The ongoing success of AMC's 'The Walking Dead' (which just wrapped up its third season on Sunday) is definitive, popular proof that not every comic-based property has to be about superheroes. While Marvel and Disney plot out the next ten years and DC and Warner Bros. struggle to get a Justice League movie going, tons of incredible creator-owned comics are being overlooked, despite their amazing cinematic potential.
'The Walking Dead' may be the first massively successful TV series to emerge from the world of non-superhero comic publishing, but it certainly won't be the last. Hey, Hollywood: these ten are on us. Pick up the rights and thank us later after they transform into critically acclaimed smash hits for you.
Just a note: the one restriction for this list was that we stick to current or recent comics, series that haven't been sitting around and gathering dust for too long. Many of these comics are only a year or two old...so if you like what you hear, you should give them a shot. There's plenty of time to dive in.
John Layman and Rob Guillory
For the past few years, a 'Chew' pilot has been in development at Showtime, but the network recently dropped the project for reasons that are still unknown. Their loss. Although not the easiest concept to wrap your brain around, 'Chew's combination of bizarre humor and procedural storytelling would make it a great match for a network like FX, where it would straddle the seemingly impossible space between the likes of 'The Shield' and 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.' Taking place in a world where a chicken has been outlawed and the FDA is the most powerful government agency in the country, the series follows a FDA investigator named Tony Chu who has the bizarre power to see the past of whatever he consumes, whether it be a piece of fruit or a nibble of a dead body. It's a wild, wacky and, somehow, emotionally satisfying series that's hard to describe and hard to sell (hence the difficulties at Showtime, we imagine), but it offers its own set of totally unique and thrilling pleasures.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
What do you get when you merge the world of classic noir with the complex and insane horror of HP Lovecraft? You'd get something like 'Fatale,' a genre-jumping, centuries-spanning horror noir about an immortal woman, her ability to control the minds of men and the cult that's been pursuing her for her entire life. Despite deriving much inspiration of pulp literature of the '30s through '50s, there is something undeniably classy about 'Fatale,' which builds subtle horror into its immaculate and realistic world(s). The result is an epic mystery that, if adapted to TV, would have the look of 'Mad Men' and 'Boardwalk Empire' but the chills of 'The Walking Dead' or 'The X-Files.' HBO should get on this on, stat.
Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra
There is probably no comic more weird (or as satisfying) as 'Manhattan Projects,' a series that takes every single alternate history science fiction story you've ever seen, laughs in its face and dropkicks it into a dimensional portal. This is no simple "What If...?" story: imagine if the American government's infamous "Manhattan Project" wasn't just a plan to build the first atomic weapon, but a cover for a powerful think tank of mad scientists (including an evil Albert Einstein from another dimension and the cannibalistic, psychotic genius twin brother of J. Robert Oppenheimer) who quietly take over the government before pushing science and technology into some very horrifying and extreme places. It's not always a particularly pleasant series, but it's never not a total blast, combining science fiction, history and pitch black comedy into a combination that is unlike anything you've ever seen before.
Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson
'The Walking Dead' does a pretty stark and brutal job of showcasing a zombie apocalypse, but how about a series that takes on a far more realistic end of the world scenario? 'The Massive' begins about a year after an unknown even wreaked havoc with the Earth's weather patterns, causing seas to rise, species to die out, governments to fall and plunging much of the world into total free-for-all chaos. While many people simply struggle to survive, the crew of a militant environmentalist vessel search the planet for their missing sister ship (the titular "The Massive") while trying to make sense of their mission now that saving the environment is a moot point. There may not be a lot of head shots and gore in 'The Massive,' but there are fascinating ethical dilemmas that more troubling than an army of the undead. 'The Walking Dead' may be fun, but 'The Massive' is a post-apocalyptic tale for grown-ups.
Stories about government-run psychic black ops teams are nothing new, but none have felt as fresh, strange and wonderful as "Mind MGMT,' which imagines a secret agency that recruits and trains psychic soldiers with abilities both niche and broad. This is a story about spies whose graffiti can inspire or quash rebellions, assassins whose handwritten letters can kill their readers and advertising specialists whose work can control the masses and send hidden signals. Although there is a narrative following an investigative journalist who learns a little too much, the real joys of 'Mind MGMT' (and the joys that would come with a decent TV or film adaptation) are learning about the title group's history and their arsenal of specialists. Supernatural espionage hasn't felt this fresh in a long, long time.
Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming
Like 'Chew,' 'Powers' has been struggling to get on television for quite some time now. After years of development and several failed pilots, FX is still trying to work the kinks out of it and for good reason -- this is a concept that feels like a natural fit for TV. 'Powers' is a witty, engrossing and smart police procedural about two mismatched detectives...that just so happens to take place in a world where superheroes exist and our two heroes work exclusively on crimes involving the masked and the caped. The series' grounded take on a fantastical concept is the perfect way to bring that superhero flavor to television without having to make another superhero story (which are, let's face it, starting to get a little repetitive on the big screen at this point).
'Prophet' has a weird history. A forgotten early '90s Captain America rip-off, the property was recently revived as a trippy science fiction series that does away with everything traditional about its genre and doesn't look back. The narrative is second to whatever is happening as the moment, as an aged super soldier and his crew of aliens work together to prevent the "Earth Empire" from awakening and wreaking havoc across the galaxy. What makes 'Prophet' special is how is builds a truly alien universe that has absolutely no grounding in what we're familiar or comfortable with...and then having its characters act like it's no big deal because they live there. A live action 'Prophet' would be impossible, but it's easy to imagine this surreal and frequently hilarious world having a home on late night television as an animated series, possibly side by side with 'The Venture Bros.' on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.
Tim Seeley and Mike Norton
Are you looking for the next 'Lost' or 'Fringe'? Look no further than 'Revival,' which has the potential to be the next great long form genre mystery show. The series' icy small town setting and black humor suggests 'Fargo,' but the military quarantine surrounding the town and the fact that the dead aren't staying dead suggest something a little more horrifying. Unlike 'The Walking Dead,' those who rise from the grave (called "revivers") aren't flesh-eating zombies, but apparently their old selves...who for whatever reason, simply came back to life. Of course, that's before you get to the mysterious, ghostly creature lurking in the nearby woods. Since the series follows a local police officer and her reviver sister as they attempt to keep the town in check and discover what the hell is going on, it's easy to see a TV show here: a series of individual mysteries building to a greater whole.
Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
'Saga' is the best comic being published right now. Hands down. We're still shocked that no one has scooped up the rights and announced a TV series or movie adaptation yet because the pitch writes itself: an epic sci-fi fantasy series that plays like 'Star Wars' for adults with a splash of 'Game of Thrones'-style intrigue. The comic follows a young couple, each of them from a different warring race, who attempt to survive and protect their infant daughter in a wartorn galaxy where a lot of people want them dead for various reasons. The scope of 'Saga' is huge, so huge that it may be difficult to imagine this story making the jump outside of the comic book medium...but that's pretty much what people said about 'Game of Thrones.' There's more to 'Saga' than scope, though: brush aside the spaceships and ghosts and robots and aliens and you're left with wonderful characters, relatable drama and witty, heartfelt dialogue. This feels like it could be the next 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer.' Or 'Star Wars.' Or 'Star Trek.' Or 'Game of Thrones.' Or all of the above.
Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra
With 'Breaking Bad' coming to an end this year, AMC needs to find something to replace their dusty and grim noir...so why not 'Scalped'? The series (which recently ended its 60-issue run) has an instantly indelible concept that's a perfect match for TV: an undercover FBI agent returns to the Indian Reservation where grew up to help take down the local Tribal Chief, who hides behind his new casino as he gets his hands dirty in all kinds of criminal enterprises. Although it's the kind of story we've seen in a thousand different cop shows and cop movies, the Reservation setting is an incredible place to set a crime thriller. It's a world reminiscent of 'The Wire's Baltimore, a broken but resilient community that has turned inward after being all-but-abandoned by anyone that can save it. The series is a must-read and in the right hands, a show adaptation would be a must-watch.