Vampirella Forrest J Ackerman’s most enduring creation is a no-brainer for the current mood in Hollywood: a sexy alien vampire woman (to draw in the Y-chrome teens) who kicks ass (to justify her to the post-feminist crowd)…? A rights wrangle can be the only reason Robert Rodriguez didn’t add this to his 2008 slate of Rose Macgowan-sploitation movies. The 1996 Jim Wynorski straight-to-video atrocity need not even be considered. With a tale of a lost denizen of the planet Drakulon trying to get by on substitute blood and meeting endless adversaries, Vampirella has a) sexy vampires, b) spaceships, c) vicious fight scenes with hideous monsters and d) a cult following stretching back in an unbroken line to 1970. It’s possible that creator Ackerman is actually holding up the rights availability for a better film version, and since he got so burned in 1996, you couldn’t blame the guy.
Strontium DogThe spaghetti western vibe of John Wagner’s 2000AD bounty hunter is only part of the cinematic appeal of this gritty character. Johnny Alpha is a mutant on the tail of criminals, a ‘traitorous’ bounty-hunter deformed/enhanced by the Strontium 90 released during early missile sallies in WWIII. His companion, Wulf, is one of the strongest sidekicks in comics, an ultra-blond, Norwegian Grizzly Adams-type with a prosaic nature, and he’s our entry into the unearthly world and thinking of Johnny Alpha. The series was full of typically inventive Wagner touches, such as the ‘time grenades’ that transport their victims exactly 24 hours into the future – by which time the planet they are on is in a different part of the solar system, and they are frozen or burnt up in deep space, along with a slab of the ground they were standing on. Johnny Alpha fans can be found fantasising about a Strontium Dog movie in this forum.
Ro-BustersSome of the lyrical satire of late 70s 2000AD might be too much for literal translation to screen, but the plight of ‘Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein‘ is irresistible. As with Strontium Dog (above), the Brit references are so ruthlessly and consciously Americanised as to present little impediment to Hollywood adapting this tale of a noble but under-appreciated version of International Rescue. Hammerstein, a cyclopic robot with a formidable mallet for a hand, was later sequestered into the ABC Warriors, arguably another 2000AD adaptation worth a look. The Ro-Busters are organised – some might say ‘pimped’ – by Howard Quartz, known as ‘Mister Ten Percent’, since he barely possesses the remnant 10% of non-cybernetic tissue that still qualifies him as legally human. Team America has dispelled all concerns that there’s no money – or any real legal risk – in satirising Thunderbirds, so only the will is lacking….
Howard The DuckA cigar-smoking duck from a duck-based alternate universe stuck in our place and time with no powers except for a hard-line attitude. It wasn’t an obvious sell to Hollywood, and perhaps only George Lucas could have got the (1985) movie of Steve Gerber’s off-beat character made. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the man for the job, and the resulting work is not only considered one of the worst comic-book adaptations ever, but possibly the worst major movie of the 1980s despite a cult following. There’s probably no way of getting past the negative atmosphere the film shrouded the character in, but a return to Gerber’s gritty and highly satirical late 70s comics would at least explain what Lucas loved – and failed to transfer to film – about the character. This was W.C. Fields reincarnated as a duck and struggling against other trans-dimensional beings on virtually no money on the wrong side of the tracks in Cleveland.
Satana Cut from very similar cloth to Vampi (above), Marvel’s tale of a woman called Judith Camber who channels a deadly succubus named Satana was arguably their attempt to launch a sexy occult character in the Vampirella mould. Satana even has a brother with spin-off potential, Daimon Hellstrom, another Marvel creation of the occult-obsessed 1970s. While Vampirella hates her own need for blood, Judith Camber has a far stronger antipathy to her alter-ego, who is effectively the spirit of 1970s feminism bursting out of her to give her oppressors a nasty kicking. She mostly does this by releasing the several-stories-high ‘basilisk’, a horned beast of incredible, hell-fuelled power.
PrezThe time may actually have passed for this 1970s tale of a very patriotic teenager who became president of the united states. The character emerged as a fantasy-reaction to the cynical and beleaguered mood of America in the Watergate era, first seen in a four-issue run from DC comics. The novelty of a very young man with a lot of political power has been watered-down since the original run by the advent of teen spending-power as well as the nineties run of films depicting positive presidents such as Air Force One, Independence Day and Dave. But we haven’t had a really loveable movie president since Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact, and the current (pre-reality) post-election buzz makes central character Prez Rickard a good sell. The character later popped up in Supergirl and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, as well as receiving homage in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again.
Man Thing Not every comic book adaptation sequestered into the straight-to-video realm (see Vampirella above) need impede a full-budget version later; Roger Corman’s $1 million production of The Fantastic Four in 1994 (made solely to retain an option on the franchise) was no more impediment to a better realisation of a comic than the Nick Hammond Spiderman TV pilot in 1978 or (we hope) the Peter Hooten Doctor Strange from the same year. Therefore forget the risible 2005 sci-fi channel knock-off of Man Thing and hope for a proper version of the tale of this creepy and gothic anti-hero created by Stan Lee and scribe Roy Thomas in 1971. Everglades scientist Dr. Ted Sallis injects himself in a moment of peril with a serum intended to imitate the lost formula that created Captain America, and finds his being fused with the swamp that his car has crashed into. Now a mute and terrifying elephantine figure with the power to burn those who fear him with acid, Man Thing has a big Robocop dynamic behind it, as the central character is motivated by good intentions he hardly understands, and haunted by moments of sentience from his former, human life.
Ms. Marvel It’s generally considered unlikely that Carol Danvers or any of her alter-egos (Ms. Marvel, Binary, Warbird) will make it past the audition stage for the Avengers movie in 2011. The fact that the character has changed her superhero name twice and her costume many more times (usually for tighter and/or more revealing ones) indicates that not only would Hollywood not know what to do with her, but that she’s been passed from pillar to post as a white elephant since her first appearance in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 in 1968. A very strong self-titled two-year comics run in the late seventies showed the potential of the character, but the fact that she shares so many of the trumping powers of Superman doesn’t help her case. Who the audience would be and what they want is pretty clear from this post calling for Rebecca Romijn to take the mantle. Ultimately British comedian Harry Enfield summed the gal-superhero-in-Hollywood situation up best in his Palace Of Righteous Justice spoof in the early nineties (watch out for the female superhero at the end)…