Comic Strips to Comic Flicks: Warren Ellis movies they haven’t made (yet)
In recent years, we’ve seen a boatload of comic books and graphic novels make their way to the silver screen, from “big two” stalwarts like Spider-Man and Batman to independent titles like Scott Pilgrim and 30 Days Of Night. Among the various adaptations, though, some creators have emerged as magnets for Hollywood types — and one writer in-particular has more to offer than anyone else: Warren Ellis.
Warren Ellis emerged in the late 1990s as the foremost sf writer working in comics. Starting with the seminal DC/Vertigo series Transmetropolitan and moving into his re-invention of the superhero genre with The Authority, Planetary and later Nextwave, Ellis became a rare thing — a successful writer in both the creator-owned field as well as the super-hero dominated work-for-hire mainstream. Along the way he became a prolific writer, with seemingly more graphic novels and trade paperbacks on shelves than any other comic creator. He’s produced more than 40 creator-owned series, with the recent film REDderived from the three-issue series he did with Cully Hamner. Ellis himself is no stranger to Hollywood — he’s worked on animated films for G.I. Joe, Castlevania and the upcoming anime based on Marvel’s Iron Man and Wolverine.
With such a broad and intelligent ouvre of work, Hollywood’s already lined up several more Ellis works they’d like to put on the big screen — but here are some ideas they may have not thought of (yet).
Global Frequency: I know, I know — they tried once and failed. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’d be a great series. Global Frequency was a 12-issue series of one-shots spotlighting individual cases of a covert intelligence agency that’s a 21st century version of Mission: Impossible with a dash of Dial H for Hero. Although the WB’s 2005 pilot failed to get a series order, producer Scott Nimerfro (X-Men, Pushing Daisies) is working on a new treatment for the CW network.
Orbiter: A space shuttle missing for 10 years reappears in a fiery crash on U.S. soil, and inside the wreckage NASA crews find the catatonic pilot and a plethora of alien technology. Space dramas such as this one have a long history in film, and given the upcoming decommissioning of the U.S. Space Shuttles, this film could provide particularly poignant with audiences. Imagine what someone like Paul Greengrass could do with an Orbiter feature film.
The Authority: Although not creator-owned, The Authority remains one of Ellis’ most-identifiable works. Co-created with Bryan Hitch, it was the first 21st century spin on super-heroes and set the tone for the super-hero genre as we know it today. Fans went wild when Castle actress Stana Katic was incorrectly quoted as saying she was working on a big-screen adaptation. Regardless, a film adaptation of The Authority could an intelligent Michael Bay movie and answer to the burgeoning super-hero film genre… that is, if the property’s owners, DC, would let it happen.
Fell: An inner-city cop gets transferred to a new beat in a strange suburb named Snowtown with oddities straight out of X-Files. Created with Ben Templesmith, Fell became one of the writer’s more popular creator-owned series in recent memory. At it’s heart it’s a police procedural but with an anachronistic bent and a side of social commentary. This would be an ideal project for a cable network like Showtime or HBO, especially if they could lure in someone like Michael Mann to direct the pilot and set the tone.
Transmetropolitan: An acerbic newspaper journalist navigates the streets and citizens of a 23rd century metropolis; A post-modern Edward R. Murrow replete with aliens, transhumanism and politics.Transmetropolitan was Ellis’ first major creator-owned work, and set in stone a good portion of the writer’s signature style for the years to come. Spider Jerusalem is one of Vertigo’s most recognizable characters, and there have been several attempts to translate him to the big screen. At one point, Star Trek’s Patrick Stewart had bought the rights to star in it, although the option has since lapsed. Most recently, Tim Roth’s name was bandied about by both Ellis and co-creator Darick Robertson as an ideal candidate for the role.
Ocean: In a space-bound future, a U.N. weapons inspector is sent out to a research station orbiting Europa after a cache of alien weapons, transportation technology and cryogenically frozen aliens are found beneath the moon’s icy surface. The inspection is interrupted when a corporate-owned platform swoops in to acquire the alien technology despite the potential for waking up this war-like alien race. In an interesting twist, Ocean was originally envisioned as a movie by Ellis and was only later adapted to comics form and illustrated by Chris Sprouse. Work is already underway on a feature film, with a producer from 300 attached and set-up with Warner Brothers.
Planetary: On one level it’s a smart action/adventure like Indiana Jones set in superhero culture, but on another it’s an exploration of superhero fiction in both comics and other related mediums. These “archeologists of the impossible” cover the broad landscape of cape fiction meeting public-domain classics and analogues of other popular characters from Doc Savage to Tarzan and even the Fantastic Four. Like Transmetropolitan, it’s been optioned at least once but no serious production has ever gotten off the ground. That’s not to say that an entrepreneurial director and a studio willing to finance it couldn’t make a great super-hero film that speaks to the larger issues of the genre itself.
Desolation Jones: On it’s surface, Ellis’ story of a British ex-spy exiled to Los Angeles might sound too similar to the TV series Burn Notice (which came after this series), but when you read it you see a more in-depth character study about broken people trying to make sense of their lives. In 2008, producer David Friendly (Little Miss Sunshine, Big Momma’s House) mentioned in an interview he had his eye on the book, but Ellis stated there were no talks and nothing came of the mention. Personally, I’d love to see Clint Eastwood helm the film, with a British counterpart such as Ian McKellan in the title role.
FreakAngels: In the flooded remains of London, a group of teenagers with supernatural powers try to foster a community of survivors while fending off threats from the outside and within. Although not Ellis’ first webcomic, FreakAngels has become his most identifiable — and his primary ongoing series at the moment. There are currently five volumes of the comic in print, and this would make an ideal film series or television program with the right budget, cast and visionary director. Anyone know Danny Boyle’s number?