8 Marvel Movies That Never Left the Drawing Board

Friday’s release of Ant-Man is expected to be another success story for Marvel Studios, which broke ground with 2008’s Iron Man and subsequently released 10 hits in a row. Flush with confidence, they’ve been able to introduce Norse gods, talking raccoons, and a diminutive Paul Rudd fighting a microscopic war on crime.

But Marvel didn’t always get their way. Take a look at eight projects that never managed to come to fruition.

1. Quentin Tarantino’s Luke Cage

Despite being a longtime comic book fan, Quentin Tarantino rarely tackles graphic novel adaptations; the closest he has come to the superhero world is directing a segment of Sin City in 2005. But right after 1992’s Reservoir Dogs put him on the map, he was offered a chance to direct a film based on Luke Cage, a crime fighter with impervious skin created in response to the “blaxploitation” films of the 1970s. “After Reservoir Dogs, I had considered doing a Luke Cage, Hero for Hire movie,” he told MTV back in 2012. “I talked to [Laurence Fishburne] about being Luke Cage, and he really liked that idea.” Tarantino ended up making Pulp Fiction instead; Luke Cage is set to appear in his own Netflix series in 2016.  

2. Silver Surfer (With a Score by Paul McCartney)

Of the thousands of Marvel characters that could have been selected for cinematic adoption in the 1980s, the Silver Surfer was one of the least likely candidates. Chrome-skinned, he spends his days flying through galaxies and encountering alien races. Despite the promise of overtaxing a special effects crew and budget, producer Lee Kramer tried his best to get a movie going in 1980. He envisioned a sprawling space epic on par with 2001, set to a rock soundtrack. Kramer even sent Silver Surfer comics to Paul McCartney, whose manager replied that the singer was interested in providing some of the music. Unable to find backers for his $25 million pipe dream, Kramer never got beyond the concept art (above) stage. The character didn’t appear in live action until the 2007 Fantastic Four sequel, where he was voiced by Laurence Fishburne.    

3. X-Men Origins: Magneto

After three successful X-Men movies, Fox wanted to pursue some solo ventures. X-Men Origins: Wolverine made it to screens in 2009, but a similar project featuring adversary Magneto didn’t follow as planned. Intended to explore the villain’s formative years in World War II and his hunt for a Nazi physician, some of the plot points ended up being used in 2011’s X-Men: First Class. That became a bone of contention for Magneto screenwriter Sheldon Turner: According to The Hollywood Reporter, he turned to the Writers Guild of America in order to receive a story credit for the material.

4. Namor, the Sub-Mariner

One of the medium’s oldest heroes—he first appeared in the October 1939 issue of Marvel Comics #1—Namor was another character crippled by the overactive imaginations of his creators. Ruling the seas requires extensive shooting on or near water, which almost always proves to be disastrous for filmmakers. Still, Philip Kaufman wanted to give it a shot. The director behind The Right Stuff and Quills told Entertainment Weekly in 2000 that Namor was on his to-do list. “I like the idea of the ‘vengeance of the deep,'” he said, “how we [mistreat] the ocean and treat everything so badly and that down there is some little guy with wings on his feet who’s gonna come up and stomp some [butt].” As of 2014, legal complications with the character and his film rights have prevented Marvel from inserting him into their current releases.  

5. She-Hulk


Bruce Banner’s cousin never made an appearance on Bill Bixby’s live-action series, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t being courted. In the early 1990s, Marvel made an aggressive attempt to find funding for a She-Hulk film starring 6’1” Brigitte Nielsen, best known at the time as Ivan Drago’s wife in 1984’s Rocky IV. Larry Cohen, who directed the killer-baby horror film It’s Alive, was approached to write it. The company arranged for a promotional photo shoot, but it wasn’t enough to garner interest.

6. Dazzler

A disco-loving mutant who can convert music into colorful (or dangerous) prisms of light, Dazzler made her first comics appearance in 1979; Marvel hoped they might be able to work with a record company to produce tie-in music. That didn’t pan out, but in the course of trying to negotiate a deal, editor-in-chief Jim Shooter ended up writing a feature film treatment. Bo Derek expressed interest in the role, at which point the premise morphed into the character having the Wonder Woman-esque power of forcing people to tell the truth. Daryl Hannah later agreed to star in the film, but Dazzler’s expiration date was too closely tied to disco’s. (Her salvation may come in the form of 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, which takes place in the 1980s.)   

7. Morbius, the Living Vampire

Marvel characters tend to follow a formula: flawed human becomes powerful, juggles exterior threats with relatable interior problems. Little of that was on display in Marvel’s horror comics of the 1970s, which included a character called Morbius, a physician who contracted vampirism via a laboratory accident involving bats and electroshock therapy. (If you can relate, please write us.) When Marvel signed a deal with Artisan Entertainment in 2000, Morbius was expected to be one of the projects. But both the company and contracted screenwriter, Michael France, passed him up in favor of pursuing what would become 2004’s The Punisher.     

8. Tobe Hooper’s Spider-Man

While James Cameron is the name frequently associated with attempts to make a Spider-Man feature prior to Sam Raimi’s 2002 film, he wasn’t the only one: Tobe Hooper, who directed 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was once set to take on a modestly-budgeted adaptation for Cannon Films. According to Joseph Zito, who was working with Cannon at the time, executives wanted to approach the comic as a kind of monster movie, with an eight-limbed Peter Parker struggling with his monstrous transformation. After subsequent drafts displayed a better understanding of the character, Cannon hoped to enlist Tom Cruise for the lead. Unfortunately, the company was experiencing financial problems. They sold Spider-Man’s film rights in a fire sale in 1990.

Space Goat Publishing
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.


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