With many superhero films not doing as well at the box office as the genre had been doing just five years ago, discussion on social media has latched onto a new buzzterm to throw around – “superhero fatigue.” While we here don’t think that the idea that people are tired of cinemstic comic book adaptions is the driving force behind the low box office numbers, we do recognize that all genres go through popularity cycles and that interest in superhero films will eventually wane. This doesn’t necessarily mean bad news for most studios producing comic adaptions, as they can easily pivot to other types of films, following the public’s changing tastes fairly easily. But what of Marvel Studios? Founded to turn characters created over the nine decade history of Marvel Comics (and before that Timely Comics), Marvel Studios doesn’t have quite the wiggle room in its mandate to shift to films of a non-superheroic nature, but there is some. Here are five characters from Marvel’s stable that could be used to beat any “superhero fatigue.”
Millie The Model
The creation of writer-artist Ruth Atkinson, Millie The Model was Marvel’s longest running humor title, lasting 28 years between 1945 and 1973 and chronicled the misadventures of the titular Millie Collins, a Kansas transplant in New York City, making her way through the fashion industry. Her supporting cast consisted of various best friends Toni Turner and Daisy, fashion magazine photographer and Millie’s paramour Clicker Holbrook and Millie’s chief friendly rival Chili Storm. Millie’s character design was pretty much solidified by future Archie Comics’s mainstay artist Dan DeCarlo, appropriate as the series would often mix bits of romance with its humor-based stories. That basic character paradigm offers up a number of fun story possibilities that Marvel could develop for a film.
The success of the recent Barbie can in part be attributed to its humor and its pro-feminist message. Both of these elements very easily could be part of a Millie The Model film, which could also draw inspiration from films like The Devil Wears Prada and Working Girl.
(Like a couple of other entries in this article, Millie was at one point incorporated in the Marvel Comics Universe, in this case by Stan Lee, who gave her a cameo in 1965’s Fantastic Four Annual #3. She has made handful of additional appearances over the decades, but could easily become disentangled from any superhero trappings to stand on its own.)
In 1986, Marvel launched a somewhat novel idea for a ongoing comic book series, a book that would tell the events of the Vietnam War through the eyes of an enlisted soldier – The ‘Nam. The brainchild of writer Doug Murray, editor Larry Hama and artist Michael Golden, the series followed PFC Edward Marks as he tries o survive his tour of combat duty in Vietnam. The series played out in approximately real time and each issue was set roughly two years prior of its publication date, so that issues in 1988 covered such 1968 events as the Tet Offensive and photographer Eddie Adams famous execution picture of Nguyễn Văn Lém in Saigon.
Unfortunately, after about five years, sales on The ‘Nam started to drop, leading Marvel to do the one thing they knew would goose flagging sales – drop a popular superhero in to the book. In this case it was a pre-family-murdered-in-crossfire-between-warring-mafia-families-turning-him-into-the-Punisher Frank Castle, who showed up in early 1991 for a two-issue arc. However, the Punisher insertion didn’t work and the book was ultimately cancelled late 1993. A later Punisher one-shot would include the last two produced, but previously unpublished, issues of the series. ‘Nam supporting character Michael “Ice” Phillips would later show up in two different Punisher series later in the 1990s.
A cinematic adaption of The ‘Nam could very easily keep the conceit of telling the story of the war with the fictitious Marks as the audience’s point of view character while jettisoning the tying of the character in the Punisher mythos. If properly planned, the comic could actually support an open ended franchise retelling large swaths of the war in a cinematic fashion. While the idea of a film or series of films portraying the actual events of the Vietnam War from the American viewpoint does seem like a bit of a downer, concentrating on the characters and how they are changed by their service could make for some strong and fascinating drama.
The daughter of a former CIA operative whose mother was killed in a mysterious explosion when she was young, Dakota North is a former model-turned-private investigator who specialized in cases within the fashion industry. Created by writer Martha Thomases and artist Tony Salmons for Marvel editor Larry Hama, the character’s book seemed to launch in 1986 with good sales numbers, but was quickly cancelled after five bi-monthly issues. Although it series was originally intended to take place outside of the Marvel Comics shared continuity, the publisher was never one to waste a good character concept. Soon Dakota found herself making one-issue guest appearances in a couple of Marvel titles before becoming a supporting character in a couple of ongoing titles over the years including Cage, Black Panther and Captain Marvel.
Despite her later integration into the Marvel Comics world, Dakota North is a character that could very easily stand on her own, outside of any superheroics. A tough yet attractive private eye with a tragic past, the character certainly has potential for a number of big screen stories – from adapting from her own short-lived comics run to an original story.
Back in the decades before Marvel was almost strictly an outlet for just superhero stories – say pre-1980 – the company published a number of western comics. Perhaps the biggest fan favorite of these characters was the Rawhide Kid. First appearing in 1955 from Marvel’s 1950s forerunner, Atlas Comics, the Rawhide Kid had been unjustly accused of a crime he didn’t commit, the Rawhide Kid roamed the West, righting wrongs. Think of him as a combination of the Fugitive and the Lone Ranger. (One version of the character’s origin even had the orphaned baby who would grow up to be the Rawhide Kid being raised by a Texas Ranger.) But that combination certainly suggests an engrossing Western that could perhaps even re-energize people’s interest in seeing the genre on the big screen. And since any interaction with superheros the Rawhide Kid had was courtesy of some easily avoidable time travel shenanigans, it could stay true to its western roots.
Another short-lived series, this time from the early 1970s, Night Nurse followed the adventures of Linda Carter, and her two apartment-mates Georgia Jenkins and Christine Palmer, who were all nurses on the night shift at Metropolitan General Hospital in New York City. Although the series lasted only four issues, Linda managed to thwart the murder of a patient, expose an incompetent doctor and start a romance with another of the doctors on staff. After the series was cancelled, the characters went unused for three years until writer Brian Michael Bendis brought Linda Carter back in an issue of Daredevil and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa resurrected Christine Palmer for an appearance in Nightcrawler, both in 2004.
While Christine Palmer has shown up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – with an upgrade to doctor and in the form of Rachel MacAdams – as a former medical colleague of Doctor Strange, the Linda Carter character has no dependency on any Marvel superhero connections and could stand on her own as a lead character in a film. Granted, the Night Nurse name won’t hold much of a draw with the average movie ticket buyer today, so maybe she could be given an MD behind her name as well. But I think the idea of a young woman struggling to juggle her career and personal life in a high-stress job would certainly yield enough dramatic possibilities for a number of movies.