In superhero movies, supporting characters often get overlooked or given short shrift. For instance, there were a couple of times during the Schumacher/Burton era when Jim Gordon only appeared on screen for a few minutes and appeared to be a largely ineffective bureaucrat. But fans of the comic book incarnation knew better and were not at all surprised when he was shown to be a formidable person in the own right in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight.
Nor is he alone.
While San Diego Comic Con focuses on the big guns, here are some second-tier characters supporting our favorite heroes who could star in terrific movies of their own, even if the results would not necessarily be superhero movies.
IDENTITY: City Editor (later editor-in-chief) of The Daily Bugle
SUPPORTING CHARACTER FOR: Spider-Man
IMPORTANT ROLE: The voice of reason, and moderating influence, who works nonstop to curb maniac publisher J. Jonah Jameson's more outrageous excesses.
WHY HE'S BEEN MOSTLY OVERLOOKED IN THE MOVIES SO FAR: In the Sam Raimi films, he's just a bland functionary, overshadowed by the far more colorful Jameson.
WHY HE WOULD MAKE A GOOD MOVIE: Until the last newspaper goes out of business a few short years from now, the nonstop pace of a daily newspaper, as major stories compete for the front page and arguments rage over whether any particular story is sufficiently supported by the facts, will continue to be the source of good movies; and Robbie, a sane man trying to hold on to his integrity while wrangling an insane boss, makes a perfect protagonist.
Ignore some of the crazier elements of his life as detailed by the comics, which include a prison term. Just focus on his activities during a particular workday, juggling unhappy staffers, a major breaking story that might or might not be true, and an abusive boss whose obsessions might be steering the paper toward disaster. Imagine snappy dialogue out of Ben Hecht (The Front Page) or Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), colorful supporting characters and—possibly, though hardly necessary—the madness of a major paranormal crisis tearing apart the city just outside the windows, as Joe tries to keep it all together.
CASTING SUGGESTION: Andre Braugher
IDENTITY: Reporter/ Photographer for The Daily Planet
SUPPORTING CHARACTER FOR: Superman
IMPORTANT ROLE: Blundering into trouble, saying "Gosh, Mr. Kent!" and being rescued by Superman
WHY HE'S BEEN MOSTLY OVERLOOKED IN THE MOVIES SO FAR: There's only so much of that any audience should be asked to take.
WHY HE WOULD MAKE A GOOD MOVIE: For years, in the comics, Jimmy Olsen was the guy whose friendship with a superpowered alien was the least bizarre element of his life. He couldn't cross the street without crazy stuff happening to him. He got sent back to Roman times and became history's first Beatle. He had gorillas fall in love with him. He grew porcupine quills. He was, at times, a superhero in his own right. He was stranded on desert islands, launched into space and transformed into a variety of creatures that included giant turtle men.
On at least two different occasions he donned a feminine disguise and lived, for a while, as a woman—once succeeding so well that he became beloved the "moll" of a gangster whose advances he had to deflect without inviting suspicion. His life was craaaazy. He honestly doesn't even need Superman, and if done well could support an entire series of special-effects comedies, with the big guy acknowledged as a presence but also revealed in the context of Jimmy's daily existence as just a random element in the world of a fellow who had to go with the flow or go insane.
CASTING SUGGESTION: This might actually be the role Shia LaBeouf or Justin Long was born to play.
IDENTITY: Agent 13 of S.H.I.E.L.D.; Captain America's girlfriend
SUPPORTING CHARACTER FOR: Captain America
IMPORTANT ROLE: Has been everything from the girl Captain America needed to rescue, to the one he couldn't save, to a hard-hitting spy in her own right
WHY SHE'S BEEN MOSTLY OVERLOOKED IN THE MOVIES SO FAR: The current Captain America film mostly takes place generations before her birth
WHY SHE WOULD MAKE A GOOD MOVIE: Take Captain America out of the equation. This is a woman who kicks ass as a spy; who once, on orders, faked her own death, left her life behind and went undercover for years; who later, in another storyline, found out that she'd been brainwashed into assassinating the man she loved, and went all grim and gritty as she went after the people responsible, never less than aware that her mind might still harbor some residual programming and that she might still be being manipulated.
J.J. Abrams cut his teeth on this kind of stuff. Any one of her exploits would make a terrific action/espionage thriller.
CASTING SUGGESTION: Both Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Garner have played similar characters already. It can't be too difficult to find a new lady capable of the same physical and emotional challenges. Wait a few years and Saoirse Ronan, who played a character just as formidable in this year's Hanna, would be just right.
Talia al Ghul
IDENTITY: Ra's al Ghul's Daughter
SUPPORTING CHARACTER FOR: Batman
IMPORTANT ROLE: Catwoman aside, the other erotically charged, ambiguous, sometimes friend/sometimes enemy in Batman's life; the mother of his somewhat disturbed son, Damian.
WHY SHE'S BEEN MOSTLY OVERLOOKED IN THE MOVIES SO FAR: She didn't fit in Batman Begins; she might still show up in the last movie of Nolan's trilogy.
WHY SHE WOULD MAKE A GOOD MOVIE: She's an exotically beautiful, morally complex figure raised by a would-be world conqueror to be as deadly as he is. She's conflicted about her father's agenda and, though in love with her Dad's worst enemy, is hardly the kind to step aside while the boys fight. At times, she surrenders to the call of evil and is capable of acts of shocking bloodthirstiness.
Again, she is so rich in story potential that her relationship with a world-famous superhero is arguably the least important thing about her. Put her in a globetrotting international thriller, where she pits the boys against one another and even allows some to think that she's fallen for their romantic overtures, and it could be riveting.
CASTING SUGGESTION: Maggie Q?
IDENTITY: Famous Blind Sculptor
SUPPORTING CHARACTER IN: The Fantastic Four
IMPORTANT ROLE: She's the Puppet Master's daughter, but put that aside; she's been the girlfriend to both the Human Torch and the Thing, and is the reason we're all alive, as a brief encounter with her was enough to turn the Silver Surfer against Galactus.
WHY SHE'S BEEN MOSTLY OVERLOOKED IN THE MOVIES SO FAR: She appears in the Fantastic Four movies as the Thing's girlfriend, but not much is made of her.
WHY SHE WOULD MAKE A TERRIFIC MOVIE: Forget that stuff about her being the daughter of the Puppet Master. Also forget a brief period in the comics where she is given superpowers and travels the cosmos alongside the Silver Surfer. This is at heart a love story about a blind woman who sees the humanity in a hideously disfigured man who accepts her love but cannot accept her judgment of him as anything other than the monster he appears to be. With or without any of the superheroic elements, tell me that it's not possible to make a good movie on those themes. Tell me.
CASTING SUGGESTION: Any number of appealing actresses could perform this role, but I suggest Carey Mulligan.
IDENTITY: Wayne Family Butler
SUPPPORTING CHARACTER IN: Batman
IMPORTANT ROLE: He raised Bruce Wayne; he supports the Dark Knight; he keeps the guano off all the expensive equipment.
WHY HE"S BEEN MOSTLY OVERLOOKED IN THE MOVIES SO FAR: He actually hasn't been. Michael Gough was one of the few undeniably great elements of the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher movies; and Michael Caine rocked the part in the subsequent Nolan versions.
WHY HE WOULD MAKE A TERRIFIC MOVIE: Michael Caine's speech to Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight, about burning down a forest to catch the bandits hiding there, offers a clue. This is a guy with an impressive military past, who now works as a domestic to a vigilante. Take Batman out of that equation, and it would be nice to see the transition starting from Alfred as a younger man, the hard soldier who chucks it to work for a wealthy family, and who suddenly finds himself surrogate father to an orphaned child with vengeance issues.
Consider how loyal Alfred must have been to the Waynes to make this life commitment. Even consider how vengeful he might have been himself ... and how the boy might have been his instrument. The saga is so downright epic that if you moved it back to the age of the samurai, one could almost imagine Kurosawa doing it.
CASTING SUGGESTION: Clive Owen.
IDENTITY: Low-level thug
SUPPORTING CHARACTER IN: Daredevil
IMPORTANT ROLE: Regularly getting beaten up for information
WHY HE'S BEEN OVERLOOKED IN THE MOVIES SO FAR: He's a nonentity.
WHY HE WOULD MAKE A TERRIFIC MOVIE: He's a nonentity in a city overrun by criminality, despised by the high-end bosses, regularly abused by law enforcers who want information, so insignificant a human being that even the Punisher—the Punisher—simply dunked him in the river rather than go to the trouble of killing him.
Embrace that. Do a low-down gritty crime film, on an indie budget, of the guy who exists on the edge of the criminal empire that employs him; give him a chance to make the big score that would enable him to leave the city and have a future that doesn't involve being pummeled; make it clear that such a success for the likes of him is against the odds; and leave him, at the end, facing another day still under the thumb of those in power.
David Mamet kills for material like that. It would be a tragic noir take of a man on a treadmill.
CASTING SUGGESTION: The big stumbling block here would be casting a guy who could engage our sympathies, but without ever being a badass. Andre Royo played "Bubbles" on The Wire. He would make a great Turk.
SUPPORTING CHARACTER IN: Concrete
IMPORTANT ROLE: For most of Concrete's run, being the unattainable object of desire
WHY SHE'S BEEN OVERLOOKED IN MOVIES SO FAR: There haven't been any.
WHY SHE WOULD MAKE A TERRIFIC MOVIE: It may be stretching things to call Concrete a superhero, even if he does have adventures and is stuck in a body with powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men. But Maureen, the scientist assigned by the government to study him as he goes about his life as a low-level celebrity and magazine writer, is a fascinating character: a gorgeous, brilliant, absent-minded woman who for most of the years the series takes place seems utterly aware that the man in the stone body without genitalia is madly in love with her.
She breaks his heart on a daily basis and, on the day many years after their first meeting when she realizes she reciprocates his feelings, sets off an oddly erotic voyeuristic sequence that culminates with him pregnant with the only child they can ever have. It is a perverse and fascinating love story, and with the man stuck behind a mask of inexpressive stone and limited to being a creature of special effects, everything would depend on the subtleties of her performance and the richness of the screenplay's presentation of her character.
CASTING SUGGESTION: She would have to be beautiful, vulnerable and capable of projecting great intelligence. Cate Blanchett.
IDENTITY: Small Time Criminal, Idiot
SUPPORTING CHARACTER IN: Plastic Man
IMPORTANT ROLE: Comic-Relief Sidekick to an Already Funny Character
WHY HE'S BEEN OVERLOOKED IN MOVIES SO FAR: No movies yet.
WHY HE WOULD MAKE A TERRIFIC MOVIE: As originally designed by creator Jack Cole, Woozy was a mostly-harmless, inept small-time criminal who accidentally saved a wizard and blessed with a form of indestructibility. The forces of nature conspired to protect him whenever he was in danger. Their means of protecting him (sudden downpours, lightning bolts, tornadoes, etc.) never took his personal dignity into account. This aspect of his character was dropped after a while, with a line to the effect that the enchantment had worn off, since the bit got in the way of stories that were supposed to feature Plastic Man—but it's a high-concept premise that would work just fine as the basis of a fantasy, with the lowlife Winks steered toward heroism as the forces of nature got him into trouble with the wrong people.
CASTING SUGGESTION: Nobody looks like Woozy Winks, but Jack Cole based him on comedian Lou Costello. Any contemporary comic actor capable of remaining likable while playing a committed lowlife and idiot could assay the role. We suggest Zach Galifianakis.
The Warriors Three
IDENTITY: Ummm, three warriors. Keep up with me.
SUPPORTING CHARACTERS IN: Thor
IMPORTANT ROLE: Some of the time appearing to be, aside from Thor, Loki and Odin, the entire population of Asgard
WHY THEY'VE BEEN MOSTLY OVERLOOKED IN MOVIES SO FAR: Actually, they haven't been. They stole the show in some of their scenes in the Thor movie.
WHY THEY WOULD MAKE A TERRIFIC MOVIE: They have amazing chemistry. Fandral is a charming Errol Flynn type; Hogun is grumpy pessimist; Volstagg is a man of enormous appetites who can eat an entire banquet while bragging about his exploits. In the comics, their few visits to our sphere combined "fish out of water" comedy with the always-entertaining spectacle of three amazingly tough guys smashing everything in sight. I venture that a Warriors Three movie would likely be an even bigger hoot than the Thor movie was.
CASTING SUGGESTION: Why bother? They've already been cast, and if it's to happen at all, it will happen as a spinoff.