Superhero Shows: Offbeat Adventurers Who Belong on TV
Think of some current or recent TV shows inspired by comic books and what they have in common. They revolve around major characters in the comics universe (like Gotham, Arrow, The Flash and Smallville) or have a direct tie-in to a successful movie franchise (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). To paraphrase a character from another superhero show, “Holy Obvious, Batman!”
It’s a little sad that an enterprise fueled by imagination could be so, well, unimaginative.
The world of comic books features a plethora of obscure, underrated or less established characters who are still fascinating. Many of these heroes have personalities and narratives that, in the hands of the right creative team and a supportive network, would make for spellbinding television.
So don your cape, stock your utility belt with popcorn and behold the following list of some offbeat but intriguing choices for superhero TV shows.
She’s a teenager from New Jersey, who’s also of Pakistani descent and a follower of Islam, who’s also a superhero. Meet Kamala Khan, the current Ms. Marvel of Marvel Comics. Sure, the concept has a lot of layers, but TV is full of unlikely protagonists these days.
Featuring a plucky young heroine, the Ms. Marvel show would in some ways echo Veronica Mars. Younger viewers would find it easy to relate to Kamala, who faces many of the usual complications of teenage life – dealing with overprotective parents, wondering whether to fit in or stand out at school, etc. Add the superpowers and the whole fight against evil and you’ve got quite the heady brew.
Making the hero super: Ms. Marvel’s powers mostly fall into the shape-shifter category. She can manipulate her size, alter her appearance and elongate her limbs, torso and neck. The show would need a decent budget for CGI, but the effects are definitely doable.
In the middle of his trapeze act, circus performer Boston Brand is murdered by a mysterious assassin. Now a ghost, Boston receives the power to possess the bodies of the living by a Hindu goddess. His objective is to find the killer and avenge his death, but he feels obligated to right a few wrongs along the way by helping out innocent people.
It’s a little bit Dead Like Me and a little bit Quantum Leap. Still, any superhero TV show is high-concept by definition, and this one could work. With a sense of empathy belied by his crusty exterior, Boston Brand fills the role of cool antihero admirably. And did we mention that his spirit “wears” the eerie red and black costume his physical self died in?
Making the hero super: Deadman is invisible and intangible, so the actors and stage directions would carry some of the burden of pulling off the effects. And since Boston’s spirit metaphysically incorporates some of the acrobatic athleticism he displayed in life, the show would need quality stunt work. All in all, though, it’s probably no more daunting than the effects for a show like Supernatural.
A teleportation experiment leaves a super-powered scientist from Mars stranded on Earth. While waiting for a rescue, he figures he might as well make himself useful by fighting crime as a police detective.
This setup has all the elements of a potential TV hit – a detective show with a classic fish-out-of-water protagonist. The fact that the protagonist in question has superhuman abilities that rival those of Superman only makes it cooler. Plus, the cerebral and unflappable Manhunter would make a terrific foil for the show’s human characters.
Making the hero super: Martian Manhunter has an astonishing array of abilities, including Herculean strength, the power of flight and shape-shifting. Modern effects technology can portray all those powers, but the real challenge could lie with the writers. When the Manhunter gets into a jam, they’d have to resist the temptation to use a random superpower as a cheap plot device.
The Great Machine
The explosion of a mysterious device leaves New York City civil engineer Mitchell Hundred with the ability to communicate with and command machines. As the superhero The Great Machine, Hundred intervenes in the 9/11 attacks and prevents the second hijacked airliner from hitting the World Trade Center. Sounds like standard comic book fare, but the Ex Machina series adds a fascinating twist: Hundred is running for, and is eventually elected as, mayor of New York.
Mitchell Hundred makes for an intriguing TV protagonist – a superhero who transitions to an elected official. Because Hundred has given up his secret identity, the show would be free of many standard superhero tropes. The writers could focus on character development as Hundred faces issues that can’t be solved with a jetpack, like thorny policy decisions and interpersonal relationships.
Making the hero super: The Great Machine’s powers (technopathy) would translate well to the small screen. As the story progresses, though, the show would rely less and less on superhero FX.
Time to Explore Some Heroic Alternatives
When it comes to live-action entertainment, superheroes are hot properties. The creative minds in comics and television can use that momentum to explore more unconventional projects. After all, if Ant-Man can get a movie, why can’t a hero like Ms. Marvel, Deadman, Martian Manhunter or The Great Machine get a TV show?