Two years, or even two weeks ago, the success of a comic-book movie whose main characters include a talking raccoon and a sentient tree, one directed and co-written by a man whose previous movie featured a delusional would-be crimefighter bashing people’s heads in with a wrench, was anything but assured. But with “Guardians of the Galaxy” notching a record-breaking August opening weekend of $94 million, it would seem like the sky’s the limit, weirdness-wise: If a hit movie can find a place for Howard the Duck, all bets are off. But comics fans know that, as eccentric as the Guardians’ lineup may be, it’s only scratching the surface. Here are five properties that, Groot or no Groot, defy any jump to the big screen.
Peter Milligan first rose to prominence with a handful of much-beloved comic oddities, such as the psychedelic Indian head-trip Rogan Gosh and the punk artifact Skin. But the writer didn’t just break into the mainstream with his darkly satirical superteam X-Statix in 2002; he broke the mainstream. X-Statix viciously deconstructed every phony bit of comic-book artifice and poured arsenic into the foundation’s cracks. The mutant crimefighters didn’t battle for truth, freedom or the American way. A group of carefully groomed media superstars, they fought to enhance their own public profiles, get public airtime and rub shoulders with Hollywood glitterati (the cruel suggestion from Milligan, a proud Brit, being that this is the new American way). All this, predating Twitter by half a decade. Beyond putting fame-whoring media culture on trial, the series tackled thorny politics of race, queer sexuality and class tension in the U.S. of A. It’s not that these topics could never survive in movie theaters. The core problem here is that each member of X-Statix, from the materialistic U-Go Girl to the suicidally depressed Orphan, was a more contemptible asshole than the next. That, and Milligan had a nasty habit of killing characters off after a few issues. It’s a crying shame we’ll likely never see Doop, a bean-shaped alien who speaks in indecipherable symbols, at our neighborhood cinema.
Great Lakes Avengers
As noted above, the Guardians of the Galaxy flirt with silliness. But anyone who’s seen the film can attest to the prevailing badassery of the crimefighters. Rocket Raccoon’s machine gun is nearly larger than he is, and Groot has the physique of a slightly beefier Vin Diesel. It’d take a lot of serious reimagining to turn the Great Lakes Avengers into a formidable fighting force. Conceived as the American heartland’s response to NYC’s Avengers and the slightly lower-profile West Coast Avengers, the GLA protect the Midwest from Z-list threats. Spearheaded by Mr. Immortal (exactly what he sounds like), the roster also includes Flatman (exactly what he sounds like) and Squirrel Girl (disturbingly, exactly what she sounds like). The comics mined the property for comedy more than derring-do, with one arc chronicling the Great Lakes Avengers’ legal contention with the Gay-Lesbian Alliance for naming rights. Outright superhero comedies certainly aren’t unheard of; “Mystery Men,” for one, is an extended riff on this same premise. But it’d be a surprise to see a major studio like Marvel sink the time and money into such an offbeat project.
Not all adaptation-proof properties are damned by their own premise. Some are just bad luck. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A cosmic hero with the powers of flight and superhuman strength joins an intergalactic Corps to vanquish evil from the nether corners of space. If that conjures images of DC’s failed “Green Lantern” film, you’re not alone. A quick Google search for Nova zealously auto-prompts “Nova Green Lantern ripoff.” The comics took the man formerly known as Richard Rider on adventures wildly divergent from those of DC’s ring-bearing hero, but casual audiences with angry memories of “Green Lantern” walkouts fresh in their minds might not make a distinction. With enough time for wounds to scab over and heal, perhaps the Nova Corps could soar on the silver screen, but for now, anything that smacks even slightly of the Ryan Reynolds-led flop is Hollywood poison.
The days following the initial announcement that “Guardians of the Galaxy” would see a theatrical release were a magical, heady time. Fans went crazy with speculation. Suddenly, no team was too obscure or too unorthodox for a big-screen treatment. Things have since cooled off, and X-Club seems to be where we draw the line. In Marvel’s comic-book universe, the Scarlet Witch went a little crazy after a some drama with her brother Quicksilver and dear old dad Magneto. In a fit of distraught rage, she accidentally divorced 91.4% of all mutants from their powers. That fateful, game-changing event was henceforth known as M-Day, and the status quo was irrevocably altered. The X-Men’s resident egghead Beast gathered a group of researchers to explore possibilities of reversing that tragic occurrence, through science or magic. One can assume that this would not make for a riveting film. Just spitballing, but most of the scenes would likely show Beast bemoaning a lack of grant funding, interviewing potential interns, or waiting for results of tests to come back.
It’s not something a reader notices unless he really thinks about it, but most of Marvel’s peace-keeping forces are headquartered in America. Sure, the comics have seen heroes defending Japan (Sunfire) and the deepest reaches of Africa (Black Panther) while the Avengers often globe-trot to quash nefarious doings wherever they crop up. But huge swaths of the globe remain sitting ducks for evildoers. Enter Alpha Flight, the pre-eminent defenders of our neighbors to the north. James Hudson leads the Canadian superteam under the guise of Guardian (a character doomed to a lifetime of being mistakenly called “Captain Canada”). Its ranks include hyper-agile dwarf Puck, shape-shifter Snowbird, who may assume the form of any animal native to Canada, and Shaman, a character regrettably reinforcing the racially problematic assumption that all Native Americans act as a conduit between our dimension and some kind of spirit world. Americans love a lot of things: we love our explosions big and loud, our heroes ruggedly handsome, and our in-battle repartee snappy. But more than anything, we love America. Thanks but no thanks, Alpha Flight. Return from whence you came and stick to foiling robberies at Tim Hortons franchises.