesh of a serial killer to figure out the identity of his victims within the first few pages. With its sharp humour and referential winks to the tropes of TV’s numerous detectives shows, Chew is frantic and gory fun. 300 and Sin City have both proved that violent R rated franchises can work, and with a name that most critics will find brainlessly pun friendly, Chew wouldn’t be tough to pull off.
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan
When Vaughan isn’t responding to death threats from his time writing on Lost, he’s busy making some of the most compelling comic books around, some that even come complete with endings. His brilliant portfolio could warrant it’s own production house. In his most recent Eisner award-winning work, Saga, he’s created a rich blend of sci-fi and fantasy in a universe filled with magic, robots, and even a NSFW pleasure planet called Sextillion. If you’re tired of things being described as ‘epic,’ then Saga is for you. The story beings when the narrator Hazel is born. Her parents are Alana and Marko. She was a guard, he was a prisoner, she has wings, he has horns, and they’re relationship is more complicated than most, since their respective species have been involved in an interplanetary war for years. What makes the book so enjoyable is its reliance on strong characterization to push the narrative, allowing the reader to learn about this universe through its inhabitants, rather than jargon filled sci-fi exposition. Even if characters like a cat that can tell when people are lying make it seem campy, its political undertones and ever-topical examination of cultural conflicts gives it some heft. Evoking Star Wars, Heavy Metal and Game of Thrones, Saga would be an excellent answer to the gaping absence in quality sci-fi TV series.
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
This title will unfailingly appear any time you have ‘list’ and ‘graphic novel’ in the same search bar, and it’s often not only regarded as the finest Batman book, but also one of the best examples of the graphic medium entirely. Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 work finds an aged, bitter Batman emerging from retirement as both criminal, hero and, quite frankly, a bit of a dickhead. Battling the Joker, Two-Face, and his own fading vision of justice, this marked the moment in Gotham history when the Dark Knight met his darkest hour. Our ridiculous obsession with the original vigilante will never cease, and much like James Bond, the character has seen several actors don the mask as his story is constantly reinvented. I don’t see any reason why this trend won’t continue for decades, and though serial graphic adapter Zack Snyder has Batman booked for his next outing in the still untitled Superman vs. Batman film, I know that a grizzled version of the Dark Knight Returns is the film that fan boys will eventually need, and deserve.