Listen up Broadway! Sound suggestions for future comic book musicals.
It seems like not much has gone right with the Spiderman musical. Between the injuries that have led some to say the production is cursed, the behind-the-scenes conflict that led to the firing of director Julie Taymour and the critics who say the show is terrible, it has been hard to pinpoint any one reason for the trouble. But now that reason has become clear. Spiderman is Peter Parker, a dorky kid who had the dumb luck to get bit by a radioactive spider and whose powers brought a host of problems he hadn’t bargained on. Bono and The Edge are larger-than-life rock stars who believe in wearing their sunglasses at night, indoors. Their brand of overblown anthemic rock is entirely wrong for a musical about Spiderman. So who should have written the music for Spiderman? And who should write the music for the inevitable forthcoming musicals about other superheros?
Broadway, take note!
Why it works: If the similarity in glasses isn’t convincing enough, how about the fact that Peter Parker himself was an Elvis Costello fan? In the Marvel Team-Up Annual #4 (August 1981), Spidey encounters a mysterious purple man who orders him to recite Shakespeare. When Spidey’s Shakespeare knowledge proves inadequate, Purple Man allows him to sing Oliver’s Army instead.
Possible plot: Forget about rehashing the too-familiar Spiderman origin story. With the inclusion of Gwen Stacy in the forthcoming Spiderman movie reboot, it would be timely to focus on the famous comic book arc “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”. Gwen Stacy’s plunge off the tower of the Brooklyn Bridge at the hands of the Green Goblin would add a new meaning to “accidents will happen”.
Why it works: Wonder Woman is a princess of the Amazons, an ancient race of female warriors, so she needs a tough lady with a big voice to tell her story. And, like Wonder Woman, Neko Casehas found lasting success in a male-dominated industry.
Possible plot: Diana’s Themysciran roots, Nazis, and talking gorillas: The Circle arc (Wonder Woman volume 3 #14–17) really has it all. And a song like “I Wish I Was the Moon” expresses Diana’s loneliness as she walks the streets of the city, an exile from her country of birth, missing her mother, and wishing she was reunited with her lost Amazon sisters. At the end of the song, the four Amazons who tried to kill baby Diana would join in, singing “I’m so tired / I’m so tired / And I wish I was the moon” as spotlights illuminate them in their prisons at the north, south, east, and west ends of Themyscira, with Diana adding the final mournful “tonight” that ends the song.
Why it works: Kanye perfectly encapsulates Batman’s combination of talent, relentless hard work, and crippling self-hatred. Plus, he’s got Bruce Wayne’s obscene wealth. Perhaps Kanye’s bratty narcissistic behavior is just a ruse to distract us from the fact that he fights crime at night, a la Christian Bale’s spoiled playboy Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins.
Possible plot: Adopting the structure of Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, the show begins at an empty funeral parlor that slowly fills with Batman’s gallery of rogues. One by one, they arise and sing their memories of the deceased Batman, at which point the funeral set clears from the stage and the actual scene plays out in front of the audience. Picture Catwoman and Batman calling to each other “You’re my devil you’re my angel / You’re my heaven you’re my hell” as they dance across Gotham’s rooftops. And since Kanye is already writing the music, he might as well play Batman too.
Why it works: Alan Moore’s Promethea features a young female character named Sophie Bangs who is in the process of transforming into a centuries-old hero who exists in reality because she exists in story. Janelle Monáe’s albums feature a young female android who is on the run for the crime of having fallen in love with a human. Moore’s comic jumps between mystery, action, and philosophical treatise as rapidly as Monáe’s music jumps between neo-soul, electro-pop, and show tunes.
Possible plot: Beginning the musical in the same place as the comic series starts, with Sophie Bangs becoming the new Promethea, is an obvious choice, but Promethea is so rife with plot and mythology that it’s also a smart choice. As Sophie Bangs discovers what it means to be Promethea, the audience learns along with her about her new powers of sorcery, and the enemies and dangers that come along with them, without getting lost in Alan Moore’s metaphysical haze. Sophie Bangs faces her first threat as Promethea, singing “This is a cold war / Do you know what you’re fighting for?” as she battles a group of demons who have fought Promethea over the centuries but with whom Sophie, a newbie to the Promethea role, is completely unfamiliar. Or, throwing loyalty to the original series out the window, Cindi the Android could be inserted as an omniscient narrator. Alan Moore is bound to be pissed about the adaptation either way, so why not really go for it?
Why it works: Bono and The Edge would work much better for Superman than for Spiderman, but let’s not do that to the big guy. Instead, Supe gets another larger-than-life rocker: The Boss. Bruce Springsteen and Superman both work to ensure America upholds its own ideals of democracy, one through writing songs about the struggles of everyday people and the other through feats of strength and heroism.
Possible plot: Superman’s greatest asset (aside from super strength and invulnerability) is his moral certainty. Take that away from him and he crumbles, which makes for a great dramatic arc. Perhaps a combination of the original Death of Superman (Superman #149), an entry in the “Imaginary Stories” series in which archnemesis Lex Luthor pretends to reform by finding a cure for cancer, and episode 20 from season 1 of Justice League Unlimited, in which presidential hopeful Lex Luthor tricks Superman into discrediting himself. As Superman walks through the smashed remains of Lexor City, Luther’s low-income urban development, he sings “My City of Ruins”, with the original round of “Come on, rise up” as a desperate exhortation to the devastation he sees around him. In a cameo, Batman runs onstage just before the end of the song to reveal that Lex set Superman up, and the last round of “Come on, rise up” becomes a mantra through which Superman gathers his shattered pride in order to take on Luthor once again.