After Pennyworth, these DC characters are ready to have their (origin) stories told
Fox recently announced that Gotham will go quietly into that dark (k)night after its recently ordered fifth season, but viewers won’t have long to wait until the next Batman origin story. Pennyworth has been given a series order over at Epix, and it will function as an origin story for Bruce Wayne’s beloved butler, Alfred Pennyworth.
This, however, is no Gotham spinoff. It’s to be cast with a new actor (Sean Pertwee currently plays Alfred over on Gotham) and set in an entirely different universe. It finds the character, a former British SAS soldier, building a clandestine company in 1960s London and forming a business partnership with Thomas Wayne, eventual father to Bruce.
Unlikely as it sounds, there is a comic-book basis for this concept — which raises the question: what other DC origin stories are out there, just waiting for a savvy showrunner to spin straw into small-screen gold? We have some ideas.
Perry White in White Knight
How it could work: The hard-charging, fair-minded editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet is best known for his catchphrases (“Great Caesar’s ghost,” anyone?) and for breathing down the neck of an often missing-in-action Clark Kent. But how did he end up running the most-trusted publication in Metropolis? White Knight could chart White’s rise through the ranks as a hot-tempered yet honorable reporter, endeavoring to report accurately on the crime and corruption roiling both Metropolis and its sister city, Gotham, even as the moral decay of the day — not to mention his friendship with Lex, traveling down a dark path of his own — threatens to consume him whole.
Martha and Thomas Wayne in Kane & Wayne
How it could work: Long before that fateful night in Crime Alley, a young woman named Martha Kane — heiress to the Kane Chemical fortune — came of age in Gotham’s most elite social circles. A career party girl, Martha is initially blind to the suffering of the vast underclass in her beloved city, but her eyes are forced open one night when she and a new acquaintance, hotshot physician Thomas Wayne, stumble across evidence of widespread corruption in her parent’s company. Both unfailingly strong-willed and protective of their own secrets, the two clash over how to proceed, but agree on one front: the only way they’ll get out alive is together.
Hugo Strange in Strange, MD
How it could work: Professor Hugo Strange is one of the first Batman villains, an unbalanced madman with genius-level intellect. In various comic book incarnations he ends up running the show over at Gotham’s Arkham Asylum, where the Caped Crusader’s most deranged adversaries are often imprisoned. While publicly a brilliant psychiatrist who’s the envy of his colleagues, Strange has quite the dark side, carrying out experiments on inmates to further his interest in genetic engineering.
Picture a dark, antihero-driven drama in the sanguinary vein of Dexter, with Hannibal’s visual palette and the macabre tendencies of American Horror Story: Asylum.
Jimmy Olsen in Olsen
How it could work: It’s somewhat surprising intrepid Daily Planet photojournalist Jimmy Olsen hasn’t already earned his own series, given how much the character has gone through in the comics. A close friend to Superman, he’s always at the center of the action and intermittently possesses his own superpowers after exposure to various substances and serums.
Among his temporary abilities: super-speed, telekinesis, elasticity, lightning vision, and four extra arms. A kooky, Superman-as-the-Everyman standalone — think Kick-Ass with a camera — practically writes itself.
The Joker in Ace of Knaves
How it could work: In a we’ll-maybe-believe-it-when-we-see-it turn of events, there’s actually already a Joker origin story on the way from Warner Bros. and DC. The cosmically unlikely duo of The Hangover’s Todd Phillips (set to co-write and direct) and Hollywood icon Martin Scorsese (attached as producer) are developing a hard-boiled crime drama set in ‘80s Gotham, meant to evoke Scorsese’s films Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The King of Comedy. It’s an interesting (read: supremely weird) angle to take.
Here’s another: Open with the Joker on the couch of one Harleen Quinzel, criminal psychiatrist at Arkham, who’s determined to unlock the secrets of this madman’s twisted mind, even if it means surrendering her own sanity to see the world from his perspective. As their sessions continue, the two begin a reality-warping game of cat-and-mouse as Harleen extracts information about the Joker’s formative years while the Clown Prince of Crime plays mind games of his own. Think a visually dynamic, structurally unmoored cross between The Silence of the Lambs and Legion for the supervillain set.
Catwoman in Selina Kyle
How it could work: Gotham botched its take on the Selina Kyle/Catwoman mythos, but the morally ambiguous character is one of DC Comics’ most enduring and popular, meaning it won’t be too long until the agile super-thief slinks back onto screens.
Here’s how to get it right: Focus on a punky young Selina Kyle who, fleeing an abusive household, winds up on the streets of Gotham, only to discover an epidemic of violence plaguing the city’s disenfranchised population. As she wrestles with personal demons, Selina gradually turns vigilante, occupying a niche somewhere between Jessica Jones and Lisbeth Salander.
Lex Luthor in Luthor's Game
How it could work: Superman’s archnemesis has an origin tale almost as interesting as the Man of Steel’s. Over the years, he’s been depicted as a troubled kid genius who takes an insurance policy out on his parents before cutting the brakes on their car. Why not follow Luthor’s efforts to build LexCorp into a powerful business conglomerate by casting him as a brash, brainy businessman whose past misdeeds threaten to undo all that he’s accomplished? A DC Comics House of Cards, complete with a fourth-wall-breaking protagonist and set within the high-stakes, blood-stained world of Metropolis politics.
R’as al Ghul in League of Shadows
How it could work: R’as al Ghul, the leader of the League of Shadows, got prominent play in Christopher Nolan’s first take on the Caped Crusader, 2005’s Batman Begins, but there’s an incredibly rich comic-book history to this collective of killers that’s more than capable of supporting a separate series.
In fact, the League has been around for centuries, its assassins’ lives frequently extended through access to the fabled Lazarus Pits, which bring life to the dying. More than any other DC Comics characters, R’as and his assassins could nimbly anchor a sprawling, Rome-esque historical drama, perhaps one that finds a modern-day R’as flashing back through centuries of bloodshed and struggle while searching for the identity of an enigmatic adversary currently bent on his destruction.
The Flying Graysons in Nightwings
How it could work: Most DC series have steered away from the character of Robin, but it’s not hard to see a crime epic waiting in the wings when one considers his high-flying backstory. Dick Grayson and his parents were first introduced as circus acrobats who ran afoul of high-ranking gangsters when the owner of their circus fought back against extortion attempts.
Though the comics decreed that both Grayson parents died when the gangsters sabotaged their trapeze wires, some light rejiggering suggests another outcome. Instead, to protect themselves and their young son, the Graysons agreed to use their acrobatic abilities for the mob’s gain, pulling off dangerous heists around Gotham. But as they search for a way out of their new arrangement, the Graysons’ exploits attract the attention of an atypically dogged detective by the name of Gordon…