If there is one thing we can learn from Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen (though there are many things), it is that HBO is a great place to adapt a densely plotted comic book. The cable channel allowed the limited series, which serves as a continuation of Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore’s groundbreaking graphic novel, to go above and beyond what network-based DC TV shows are able to accomplish.
With the utmost respect to all that Greg Berlanti has done for the comic book genre on the small screen, Watchmen's vigilantes could never exist in Arrow-verse without severely disrupting the comparatively lighter tones of each series. However HBO is a channel devoid of the same standards and practices as The CW, so the darker themes that Alan Moore crafted (and Damon Lindelof added) were able to come through without hesitation in the sequel series.
There are many other DC Comics properties that would demand the allowance of more mature content in their television adaptations, with some of them having already made the attempt at live-action treatments. Here, I have compiled six of DC’s darker titles that would be best suited for a network like HBO.
You can find your fair share of fantasy epics, futuristic cautionary tales, and reality-bending comedy on just about any network or streaming service these days, but one genre that HBO handles better than most is crime noir. True Detective, The Wire, and even Barry have redefined the television crime drama with engaging, multi-dimensional protagonists caught up in dangerous, hair-raising situations. That is exactly the sort of story that The Question tells.
Created by Steve Ditko in 1967, The Question is an alias passed down between a variety of characters, all of whom bear the same combination of fedora, trench coat, and mask made of an experimental skin-imitating substance called Pseudoderm. (And yes, The Question was the main inspiration for Watchmen's Rorschach.) The HBO adaptation could stick with the original iteration of The Question, Vic Sage, a former journalist with expert skills in investigation and martial arts, located in Hub City, a place that makes Gotham look like Smallville. Or the show could use his successor, Gotham City cop Renee Montoya, who made her big screen debut played by Rosie Perez in Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. No matter who would be chosen as the “face” of the series, an intriguing mystery the project would be. No question.
Some people may not realize that Westworld was actually a movie in 1973 (that later inspired a short-lived series in 1980) before it became a hit sci-fi TV show on HBO. So it stands to reason that, because few people probably remember the 2010 theatrical adaptation of the DC Vertigo title The Losers, it might very well be due for a series reboot on HBO. Created by writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock, and loosely based on a World War II-set DC property from the 1970s, The Losers follows six members of a Special Forces unit who regroup to carry out vengeful covert operations after being left for dead by their CIA handler.
The film adaptation starred future MCU alums Chris Evans and Zoe Saldana and a post-Watchmen Jeffrey Dean Morgan, but was met with diminishing box office returns and a mixed critical reception. Most likely due to how it crammed the story into 100 minutes and dumbed down the subject matter to obtain a PG-13 rating. By giving the action-adventure story the proper breathing room to develop, and the freedom to get down and dirty as Diggle intended, an HBO series would be the adaptation that comic fans could be proud of.
Speaking of comic book adaptations that failed to live up to the potential of their source material, Human Target is a DC property that was created in 1953 and centers on a secret agent who assumes the identities of people threatened by dangerous criminals. It has been adapted for television several times, with none of them perfectly capturing the essence of its most frequent central protagonist, Christopher Chance, whose most recent live-action iteration showed up for two episodes of Arrow.
As far as I am concerned, the best way to adapt Human Target would be to take a page from Peter Milligan’s darker 1999 revival for Vertigo, and to not just make Chance an traditional bodyguard like the 2009 Fox series starring Mark Valley did. Perhaps most importantly, this hypothetical HBO version would need to keep the action fun and the drama suspenseful without settling for cheesed-up B-movie tropes. Watchmen and Todd McFarlane’s animated Spawn series are proof that HBO is the perfect home for this sort of achievement.
Following the success of The Mandalorian on Disney+, intergalactic bounty hunters are all the rage. So it would be smart for HBO to try to cash in on that trend while it lasts. I have a suggestion of a character who would be perfect for this.
Lobo, born on the utopian planet Czarnia, was originally introduced in the 1980s as an antagonist until he was reimagined in the 1990s as an anti-heroic mercenary and bounty hunter whose interstellar travels have led to appearances in several DC titles. The character made his live-action debut on the Syfy Superman prequel series Krypton, portrayed by Emmett J. Scanlon, who was intended to lead to a spin-off that never materialized. Which means now is the time for HBO to pick up those pieces. If Scanlon is unable to reprise Lobo, professional badass Danny Trejo has previously expressed interest in playing him, and I dare HBO to say no to that offer.
HBO shows tend to tell intense, thought-provoking, character-driven stories, which are also specialties of acclaimed comic writer Brian Azzarello, best known as the mastermind behind many DC titles that would be in your best interest to hide from Mom. (His Joker one-shot outweighs most iterations of the Batman villain in terms of sheer brutality, for instance.) One of his most notable works is the noir-inspired series The 100, which ran under the company’s Vertigo brand from 1999-2009.
The title of 100 Bullets refers to the amount of ammo the mysterious Agent Graves offers to victims of cruel injustices, along with the chance to enact revenge on those who have wronged them, though with no promise of success. Bringing the title to TV sounds like a more suitable option than the proposed feature-length adaptation, given the comic’s structure. Specifically it would make for a great opportunity for a quasi-anthology series that ponders themes of morality and justice, invoking within viewers the question of how far they would to punish their worst enemy.
HBO has gotten lucky with its western-themed programming, especially with a unique, genre-crossing twist like in the aforementioned Westworld. As it went with others on this list, and even 2009's Watchmen to an extent, the western DC title Jonah Hex's big screen debut left some room for improvement.
When Jonah Hex, a badly scarred 19th-century bounty hunter branded with a demonic symbol that allows him to talk to the dead, made his live action debut in 2010, the film bombed at the box office and was torn apart by critics (even star Josh Brolin gave some of the harshest comments). He was given a second chance in the Arrow-verse as played by Jonathan Schaech for Legends of Tomorrow, but that depiction fell short of the comic’s gritty tone, having to follow CW standards, of course. On HBO, however, there would be no reason to hold back on portraying the character’s spiritual abilities as grisly and grimly as possible, and making the Wild West as wild as need be.
What do you think? Are you eagerly awaiting HBO to greenlight these projects? Let us know which one you'd want to see the most in the poll below, and be sure to check back for more comic book TV show news here on CinemaBlend.
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Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.