While the trailer for Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy only debuted several days ago, it's not too early to predict that its breakout star will be a character we've barely heard speak: Rocket Raccoon.
Today, the highly merchandisable appeal of a violence-prone talking raccoon - and his ability to outshine human co-stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and Dave Bautista - may seem obvious. But it's worth remembering that Rocket has in fact had a long, bumpy road to movie stardom. Created by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen way back in 1976 as an homage to the Beatles song "Rocky Raccoon," the character languished in obscurity for most of the subsequent thirty years. Despite appearances in The Incredible Hulk and She-Hulk, and even a 1985 miniseries starring the character (featuring art by a young Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame), poor Rocket was widely derided as a joke, a character best left forgotten.
Then, in 2007, Giffen and fellow writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning returned the character to prominence as part of the Annihilation: Conquest event, which led to Rocket appearing in the 2008 Guardians of the Galaxy series... and the rest is history.
If a onetime laughingstock like Rocket Raccoon can become a big-screen phenomenon, perhaps it's time to delve deeper into Marvel's back catalog to find the next stars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After all, Robert Downey Jr. isn't getting any younger. In that spirit, I offer a few suggestions for where the fine folks at Marvel Studios should look.
It's right there on the cover: "AMERICA'S HOTTEST SINGING SENSATION IS NOW MARVEL'S NEWEST SUPER HERO!" This 1991 one-shot comic, conceived as a cross-promotion with RCA Records and real-life singer Jacqueline Tavarez, told the story of a young woman who must balance her triple life as a college student by day, cat-themed pop singer by night, and scantily clad cat-powered superheroine by later at night as she battles a sinister drug ring. While the real Tavarez' career may never have gone anywhere, is a singer/superhero really hard to accept in a world where stars like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Nicki Minaj are constantly seeking to outdo each other for the most garish outfits and wild on-stage antics? With the right star and songwriting team, Marvel could dominate the Billboard charts with its first superhero musical.
Alternatively, Marvel's parent company Disney could take a page from the Hannah Montana playbook, give Nightcat more clothing, and cast one of the stars from the Selena Gomez/Demi Lovato clone factory for the next Disney Channel tween sitcom hit.
OBNOXIO THE CLOWN
Originally the mascot for Marvel's early-80s Mad-esque humor magazine Crazy, Obnoxio is "a slovenly, vulgar, cigar-puffing middle-aged man in a torn and dirty clown suit, with a dyspeptic and cynical attitude."
He also once teamed up with the X-Men to fight Eye-Scream, a supervillain with the uncommonly creamy and delicious superpower of transforming his body into any flavor of ice cream.
While an alcoholic clown may not be completely unexplored cinematic territory, and the X-Men themselves remain in the hands of Fox, Obnoxio could make for a surprisingly compelling villain in a future Marvel Studios film. After all, this is a clown capable of taking down Colossus with a hand buzzer and Nightcrawler with a handful of sneezing powder; who knows what evil he could wreak on the Avengers when armed with an Infinity Stone?
Numinus, a cosmic being loosely created in the Jack Kirby mold for the preteen superhero series Power Pack, is the sentient embodiment of wonder in the universe.
Numinus is also a giant, purple Whoopi Goldberg. And if there's a surer recipe for box-office gold than a giant, purple, computer-generated Whoopi Goldberg in a cosmic superhero costume, I'm not sure what it is.
While a Power Pack movie may be on the back burner, and Numinus may not have made the cut for Guardians of the Galaxy, she could be the perfect ally when the Avengers take on Thanos and the power of the Infinity Stones in Avengers 3. Sure, the Avengers may have an Asgardian god, a super-soldier, a tech genius, a super-strong green rage monster, a witch, and a speedster on their side. But give Thanos a little talk from Whoopi about the wonders of the universe, and he might just realize that some things are more important than intergalactic conquest and courting Death.
These three characters are just the tip of the iceberg: from NFL SuperPro to Forbush Man to the Elf with a Gun to Cousin Betsy the Plant Lady, Marvel's history is full of neglected, unjustly maligned heroes and villains. Let's hope that Guardians of the Galaxy is just the beginning of Marvel Studios digging deeper for its source material; with the right touch, even Doctor Bong could be the next Doctor Doom.