It’s just been announced that Gal Gadot has been cast as Wonder Woman in Zack Snyder’s Batman vs Superman project. This has got me thinking about more casting of DC Comics characters, because it’s fun and awesome. For the text today, I’ve decided to play a little fast and loose – I’m going to cast a live-action version of Darwyn Cooke’s brilliant DC: The New Frontier miniseries, which puts the DCU in historical context of the 1950s and early-1960s, with actors who were actually around in the 1960s, even though the book wasn’t written until 2004. Aren’t I an insane person?!?!?! Let’s dive in with the creation of the Justice League, shall we?
For direction, I think we should go with Robert Wise, the veteran director of things like The Body Snatcher, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Haunting, and huge war movies like Run Silent Run Deep and Helen of Troy. He can do epic really well and can do sci-fi, too. Hell, he even went on to direct Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
For cast, first, you’ve got the old guard: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. They’re the existing Golden Age characters who get held over into the Silver Age, so they can be a little bit older. Calm down everybody.
Superman played by Rock Hudson
You want beefy, handsome, All-American, and boy scoutish? You can’t get any more of that in the early ’60s than Rock Hudson. Sure in real life he was living a lie, but in a way, isn’t Superman? He’s one of the only superheroes allowed to be one still after the government outlaws them and so he’s hated by pretty much everyone behind the scenes, even though he’s America’s champion. Seems pretty good casting to me.
Batman played by Gregory Peck
For Cooke’s version of the character, Batman isn’t so much a crime fighter as a shadowy figure who investigates things. Until he softens up his image of course. Peck has the ability to be both intimidating and welcoming, as evidenced by his work in To Kill a Mockingbird, and he could very easily embody both aspects of Batman. Plus, how great would Peck’s voice be coming out of the black cape and cowl?
Wonder Woman played by Ava Gardner
This one’s a bit of a cheat, because in the book Wonder Woman, being an Amazon, is supposed to tower over Superman, but I think Ms. Gardner just looked so much like the character otherwise that Robert Wise could figure out a way to fudge it. On top of being a great actress, she was just coming off of a six year marriage to Frank Sinatra, so if that didn’t prepare her for playing an angry ex-pat siding with feminists in Cambodia, I don’t know what would.
Now for the new guard, who are ostensibly the main characters of the piece.
Hal Jordan played by Steve McQueen
Really the lead of the story is Hal Jordan, the young, brash test pilot who fights in the Korean War and eventually, much later, becomes a Green Lantern. Most of the story unfolds through his eyes and McQueen is the perfect choice to portray the charming, charismatic, yet surprisingly deep “Highball.” McQueen’s screen persona, especially in the early ’60s, was reckless and a bit rough around the edges but totally with it and a test pilot is just the kind of crazy job he’d do anyway. He probably would have insisted on doing his own stunts.
Barry Allen aka The Flash played by Anthony Perkins
I always felt like Anthony Perkins was too associated with the role of Norman Bates. Yes, it’s a pretty iconic performance, but he was one of the best young actors of the age and he didn’t quite get his due. So, why not throw him into the role of the red-suited speedster? He’s tall, lanky, nice, a bit funny, and could play “dashing” (pun intended) if given the chance. Keep thinking about it; it would have been awesome.
John Jones aka J’onn J’onzz aka Martian Manhunter played by Henry Fonda
Hear me out with this one. In New Frontier, when the Martian known as J’onn J’onzz arrives on Earth, and scares to death the professor who contacted him, the shapeshifter decides to become a police officer, and the most by-the-book American one on the planet. There is literally no one else who is as everyman as Henry Fonda. He was Young Mr. Lincoln or criminy’s sake. Also, we’d get a scene where Gregory Peck scares Henry Fonda with fire. Gold.
And, just for funsies, let’s cast some of the other major characters from the book.
King Faraday played by James Coburn
Faraday is an ex-soldier and spy leader who is put in charge of corralling the various super-powered people in the US, and he even uses some illegal tactics to do it, going as far as building a fake Gorilla Grodd to try to trap the Flash. Still, he ends up being a valuable part of the war against the psychic menace of the alien island and befriends J’onn. Coburn can portray all the levels of the character while still flashing the toothy grin and looking good in a slick suit.
Ray Palmer played by Jeffrey Hunter
At a certain point in the books, the scientist Ray Palmer shows up and invents a shrinking machine the Flash wears to destroy the island. We know that he’ll become the Atom, but the book doesn’t quite say it yet. Hunter is a good choice for this, well, because he’s Goddamned Captain Christopher Pike so he’s got the sciencey stuff down, and he looks like he could be a superhero.
Carol Ferris played by Natalie Wood
Hal Jordan’s boss and love interest, Carol Ferris is young, headstrong, and takes little to no guff at all. Natalie Wood played this type of role several times, plus she already worked with Robert Wise on West Side Story. Wood and McQueen would make a great screen pairing methinks.
Captain Cold played by Telly Savalas
This would have been a fairly early part for the eventual star of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Kojak, but he’s menacing, he’s bald, and he makes an impression with not a whole lot of dialogue. Maybe he’d have been really prophetic and said something like “It’s cold in Vegas tonight, baby!” I mean, I’m just saying.
I’d like to thank my friend Rob Walker for helping me brainstorm this list. Now, there are lots of other characters in the book that I didn’t mention, and that’s because I’m leaving that to you. In the comments below, tell me some of your casting choices for the rest of the many DC faces we see throughout New Frontier. I didn’t even touch the Losers or the Suicide Squad. Start with them!