Which Marvel characters should be in a Joss Whedon-developed TV series?
The sexier announcement from Disney CEO Bob Iger was that Joss Whedon will write and direct "Avengers 2," but as a fan of both Marvel Comics and Whedon's television work, I'm actually more excited that he'll be involved in developing a live-action series for Marvel Television to air on ABC.
The statement specifically says Whedon will "help develop" such a show, so it may not be a full-on Whedon joint like "Buffy," "Firefly," etc., but even his involvement at the beginning stage makes me much more intrigued by the idea than if it was being done without him.
The only question becomes who and what the show would be about.
Previous trade reports about a Marvel series suggest it would be tied to the Avengers, but the ties would have to be fairly loose: Chris Evans isn't suddenly going to do a television series, and a Thor TV show might not look much better than this.
It's entirely possible that Whedon and Marvel know exactly what the new series will be about and just aren't saying yet. But it's fun to speculate in the meantime, keeping in mind the following:
1)Marvel does not have the live-action film and television rights to a number of its characters, including Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Daredevil, so anyone associated with those titles — including Whedon favorite Kitty Pryde — is off-limits.
2)What Whedon can do with a mega-budget movie is not as practical on a weekly network television series. Anything cosmic is automatically out (though magic may be slightly easier to pull off, as Whedon did with the cheap-o "Buffy"), and even a traditional solo superhero series is probably more trouble than it's worth.
So factoring in both of those things, as well as some discussions I had on Twitter tonight, here are some Marvel properties that feel like they both play to Whedon's strengths and interests as a storyteller while also being feasible on a network budget and schedule:
Alias/Jessica Jones/Jewel: A character created by Brian Michael Bendis back in '01, Jones was briefly a superheroine named Jewel (and even more briefly was called Knightress, I think), but one of those who had great power but not the passion for a long-term career in tights. She has at various points worked as a private eye specializing in superhero cases, a newspaper reporter, a mentor to the Young Avengers and, from time to time, a member of actual Avengers teams, in concert with her husband and baby daddy Luke Cage (more on him in a minute). ABC had been developing a Jones project for a while with writer Melissa Rosenberg attached, but it seems to have stalled. This would give Whedon an interesting female lead, the ability to do occasional flashbacks to her super days without busting the budget, and tell more human-scale stories of what it's like to live in a superhero universe.
Marvels: This early '90s miniseries written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Alex Ross is, even more than the various Jessica Jones titles, the gold standard for the civilian's-eye view of life in the Marvel universe. You could make photographer Phil Sheldon the central character, or do an ensemble piece set at whatever fake newspaper title they want to use instead of The Daily Bugle (which Sony has the rights to with the Spidey films). We'd see snippets of superhero action, but only what a regular person would see, and not enough to cripple the budget.
(You could also combine these first two ideas, as one of Jessica Jones' series was "The Pulse," where she went to work for the Bugle's magazine section.)
Heroes For Hire: Street-level superheroics, starring the bad-ass Luke Cage (aka Power Man) and his high-kicking partner Iron Fist. These two are low-powered enough (or, at least, have powers that wouldn't be incredibly expensive to depict on screen) that you could get away with doing some more pure action, while still allowing these two to comment on the bigger messes the Avengers get into from afar. This could also be a place to use Jessica Jones, or set her up for a spin-off down the road if Marvel still wants to.
She-Hulk: Guillermo Del Toro is allegedly still working on a Hulk series, but (as Alyssa Rosenberg pointed out to me on Twitter) Bruce Banner's cousin Jennifer Walters is arguably better-suited to a TV show. She works as a lawyer — even when big and green — which both gives the show a traditional TV drama franchise to drive stories, but she mainly practices superhero law, which would provide an excuse to bring on various heroes and villains for guest spots where they could discuss events that happened off-camera. You'd need the right actress, and perhaps some camera trickery to make her seem much taller, but She-Hulk just looks like a very tall, green, athletic woman and doesn't need to be a CGI creation in the way the Hulk apparently does these days. She's a character more than she's a monster, and she's funny, but can also kick butt if necessary.
Damage Control: One of the best creations of the late Dwayne McDuffie was this '80s series that answered an obvious, but unasked question about the Marvel universe: how exactly does New York always look so clean and intact when supervillains are trashing it in a few dozen books a month? It turns out there's a business whose sole mission is to clean up after the big battles. Would be a different, more overtly comic spin on the Marvels idea.
Runaways: Whedon actually wrote this title — about a group of teenage friends who discover A)that their parents are all supervillains, and B)that they have enough power to fight back against them — after creator Bryan K. Vaughan left, and it would be very much in the "Buffy" vein. On the other hand, it feels more expensive than a lot of the other ideas I'm suggesting, and the ties to the Avengers are more tenuous, as well.
Black Panther: There's been talk for a while about trying to mount a movie version of this sometime-Avenger who's also the king of an African nation that's the planet's most technologically-advanced, but I could see T'Challa slotting well into the TV world, as his abilities (martial arts, a lot of gadgets and some enhanced senses) wouldn't be difficult to portray in live-action. And there have been enough stretches of his comic book life (notably in the underrated run by Christopher Priest) where he's been in exile in New York, and therefore the show wouldn't have to worry about how to adequately depict the futuristic wonders of T'Challa's home country.
S.H.I.E.L.D.: In the amount of time it would take to get this show through development — especially if "Avengers 2" is Whedon's higher priority — "How I Met Your Mother" should be wrapping up its run, which would leave Cobie Smulders free to play Maria Hill in some kind of series about the super-spies who have to take care of all the messes the Avengers aren't there to handle. This would be among the ideas most directly-linked to the movies.
Great Lakes Avengers: The Avengers have actually had several spin-off teams, but the West Coast Avengers would be too expensive to do as a series (and Jeremy Renner wouldn't be available to front it anytime soon), as would New Avengers (which is also built around Luke Cage). The Great Lakes Avengers aren't technically Avengers, and they're only barely superheroes — one of their members is named Squirrel Girl, for Pete's sake (though she's awesome) — but as a comedy series with tenuous ties to the movies, maybe?
Dr. Strange and/or The Defenders: Again, I think magic is easier to portray on the small screen than aliens and other matters cosmic, so either a Dr. Strange solo series or a Defenders title where Strange and a bunch of other Marvel irregulars get together on an informal basis to tackle the menaces too strange/obscure for the Avengers to know about might be feasible on a TV budget.
What does everybody else think? Is there a Marvel title or character you think would be perfect for both TV and Joss Whedon?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org