The Marvel Cinematic Universe, which covers everything from Avengers to Daredevil is a unique shared continuity among many different comic book characters across film and television. Not only is it successful with critics but obviously with fans as well and the box office proves that. Today, Robert “Walking Dead” Kirkman inked a deal with Universal that gives them first look rights at his creations at his imprint, Skybound, which is published through Image Comics. And after DC Comics, it’s the closest thing there is to a shared universe full of superheroes. Let’s look at what could happen.
Marvel got out there first and has done it best. DC is playing catchup with their planned movies of Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad and various Justice League characters. It’s unknown if they can match Marvel for quality but they certainly have fantastic name recognition with their characters. Kirkman’s Invincible and it’s related spinoff comics don’t have that mainstream name recognition but they have been hits with comic book readers since 2002. That’s well over a decade, which means it’s about time to test the waters with a movie based on Invincible as well as some of the other characters in the shared world, potentially building up to big crossovers. Here are the main characters of that world.
Kirkman’s first superhero book at Image was the 6-issue series Tech Jacket, co-created by artist E.J. Su. It ran from late 2002 through 2003. The character has appeared in Invincible and came back as a digital comic book in 2014 by writer Joe Keatinge and artist Khary Randolph. The story is about high school kid Zack Thompson. He comes across a crashed and dying alien from the Geldarian race. Though highly advanced in terms of intelligence, their bodies are weak so they create “Tech Jackets” which amplify their strength about 10 times and give them Iron Man-like armor and lasers. Zack ends up fighting crime on Earth and helping the Geldarians battle their enemies, the Kresh. His parents learn his secret early on and his dim-witted but kind-hearted dad helps him train and monitor for trouble. It’s Guardians of the Galaxy meets Spider-Man.
Invincible is one of the longer-running superhero titles outside of Marvel and DC. It had some preview pages in Tech Jacket #1 and debuted as an ongoing monthly title in January 2003. It was co-created by Kirkman and artist Cory Walker. Artist Ryan Ottley took over the art duties from issue #8 forward. Invincible follows Mark Grayson, an average teenager whose father is a Superman-type hero called Omni-Man. He and his mother openly know about this and Mark is excited when he begins to exhibit his flight and strength powers at age 18. His father is Viltrumite, a powerful race of aliens who actually are nearly extinct and who secretly plan to impregnate other species throughout the galaxy to build up their ranks and rule the universe. Mark is a nice enough guy, though prone to losing his temper and killing his enemies upon occasion and who also dropped out of college and impregnated his girlfriend. Despite all this, he’s supposed to be a likable everyday guy. But with tremendous power. He’s gone on outerspace adventures, visited other dimensions, underground realms and fought street crime. Sometimes he works for the military-sponsored superteam the Guardians of the Globe. If any of the superheroes that Kirkman’s created get a movie, Invincible will be first.
Capes was a limited series of 3 issues that came out in 2003. It was co-created by Robert Kirkman and artist Mark Englert. It follows superhero Bolt who works for the superhero team-for-hire, Capes, Inc. It treats being a superhero as a card-punching blue collar job with benefits and regular hours. It’s funnier than the other books but has its share of heroes who are ready to help the world. They would just prefer to work for paying clients.
Brit was another early creation of Kirkman’s along with Tony Moore who also was the original artist of Walking Dead. Brit was three one-shot stories and then a 12-issue series by late writer Bruce Brown and artist Nate Bellegarde. Brit later joined the superteam the Guardians of the Globe. Brit is an older guy with exactly one superpower: invulnerability. He doesn’t have super strength to go along with it, although he keeps himself very fit. But he cannot be hurt, not even by a nuclear bomb. Brit works for the government, but is betrayed and spends some time on his own, before going back to a paying gig under new leadership. Along the way he marries a stripper at a bar he owns and has an autistic child. He’s pretty well fleshed out and would be a great role for an established action movie actor.
Atom Eve is Invincible’s girlfriend and a major supporting character. But she also had her own mini-series to tell her origin. She could probably support her own movie, too.
Co-created with artist Jason Howard, Astounding Wolf-Man is about Gary Hampton, a wealthy CEO who is bitten by a werewolf and gains the same powers. He is taught how to control his transformations by a vampire, Zecharia. Gary is unique in that he has a wife and daughter who learn his secret early on and support him. The comic ran for 25 issues starting in 2007. It takes place in the same shared world meaning there are other superheroes and villains but there are also supernatural creatures.
Guardians of the Globe
The original Guardians of the Globe were analogues for the Justice League that were killed in the pages of Invincible early on by a mystery opponent. They are later reformed by Cecil Steadman, a Pentagon official who also works with Invincible from time to time. The team has gone through many lineups and two limited series, one co-written with Benito Cereno and another by Phil Hester. Currently, Brit leads the team. This team is the most frequently recurring set of characters that appear in Invincible. It’s big, world-ending threats that only a diverse superteam can handle.
There have been other superheroes that have crossed over with Invincible from time to time. If the Invincible movies were popular enough, maybe deals could be struck with Erik Larsen, the creator of Savage Dragon and Super-Patriot (Kirkman wrote a Super-Patriot mini-series back in 2002) who have appeared in Invincible several times. Another hero that was briefly on a team superhero book called The PACT was Firebreather by Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn. Teen Team was a superhero team in early issues of Invincible that he teamed up with. The Actioneers are a superhero team that appear as supporting characters in Astounding Wolf-Man. Super-Dinosaur is an all-ages book about a kid genius and his best friend T-Rex who wears a supersuit. It was co-created by Kirkman and Howard and was never explicitly set in Invincible‘s world but certainly COULD work in it.
So there are some of the biggest titles and characters. Could a shared universe with them be successful as a series of movies? Quite possibly. They tend to be much looser with what happens. Sometimes the books are really funny and sometimes they’re actually very violent. Setting a tone for each would certainly be a challenge. But each book offers a bit of a genre beyond just “superhero”. Overall, I think Universal would be smart to consider developing these films with the right people.