Unsung Superheroes

As DC's Suicide Squad arrive on the big screen, John Higgins makes a case for some of the lesser famed crime fighters deserving of the blockbuster treatment

Matter-Eater Lad

Matter-Eater Lad is, without a doubt, the superhero who most needs his own film. His power? Well, it pretty much does what it says on the tin: he eats matter, any matter. You name it he will chow down on it, using his 'superteeth' and 'acid saliva'. He is the superhero as waste disposal unit. (Though his actual waste disposal is somewhat brushed over in the comics – he just seems to contain everything he eats as though his mouth, or perhaps the other end of him, were the entrance to a black hole.)

I’d make my Matter-Eater Lad movie dark and gritty: the hero’s appetite is out of control, a churning void within him that can never be filled; the sort of vacuum that nature abhors. He would be like Tarrare, a real life compulsive eater from 16th Century France, who could not contain his hunger and would eat anything that he could outpace. He eventually went to a hospital seeking a cure but sneaked out to scavenge rubbish heaps and gutters. He was eventually removed from the hospital after falling under suspicion of eating a toddler! On second thoughts maybe leave that bit out of the film.

Black Bolt

Black Bolt is a comic about a king who is unable to speak for fear of the damage that it will do, so there is a cinematic precedent there. But for the Black Bolt it’s a bit trickier than Geoffrey Rush stepping in to straighten out a stutter: when the Black Bolt speaks planets crumble. He’s a regular Paul Robeson.

Black Bolt (real name, and I’m not making this up, is Blackagar Boltagon) is an Inhuman, an alien species, but his main power comes from his inhalation of Terrigen Mist as an embryo. Not sure how that works, but it does. This mutagenic mist lends him his 'Sonic Scream': any attempt to use his vocal chords causes a huge disturbance in the particle/electron interaction field: basically when he says something stuff blows up. As a consequence he has taken a vow of silence, which is probably for the best.

He’d be a strong silent type, a rock-like presence at the centre of the film, whom you’re just waiting to finally take the ball-gag out and get cracking, which is not a line I ever thought I’d write for Culture Northern Ireland.

Arm Fall Off Boy

This fella doesn’t need to carry I.D. He’s a call-a-spade-a-spade-speak-as-I-find-kind-of-guy. So if his business card introduces him as 'Arm Fall Off Boy-Superhero' you better believe that that arm is going to fall off.

Except it doesn’t actually fall off – he is able to detach all of his extremities – one for the King Kurt fans there – with a view to beating you around the head and neck with the wet end. That’s it – that’s his power. Still, a David Cronenberg, full on, body-horror version could be astounding.

What if, one day, the Velcro lost its snap? He would be forced to carry around a no longer adhesive, necrotic limb, both looking and smelling like blue cheese, praying that his other limbs remained attached while knowing that eventually his sticky will unstuck and he’ll come apart like a Primark seam.

Arak – Son of Thunder!

It seems as though the Atlantic in the Middle Ages was a two way street. While Vikings were busy discovering America, a small Native American in a canoe travelled to Europe. As with most Americans, this journey proved to be a mistake. I’d make this film as miserable and grisly as 'Brotherhood of the Wolf', without all the mysterious kung fu that everyone knows. Arak is a stranger in a cold and inhospitable land, spending the film brooding and taciturn next to the boorish, be-whiskered Vikings whom he can easily and consistently beat with a small hand-axe and a smoke signal. Beserkers? They aren’t all that.

D.R and Quinch

2000AD’s D.R. and Quinch aren’t so much super heroes as cosmic delinquents. D.R. (it stands for 'diminished responsibility'), an emaciated green greaser in denim and leather, and Ernest Quinch, a Quinch, blazed a trail through the universe, blowing up summer camps, smothering Marlon Brando in a hail of citrus fruits or dictating the earth’s continental drift so that the entire planet becomes an obscene publication. The strip was scored through with a seam of satirical irreverence which would play beautifully in cinemas (especially as the central character’s relationship is like a dark mirror held up to Rocket Raccoon and Groot, in the fantastic Guardians of the Galaxy). Best of all it was written by Alan Moore. Imagine the publicity when he inevitably asks to have his name taken off the film – you can’t buy that.

D.R. and Quinch

Marvel/Miracleman

Another Alan Moore joint, Marvel/Miracleman (the name changed during the comic’s protracted and piecemeal publication history) would probably lend itself better to a lengthy HBO series rather than a cinematic outing, given the denseness of its narrative, the graphic violence and adult themes. It starts comic book silly: a middle aged journalist named Michael Moran is at a press conference at a nuclear facility. He accidentally see the word 'atomic' reflected backwards on some glass and it suddenly reminds him of something and he mouths the word 'kimota' and he is instantly transformed into the super hero Marvelman. Sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it?

The origin for the strip was Mick Anglo’s Marvelman series from the fifties and sixties, pretty much a UK rip-off of D. C. Comics’ Captain Marvel, and was standard boy’s own adventure fare, featuring the excitingly named villain Young Nasty Man. Moore’s re-imagining of the character, effectively his first deconstructed super hero, explains away these blameless 1960s shenanigans, while placing the action in a recognisably gritty modern world, albeit one populated by sapphire toothed assassins, Mexican gangster scientists, multidimensional aliens and bowler hatted supermen ('Big Ben – the man with no time for crime!'). Even Hitler gets a cameo. 

The strip went through a number of publishers, lawsuits, artists and writers (a young Neil Gaiman cut his teeth on it) but the story stayed astoundingly true to itself, imagining a world where godlike super-people exist and coming to pointed and inevitable conclusions. It remains remarkable for its persistence of vision and the sustained cynicism which drips from every page.     

Suicide Squad is on general release in cinemas across Northern Ireland now. Visit our new What's On section to find out where it's screening near you.