Three Wishes: Comics on TV

In Three Wishes, I choose a topic and pick three (often pie-in-the-sky) dreams I’d like to see become a reality. Most of these will never see the light of day, but in a perfect world, they would.

 bone-1I recently finished a re-read of Jeff Smith’s series Bone, a comic I dearly loved when it was published originally in the 90s and early 00s, and one that I’m happy to report still holds up marvelously. For the first few issues (or chapters, for those who read it in collected editions), it seems as though this comic will be a sweet, funny tale about three cartoonish characters driven out of their home and forced to make a new one in a strange valley with bizarre creatures. The tone shifts rapidly, though, and it soon becomes clear that Bone is really an epic fantasy series, full of adventure and mysticism that shares more DNA with the likes of Lord of the Rings than Garfield.

The final issue of Bone was published in 2004, but despite that fact, it may be more popular today than ever before. Thanks to a well-structured partnership with Scholastic Publishing, an entire generation of young readers has grown up with the three cousins from Boneville in the 12 years since the series was completed. At the time the book was still in production, there was often discussion of a Bone movie, and Nickelodeon even expressed interest in the project. However, it became clear to Smith that they had no idea what the property really was when they wanted to give Fone Bone a pair of magic gloves and a soundtrack by N’Sync, and he eventually killed the deal. The most recent information I could find says that Warner Bros held the film rights as of 2012, but nothing has really been done with them and I don’t know if they even still hold Bone in their stable.

Regardless, the more I thought about it, the less I think a Bone movie would be a good idea. I really think the better home for this incredible story would be on television. The TV landscape has undergone a seismic change since Bone finished its run. In fact, the change began even earlier, in the 90s, with shows like Twin Peaks (the more famous example) and Babylon 5 (the more successful example) showing that TV was an excellent medium for longform storytelling. Whereas most shows were episodic, telling one story each week that often brought no lasting change to the main characters or the status quo of the series, these shows were willing to experiment with a single extended story that had its own beginning, middle, and end. The same year that Bone’s final issue was published, ABC launched a TV show with a similarly simple title: LOST. It became a breakout hit and since then, serialized stories have become commonplace. In fact, two of the biggest shows on TV today are serialized adaptations of genre properties: Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.

bone-55A Bone TV show would be the best way to explore the rich world Jeff Smith created in his 55 issues (and assorted specials and spin-offs), allowing the audience to learn the whole story in its beautiful complexity instead of truncating it to the measly 90 minutes it would likely get on the big screen. The show would, of course, have to be animated – you simply can’t capture the charm of the Bone cousins in live action and having CGI avatars of them interacting with real humans would, frankly, look silly. But how do you sell a TV network on a fantasy cartoon series with a predetermined end date?

Go to Netflix.

As a platform, Netflix has proven itself to be a good fit for more unorthodox properties that would have struggled to find a network home (Stranger Things being the most recent hit example). They’re also no strangers to comic book content, with six different Marvel series in various stages of production. In addition, Netflix has a long-standing partnership with Dreamworks Animation which, okay, is responsible for a lot of bleah shows based on their movies, but also gave us the amazing reboot of Voltron. I feel confident that, with the right show runner, Bone could be another Netflix hit.

Another thing that has severely shaken up TV over the past decade is the influx of superhero programming. In the past, there were rarely more than one or two comic book-based shows at a time, and only a handful of those lasted longer than a few seasons. Now, though, superheroes are everywhere on the tube. Aside from the aforementioned Netflix shows, Marvel has Agents of SHIELD and the late, lamented Peggy Carter on ABC, a Cloak and Dagger series coming to Freeform, and Runaways was recently announced as a Hulu series. Fox has Gotham and has recently begun development of a Black Lightning series, and the CW has DC superhero shows that are all part of the same shared continuity four nights a week! If I could tell my ten-year-old self the sort of stuff I’d have on my DVR one day, he would first ask me what a DVR is, then proceed to crap his pants.

irredeemable-1But you’ll notice this superhero content is almost exclusively DC and Marvel. There’s nothing wrong with mining those universes for content, but there’s got to be room for some variety. So combining this with TV’s love for serial stories, I’d love to see Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s Irredeemable make it to the screen. Originally published by BOOM! Studios, this series explores a world where the most powerful superhero of them all, the Plutonian, is driven mad and turns against the world. Although many of the themes would later show up in the better-known Injustice: Gods Among Us, Irredeemable not only did it first, but it goes to even darker places. Also, since it isn’t dependent on using the existing DC superheroes, Waid had the freedom to twist his characters in ways even Injustice wouldn’t dare to do. And finally, unlike Injustice – which will keep on going as long as the video game series it’s based on is profitable – Irredeemable had a solid ending that managed to finish with an air of hope despite the harsh world in which it was incubated. To be honest, the ending is probably the biggest strike against bringing Irredeemable to television. While it works very well in comics, there’s a strong metafictional aspect to it that may be difficult to pull off on the screen. But damn, I’d love to watch them try.

As superheroes have risen to TV prominence, there’s one other formerly-shunned format that has risen in popularity: the anthology. After FX’s popular American Horror Story began its second season by starting an entirely new story with only the faintest connective tissue to season one, there have been several popular shows that attempt the same format. Viewers now accept shows where the ongoing threads are thematic instead of following the same characters or plot, something that hasn’t been popular since the heyday of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. (There have been a few popular anthologies since then – Tales From the Crypt, for example – but they’ve been pretty rare.

Anthology series allow for the same sort of storytelling as a serialized show, but on a smaller scale and with the chance to refresh and try something different each episode or each season. I can think of no comic book I’d like to see in this format more than Kurt Busiek’s Astro City.

Astro City 1Astro City, if you have somehow never read it, is a series about a superhero universe that includes pretty much all of the tropes of superhero comics, but with twists. Samaritan (the Superman analogue) is terribly lonely and wants nothing more than to fly uninterrupted. The First Family (think about the initials) is made up of old Doc Savage-style science heroes and their superpowered children and grandchildren. The city’s Darkest Knight, the Confessor, is a Catholic priest who happens to be a vampire. And the thing is, none of these characters ever take the spotlight full-time. For most of its life over the past 20 years, Astro City stories have usually been one- or two-issue affairs, with a few rare six-issue tales. The longest story to date “The Dark Age,” ran for 16 issues. Even that, though, was broken up into a quartet of four-issue “Acts” with other short stories in-between.

The stories bounce around in time, shift the focus from heroes to villains to henchmen to bystanders, and constantly reinvent the comic over and over again, a perfect format for anthology television. Imagine a season of TV based on “Confession” or “Tarnished Angel,” occasionally punctuated by one-off episodes featuring the likes of Samaritan and Winged Victory’s first date, or the hauntingly beautiful “The Nearness of You.” You can do adventure, comedy, romance, and horror all in the same series. The only constant is the city itself.

TV isn’t what it once was, but I think that, on the whole, we’re getting some of the best shows ever made right now. These three comics would make a welcome addition to an already-rich landscape.

Three Wishes: DC Rebirth

DC Rebirth In case you somehow missed it, DC Comics recently announced a new upcoming line-wide initiative they’re calling DC Rebirth. Details – except for the titles of the books – have been sparse thus far, but that’s never going to be an obstacle to fan speculation or random guessing. What we know for sure, according to Geoff Johns, is that this initiative will use the same core concept as his Green Lantern: Rebirth and Flash: Rebirth stories, that of attempting to respect the present while, at the same time, recapturing the glory of the past. This has me feeling cautiously optimistic. Both of those aforementioned stories were very good, and I’ve thought ever since the New 52 relaunch that the biggest thing missing from DC was their wonderful sense of legacy.

That optimism in mind – and in a deliberate effort to counteract the Internet Hate Machine that knows for certain that everything will be terrible several months before it has, technically, been created, today’s Three Wishes is dedicated to those elements I hope the DC Universe – whatever shape it takes – will reflect from now on.

  1. Family

OConvergence-Speed Force 1ne of the things the New 52 did was roll back the ages of most of DC’s main characters. In so doing, many of the family units that previously existed were eradicated. The children of Wally West, Roy Harper, Alan Scott and others never existed at all. There was later a hullabaloo when the writers of Batwoman walked off the book, angry that DC wouldn’t allow them to marry off Kate Kane to Maggie Sawyer. Some took this as DC being opposed to gay marriage, which was ludicrous. If they had an anti-gay mindset they never would have published the book in the first place. No, it was any marriage DC was opposed to. The marriages of Lois and Clark, Barry and Iris, Arthur and Mera – all had been annulled in the most literal way possible. Only Animal Man seemed to survive with his family intact, and that is no doubt because virtually every good Animal Man story ever written has included his wife and children at the very core of it.

Even Jonathan and Martha Kent, who had been (mostly) alive since the 1986 Man of Steel reboot, were now both dead in the main DCU. With the sudden dearth of children, spouses, and parents, ironically, Batman now had the most successful family unit in the DC Universe.

There’s some weird notion – not just at DC, not just at Marvel, but in adventure fiction in general – that giving a protagonist a family limits storytelling potential. Think about it, what do you know about Han Solo’s parents? Does Flash Gordon have any brothers or sisters? When they married James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, didn’t they kill off his wife before the movie even ended? How many classic heroes’ adventures end with the hero settling down with a family, or at least implying that this transition is imminent?

Superman-Lois and Clark 2Family is only an obstacle if the writer is narrow-minded enough to make it so. Bill Willingham’s Fables not only went on another 100 issues after the marriage of Snow White and Bigby Wolf, but their cubs became a vital part of the engine of that series. The Fantastic Four has always been about family, but the introduction of Reed and Sue’s children have made it unique among mainstream comics. Perhaps my favorite comic being published right now is Superman: Lois and Clark, precisely because it gives us a Superman in a family dynamic we’ve never seen before. Clark and Lois – those from the Pre-Flashpoint DCU – now live in the current DCU. Nobody knows who they really are, and they have only each other to rely on, while at the same time trying to raise and protect a son who is unaware of his parents’ great secret. It’s wildly fun. We know there will be a post-Rebirth title called The Super-Man. If that acts as the lifeboat for these characters, I’ll be overjoyed.

This is not to say I think every DC character needs to line up to walk down the aisle any time soon. That would be as short-sighted as refusing to let any of them marry. But shouldn’t at least the possibility be allowed to exist? Writers are hired to tell stories, and while some level of editorial control is beneficial, why would you automatically cut off access to any road without at least peering ahead to see where it could lead?

  1. Legacy

Green Lantern Secret Files 1It may seem like a bit of a cheat to use this as my second “wish,” since Geoff Johns has already specifically stated restoring a sense of legacy is one of the goals of Rebirth, but I think it’s worthwhile to explore what exactly that means and what I hope it will mean to DC.

In the New 52 Universe (or Prime Earth, or whatever it’s called these days), Grant Morrison reinstated the notion of the Golden Age that Superman was, in fact, the first superhero. Back in the 30s and 40s it was easy to recognize Superman as being first, as all of the characters were brand new. But as time passed, some of Superman’s allies were retired, then later replaced. When DC brought in a new Flash, a new Green Lantern, a new Atom, but still had the original Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, problems understandably started to crop up. The solution, at the time, was simple: the current versions lived on Earth-1, the originals were on Earth-2. But Crisis on Infinite Earths did away with that in favor of a merged timeline in which Superman ushered in the modern age of heroes, inspired by the Justice Society (sans Superman) of old.

This is the trouble with comic book “elastic time.” Having characters like the JSA so inexorably linked to a real-world event like World War II makes their use increasingly complicated as time goes on. Marvel had this same problem, but to a much lesser extent, because they retired all of their World War II-era heroes, and those that later returned had easy outs to explain their longevity (Captain America was frozen in ice, the Sub-Mariner was a mutant, Stan Lee had the power cosmic, etc.).

Justice Society of America ufV3 1Look, I get the desire to give Superman the significance of being first. He’s earned it. But with a restored multiverse it’s easy to give him that honor while still having a “prime” Superman who lives in a world of earlier heroes. Even if they aren’t currently being featured anywhere, characters like the JSA, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, and the All-Star Squadron are part of the fabric of DC Comics. Removing them from DC’s history robs us just as much as we would be robbed by removing Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin from American history.

And legacy doesn’t work just one way. As rich as DC’s past has been, so too has their future. Yes, I’m talking about the Legion of Super-Heroes. There is no greater testament to Superman and the Justice League than the idea that they will still be inspiring new heroes 1000 years in the future. The Legion needs to return. How? I’m not sure. You won’t find a more devoted group of comic book fans than those who love the Legion, but “devoted” is not, unfortunately, a synonym for “large and with an incredible amount of spending power.” But something needs to be done to Rebirth the Legion into a going concern once again.

  1. Joy

Bizarro 1One of the main complaints levied against DC in recent years – and one that is difficult to argue with – is that the books largely have taken on a grim tone. That’s fine in some cases, but it should never be the case across the board. Sure, Batman lives in darkness, and the members of the Suicide Squad are inherently dirty characters, but that can’t apply to everybody. Superman is, and should be, a symbol of hope. Green Lantern literally makes things out of light. The Flash… hell one of his main foes is a talking gorilla. Be it Jay, Barry, Wally, or other, nobody should enjoy his life more than the fastest man alive.

Dan Didio has gone on record as saying that being a superhero should come at a cost. (This is also largely the rationale for doing away with the families of so many characters.) To a degree, I can agree with that – y’know, the whole “with great power” jazz. But it doesn’t always have to be the same cost, does it? And debts can eventually be paid, except of course for student loans, so why must these characters be burdened with the cost of being a hero for their entire lives?

This was one of the reasons I quit reading Daredevil years ago. While it was unquestionably one of Brian Michael Bendis’s better runs, it eventually became so relentlessly bleak that I just couldn’t take it anymore. “Can’t Matt Murdock ever have a good day?” I would ask of random passerby, who would then look at me funny because Netflix wasn’t a thing yet and they had no idea who I was talking about.

Real life is not in monotone. Nor should be our fiction. In fact, the best fiction of any kind – the most compelling stories and most engaging characters – recognize this. Ask a Futurama fan what the best episode of that series was and, if they can stop crying long enough, they’ll tell you it was “Jurassic Bark.” Scrubs viewers will likewise say one of the show’s most memorable moments came when it was revealed that Dr. Cox’s best friend had died of cancer, and all the wacky hijinks in that episode were the bitter daydreams of a grieving man. But just as comedy is better when there are moments of solemnity, so too are more serious stories served by having rays of light. Few people will deny that Breaking Bad is one of the greatest dramas of the 21st century, but that doesn’t account for how unexpectedly funny it could be. (Just watch it. You’ll never again try to dispose of a body in a bathtub full of acid without giving in to a knowing chuckle.)

Harley Quinn v2 19DC has begun to make strides in this direction. Harley Quinn is a mostly-lighthearted book, as is the new Burnside era of Batgirl. Last year’s Bizarro and Bat-Mite miniseries were both wonderful. But that’s just a start. DC’s most popular media incarnations at the moment are the Flash and Supergirl TV shows – both of which are unabashedly fun – and Arrow, which embraces darkness more fully. And they all work. And they all fit together. And it’s a beautiful thing. The creators of these shows have mined the rich history of the characters for the wonderful things that made them last, while at the same time recognizing that they don’t have to be exactly the same to coexist.

DC TV takes its cues from DC of old. It’s time for DC of today to do the same thing.

Three Wishes: LEGO Dream Sets

Welcome to Three Wishes, one of several new semi-regular features I intend to start putting in rotation here at AllNewShowcase.com. In Three Wishes, I’m going to choose a theme and then give a list of three things I’d like to see happen – products made, TV shows or movies produced, comic book dream teams, whatever. And I’m going to start with both one of my oldest and one of my newest obsessions: LEGO.

LEGOs

Like most of you reading this, I loved LEGO as a child. And, like most of you reading this, as I got older I wound up putting it aside in favor of other pursuits. In recent years, though, I’ve drifted back. There’s something about building a LEGO model that’s very cathartic. I think it scratches the same itch as those “adult coloring books” that are so popular now – it allows you to do something creative while at the same time (if you’re following instructions) not requiring you to put any really heavy mental effort into it. Plus, it’s just fun to watch a miniature version of something awesome come together through the effort of your own two hands.

I’m old enough that, when my halcyon days of LEGO ended, they had not yet started branching out beyond their own themes to licensed properties. In fact, many credit the licenses for taking LEGO from the brink of death to being the largest company in the world that specializes in only one kind of toy. They first began by licensing Star Wars and Harry Potter, and have spread out to licenses as diverse as Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Scooby-Doo, The Simpsons, and Doctor Who. What’s more, with the LEGO Ideas program, anybody can design a LEGO model and submit it for consideration to be possibly manufactured as a LEGO set. So that in mind, any one of the sets I’m about to propose could theoretically be made real, if a talented designer submitted it. Sadly, I’m not that person. I’ve got no skill for design. I’m just a builder and a fan. Here, in no particular order, are the three sets I would most like to see created, if money and licensing issues were no factor.

DC Special Series 26Wish #1: Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.

LEGO has set a precedent for huge builds with their 3800-piece Death Star and 4600-piece Ghostbuster Firehouse. With the recent announcement of a gargantuan Batman ’66 Batcave, Superman’s Fortress seems the next logical step.

But which version, then, should it be? The Fortress has gone through many, many incarnations, from the original Earth-2 mountaintop retreat to the Silver Age arctic classic with the giant yellow key. Neither of those would be particularly challenging to build, however, so I propose the exterior be based on the crystalline look that originated in the 1978 Superman: The Movie, and which has informed many of the redesigns since then. It would look amazing, but with the crystals all at strange angles, it would take some clever engineering to make real. Ah heck. Throw in the giant key anyway.

Fortress Mortal KombatInside, we need all the best parts of the Fortress from the assorted varieties: the crystal control panel, the statues of Jor-El and Lara, and the cosmic zoo (complete with a few alien animals, like the metal-eater). But a LEGO set isn’t just about construction, it’s also about playability. We need some characters. Superman, of course, should be included, as well as the Fortress’s other part-time resident, Supergirl. We could also include Lois Lane in arctic gear, a Superman robot or two, and Kal-El’s robotic valet, Kelex. And you can’t have a superhero playset without villains, can you? Coincidentally, the two best battles ever to take place in the Fortress both come from stories by Alan Moore. I would throw in Brainiac and Lex Luthor from “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” (bonus points if they can make the figures combine), and a maxifigure of Mongul with the Black Mercy flower from “For the Man Who Has Everything.” Alan Moore would probably despite seeing a toy set inspired by his stories, which of course is the best argument to release it.

Money BinWish #2: Scrooge McDuck’s Money Bin

Although LEGO has had many Disney Licenses (including the Marvel Super-Heroes, Star Wars, the Lone Ranger, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Disney Princesses), as far as I know the classic Disney characters have never appeared in LEGO form, although I think a few of them have adorned LEGO’s line for younger builders, DUPLO. With a new DuckTales cartoon scheduled to premiere next year, it’s time for that to change. Although the mass-market version of Scrooge’s iconic money bin couldn’t be as detailed as the fan-made version that turned up online some time ago, there’s still plenty of room for play. Scrooge’s office should be a segment, along with a display for his number-one dime, as well as his famous worry room. The exterior should have a variety of hidden traps (which would be particularly fun to build) to ward off thieves. And of course, there’s the money vault itself: a large open section with a diving board and a bag of loose gold-colored one-peg flat pieces to pour in the center so that Scrooge can dive in and swim around.

Money Bin InteriorSpeaking of Scrooge, he wouldn’t be alone in minifig land. He’d be accompanied by his nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, as well as his ward Webigail. (Look, I know she’s not everyone’s favorite character, but there just weren’t enough females on that show, and we need her.) For villains, we’d have Ma Beagle and her Beagle Boys attempting to break in.

I’ll cheat a little on this wish and say that I’d love to see this expand to an entire line of DuckTales LEGO sets: Gyro Gearloose’s shop with Gyro, his helper, and whatever apocalyptic invention he’s whipping up that week; ace pilot Launchpad McQuack and his plane; and a Battle For Duckburg set with villains Flintheart Glomgold and Magica DeSpell vs. Scrooge’s accountant Fenton Crackshell and his buildable Gizmoduck armor.

Water TowerWish #3: The Warner Brothers’ (and the Warner Sister) Water Tower

If you don’t know that I loved the 90s cartoon show Animaniacs, you don’t really know me all that well. Perhaps the best animated series of the last two decades, I want to see a Water Tower set complete with Yakko, Wakko, and Dot. Although he’s not really an enemy, we also need Ralph the Guard trying to catch them, along with Dr. Scratchansniff and Hello Nurse. It would be easy to throw cameo Animaniacs characters in too – perch some Goodfeathers on the side of the tower, have Rita and Runt roaming on the ground, and so on.

But a Water Tower seems like a kind of simple, almost boring build. That ends when you open it up, to find one of the most ridiculously complicated LEGO builds ever to branch out from the Technic line. Inside the tower we’d find one of Wakko’s insane Rube Goldberg-style devices, with one feature activating the next over and over until it finally triggers a comically underblown finale, as in the episode where he did exactly that simply to make a fart noise with a whoopee cushion. Ah Wakko, you genius.

Some may notice that I neglected to mention two of the most popular characters from Animaniacs in this wish. I didn’t forget, guys. But come on – Pinky and the Brain and ACME Labs deserve their own separate build.

That’s it for Three Wishes. Please feel free to chime in with your own ideas for dream LEGO sets, or to suggest topics for future Three Wishes installments!