It's one of those awkward weeks for The Geek Beat. There's a real scarcity of meaty geek news out on the interwebs, and the timing is completely off on the retrospectives I've been pondering. So I'm afraid I'm going to have to fall back on a rather boring topic -- wishful adaptations. Hopefully, it'll get you thinking and discussing whether or not any of these stories would make good movies. If it doesn't, well, I hope it inspires you to add some books to your Amazon wish list.
By now, you're looking at the title and that picture of a gun-wielding monkey and thinking "She can't be serious." But I am! Sort of. In looking over my creaking shelves and stacks, I noticed that a lot of the books I love, hand out, or just had a really fun time reading are animal related. Frankly, I was surprised at just how many edgy tales resorted to zoology to make their point, but I really shouldn't be. Authors have been using our furry friends to dish out some allegory since ancient times. In the modern world, such stories seem to really fall into three camps -- those that "soften" something terrible by using animals, those that intend to shock you even more, and those that are just having childish fun with the concept.
Now I've tried to vary the list, but the majority of them fall into the first two categories. I've also tried to draw a little from sci-fi novels to break up the comic books, and I certainly hope my readers can flesh out the "literary" list. With studios lusting for dark and edgy stories (but then being fearful as to who will actually see them), I think it's possible a few of these could wind up on the big screen. I'd love to see any one of them ... or would I? I read every single one of them with suppressed sobs, so I can't imagine why I really want a live action version.
Oh, and the monkey? That's Hitman Monkey. He's getting his own Marvel Digital series soon. If he's a hit, don't be surprised if he ends up with his own Marvel Studios movie. There's nary a character in their collection who is too offbeat for a franchise.
1. Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers by Chris Eliopoulos
Believe it or not, this is actually the comic that inspired this column. On a whim, I picked this up purely because my geeky mom liked the bulldog on the cover. I had originally rolled my eyes at the advertisement -- "Oh come on, now the Pet Avengers get a spin-off?" --but I was secretly charmed by the whole concept and Lockjaw's leading role. The four issue Pet Avengers miniseries was facile and predictable, but it's really sweet. It's exactly the kind of series I'd give to a small child to introduce them to the Marvel Universe, because it's free of adult overtones without being completely sappy. It's also something I'd love to see on the big screen, especially if they could keep true to Ig Guara's beautiful artwork. Honestly, this seems tailor made for the Disney / Marvel merger, and might be something PIXAR could really run with. I mean, how much more marketable does it get than Throg and Lockjaw?
We3 is a bit of a cheat, as it is in active development last I heard. But it's so dark and bloody that I'm surprised anyone has taken a crack at it, yet the message is so heartfelt that I can't believe it's not in theaters already. It has everything -- an evil military-industrial complex, a scientist in over her head, the question of nature versus nurture, and three little animals who just want to go home. No one reads this without crying.
3. Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughn
Movies and stories dealing with the war in Iraq have had a pretty spotty track record, and with each successive one I've wondered "Why don't they just adapt Pride of Baghdad?" The book is pure allegory, and asks nothing particularly new -- can freedom truly be given -- and yet I think audiences might be more receptive to hearing it out of the mouth of lions. Then again, I can already hear the kneejerk reactions accusing it of being a cartoon that "cheapens" sacrifice. Still, I would love it if a filmmaker was brave enough to try.
4. Beasts of Burden by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson
This series is perhaps best described as Bunnicula for grown-ups, though "adult" might suggest it's a lot racier than a gang of dogs could ever be. (Well, not without making you want to wash your eyes with Purell.) This plucky gang of dogs and cats investigates monsters, ghosts, and other supernatural occurances to keep their yards, owners, and neighborhood safe from evil. It's hilarious in a Monster Squad way, while managing to be really heartbreaking at least once an issue. The only downside would be that someone might be tempted to do it live action, and I think watching CG mouths move might ruin the charm.
5. Esau or The Last of the Winnebagos by Connie Willis
Animals figure heavily in a lot of Willis' stories and while I'd love to see Cyril the Bulldog get his time to shine onscreen, I think Esau or The Last of the Winnebagos would be wonderfully risky to adapt. Esau is a short story about an orangutan who works at a church (it's a not-so-distant future, so why not?), and innocently asks, via sign language, to be baptized. It immediately causes an uproar in the religious community, and many insist he doesn't possess enough independent thought to truly understand what he's asking for. There's a lot packed into a few pages, and might make for a nice conversation starter on the topic of tolerance and acceptance.
The Last of the Winnebagos won't spark discussion, just sobs. If you think post-apocalyptic scenarios are bad, picture one where everything as you know it is fine ... except there are no dogs. They've all been wiped out by a virus, and reverence for animals has reached such a fever pitch that the Humane Society is the new FBI / Homeland Security. It's a story that honor's man's best friend, and makes you so glad to have one that you might even prefer The Road to a life without them. I can't say it would actually make you question society in the grand sci-fi tradition, but it's the kind of story that you could anchor an animal welfare movement around.
6. Laika by Nick Abadzis
When I was a kid, I stumbled on the story of Laika in an issue of Disney Adventures where it was presented so darn cheerfully -- "The Soviet Union sent a dog into space and she became a national hero!" -- that I ignorantly asked my parents about her return flight. When I found out she didn't come home, I imagined she was still up there waiting for kibble (I believe Disney Adventures neglected to tell the year this happened) and sobbed. Too bad I didn't encounter Laika first. Naturally, there's no happy ending, but at least it's honest and tells it in a way that sees Laika running to the stars. I like this story primarily because it doesn't villainize the humans, and makes Laika out to be something so curly-tailed and special that her loss becomes even more poignant. I would have rather read this account as a kid than the one that focused on her portrait being featured on a brand of cigarettes.
Now, there's my six -- and I've resisted putting Maus on the list because it's not truly an animal story, and I can't think of anything that would be gained by actually animating it. (Beyond seeing it come to life in a Persepolis kind of way.) Now that I look it over, it's an even more brutal list than I set out to create. If you're a brave soul who read this far, I hope you can offer some cheerier suggestions.