Two episodes of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” are in the books and already it’s a thing to behold. It has officially been picked up for a second season. That should tell you something. Never before has live action media so perfectly captured the essence of a comic book series, and it got me thinking that maybe TV is in fact better suited to adapting graphic novels. One of the great things about TV is that it can tell a story more leisurely and a saga that originated as many issues over many months or years should not be crammed into a two hour movie. Surely “Watchmen,” for whatever you think of Zack Snyder’s 2009 film, could have benefited from the twelve-part miniseries format. So I’ve compiled this little list, in no particular order, of graphic novels I think would kick ass on the telly.
DC: The New Frontier
Darwyn Cooke’s 2003-2004 re-setting of the DC Universe in the 1950s is some of the best superhero writing ever done. Each of the characters are nuanced and realistic despite the hyper reality of the premise. Essentially, it’s the origin of the Justice League put in historical context where the rocket was a thing of wonder and communism was an omnipresent fear. We get to see Hal Jordan and J’onn J’onzz journey through life prior to their super days and get glimpses of some of the lesser known DCU backlog of characters, like the Blackhawks and King Farraday. “Mad Men” has proven that period shows can work, so why not slap a cape on Jon Hamm and make him Superman?
Like a lot of nerds in the world, I worship at the altar of Neil Gaiman (my excitement at him writing an episode of Doctor Who for the upcoming season cannot be overstated) and few people mix horror and fantasy in quite the same way. We’ve already seen how well his work can be adapted to the big screen in “Coraline” and “Stardust,” and his novel “Neverwhere” was made into a BBC six-episode series in 1996. With the special effects excellence on science fiction television these days, the story of the Dream King Morpheus, an inconceivably powerful and ancient being trying to make up for billions of years of sins, could be beautifully realized. If she show became a hit, it could conceivably go on for many many seasons since Gaiman’s comic series ran for eight years and spans ten collected volumes. Bon appetit!
“Maus” tells the story of writer-artist Art Spiegelman’s father Vladek’s strife before, during, and after the holocaust. It’s an intensely moving story of struggle and strength made even more interesting by Spiegelman’s artwork, which depicts different nationalities as specific animals, with Germans portrayed as cats and Jews portrayed as mice. A television adaptation of this would be tricky for a number of reasons, but the anthropomorphic animal element doesn’t have to be. Animation is again being taken seriously and it is integral to the success of this project. In 2007, Marjane Satrapi’s equally weighty graphic novel “Persepolis” was adapted to film in the very same visual style in which it was drawn and there’s no reason that “Maus” couldn’t be done the same way. The story must be told in this fashion or not at all. If the characters’ species were changed to humans, the effect of the story would be greatly diminished.
Y: The Last Man
A zombie apocalypse story except replace zombies with women, Brian K. Vaughan’s “Y: The Last Man,” tells the strange tale of a mysterious deaths of every male on Earth, even embryos, with the exception of a single man named Yorick and his pet Capuchin monkey, Ampersand. A new, all-female society is struggling to make sense of the abrupt change and militant groups begin to arise and cause havoc. There’s so much in this series that would translate very well to television, with lots of characters and a thru-line objective and various smaller threats to deal with throughout. It would also give a lot of female actors a chance to shine as they’d be doing things not normally depicted on television. More than likely, this one would have to be on HBO or Showtime as there’s quite a lot of excellent swearing, violence, and of course the inevitable sexual content. And speaking of pay cable….
A television version of “Preacher” could not exist anywhere but an HBO or Showtime. AMC is known for pushing boundaries, but this would take the cake. Then it would throw the cake outside onto a passing disabled person and shout a number of obscenities at them before smiting them with the wrath of God. For those who haven’t read Garth Ennis’ “Preacher,” and I’m ashamed of you for it, it tells the story of a divinely possessed preacher, his ex-girlfriend, and an Irish vampire who attempt to literally find God while being pursued by the Saint of Killers, an evil Clint Eastwood. But that really doesn’t do it justice. It’s a pitch-black comedy with loads of violence and blasphemy that also happens to be deeply spiritual. Any adaptation of this is going to be tricky, no doubt, but it’s not impossible. It’s merely a matter of dealing with the subject matter in a tasteful way. Yes, I just used the word “tasteful” when talking about “Preacher.”
So, come on, Television. Let’s get going on this.