Which Comics Should Hit the Silver Screen?
Peter McCaughan considers the Northern Irish creations that could reignite our interest in Hollywood adaptations
On the morning of August 23, 2013, computer systems across the globe went utterly haywire. It had nothing to do with Anonymous hijacking zombie terminals to attack a corporate website, nor had the machines finally achieved sentience, a la Terminator 2.
Rather it was the announcement that Ben Affleck – Oscar-winning screen writer, director and actor – would be playing the role of the caped crusader in Zack Snyder's forthcoming Batman vs Superman mash-up flick that sent Facebook and Twitter feeds into overdrive, with new blog posts bemoaning (or celebrating) the announcement springing up every few seconds.
For my money, Affleck – who played a comic book hero in the underwhelming Daredevil back in 2003 – is a fine choice as an on-screen Bruce Wayne. I can see him relishing the role of the spoiled, self-assured playboy. Whether or not he will be able to carry off Master Wayne’s renegade alter-ego is a different matter altogether. But, to be quite honest about it, even as a lifelong Batman obsessive, I find it very hard to care either way.
Clearly the Dark Knight has captured the public’s imagination in recent years, mainly due to the blinding success of Christopher Nolan’s mean and moody silver screen trilogy starring Christian Bale as the billionaire vigilante.
Nolan's movies (at least the first two), were really quite impressive, and some of the other big budget, all-American comic book adaptations that followed were enjoyable, such as Kenneth Brannagh's Thor and the mammoth money machine that is Avengers Assemble.
Yet all of these Marvel and DC classics really are beginning to wear me down – and I'm not the only one, if the lukewarm critical reaction to Man of Steel et al is anything to go by.
At this juncture, then, it might be an idea to the give the capes a bit of a rest and draw some inspiration from elsewhere. Lord knows, there are an infinite number of great comic book titles out there just itching for silver screen adaptations, including many hailing from our own shores.
In Northern Ireland we have the likes of John McCrea to treasure and promote – a world-renowned artist but founder of Belfast’s first comic book store, Dark Horizons. McCrea co-created the DC Comics character Hitman, otherwise known as Tommy Monaghan, a Gulf War veteran turned contract killer with X-Ray vision.
Hitman is just the kind of larger than life character that cinema is crying out for and – fact fans – one of the few characters who has managed to unnerve Batman in the books. Rather than roll out yet another face to fill the bat hat, why not focus on an entirely original (and Northern Irish created) like this?
But Hitman is just the tip of the iceberg – Northern Ireland has much more to offer. At a grassroots level, there are creators like Belfast’s Andy Luke, whose largely self-published indie comics tackle a wide variety of topics, from politics to entertainment, often involving an educational slant.
While about as far removed from the bombast of Hollywood summer smashers as possible, a book like Luke's Absence – an autobiographical look at living with epilepsy pictured above – would not just lend itself to a Ghost World-style short film adaptation, potentially, but could do so with a degree of humour and poignancy, serving to educate the masses on an often misunderstood illness.
Elsewhere stalwarts of the Northern Irish comics scene Malachy Coney and Stephen Downey (who incidently provided art on Absence) have recently released their first collaboration, Noe The Savage Boy, a Cork-based tale of warrior training and dark faith that could give Conan a run for his money.
Of course, it is impossible to talk about Northern Irish comic creators without mentioning the biggest of the bunch, the Holywood-born writer Garth Ennis (credited as co-creator of Hitman). Love him or loathe him, Ennis is responsible for developing some of the most important storylines in the history of characters like The Punisher and Constantine, as well as creating much loved franchises like The Boys and The Darkness.
Thankfully, a live-action movie of the latter mafia-meets-hoodoo caper is rumoured to be in development after two hugely successful video game adaptations. However, despite numerous false starts, comic book fans the world over are still lacking a silver screen version of Ennis’ finest work, Preacher, arguably one of the best comics ever created.
Preacher is the story of Jessie Custer, a lapsed man of the cloth; Genesis, the offspring of a demon and an angel, escaped from Heaven; and Cassidy, a boozey Pogues-obsessed Irish vampire, among many other eye-catching characters.
Preacher might all sound like silly schoolboy fantasy, but what unfolds as the series progresses is one of the most gripping, emotionally engaging and downright romantic stories ever committed to paper, with or without pictures. Surely it’s about time that fans had the movie version they deserve.
Who knows, maybe the upcoming Batman vs Superman megamix featuring Ben Affleck will reinvent the wheel and surprise us all. (It reportedly has Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as Lex Luthor, after all, which is an inspired piece of casting worth the ticket price alone.) Or maybe it won’t. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with fantasising about the wealth of characters created or expanded upon by Northern Irish artists who could feasibly fill silver screens in Belfast and beyond. Clive Owen playing Preacher – now there's a blog post I'd like to read.