-J. Michael Bestul is a writer for the Addison Recorder. Stephanie Ruehl is an artist who works in a comic book shop. They’re married and have a lot of discussions about comic books and graphic novels. Combine all that into a biweekly feature and you get “J. & Steph Talk About Comics.”
Movies and comic books. They’re like peanut butter & chocolate — either it’s a delightful combination, or it’s a combination that results in uninspired, mass-produced dreck.
We did a little bit of hand-wringing back in our 2014 recap, worrying about the influence of box office success over comic book editorial decisions. But that’s not to say we dislike comic-related movies and TV shows. Far from it. Thus, we decided to look deep into the movie/comic book combination, beyond the well-known movie franchises. Our methodology was simple: look at the Wikipedia page(s) for films based on comic books, and write about what caught our eye. Sophisticated, we know.
We’ve also ventured into comic properties that became TV shows, since it’s a moving-picture medium perfect for adapting episodic comic books. And because this was partially inspired by the upcoming Kingsman: The Secret Service movie (based on a Mark Millar book), we’ll also take a gander at some upcoming adaptations whose books you may or may not know.
In the Beginning…
-J.: In theory, we want to look past the well-known properties — your Batmans and X-Men, your web-slingers and pizza-eating turtles, your Dredds and Walking Deads. But then we come to a weird middle ground. You have movies like Mystery Men, which is based on a comic and is a parody of superhero stories. Did I know that it was based on a comic book? No, but I’m completely unsurprised.
Steph: Blade fits this middle ground as well. I had no idea it was based on a Marvel comic.
-J.: Marvel went on a Blade blitz after the movie came out, which is how I learned. But you’re right, its hype came more from the vampire aspect than its comic roots. The Rocketeer is also a good example. I assumed it was based on a comic, but on an old-timey comic that was contemporary with The Shadow or The Spirit. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that it was an early ’80s comic by Dave Stevens. Do we include it in our piece? Or did I just include it by asking the question? Is it a blatant attempt to shoehorn one of my favorite childhood movies into this discussion?
Steph: Um, probably.
-J.: That still doesn’t change the fact that it was one of the awesomest movies of my youth, and of the decade it kicked off.
Before the Golden Age
-J.: Here’s a thing: I always thought that animated TV series of The Tick was what came first, followed by the comic series. I don’t know why I thought that (see Mystery Men above), but it may be because there was a lot more comic material published after the TV series came out. Plus, the original 12-issue series was reprinted after the TV show debuted, but I didn’t realize they were reprints until much later.
Steph: Also Men In Black was huge hit, and was based on a comic book by Lowell Cunningham, and the Crow, which I had no idea was based on a comic by James O’Barr.
-J.: Men in Black was a comic book before it was a movie?! Huh. Learn something new every day. I didn’t know that about The Crow, either. I guess that tells us two things: 1) that I didn’t pay much attention to anything smaller than Dark Horse when I was a teenager, and 2) I missed out on a lot of good indie comics as a teenager.
Dawn of the Age of Geek
-J.: Thankfully, college exposed me to a broader range of publishers. And the ’00s were the beginning of the golden age of comic book movies. I remember going to X-Men when it came out in 2000, and being so excited afterwards. This was a superhero movie that wasn’t awful. After so many late-’90s comic book movies tried to kill my interest in capes (damn you, Joel Schumacher!), my beloved X-Men were in a pretty decent movie! Huzzah!
Steph: I, on the other hand, was a bit disappointed. It’s not that the movies seemed to veer from the story lines (and there were so many to choose from), but that they also attempted to hold fast to them at the same time. Yet it also seemed like the writers and directors were thinking that this was a comic, therefore these things and people would never exist in the real world so they treated them that way.
-J.: See also, Ang Lee’s Hulk.
Steph: The suspension of disbelief was up to the viewer to produce for themselves. It wasn’t until Iron Man that comic movies, specifically superhero movies, were treated as more real — more lifelike.
-J.: Thing is, around the same time as X-Men and Spider-Man were becoming blockbusters, we also got a lot of amazing adaptations of non-cape comics. Take, for example, one of my favorite films: Ghost World. It’s not exactly a “surprise” to be comic-based, because Daniel Clowes was very well-known in indie and lit circles at the time. It wasn’t really marketed as a comic book movie, yet was an example of how comics didn’t have to have superheroes or fantastical narratives to inspire great movies. Also, its inclusion gives me an excuse to put a video of “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” in this discussion:
Steph: Ghost World was a slight revelation for me. I was strictly a Marvel girl — superheroes and pretty much nothing else. It helped me over the wall into the more indie, autobiographical comics, or at least not just superhero ones. For example:
– From Hell, book by Alan Moore art by Eddie Campbell, movie adaptation directed by the Hughes bothers, starring Johnny Depp, Heather Graeme, and Ian Holmes, the story of Jack the Ripper, told from the lead detective’s point of view.
-J.: This is an adaptation that’s a bit difficult to compare to the original book. Moore’s graphic novel is dense and extensive, two things that do not make for a blockbuster. I actually kind of liked the Johnny Depp murder mystery, but it’s hard to say the movie or book are anything more than superficially similar.
– Road to Perdition, book by Max Allan Collins, movie adaptation directed by Sam Mendes, starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Stanley Tucci, Daniel Craig, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, and Thomas Newman, about Michael Sullivan Sr., a hit man for the mob during the Great Depression, trying to save his son.
-J.: I really liked this one. This was the movie I would point to when someone would make silly and superficial arguments against comic book movies. So damn good.
– Whiteout, book by Greg Rucka art by Steve Leiber, movie adaptation directed by Dominic Sena, starring Kate Beckinsale, Tom Skerritt, Gabriel Macht, and Alex O’Laughlin, where Deputy US Marshall Carrie Stetko attempts to solve a murder in the Antarctic.
-J.: I can’t even talk about the Whiteout movie. I can’t. I love the comics, Rucka is one of my favorite writers, and Lieber’s art was amazing in the books. But the reviews of the movie were universally bad. Worse than bad. I did eventually watch some of the movie when it was on TV, but I couldn’t handle it’s lacking quality. Whiteout and its sequel are a couple of my favorite books, and I couldn’t deal with a bad adaptation. I try to forget the movie exists.
Steph: There’s also Wanted, which was loosely based on the comic by Mark Millar art by J. G. Jones, which I found to be a fun ride, a really good blend of the subject material and the moving medium. Also Chris Pratt has a bit part in it, and I just can’t get enough of him.
-J.: Well, then, you should be happy with the rumors around the Indiana Jones reboot. And while we’re talking about upcoming movies…
-J.: Huh. That subhead was a little on the nose. Whatever.
Steph: There are plenty of upcoming comic-inspired TV and movie properties, along with the expected Batman v. Superman, the Avengers, and the rest of the 6-year Marvel movie plan.
-J.: I’m going to let Steph present these, as I am woefully lacking in knowledge about TV and movie releases. I may know the exact day that the Chicago-area game stores get the new Machi Koro expansion, but I couldn’t tell you what’s new this season on the CW.
Summary: Gwen Dylan is a zombie. That is she is dead and needs to consume brains once a month so she doesn’t become a mindless monster. Working as a gravedigger gives her plenty of access to brains people aren’t using anymore, but when she ingests them sometimes she inherits their thoughts and memories.
-J.: Ah, that’s what’s new on the CW. It sounds different from the standard zombie story, which is good (I get tired of zombies really quick). I’d rather have a TV series with Delta Green‘s Agent NANCY instead, but this looks like it might be cool.
Powers — book by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, TV series produced by the PlayStation Network, starring Sharlto Copley, Susan Heyward, Michelle Forbes, Max Fowler, Eddie Izzard, Adam Godley, Noah Taylor, Olesya Rulin, and Jeryl Prescott
Summary: Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim are two detectives assigned to investigate cases involving people with superhuman abilities, referred to as “powers.”
-J.: Wait, wait, wait. An online TV series adapting a really cool Bendis/Oeming book, and Eddie Izzard makes an appearance? I knew there was a reason I kept my PSN account after all the hacks.
Kingsman — book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, movie adaptation directed by Matthew Vaughn, starring Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine (because of course Michael Caine)
Summary: A veteran secret agent takes on a young protege. Samuel L. Jackson tries to blow up the world, chaos and fun ensues.
-J.: This one confuses me. I’m supposed to cheer for Mark Strong, and against Samuel L. Jackson? No, no, nothing makes sense here.
To Sum It All Up…
Mark Millar makes a lot of comics that get adapted into movies (Kingsman, Kick Ass, Wanted). And if you haven’t seen Ghost World, you should remedy that posthaste.