Robert Kirkman and his Skybound partner David Alpert recently made a deal with Amazon Studios to develop first-look television projects. This reunites Kirkman with Sharon Tal Yguado, who was helpful in bringing The Walking Dead to international markets and launching the Outcast series on Cinemax. Yguado is heading up a new division in Amazon Studios that will develop and produce hourlong science fiction, action, fantasy, and horror series.
The deal includes unannounced projects, but there’s already a full slate of Skybound comics that fit exactly what Amazon is looking for. That got me thinking about all of the Skybound properties in play.
First let’s establish what is off the table. Skybound has created 20-25 comics with some spinoffs too. Everything that’s currently in production is not part of the deal. So The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, Talking Dead, Thief of Thieves (AMC), Outcast (Cinemax), and Clone (SYFY) are not open for discussion. And Kirkman’s long-running superhero series, Invincible, is being made into a movie with Universal Pictures with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg writing, directing, and producing.
That currently leaves the following titles under the Skybound umbrella: Astounding Wolf-Man, Battle Pope, Birthright, Brit, Capes, Dead Body Road, Demonic, Extremity, Gasolina, Ghosted, Green Valley, Guarding the Globe, Horizon, The Infinite, Kill the Minotaur, Manifest Destiny, Redneck, Science Dog, Slots, Super Dinosaur, Teck Jacket, and Witch Doctor. We'll assume these are all potential intellectual properties for Amazon to develop. But which ones would flourish under a new medium? Which ones would translate best for TV? Let's take a look.
A lot of this genre stuff is pure fantasy, but we all experience true horror whenever we get sick. Think about your last bout with the flu or food poisoning, a pre-existing condition, or if you are really suffering from something more serious -- we are all at the mercy of our bodies. We are challenged by our individual limitations, and the older we get, the more we are faced with mortality. That’s what makes a story like the sci-fi horror hybrid Witch Doctor so intriguing. It’s a mixture of House M.D., Supernatural, and Doctor Who, where an arrogant doctor of the supernatural named Vincent Morrow uses magic and real-world medical practices to treat diseases, which are H.P. Lovecraft monsters, descended from parasites brought over from Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones.
With Lukas Ketner’s (Kill the Minotaur) earlier artwork invoking the late Bernie Wrightson and Seifert’s detailed and researched writing, Witch Doctor was one of the early Skybound books that claimed a corner of the modern-day horror comics scene. Unfortunately, it only went two volumes long, and was a difficult book to produce. Both creators have since moved on to new projects, but a television series could help tell stories that both creators never got around to sharing, and in a new and gross kind of way. Horror in the mind is always the best, but TV can amplify the sight and sound aspect of horror too. With Witch Doctor, the horrors of the real world of medicine mixed with monsters and magic have a chance to flourish as grindhouse television.
Another early Skybound title, Ghosted was a title that made a name for writer Joshua Williamson, who with this title took the Ocean’s Eleven formula and mixed in the paranormal. Instead of busting into a casino, criminal mastermind Jackson T. Winters forms a team with the best magician, the best psychic, the best skeptic, and the best ghost hunter to find missing persons, steal ghosts, and pull off great heists. There were only four arcs, but while each could have been its own separate story, there is an added bonus when it’s read altogether.
Why would Ghosted work well as a show? While serial storytelling is the high bar of television, mainstream audiences still prefer to come in and go out, without investing years and years of viewing. Ghosted wouldn't have to become a stock CBS show, but it's a story that can have its formula expanded upon. Williamson made it clear that 20 issues was the cutoff for Ghosted. In addition to adapting these four stories, more could be created from within the outline of what the comics mapped out. It could also be one great season and done. That’s the beauty of television right now: No show has to fit inside a strict formula to succeed.
While comics and TV are both visual media, horror mixed with the pacing of a crime story makes for good TV recipe. Ghosted would probably need a new working title so it’s not confused with the upcoming Fox series of the same name, but outside of that, the medium is always starving for good horror thrillers done well.
If Southern Bastards and True Blood had a baby, it would resemble something like Redneck, but it is less about vampires than it is about trying to escape bad family history. The Bowmans find themselves in a whole heap of trouble when years of peace and tranquility go down the drain after one night of unrestrained bad blood boils over. The story takes place in East Texas, which is “old like a dying dog" and "mysterious like a hole filled with snakes,” as Cates told SYFY WIRE. If you love character-driven television shows, there's a whole slew of characters driving Redneck.
Vampires have a long history of being successful on television, so that's what makes this a logical project to develop. Donny Cates (God Country) and artists Lisandro Estherren and Dee Cunniffe whip up another blast of a read that’s very translatable to the TV medium. As long as folks don’t mind more genre in the south, this is one plate of barbecue for which you’ll need a stack of wet-naps. Plus, just imagine the show producing actual bottles of “Bloodweiser” for marketing purposes.
Not all shows have to be live-action dramas, and not all of Skybound properties are meant for older audiences. I’m sure that Kirkman would like to get a few of his comics in on this deal too. He co-created Super Dinosaur with Jason Howard, an all-ages book starring a genius 10-year-old boy named Derek Dynamo and his dad Dexter, aka Doctor Dynamo. They help guard Inner Earth, an area underneath the surface of the Earth where dinosaurs still live, and where the most valuable resource is DynOre. Dexter and Max Maximus discovered the lost land and tapped its resource, helping to develop sentient dinosaurs, along with techno-suits that the dinosaurs can operate and use to battle each other with slugfests and weaponry -- all for the control and access to Inner Earth.
If it sounds like it’s over the top, it is, but it’s also a lot of fun, and there’s plenty of character moments that make this something worth taking to a new medium. A major confrontation between Dexter and Max leaves Dexter injured, and his brain not functioning as well as it once did. When the government sends aides, the Kingston family, to assist the Dynamos, Derek wonders if they’ll take his father away for his worsening condition. It adds a very real-world problem to this all-ages story, and I think it's important not to shy away from realities like this. There's also a mystery about Derek's lost mother, lively villains, and so many wonderful gadgets that kids would love.
Super Dinosaur is the classic Saturday morning cartoon full of larger-than-life characters and dinosaurs, which inspires kids to want to inhabit this world and want to do what's right. With both creators pulled away with other projects, there has been no new Super Dinosaur comics since 2014, but this is an opportunity to recharge new energy into the property. Amazon has a great track record with similar titles, having successfully launched all-ages series like Tumble Leaf, Niko and the Sword of Light, Studio Ghibli’s Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter, and the new Thunderbirds Are Go. Super Dinosaur would add to that already impressive roster.
I am a bit perplexed as to how this comic would work in another medium. On the one hand, you have a story of revenge that sweeps you off your feet in a flash. But the artwork is massive, graphic, and violent. Extremity is one of my top comic book reads right now, and 100 percent of that has to do with writer/artist Daniel Warren Johnson, whose comic is influenced by anime, Australian cinema, and European comics. Still, the tale of revenge is a freight train that anyone can gravitate to.
The book stars Thea, who was an artist until she lost her drawing hand when her family got caught up in a brutal war. What follows is best described as something out of a Mad Max movie. Thea’s father vows revenge and accepts nothing less, while her brother Rollo cannot go to the dark places his father requests of them. Thea struggles to cross the line but is loyal to her father, while still clinging to what's left of her humanity.
So much of the visual detail would be emphasized if it was drawn too, which makes me think that in a perfect world, this would be animated too. Extremity would be pushed toward the Adult Swim crowd, though, and carry a lot of mature warnings. But I'm fond of something like Aeon Flux or the Sam Keith MTV Maxx cartoon, both of which were extremely stylized and honored their creator's visual style. Johnson's art needs to be honored in motion, whether it's animated or live action. It would be tough to get an hourlong animated drama, so a half-hour show might be a compromise, but this would be the best way to see this comic translated to another form.
The second Joshua Williamson production on this list is a fantasy that starts out with the disappearance of young Mikey Rhodes. One year later, a full-grown man claims to be the missing child, saying he's gone off to another world where time is accelerated. Of course, nothing is at all what it seems when Mikey returns, as mages and monsters have followed him back. There's also a constant struggle with Mikey and an evil presence called the Nevermind, who is trying to get control of Mikey.
Again, Williams is paired with another great collaborator. Eye-popping art by Andrei Bressan is on full display, which helps us imagine this large, sweeping adventure and makes me wonder if we'll ever see it adapted into another form. A story like this might be typically adapted into a film focusing on the wrong things, as either a one or two-dimensional story. But they'd need to put the time to invest real emotional moments into the story and family, which is why I believe Birthright could work on a level of serial television. This is about Mikey reconnected with his family, picking up the pieces he left behind, and then also protecting what he created for himself.
Williamson's writing lends to a lot of rich development, and he's included plenty of emotional beats, as well as the expected action and intrigue. Bressan is also an astute collaborator and has a keen eye for dramatic storytelling; it's part of why as a complete package, Birthright is the best of what Williamson has to offer, by way of creator-owned stories at Image.
This one would not be cheap, but hey, we’ll let Skybound and Amazon figure out the logistics. Manifest Destiny is a period-piece comic, set within the historical context of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s 1804-1806 historic trip to explore the western side of the country. But rather than a dry, accurate portrayal of the journey, this comic exposes the U.S. government’s first lie to its people: that Lewis and Clark were actually fighting monsters and demons to claim land for European settlers. Sacagawea is reimagined as a fierce monster hunter and total badass, giving readers lots of entry points. There's 30 issues to adapt so far, but the entire scope of the story could be kept in the two-year expedition.
One huge plus for Manifest Destiny is that Chris Dingess is the co-creator and writer of the series. He comes from the world of television, having been a writer and/or a producer on genre shows like Agent Carter, Reaper, Being Human, and Medium. If he wanted to make the leap to TV with his first comic book, there would be no better man to run the series. He’d also have the best storyboards available, with Matthew Roberts’ lush art serving as a lovely bible to the art production team. Just imagine one of Roberts’ monsters come to life.
Finding untouched land might push production up north to the Great Plains states or Canada, especially since it will be almost exclusively outdoors. I'm thinking of scenery like The Revenant. The monsters would really set Manifest Destiny apart from other period pieces, and would be an awesome series that would pull in history buffs as well as genre fans.
What else is there to consider? We can't forget some of the newer titles like Horizon that could be a science fiction action series to monitor. Then there's Greek mythological adventure Kill the Minotaur, a deep plunge into the labyrinth. And there's the medieval fantasy Green Valley, with writer Max Landis (Dirk Gently) already having TV experience. Or how about heist-gone-bad revenge thriller Dead Body Road? It doesn't fit into the genres cover, but works better as a movie.
Some new titles that haven't yet hit the streets that fit this new genre rollout include the monsters and cartel mashup Gasolina and bio-horror scare Evolution. But we'll let those titles get a few issues under their belts before we throw them into the Amazon mix. Slots is another new Skybound comic on the fall schedule, but looks real-world-based, from what we've seen so far. Regardless, the pipeline is proven and full at Skybound, and that's just with the comics in production. That's why Amazon was happy to make this cross-media deal, and why we are too. What about you?