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12 graphic novels from Black creators that are getting live-action adaptations
From Bitter Root to The Antagonists, these books from Black creators are must-reads before they're must-watches.
It's no secret that comic books have become the new proof of concept medium of choice for superhero live-action films and TV shows. But until recently, many Black indie comic creators were left out of those pitch meetings. Following the success of Black Panther in 2018, though, producers began actively looking for graphic novels with Black protagonists and diverse characters as source material for live-action adaptation.
Ava Duvernay's teen superhero drama Naomi, now airing on The CW, is an example of one of those projects, but it's not the only one. From monster hunters to supervillain parents to African gods, we've compiled 12 comics created or co-written by Black creators that are in development for a live-action adaptation.
1. Bitter Root (Image Comics)
David F. Walker and Sanford Greene, the veteran comic book team behind Power Man and Iron Fist, collaborated with writer Chuck Brown (Black Manta) to create Bitter Root, a twist on traditional demon-hunting lore.
Bitter Root follows the Sangyeres, a monster-hunting family set in the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. Once formidable monster hunters, loss and unresolved issues have separated them physically and spiritually. But, a new threat in the form of monsters who feed on the racism and oppression of the time open old wounds, and if the Sangyere's can't come together in time, then they will be lost to the most significant threat the world has ever known.
Legendary Pictures picked up the project in 2019, and in 2021, tapped Academy-Award-winning actress, director and producer Regina King (Watchmen) to direct. King is also co-producing the project with Black Panther's Ryan Coogler, wife Zinzi Coogler, and Sev Ohanian of Proximity Media. Greene, Walker and Brown will serve as executive producers on the project. While award-winning comic book and TV writer Brian Edward Hill (Postal, Ash vs Evil Dead, Titans) is drafting the screenplay.
2. The Banks (TKO)
New York Times best-selling author Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist, World of Wakanda) and award-winning artist Ming Doyle (Constantine: The Hellblazer) collaborated on this full-length graphic novel that debuted in 2019. Part Robin Hood, part Widows, The Banks is a heist story about three generations of women thieves who must heal their family wounds to pull off their biggest job ever.
As part of the development deal signed last year between TKO studios and production company New Regency (Little Women, Bohemian Rhapsody), the studio has exclusive rights to develop all of TKO's library into TV projects. Gay will also write the screenplay adaptation.
3. BLACK (Black Mask)
BLACK is the origin story of Kareem Jenkins, a Brooklyn teenager who suddenly comes back to life after police accidentally shoot him in a case of mistaken identity. However, minutes after he inexplicably resurrects, he's hunted by members of a mysterious organization called MANN, Co. Kareem is rescued by an underground task force that recruits and trains people with all types of special abilities, and he learns that the only characteristic they all share is that everyone with superpowers is Black — and MANN will stop at nothing to wipe them out.
When writers Kwanzaa Osajyefo (Ignited, Black AF) and Tim Smith III (BLACK) collaborated with artists Khary Randolph (Excellence, We Are Robin) and Jamal Igle (Molly Danger, Wrong Earth), they knew that their concept ‘What if only Black people had superpowers?' would resonate. But they had no idea how big it would blow up. BLACK had a massive Kickstarter in 2016, achieving its funding goal in a few hours. By the end of the campaign, Studio 8 had optioned the movie rights, and the comic (on-premise alone) had made well over $80,000. In 2020, Warner Bros. acquired the rights from Studio 8 and brought in Bryan Edward Hill to pen the screenplay.
Ever since the crowdfunding campaign, fans have been clamoring to see this police brutality turned superhero origin story brought to life.
4. Prince of Cats (Image)
Developed by award-winning comic creator Ronald Wimberly, Prince of Cats retells Shakespeare's famous Romeo and Juliet love story from Tybalt's perspective via Black kids in 1980s Brooklyn. Not only did Wimberly ink, draw, and color the entire project, he also wrote the entire graphic novel as a poem – complete with ‘80s syntax. Wimberly created this entire project himself through DC Comics' Vertigo Imprint before being picked up by Image Comics.
Then, when Legendary Pictures won the feature rights to the live-action adaptation in 2018 they immediately attached actor Lakeith Stanfield (Yasuke, Get Out) to the project in the starring role. Along with Selwyn Sefyu Hinds (Twilight Zone) as a screenwriter, Acadmy Award Wining director Spike Lee has signed on as director.
We are here for LaKeith Stanfield speaking in iambic pentameter... with a sword.
5. Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer (Victory Comics)
David Crownson, an inspiring actor and writer, developed the concept for his indie comic Harriet Tubman Demon Slayer while on a visit to his family's home in Ghana. Inspired by the swordplay of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and the comedic lore of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, the comic was a collaboration with artist Courtland Ellis, and it emerged as one of the most talked-about series of 2017.
In this iteration, Harriet Tubman takes on a ronin samurai role as she frees enslaved families and fights the demon-possessed men that own them. Loaded with action, Tubman fends off everything from werewolves to vampires on her quest for freedom. The story was ripe for adaptation and towards the end of 2021 was optioned by Prentice Penny, the award-winning director, writer, and show runner behind Insecure and Corked .
In a new joint venture with Stranger Comics founder Sebastian A. Jones, Penny has created a new comic book company and media studio aimed specifically at adapting the work of BIPOC creators. Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer is the first property announced for adaptation at the yet-to-be-named company.
If Penny and Jones can pull off giving Harriet Tubman the live-action Blade of the Immortal treatment, we're here for it.
6. Jaycen Wise (Knarrative)
Jaycen Wise is an immortal warrior from Ancient Kush who fights to restore artifacts of Black history. Unlike Laura Croft or Indiana Jone, Wise is an "anti-Tomb Raider," as he steals treasure back from museums and private collectors, returning stolen artifacts and religious items to indigenous people and sacred spaces. Not only is Jaycen Wise an immortal with a lifetime of fighting skills, but his eidetic memory also extends to the spiritual plane, where he can access all of the memories of his ancestors.
Uraeus (Richard G. Tyler II) is the writer and creator of the Black Heroes Matter franchise and a seasoned comic creator whose comic Indigo was optioned by NBC in 2015. Although Jaycen Wise as a graphic novel over a decade ago, Uraeus sold the story independently and exclusively at conventions.
This comic is the second announced by Penny and Jones' collaboration and we are excited to see where the team takes the project.
We are already fan-casting this one.
7. Niobe She is Life (Stranger Comics)
Westeros meets Elder Scrolls in the fantasy world of Asunda, the connected universe created by Sebastian A. Jones for his publishing company Stranger Comics. The Untamed, the first graphic novel published by Jones was already in print when he first met then 15-year-old actress Amandla Stenberg and her mother at a children's book fair. Right then, he decided to pitch them the idea of his dream graphic novel series about a young girl, born of two worlds, rejected by both, destined to save them all. That character was Niobe Ayutami.
Collaborating with Stenberg and artist Ashley A. Woods (Tomb Raider, Wonder Woman Black and Gold 2), Niobe: She is Life went viral when a variant cover drawn by Hyoung Taek Nam featured Stenberg's likeness as the titular character. The comic is now the award-winning flagship of the connected comic book universe that Jones has spent almost two decades building.
In the spring of 2019, Jones inked a rare deal with HBO to bring his collaboration with Stenberg to the screen. Jones retains all intellectual rights to his characters and stories. Titled simply Asunda, Jones is set to bring the graphic novels Niobe, Dusu, Erathune and Essessa to the screen over the next few years.
Although Stenberg might not be interested in playing a 15-year-old elf anymore, we hope to see her featured onscreen as one of the characters in this series.
8. The Antagonists (Godhood Comics)
The Antagonists follows the supervillain couple Tonya and Calvin Eval (aka Ultima and Destructus), who try their hand at retirement after successfully taking over the world. Hiding their secret identities and villainous impulses from both international agents and their own superpowered children, while navigating everyday racism and parenting issues.
The indie comic series was created by Godhood Comics founder and writer Tyler Martin, co-writer Dawn Henderson and co-writer and editor by Felipe Dunbar, with interior art by Giacomo Guida. Described by fans as The Boys meets Ozark, Martin's Kickstarter for the title sold out in minutes and made over $22,000 by the end of its campaign.
Braham Entertainment, the indie production company that garnered two Daytime Emmy nominations for their superhero short film Watchtower, picked up the adaptation rights for The Antagonists series in 2021. Both Godhood Comics and Braham Entertainment have achieved success outside of the traditional Hollywood/Big 2 model. We can't wait to see what this team-up comes up with!
9. Ireti (Comic Republic)
In 2013, when Nigerian creator and founder Jide Martin launched Comic Republic, his goal was to create superhero stories with powers based in the rich mythology and culture of the people of Nigeria. He succeeded and today, his company is the larges independent comic book publisher in Africa.
Ireti one of the publisher's most popular comics follows Bidemi, a young woman who possesses identical powers as a 200-year-old warrior named Ireti Moremi. An unassuming archaeology uni student by day and a secret crime-fighting superhero at night Bidemi is searching for the true source of her powers.
The original Ireti comic was written by Michael Balogun with art by Stanley Obende and in 2021, Comic Republic partnered with LA-based Emagine Entertainment and Maryland-based entertainment group JackieBoy, to adapt Ireti into a feature film. One look at the Comic Republic website, and you will see that they have no shortage of comics to adapt.
We look forward to seeing an entire universe of African superheroes from them hit the screen in the future.
10. The Hated (Solid Comix)
The Hated is a comic set in the post-Civil War West, in an alternate universe where the war ended in a truce and the North stayed free, while the south continued slavery.
Written by David F. Walker (Luke Cage, Shaft) and illustrated Sean Damien Hill (Is'Nana the WereSpider, Marvel's Voices Legacy), the story follows Araminta Free, a gun-slinging Black woman bounty hunter who hunts down war criminals. Caught between fighting Confederate raiders who kidnap free Blacks and bring them back down south to slavery and helping the Liberators, who risk their lives to free them, Free suffers no fools.
Netflix acquired the comic from Solid Comix (Walker's own imprint) at the end of 2021 and announced that Emmy nominated writer, Michael Starburry (When They see Us, Colin in Black and White) is attached to write the screenplay.
Now if Netflix would only let Regina King play Araminta Free.
11. Static Shock (Milestone Media)
Virgil Hawkins, aka "Static," is the most famous character created by Milestone comics' team Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle. Ever since Static #1 hit newsstands in June 1993, there have been rumors of a live-action adaptation. But unfortunately, after McDuffie's passing and the controversies that followed, many fans thought they would never see their favorite teenage hero again.
In 2021, Milestone finally returned with an updated series featuring Hawkins and the rest of the "Bang Babies." In both versions, citizens of Dakota City are exposed to a toxic chemical that gives many of them powers, ncluding Virgil, who gains electromagnetic abilities.
Milestone Media has expanded into multimedia and announced along with DC Comics that a Static live-action adaptation was in the works. the live-action project will be co-produced by Michael B. Jordan (Outlier Society),Reginald Hudlin (Milestone Media) and Warner Bros. This will also be Jordan's first full-length superhero film as a producer.
Fans have waited almost 30 years to see this socially conscious superhero come to life. We hope Jordan makes a cameo.
12. The American Way (DC Comics)
Academy Award-winning writer John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) and artist Geroge Jeanty (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer) first collaborated in 2006 on The American Way as a 6-issue limited series for DC Comics' Wildstorm Imprint. Their original comic took place in the 1960s and featured a government-manufactured team of superheroes called the Civil Defense Force (CDC), complete with their own marketing team.
However, when a new Black super-soldier joins the team, dissension within the ranks and around the country sends the propaganda machine into overdrive leading to an outcome no one could have predicted.
Ridley and Jeanty brought the series back in 2017 for The American Way: As Above So Below for DC Comics' now-defunct Vertigo Imprint.
In 2018, Blumhouse (Get Out) decided they were getting into the superhero business when they picked up both The American Way and Todd McFarlane's Spawn for live action remakes. Ridley is both writing the screenplay and directing The American Way as a feature.
Could this be the beginning of the Blumhouse Superhero Universe?