Word is quickly leaking out in regards to DC Comics parent company, Warner Brothers and its new direction when it comes to mining their stable of comic book characters and turning them into films.
Green Lantern has a finished script and is on a fast track to production. Nihilist cowboy, Jonah Hex, is not far behind and Preacher will see the big screen with Sam Mendes at the helm. Superman will get a reboot and a third Batman is sure to be made.
But what other film-primed characters does DC have, beyond the mainstays? This 5-part column will look at the next potential crop of comic book films, hopefully appearing at your local theatre in the not-to-distant future.
He’s dead and he’d be the main character in a supernatural action film. There’s nothing cooler than that!
At its core, Deadman is the surrealist, spiritual version of The Fugitive. Created by comic book legends, writer Arnold Drake and artist Carmine Infantino in 1967 and serialized monthly in the pages of Strange Adventures, Deadman is the story of circus trapeze artist Boston Brand, mysteriously murdered during a performance by a man with a high-powered rifle – and a hook for a hand. However, just when most stories would end, Deadman’s tale only begins. Boston Brand’s spirit remains on this earthly plane and is bestowed with the power to possess the bodies of the living by the Hindu Goddess, Rama Kushna in order to search for his killer and obtain the justice he deserves.
I first became fascinated with the character in 1985 when the original story was collected in a deluxe 7-issue mini series. It was the incredible art of Neal Adams, who took over for Infantino early on, that drew me into the book. Well, that and the simple but iconic red costume and it’s those iconic drawings that would translate so well to film. Perhaps the most iconic Deadman image – in a plethora of outstanding drawings – can be seen at the top of this column: the spirit of Boston Brand, still dressed in his performance costume, rising from his own dead body, a harrowing look on his ashen face.
While the main premise of the Deadman story in those early days was fairly derivative, it was the cinematic Neal Adams images that made the character stand out from the rest of the comics on the newsstand shelves. In addition, it had strange elements of mysticism inherent in the story, a product of the sixties hippie generation, that also helped to differentiate it from other comics. The series itself was full of epic moments and themes that would translate extremely well to the silver screen, introducing the story and characters to a twenty-first century audience. Chief among these significant moments, already captured in pen and ink by the brilliant hand of Infantino, can be found early in the story, as Deadman is high atop his trapeze platform, his nervous audience far below, gasping for breath. He leaps out into mid air, and, pausing for a fleeting moment, his back, arms and legs suddenly contort with the rigidness of stone as the sound of a gunshot’s “crack” echoes throughout the big top. A startling scene, indeed. Deadman’s battle with his acrobatic nemesis, Eagle, as rendered by Adams in the comics, atop a moving Ferris wheel is another lasting, action-packed image, that should be seen on a big screen.
In order to convey the story, it was imperative that the artists of the comic book Deadman in the way most readers were accustomed: corporeal and in his acrobatic costume. Still, with the power to inhabit the bodies of the living, Infantino and Adams would draw a greenish aura around any form that the vengeful ghost inhabited so that readers knew “where” the character was. This solution may not work for film, however. A director would have to come to terms, visually, on how they might reveal a living human as being possessed by Boston Brand. Still this gives the opportunity for not only comedy, drama and excitement but also tension, especially true when the story reveals that Deadman, for some arcane reason, is prevented from possessing the one body he must.
As the series and character progressed, and as more writers and artists contributed to the mythology, Deadman became more and more about the spiritual dealing of Indian and Asian folklore. The theme of mysticism got heavier and, in some of his stories in the 80’s and 90’s, ghosts, demons and exorcisms were introduced. It is this evolution: from earthly action to mysticism and fantasy to gothic horror that would provide the most provocative backdrop to a Deadman film – or even series of films.
The one director that comes to mind who posseses the interest, the capability, the track record and the vision to attribute these elements, this progression, into a cohesive film, is the one director who has actually been affiliated with the project in the past.
The idea of a Deadman movie is not new. A few years back, it was floated as a possible vehicle for acclaimed Mexican and Academy Award nominated director, Guillermo Del Toro.
Although interested, Del Toro, an avid comic book fan, went on to make two Hellboy films as well as the more personal project, Pan’s Labyrinth. His personal projects suit him best for Deadman. The fantasy elements and imagery inherent in Pan’s Labyrinth and the discourse on how these elements interact with the real world drama of the film is exactly what a Deadman movie requires: a magical and sometimes horrifying resonance between reality and the spiritual world. This is the underpinning of an interesting Deadman, be it in celluloid or the printed page. One can only imagine, for instance, what Boston Brand’s circus would be like in the hands of Del Toro.
The director’s work on The Devil’s Backbone, a ghost story, shows that he is also able to balance both tension and dread with human innocence while Hellboy demonstrated Del Toro’s knack for big Hollywood action sequences – all elements that a great Deadman film would require.
Alas, Del Toro has moved on to the once-in-a-lifetime chance to direct The Hobbit alongside producer, Peter Jackson. We won’t see his name attached to a Deadman movie in our lifetime. Still, I believe that he is the right director for the job. We’ll simply have to wait.
If not in this life, perhaps the afterlife will have to do