Thursday, March 14, 2019

Five Possible Comic Book Movies Not Involving Superheroes

There is a good reason why most movies based on comic books are superhero movies. While superheroes did not originate with comic books, there can be no doubt that superheroes have been the dominant genre of the medium for much of its history. That having been said, superheroes are hardly the only genre covered by comic books. In fact, from about the end of World War II to the beginning of the Silver Age (with Showcase no 4, October 1956, which introduced the Silver Age version of The Flash), superheroes were a rarity in comic books. While this period is best known for the horror titles of the sort published by E.C., the comic book industry published titles in a number of different genres, including Westerns, humour, romance, and mystery.

Given the number of different genres that comic books have covered over the years, it is fully possible for a movie to be based on a comic book and not involve a superhero. Indeed, there have already been a few, including American Splendour (2003), Constantine (2005), Ghost World (2001), and Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), among many others. There is no shortage of comic books in genres other than superheroes that could easily be adapted as films. Here are five of them.

Adam Strange: If you are a Baby Boomer or Gen Xer and read DC Comics, chances are you are familiar with Adam Strange. Adam Strange was created by editor Julius Schwartz and artist Murphy Anderson, and first appeared in Showcase  no. 17, November 1958. Adam Strange is an archaeologist who found himself teleported to the planet Rann in the Alpha Centauri system (later changed to Polaris). There he befriended Alanna and her father, the scientist Zardath. As might be expected, Alanna became his romantic interest and later his wife. Adam soon became Rann's champion, defending the planet against various threats. Unfortunately for Adam, the effects of the zeta beam would return him to Earth exactly where he had been. Fortunately, he would be called back to Rann on a fairly regular basis. After a successful tryout in Showcase, Adam Strange earned a place in DC Comics' science fiction anthology Mystery in Space.

What set Adam Strange apart from other science fiction series in comic books of the time is that it seemed much more believable. While attending City College of New York, editor Julius Schwartz had majored in math and physics. He was then able to give writer Gardner Fox advice on how to make Adam's adventures more scientifically plausible. Since the Silver Age, Adam Strange has continued to be popular and still appears in the pages of DC Comics from time to time.

Hop Harrigan: Aviators were popular heroes from the Twenties into the early Forties. Indeed, during the Thirties, newspaper comic strips were filled with such high-flying heroes as Tailspin Tommy, Scorchy Smith, and Ace Drummond. It was only a matter of time before comic books would capitalise on the popularity of aviators at the time. Hop Harrigan first appeared in All-American Comics no. 1, April 1939, the very first title published by All-American Publications, one of the companies that would become the modern day DC Comics.

Hop Harrigan began life as an orphan whose father, a famous pilot, disappeared while flying to South America. He was raised by a greedy neighbour who falsely claimed to be Hop's legal guardian so he could get his hands on the boy's inheritance. Once Hop reached adulthood, the corrupt neighbour tried to destroy one of Hop's father's old biplanes. Hop dispatched the old man and then took off in the biplane, never to return. He befriended mechanic Tank Tinker and with others they founded the All-American Aviation Company. Hop then launched on a series of adventures.

While Hop Harrigan is largely forgotten by everyone except fans of Golden Age comics, he was a popular character in the late Thirties and Forties. A radio show, Hop Harrigan, ran from August 31 1942 to February 6 1948. There was also a 16 chapter movie serial, Hop Harrigan, that was released on March 28 1946. The character would ultimately last until All-American Comics no. 99, July 1948. By that time aviator heroes were not as popular as they once were. Since then Hop Harrigan has very rarely appeared in DC Comics. Despite this, I think the adventures of a high-flying aviator in the early Forties would be a good change of pace from the many superhero movies.

Kid Colt: Today Marvel Comics is best known for their superheroes, but prior to the Silver Age they published titles in a plethora of other genres. In fact, I have to suspect that prior to the Silver Age they may have been best known for their Western titles. In fact, Marvel's Western comic books were so successful that they were published for over thirty years, from 1946 to 1979. Their most successful character, Kid Colt, was also the longest running Western character in the history of comic books. His title, Kid Colt Outlaw lasted from 1948 to 1979.

Kid Colt was wrongly accused of murder. With evidence stacked against him, Kid Colt went on the run. With his horse Steel, Kid Colt helped people throughout the West while trying to clear his name. While Kid Colt Outlaw ended its run in 1979, Kid Colt has appeared occasionally in Marvel Comics ever since. Indeed, in the TV show Agent Carter, in one episode Howard Stark's movie studio was even making a movie based on Kid Colt, whom Stark calls a historical figure. Kid Colt remains relatively well known among comic book fans to this day, and with the renewed popularity of Westerns would make him a good hero of a feature film.

Millie the Model: Not only was the company that would eventually become known as Marvel Comics known for their Western titles prior to the Silver Age, but their humour titles as well. Starting in 1944 the company that would become Marvel would publish humour titles based around career women (Tessie the Typist, Nellie the Nurse). The company would go onto publish other humour titles, including the highly successful teen humour title Patsy Walker. Perhaps Marvel's most successful humour title was Millie the Model. Millie was created by artist and writer Ruth Atkinson, and first appeared in Millie the Model no. 1, Winter 1945. Her title would run until issue no. 207, December 1973. Millie the Model would be important as a training ground for legendary artist Dan DeCarlo, the man who would later define the look of the Archie Comics characters for decades and would still later create Josie, of Josie and the Pussycats fame.

The "Millie" of Millie the Model was Millie Collins, who moved from the small town of Sleepy Gap, Kansas to New York City. There she met photographer Clicker Holbrook (who later became her boyfriend), who got her a job with the Hanover Modelling Agency. Her best friend was the wardrobe assistant at Hanover, Daisy. Her frenemy was fellow model Chili Storm. Since her title ended in 1973, Millie has appeared infrequently in the pages of Marvel Comics. Millie the Model remains fairly well known among fans of Marvel Comics. And while the character originated in the Forties, I could easily see Millie the Model adapted as a sex comedy of the variety for which Doris Day was best known, set in the late Fifties or early Sixties.

Tomahawk: The years 1946 and 1947 saw a boom in Western comic books, but one of DC Comics' most successful characters predated that era by around 100 years. Tomahawk first appeared in Star Spangled Comics no. 69, June 1947 and earned his own title with Tomahawk no. 1, September 1950. Tomahawk proved very successful, appearing in his own title until Tomahawk no. 130, October 1970. Afterwards it was taken over by Hawk, the son of Tomahawk, who proved much less successful. With Hawk as the star, the title only lasted another nine issues.

Tomahawk was Tom Hawk (given as Thomas Haukins in later stories), who had been raised by American Indians. He was called "Tomahawk" because of his skill with that weapon. He had served under George Washington during the French and Indian Wars. During the Revolutionary War he was the leader of Tomahawk's Rangers, a group who engaged in guerilla warfare against the British under the orders of George Washington. Among the Rangers were such colourful characters as Big Anvil (a huge blacksmith) and Frenchie (a former French sailor who joined the Rangers), among others. Tomahawk's sidekick was the youthful Dan Hunter.

Originally Tomahawk was featured in straight-forward Revolutionary War adventures, although, like many DC Comics of the time, in the late Fifties he would increasingly become involved in fantastic adventures involving everything from dinosaurs, tree-men, and a giant gorilla (a mainstay of DC Comics of the era). Fortunately, in the Sixties the title shifted back to straight forward Revolutionary War adventures. I figure any movie based on Tomahawk would eschew the fantastic adventures and instead concentrate on straight-forward Revolutionary War action. 

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