Welcome back to We Want Comics, a column exploring intellectual properties, whether they’re movies, TV shows, novels or video games, that we want adapted into comic books.
“What happens if Leader of the Pack kidnaps Queen of The Hop, and has to be rescued by Soldier Boy?” So goes the premise of Streets of Fire, Walter Hill’s neon-soaked noir masterpiece from 1984. The film spans the music and culture of the ‘40s through the ‘80s with exceptional pulp styling, snappy dialogue and incredible visuals. Plus, the film’s celebrating its 35th birthday this month. What better way to homage the cult classic and potentially do the sequel that never was than in comics?
And in case you’re a fan and potentially bummed by the lack of Jim Steinman’s musical excellence that comes with translating the original “Rock ‘N Roll Fable,” there are a lot of books that handle this in a creative way, like the recent “Jem & the Holograms.”
Adapting Streets of Fire would be a colorist’s dream, and I can think of many who’d do Hill’s work justice (Dee Cunniffe, Chris O’Halloran, Jason Wordie and Matthew Hollingsworth, to name a few.) The big blocks of contrasting blues, pinks and purples are there, but so are the subtler touches, like the purple and pink tinge on the motorcycle gang’s headlights as they come down the street to kidnap Ellen or the green and pink neon reflections on the perpetually wet asphalt. Streets of Fire is a moody noir set piece mashed up with a technicolor palette, which means a lot of fun with shadows and an entire color spectrum of light sources. Streets of Fire’s main strength is its visual storytelling, and seeing it on the page in the hands of a good artist and a top-notch colorist would be a delight both for fans of the movie and first-time readers. Who wouldn’t want to take that book for a ride?
The Rogues Gallery
Walter Hill makes ensemble pieces count, with every character from the main cast to the extras sporting a tic or a physical detail that makes them stand out, that makes them matter. Everything in Streets of Fire is visually significant, which makes for a lovely well of material to draw from. Some of the fun gang styling from The Warriors is back, and the movie’s bursting with weirdos from McCoy (Amy Madigan) to Clyde (the legendary Bill Paxton) and even the nameless prophetic weirdo (Tom Waters) who scams a fiver out of Billy right before the gang invades Raven’s hideout.
What, you want a more specific example? Take Billy Fish (Rick Moranis). He’s always got immaculate hair and horn-rimmed glasses, which are a throwback to the ‘50s and ‘60s poindexter archetype, but more importantly, the mix of patterns in his outfits show he’s come up in the world but he still has a ways to go. He’s got the money to afford the duds, but lacks the subtlety to pull them off like someone who was raised middle- or upper-class. His slight tackiness riffs on the propriety of Americana and provides a load of insight into his psyche. It’s clear from the movie’s dialogue that he’s from the slums he and Ellen come back to, but the visual is a constant, stylized reminder of his particular tension. Details like this are everywhere in Streets of Fire, and they enrich both the plot and the world around Tom, Ellen, Reva and Raven.
It’s also easy to add new characters or tell spin-off stories because there’s a lot of care taken with the universe, and a set aesthetic to either drawn on or undermine if a creator has the chops to pull it off. You can follow Tom’s journey through the army, or a day in the life of Reva as she works at the diner. Where was McCoy before this? How’d Clyde get his bartending job? Who was the leader of the Bombers before Raven, and what’s going to happen with the power struggle now that he’s been defeated? What was Billy Fish’s life like before he got out of the slums?Continued below
And, most importantly, what shenanigans do Tom and McCoy get up to after the end of this one?
When it comes to Raven Shaddock, Hill’s in his element. Willem DaFoe’s performance is arresting, and he brings buckets of serpentine weirdness to the character that amps up story tension to the breaking point. Tom and Raven have a rivalry that’s fit for opera, and the two have quite a bit in common, as well. There’s a difference between being honorable and being a good person, and there aren’t too many straight-up good people in Streets of Fire. Complex heroes and villains make for fine storytelling, and that kind of nuance can translate very well into comics.
Action set-pieces are well-choreographed, which means a creator could have a lot of fun with putting together some intricate layouts punctuated by great splashes. Streets of Fire is melodramatic and fast-paced thanks to quick-cut editing and a lot of lingering atmospheric shots that make the film feel like it’s balanced on the most bombastic razor’s edge in history. There’s tons here for an adept storyteller to play with: guns, motorcycles, explosions, fist fights and even a spike maul duel (done in broad daylight for some ‘70s-throwback realism.)
The Queer Coding
Tom’s not just not McCoy’s type – she’s coded as queer twice (in 1984, no less), and there’s all sorts of gender and sexuality tropes at play in Streets of Fire. Raven bristles with femme violence and energy, his biker gang is leather and attitude, and all that svelte danger and excellent costuming makes for a goldmine of queer content to plumb in a comic series. There’s no better time than now, with books like “Barbarella/Dejah Thoris” on the shelf to support a second look at pulp and and exploitation characters: a Streets of Fire comic could do a lot with the source material in the current comics climate.
Streets of Fire is a pulp masterpiece that went nowhere, unfortunately. The original film grossed $8 million to its $14.5 million budget, which pretty much nixed plans for any future endeavors on top of Walter Hill’s and the studio’s disappointment in their lead, Michael Paré. Without a sequel to satisfy, there’s a wide open field for a creator to come in and either expand the current universe or keep the story rolling, and with the current culture’s obsession with mash-ups, ‘80s grit and glitter and queer styling, Streets of Fire seems poised for a comeback.