So, post-Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., there’s been a lot of chatter about more superheroes getting TV shows…
Well, that’s not it exactly. See, S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t actually about superheroes: it’s about Avengers supporting character, Phil Coulson, and his gang of equally non-superheroic GAP models. As such, the oddly-specific formula being pursued now seems to be about giving superheroes’ supporting casts their own shows. So there’s talk of Captain America’s super-spy girlfriend, Peggy Carter, getting a series, and there’s talk of a show about Jim Gordon’s early days on the Gotham City PD, before being commissioner and before Batman (presumably taking a Batman Begins approach to… Batman Begins?).
This all sounds as puzzling and self-contradictory as a burger joint that only serves soda, fries and various flavors of spicy mustard. Of course, it would’ve been just as sensible to question how many stories could be told about Superman when he isn’t Superman – and the answer to that particular quandary ending up being “ten seasons worth.”
Now, while we’re in the spirit of putting pit crews into the driver’s seat, as it were, what say we pitch a few hypothetical, sort-of superhero shows that could chase this golden goose?
1. The Spy Adventures of Batman’s Butler
Remember that whole speech Alfred gives in The Dark Knight about how “some men just want to watch the world burn?” It sounded cool, sure, but were you maybe a little befuddled when you thought more about it? What the hell was he doing in Burma? Why exactly was he working with the government and bribing tribal leaders with tangerine-sized gems? Was a certain, famously erudite British actor simply being allowed to riff out some backstory for his part?
The movies gloss over it but, yes, before he was in the business of serving tea and (* AHEM *) judiciously burning private letters, Alfred Pennyworth was actually in the spy biz. In fact, his real name is Alfred Beagle. “Pennyworth” is just a code name! A really stodgy, uncool code name. Instead of transitioning into the very profitable world of private security, old Al got about following the family tradition of servitude at stately Wayne Manor (with a stab at theater along the way because, presumably, that makes for a more rounded DC Who’s Who bio).
Now, Alfred could’ve simply been running surveillance and trading information while he was an active agent. C’mon, though – we simply must assume that he was capping commies (or whatever acceptable international enemy will fit into a new timeline so Alfred isn’t centuries old). The show’s absurdly easy to picture after that. Pepper in encounters with beautiful foreign agents into every episode, gunfights at every commercial break, a top secret Pennyworth jet and the occasional one-off where Alfred must call upon his thespian training for an undercover mission (and to show his playful side)… and you’ve got your latest, tenuous extension of a billion dollar, multi-media franchise!
2. The Spy Adventures of Spider-Man’s Dead Parents
If the espionage of Alfred Pennyworth doesn’t pan out, there’s always the espionage of Spider-Man’s parents. Yes, little Peter Parker’s folks were also spooks (as they were called in the cold war days), because no superhero’s parents can ever just be plain, ordinary people. Richard and Mary Parker were members of S.H.I.E.L.D., in fact! And there’d be some incredible cross-over potential with the current show on ABC… if only the motion picture rights to Spider-Man and S.H.I.E.L.D weren’t currently owned by different studios.
The Parkers also did a mission with Wolverine once! So, there’d be some incredible cross-over potential there, as well… if only the motion pictures rights to the X-Men weren’t owned by yet another, separate studio.
Well, as long we’re keeping straight which characters this show would be legally permitted to use, viewers can tune in every week, expecting exciting guest stars like Dr. Curt Conners (before the accident that turned him into the Lizard, of course) and the young and dapper businessman Adrian Toombs (long before he wore a flying harness as the Vulture). We’ll even get to meet Richard’s older brother, Ben, and his girlfriend, May. (Incidentally, there was actually a comic about the four of these kids working together at a summer resort, wherein it was revealed that Peter was actually Aunty May’s illegitimate son. We’ll, uh… ignore that).
Again, viewers will be able to tune in every week to see where our friendly neighborhood wallcrawler got his trademark wit and daring spirit from. Of course, these two died before they could actually raise Peter, but surely their abstract, indirect influence on Peter can be dramatized in way that keeps this relevant to people who only maybe watched one of the movies. I mean, c’mon… this is the story of two globe-trotting thrillseekers in love! Their bravery and marriage will be tested, but Richard and Mary always come out on top in this feel-good period piece about great responsibility to your country. Thrills and adventure are a given, but love conquers all… until Mary and Richard meet their untimely deaths, of course.
3. Last Call for Logan
Wolverine drinks. A lot. Even though his famous healing factor would logically prevent him from ever getting intoxicated. Since he can’t chase away any painful memories of Weapon X with bitter spirits, we have to conclude that Wolvie simply enjoys some combination of smoky ambiance and lively companionship offered up by your local dive. And if he’s cooped up at the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, having to set a good example for all the students, then you know he’s running out to the local watering hole as often as possible.
Of course, if we were to actually make this show about Logan, it would betray the “supporting” sensibility we’re supposed to be following here. Instead, it will be just like Cheers – as in, so much like Cheers it will seem like old Cheers spec scripts which have been awkwardly repurposed with the arbitrary insertion of Wolverine. It will follow all the follies of the regular patrons of some bar that’s about a 10-20 minute drive across Westchester county. Much like Norm, everyone’s favorite mutant Logan will make an appearance every so often, getting greeted by cheers from the live studio audience before he describes his most recent misadventures with the Brood or Phalanx. Occasionally, familiar faces from Logan’s job will tag along, including the lovelorn-but-ever-hopeful Charles, the cool-as-a-cucumber Bobby Drake, and Logan’s fiery-hot ex-girlfriend, Jean.
But again… THE FOCUS WILL ALWAYS BE ON THE TRAVAILS OF THE BAR PATRONS, WHICH HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ONGOING BATTLE FOR MUTANT RIGHTS! Highlight episodes will include “The Billiard Tournament” and “This One’s for You, Morph,” wherein Logan drops in for the first five minutes to spin the tragic yarn of an old departed friend over shots of Canadian whiskey… then promptly leaves for an unspecified mission.
4. The Daily (Planet) Show
Who hasn’t been excited to sit down with a Superman comic, only to end up frustrated when the tension and drama of the the modern newspaper office is brusquely interrupted by the arrival of a ridiculous man in a cape!? If Smallville already explored the most boring years of Clark Kent’s life, then The Daily Planet Show would go one step further by exploring the most boring hours of his day.
Expect plenty of Jimmy Olsen (and not the wacky Silver Age Jimmy who’s always turning into a giant turtle, either). Come watch Lois Lane cover a press conference at the Metropolis public works office, taking detailed notes as the committee argues over budgeting the reconstruction of the downtown district after an attack by Brainiac (which is never seen on screen). Bite your nails anxiously as editor-in-chief Perry White browbeats Clark Kent for his apparent plagiarizing of an article printed by the Planet’s #1 rival newspaper (how could he have been so busy that couldn’t write better copy? It will never actually be explained).
These are the stories – far more personal and intimate than any slugfest with General Zod in outer space – which address the mundane, day-to-day of life in Metropolis. Isn’t this what you really want to see more of when you were watching all that super-powered demolition in Man of Steel?
Conversely, if DC passes on this pitch, Marvel can pick it up just as easily (and needlessly) with The Daily Bugle, a show about the trashy tabloid that Spider-Man takes pictures for.
5. Spawn: The Storyteller
Following the current popularity of zombies (and that charming studio wisdom about superhero costumes needing to be minimized for modern audiences to take them seriously), we’re going to strip everything off Spawn – his mask, his cape, his chains – until all we have left is a walking corpse with a face like hamburger. While we’re at it, we’ll also take out all the tacky stuff about fighting demons so as to keep the focus squarely on the hobos that the former Al Simmons likes to pal around with.
Every week, our faithful narrator Spawn will shamble in and greet us with another hair-raising tail from the streets. It’ll be like like Tales from the Crypt, but with the casts limited entirely to bums. Well, maybe the occasional hooker. Spawn himself will sometimes appear in these yarns, but his appearances will be rare and brief (wouldn’t want to steal the spotlight from the real human drama!). Stories of redemption, panhandling, and scams gone awry will be the norm, and Spawn will always return to close out each story by spelling out the valuable lesson it demonstrated. Think of it as The Canterbury Tales for a new generation of idiots.
And if the ratings ever get low, we can always put out a reliable trump card and hew this closer to CSI by involving Spawn’s trusty gumshoe pals, Sam and Twitch. These few episodes would be titled “Rat City Rodent Roundup” and “The Mystery of the Missing Miscreant,” because there’s nothing more macabre than alliteration.
6. Ministry of Science Adventures
You may think it impossible to convince anyone to fund a TV spin-off of a CG animated family movie – based on a 60-year-old Japanese comic book, no less – which totally bombed at the box office four years ago. We say there’s no shortage of private investors who’ll never bother to research the entertainment business before putting money up.
To pile obscurity upon obscurity, this show would push aside the Ministry’s most famous achievement, the mighty Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy, natch), so as to put the spotlight on all the indistinct and often unnamed engineers in the Ministry itself. The one and only set will be a large, sterile room with a chalkboard, and each week will see a new invention being tested with ever more exciting discoveries… well… ever more somberly observed scientific findings.
If any inventions ever soar on to great heights (like a certain Mighty Atom), we’ll never know, because the #1 rule in the bible will prohibit the depiction of any daring super-heroic adventure on screen. Instead, we’ll have the calm and composed lab work of the emotionally-repressed scientists at the Ministry, constantly struggling to control their enthusiasm for innovation. Test tubes and beakers will overflow with bubbling liquids long before our cast ever bubble over with any sort of affection or excitement for each other.
You may question how much saleability this premise has in comparison to, say, any new story we could cook up about a research lab. Obviously, it’s all about pre-awareness – no matter how tenuous and obfuscated that awareness is. At least some people have heard of Astro Boy before, right?
7. The Punisher’s Days in Vietnam
We’ve saved this one for last because – GASP! – it could actually work. No Joke.
When Frank Castle was first introduced as a foe for Spider-Man, he basically fell somewhere between Death Wish and First Blood in the mid-70’s pulp zeitgeist; being an embittered Vietnam vet who brought military tactics back home to wage a war on crime. While most superheroes are constantly fretting about how to update their origins’ once-contemporary details (see: Tony Stark being captured by Vietnamese warlords vs. vaguely al-Qaeda-esque warlords in Afghanistan), Big Pun has been kept in his original era – even if that means that he’s a little old, by now!
There’s an excellent prequel mini-series, Born, which shows Castle as a young, war-addicted marine in Vietnam who administers his own brand of justice on corrupt soldiers. In the story, it quickly becomes clear that the Punisher was never just some normal guy who suddenly snapped after a tragedy. He was crazy long before his family’s murder. Their deaths just gave him license.
Another special, The Tyger, is entirely about a 10-year-old Castle growing up in a crime-ridden Hell’s Kitchen in the early 60’s. While that premise sounds more ridiculous than any of the ones we’ve thrown out here, believe it or not, it’s actually a compelling character study. We see a young boy with an already-pathological hatred for bullies, witnessing injustices in his neighborhood which will come to shape him for the rest of his life.
Dexter has pretty much eradicated any possibility of a “regular” Punisher show catching on since it’s already put forth a toned-down vision of a “good” serial killer that’s more palatable to audiences turned off by… flashier stuff (like, say, mowing down gangsters with a M60 machinegun). As such, the only way a Punisher show could work now would be an adaptation of these specific books: a tight historical series. Which means that, for once, the prospect of a show about a superhero when he isn’t a superhero is more compelling than a show about a superhero doing what he’s famous for.
previously by Alex Eckman-Lawn: