Comics books have never fared too well on the small screen with smaller comics like The Middlemen and Human Target being chosen more for their concepts than brand-recognition. Heroes was initially a smash hit, a mish-mash of various comics like X-Men and Watchmen, that quickly petered out after it's first season. The Walking Dead is a first, however; the show is spearheaded by a big-name director, Frank Darabont, and is being broadcast not on sanitized network television but cable, with channels like HBO, Showtime and FX creating a golden-age for grown-up, well-made television that recalls the American cinema of the 70s. AMC is, in many ways, the new kid on the block but their three headline shows - Mad Men, Breaking Bad and now The Walking Dead - have quickly pushed them to the forefront of this new breed of television, their sights clearly set on the biggest of the bunch, HBO.
Two episodes in and The Walking Dead is already AMC's most successful venture and this week, they commissioned a second season (http://www.comicsbeat.com/2010/11/08/the-walking-dead-shambles-to-another-season-setting-ratings-records/). In much the same way as Hollywood began scouring the comic book shelves for the next big thing after Spider-Man showed them how it's done, television executives will surely soon be doing the same, most likely favouring the kind of comics that combine complex, mature narratives with intriguing concepts and multi-arc storytelling.
So here's my list of comics, paired with interesting directors/showrunners, that the likes of HBO and the other cable networks should be eyeing up for turning into the next Walking Dead.
100 Bullets (Brian Azzarello/Eduardo Risso)
Showrunners: Darren Aronofsky & Martin McDonogh
In many ways, a no-brainer; this comic screams out for a television series adaptation that can deliver on it's narrative complexity and explore the moral ambiguity at its heart without sacrificing it's strong grasp on character and dialogue, in a way that a single two hour movie could never do. The simple but brilliant concept: a man gives you a briefcase, an untraceable gun and 100 bullets in which you can finally gain revenge on that son-of-a-bitch who destroyed your life. Love, lust, revenge; any reason will do. The comic perhaps diverged too far into the central conspiracy of The Minutemen by its end but the ingredients are all their for a modern-day noir TV show that can deliver both episodic or multi-arc narratives.
Aronofsky's visual style and newly-acquired naturalistic acting style would give this comic it's look but it's McDonogh who could deliver that mix of noir tragedy/comedy that the comics does so well. His film In Bruges was a tightly plotted, effective noir that, though set in a provincial and beautiful European city and ostensibly a comedy, still managed to deliver on those quiet, tormented moments of horror facing two professional killers laying low after a hit.
Criminal (Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips)
Showrunner: Andrew Dominik
Criminal is a noir crime comic with tight, thoughtful plots and a tough, grimy cast of characters from Brubaker complimented wonderfully by evocative, moody art from Philips. It's a lean, dirty comic with moments of lyricism and poetry. Who better then than the director of the film based on Australian real-life crime superstar Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to bring this to life. Andrew Dominik may not be a household name but he has the chops to bring Criminal, bruised and battered, to the small screen.
Scalped (Jason Aaron/R.M. Guera)
Showrunner: David Simon
Life on a Native American reservation: corruption, drugs, gambling, family, tradition. A large cast of compelling characters and thoughtful, mature storytelling that doesn't shy away from the realities and contradictions of a people still struggling with the past, this would make a rather captivating companion piece to Simon's other masterpiece, The Wire.
Sandman (Neil Gaiman/Various Artists)
Showrunners: David Lynch & Terry Gilliam
A film may never do it justice but television may be a better fit for what is considered one of the very best comics series out there. The choice of showrunners may be ambitious but they're a perfect fit: Gilliam's fantastical whimsy and Lynch's unravelling of reality's dark underbelly, as well as both director's abilities to convey the humanity of eccentric, often bizarre characters would fit Gaiman's world well.
DMZ (Brian Wood/Riccardo Burchielli)
Showrunner: Paul Greengrass
Set in the not-too-distant future of New York City, where a civil war between the federal government of the United States and the 'Free States' armies has turned Manhattan into a demilitarized zone. The central character is a photojournalist who gets separated from his news crew after an attack and reports from the inside of the DMZ. Incredibly prevalent (the Free States army are a bunch of ideological secessionists, mostly made up of right-wing militants. Sound familiar?), this series would allow for an exploration into the political, social and economic problems of today under the cover of a high-concept, dystopian thriller.Greengrass is the perfect choice for this show. Possible second choice: Nick Broomfield, whose recent films, Ghost and Battle For Haditha, are similar in style to Greengrass but arguably even more 'real' in tone.
Transmetropolitan (Warren Ellis/Darick Robertson)
Showrunner: Alfonso Cuaron
This much-missed series was one of the most fun and inventive comics of the last twenty years, crammed full of science-fiction ideas, great characters and an irascible sense of humour that owed a heavy debt to Hunter S. Thompson. Cuaron's Children of Men, while more of a dystopian, realistic film, was an astounding cinematic achievement that crammed multiple ideas into a series of ambitious single takes, delivering information not through exposition but visually, in much the same way as Darick Robertson crams as many ideas into the background of his panels as possible without sacrificing the central narrative at the forefront. Icing to the cake: get Warren Ellis to write for the show. He's a one man House of Ideas.
RASL (Jeff Smith)
Showrunner: Richard Kelly
Admittedly, a slightly odd choice on both counts, Jeff Smith's post-Bone time/dimension hopping comic may be more suited to the cinema screen but the world he's created in only eight issues of RASL is so imaginative and full of creative possibilities that it could easily be adapted into an adventurous, science-fiction show. Kelly, the director of indie hit Donnie Darko and the best-forgotten Southland Tales could nail this comics evocative mix of sci-fi, adventure and horror. I almost suggested Christopher Nolan but figured his tight, restricted formalism may take away too much from Smith's at times chaotic narrative.