Monthly Archives: September 2013

10 comic book superheroes who deserve their own movie…

Ahem…

(In ominous voice)

In this blog, dear reader, I tempt vilification by geekdom. Should I leave out a beloved favourite, I will no doubt suffer the wrath of comic book fanatics everywhere. And yet it would be remiss of me indeed not to at least attempt a short compendium of comic books which should have their own movie.

Some of the creations listed below may have already had their own movies, but these were either so bad they have been entirely forgotten, or so low budget as to demand a proper blockbuster version. You decide…

Marvel enters the 1970s with Heroes for Hire.

Marvel enters the 1970s with Heroes for Hire.

10. HEROES FOR HIRE

Created at the height of the Kung-Fu/Blaxploitation movie genre craze in the 1970s, the Heroes for Hire became major fixtures in the Marvel Universe. Comprising Iron Fist — a Westerner trained in mystical kung-fu arts by interdimensional monks — and Luke Cage aka Power Man — a street fighter given a second chance by an experiment that made him virtually indestructible, the Heroes for Hire were just that. Motivated by dollar bills rather than altruism, they usually managed to stay on the side of good. Actor Nicholas Cage was so taken with Power Man that he adopted the character’s second name as his own. Surely worth a movie?

9. POWER PACK

Invented by Marvel in the 1980s, this is the story of four ordinary children who receive super-powers from a dying alien, Power Pack faced the menace of the alien Snarks, who were hell bent on Earth’s destruction. Tasked with rescuing their inventor father from the Snark mothership, these kids behaved like real kids — squabbling, crying, and discovering their inner heroes. This one has Disney stamped all over it. A terrible TV pilot made in the 1990s is best forgotten.

8. HOURMAN

An unfairly maligned character, Hourman was a Golden Age superhero who appeared in All Star comics before being revamped in DC comics by supergenius comic book creator Gardner Fox (Flash, Green Lantern etc etc). Chemist Rex Tyler discovers a miracle pill (Miraclo) that gives him superpowers… but only for one hour.  The twist was that Miraclo was addictive, which gave this character a greater psychological realism than others of his era.

7. THE MAN CALLED NOVA

Richard Ryder was Marvel’s 1970s version of Peter Parker  — a weedy loser who was given incredible powers and became “the human rocket” when he was zapped by a spaceship and given the powers of a Centurian Nova Prime, guardian of the planet Xandar.  Ryder had a popular comic book, teaming up with other heroes such as Spider-Man, before finally relinquishing his powers. An awesome-looking new version of the superhero was launched for the Annihilation: Conquest storyline in the 2010s, proving that Nova can still attract the fans.

185px-Nova_1_(1976)[1]

Nova rockets into the 1970s!

6. SLAINE

Pat Mills’ extraordinary Celtic barbarian warrior first graced the pages of 2000AD at the turn of the 1980s. Since then his popularity has endured. A rather “earthy” hero, Slaine is accompanied on his journeys across time by the disgusting dwarf Ukko, and has faced off against both aliens and dinosaurs. But Slaine’s most unique feature is his “warping” power, in which he channels the energy of ley-lines to became a monstrous, Hulk-like behemoth!

5.DR. STRANGE

Created by Stan Lee in the 1960s, Stephen Strange was a gifted surgeon with a drink problem. After crashing his car, he was found by the Ancient One and schooled in the mystic arts to become Earth’s sorceror supreme. A classic, old-school superhero, Dr. Strange’s adventures took him to all manner of fantastic and bizarre dimensions thanks to legendary comics artist Steve Ditko. A TV movie was made in the early 1980s with John Mills that actually wasn’t all that bad. Time for another try, methinks.

4. THE SUB-MARINER

Originally a villainous foe of The Fantastic Four, Prince Namor of Atlantis grew to become much more than that. Namor’s supreme pride and arrogance makes him the perfect anti-hero. He’s had his own comic book on and off since the 1960s. But a movie? Well, it would be better than “Aquaman”. If only they could get rid of those nutty wings…

Prince Namor, cousin of Colonel Sanders.

Prince Namor, cousin of Colonel Sanders!

3. THE BALLAD OF HALO JONES

Before Watchmen, Alan Moore created a host of genius characters, many for British comic 2000AD. Halo Jones is an Everyman, or rather, an “Everygirl”. Born into an overpopulated Earth in the far future, she seeks escape and adventure beyond the stars, only to find abject misery, cruelty, and exploitation at every turn as both a scantily-dressed hostess and a battle-hardened warrior in a horrific future war. Gloriously pessimistic.

2. WONDER WOMAN

The archetypal female superhero — so why has she never had her own movie? Played by Linda Carter on TV in the 1970s in a series that was far too campy for its own good,and invented by psychologist William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman exemplified the fighting spirit of America in WWII. This is a superhero with a  history as long as Batman and Superman. An attempt was made to revitalize the character recently but proved a misfire. But who could step into Wonder Woman’s boots and lasso?

1. SWAMP THING

When Alan Moore was lured to America by DC comics in the 1980s, he reimagined this floundering comic book property. From his humdrum origins as yet another product of a scientific experiment gone wrong, Swamp Thing was transformed into one of the finest comic books ever written. Moore’s magnificent “American Gothic” cycle sees Swamp Thing encounter all manner of staple horror monsters, all wonderfully reinvented to reflect modern America…. menstrual werewolves, water-dwelling vampires, radioactive zombies, haunted houses filled with the victims of gun crime. Swamp Thing journeys across the multiverse, from Heaven to a Hell that is the most completely imagined vision of the afterlife in the history of comics. During this we are also introduced to a British psychic called John Constantine. Swamp Thing was made into two attrociously bad movies in the 1980s as well as a TV series. None of them have (thankfully) anything to do with Moore’s work. This is a comic book that is ripe for the big screen (pun intended). Forget the other big green guy. Swamp Thing is where it’s at!

Advertisements

Music is Your Friend…

Do you listen to music while you write?

Sounds like a banal question. But many writers are heavily influenced by music, while others say it helps them to concentrate and focus.

Alan Grant, comics writer of “Batman”, “Judge Dredd”, and many more, says he listens to music for an hour or so each morning before he starts to write. Evidently it gets his creative juices flowing.

Personally, I prefer something instrumental. I won’t bore you with a list of my favourites. Suffice to say, it includes plenty of heavy 1970s electronica and Baroque classical. Anything I can get my hands on that provides ambient background music. Hypnotic white noise helps me to zone in on the page.

Other writers have used music to do more than focus, however. Take Alan Moore. Almost every chapter of “Watchmen” has a musical lyric as its title – a conceit used to brilliant effect in the movie soundtrack. In fact, several of Moore’s stories seem to have been directly inspired by lyrics.

Music can capture your mood. Or it can provide you with tangible inspiration from its lyrics. Just don’t play that Eminem record at full volume on your iPod in the library, or I may have to hit you. Hard. With a book.

So find your muse, find your mood music, and write away…

Why was He-Man so crap?

he-man

Today I am tackling an issue that has been playing on my mind for many years. Several attempts were made in the 1970s and 1980s to fuse fantasy with science-fiction in movies. This is not a new trend, and is generally called “Science Fantasy”. For instance, Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter novels are science-fantasy. CS Lewis (of Narnia fame) even wrote a religious allegory sci-fi series known as the “Space” trilogy.  In movies we have 1983’s “Krull”, the notorious flop “John Carter”, and the lilttle-known but half-decent movie “Pathfinder”.

But what does these have in common? Well, they are crap.

That’s not to say we can’t love them. “Krull” has a particular place in my heart, not least for the amazing Freddie Jones and the use of actual British character actors. The CS Lewis novels are great flights of fancy (although totally scientifically incorrect).

But for some reason critical success has mostly eluded these works. There is something about the melding of high fantasy (magic, swords and sandals) with science-fiction (high tech, high concept) that creates works of daftness rather than genius.

Take He-Man.

He-Man has his roots firmly in Robert E Howard’s “Conan” stories. With a technological twist. His home planet Eternia contains magic but also machines and flying vehicles, cyborgs and laser-guns. You would think that such a world would provide great images and great storylines. Instead, it always manged to be childish and rather stupid. Like GI Joe on Magic Mushrooms.

Jitsu - one of Skeletor's less memorable henchmen.

Jitsu – one of Skeletor’s less memorable henchmen.

The animated series was designed to promote Mattell’s line of action figures, whish was apparently created to cash in 1982’s “Conan” movie, but which had to be redesigned when said Arnie movie featured so much nudity and gore that it was rated “R”. However this may be apocryphal.

For He-Man newbies, He-Man was in fact Prince Adam of Eternia. A fact that nobody could discern despite being identical and never wearing a mask. He rode a cowardly beast that transformed into a fiercer version whenever Adam became He-Man (nobody bothered to explain why in a planet where everybody could use flying vehicles Adam settled for riding on the back of his pet cat).

Nothing too unusual there. If we can buy Superman, why not Prince Adam? But unlike other cartoon characters, there was something udneniably dorky about He-Man. Possibly it was his very name. The far more successful cartoon TV show “Dungeons and Dragons” had some genuinely unsettling moments. But He-Man’s greatest foe was… Skeletor.

Ah, Skeletor. Far more likeable than He-Man with your silly plotting and villanous laugh. But the unfortunate bad guy only ever managed to surround himself with complete morons who alway fouled up his schemes. He may have had more success working with the Three Stooges than the likes of Beast-Man, Mer-Man and Lockjaw.

Skeletor - the villain everyone loves to hate... almost.

Skeletor – the villain everyone loves to hate… almost.

Which brings us to the 1987 live-action movie.

In fact, it’s not that bad when watched today through the tinted lenses of nostalgia. Meg Foster is eerie as Evil-Lyn, the plot (albeit a bit silly) is so perfectly “Eighties” that it’s watchable. Frank Langella provides a suitably grave Skeletor. However the plot suffers from two things – cliche and a lack of credible worldbuilding. Lines like “It’s too quiet” grate. Gone is the backdrop of Eternia (struck out for budgetary reasons). And the characters are all pretty stock and one-dimensional.

Perhaps part of the problem is the inherent silliness of the science-fantasy genre, a genre that exists only to draw attention to itself. Science-fantasy stories scream out, “Look how clever I am!”. But in fact they only use cliches from both genres, creating storylines with few surprises  but which also strain our credibility.

Consider “John Carter”. Not only are we supposed to believe  in aliens, life on Mars, teleportation, a second set of aliens, and magic… but a third set of competely different aliens as well. Phew!

So there you have it. He-Man’s crapness is inherent. It both endears us to him and repells us, as it does with many other high-bidget flops. On reflection, I think it’s because using two genres (some may say opposing genres) weakens the depth of storytelling. We are so concerned with the language and imagery of the story, that there is no room left for what audiences desire most… plot twists and great characters.

So my advice is.. avoid the science-fantasy genre altogether. Unless you want to produce a very expensive white elephant.

And I bet you thought I would never get any writing tips out of this post! 😉