Our Favorites: It Came From the Comics!
We look at films you might not have realized got their start in comics. From graphic novels to the funny-pages, we pick our favorites!
With all the mainstream success of comic-based movies, you’d think most movies based on comics would wear their origins loud and proud. That wasn’t always the case. The marketability of comic-based movies has ebbed and flowed, and sometimes a movie had to hide it’s pulp progenitor and assume a “respectable” alter-ego. We pick out our favorite movies that you might not have noticed changing in the nearest phone booth.
Our Favorite: Mainstream Comic (Marvel/DC)
Nominees: Swamp-Thing, Blade, Howard the Duck, Red Sonja
Most of these movies have one thing in common: C-List characters that lent themselves to a then-popular movie genre. These movies usually got the green light at times when comic-based movies were unpopular. Being hard to recognize as a comic property actually helped these films.
As much as I have a fondness for Swamp-Thing, Red Sonja wins this one in a massacre. Red Sonja perfected the swords and sandal genre, and had a plot that was delightfully insane. If you’re tough enough to make Arnold Schwarzenegger* your side-kick, you’re doing something right.
*Note: While Red Sonja first appeared in Conan’s comic, Conan himself originated in Pulp-Magazines. So he doesn’t count. So There.
Our Favorite: Vertigo Comics
I was compelled to give DC’s Vertigo Imprint a section of their own. Why? Well, they are the comic equivalent of an art-house movie studio that is owned by a major distributor. DC uses Vertigo to house it’s mature and non-mainstream properties, and as such it has a wholly different flavor compared to DC proper. This variety is represented in the types of properties optioned to be a movie. From sci-fi romances to gritty period dramas, you’d hardly believe that they came from one source; especially one comic-based source.
This was the toughest category to pick. The first three were beautifully made, challenging films. The last two were tons of fun. In the end, I had to go with The Losers. Sorry Keanu, but this film does just the right amount of genre-smashing to be a great time. Combining Ocean’s Eleven, Kiss-Kiss Bang-Bang, and the Expendables, The Losers might not beat any of these films at their own game, but the resulting mish-mash is done with style and aplomb. Add in a fun cast (most notably Jeffry Dean Morgan and Chris Evans) and you have a worthwile use of 2 hours.
Our Favorite: Independent Publisher
Nominees: Time Cop, Men In Black, The Rocketeer
Bet you never guessed Van Damme‘s most notable movie was comic-based? While I’m not sure that the splits came from the funny pages, Time Cop was a short series from Dark Horse. Men In Black is notable for how sanitized it was from it’s darker source material, and you’d have been mistaken for, um, mistaking The Rocketeer as coming from an old radio serial. So which one wins?
The Rocketeer is a screen gem, one that combines the bordering-on-jingoistic optimism of old radio superheroes with a tale that both children and adults can be satisfied with. The action is well done, and the acting was winsome. The Rocketeer is a trip down memory lane worth taking.
Our Favorite: Manga
Nominees: Edge of Tomorrow (AKA Live, Die Repeat, AKA All You Need is Kill. Phew.), Oldboy, The Guyver
I knew that Edge of Tomorrow came from Japan, but I was suprised that Oldboy did. If I had had to guess I would have speculated that Park Chan Wook‘s masterpiece originated from Korean Manhwa, but it was an honest to goodness Manga first. And The Guyver, well, that had Crazy Japanese Sentai Series written all over it.
This was another close one. Neil loved Edge of Tomorrow; I was a fan as well. And The Guyver is not only so-bad-it’s-good, it has Mark Hamill! Ultimately though, Oldboy is too good a film to be denied. Whether it be the Park Chan Wook original or the Spike Lee remake, both actually improve on the manga. Be warned, a lot of those improvements make the films even darker and more challenging, but it’s no small feat making a film that not only honors, but surpasses its source material.
Our Favorite: Non-Asian Foreign Comic
Nominees: Tank Girl, Valerian and the City of 1000 Planets (hahahahaha. no.), Snowpiercer, Barbarella
European comics are an interesting thing: they generally wallow in pulpy, explotationist material, but often come across as more respectable than their American counterparts. While we hated Valerian, the source material was it’s own mess of racial and gender discrimination. Barbarella is infamous for its trashy nature, and Tank Girl was just ridiculous, rebellious tosh. I guess that leaves…
Snowpiercer! I almost feel bad giving the award to a movie that cribbed some of it’s best bits from Oldboy, but it’s an interesting, high-concept film that almost sticks the landing. You wouldn’t be completely wrong for having some trashy fun with Barbarella or Tank Girl, but Snowpiercer is the safe bet. Anything but Valerian, honestly.
Our Favorite: Comic Strip
Nominees: The Addams Family, Over the Hedge, Richie Rich, Flash Gordon
I had to do a little mental gymnastics for this category. In my opinion, all of these properties are obviously from the funny pages, but I’m old AF. So to qualify, the movie had to have had notoriety in some other medium, such that all you younguns that didn’t have newspapers delivered to your door might be reasonably expected to believe that these originated in say, TV or Cartoon form.
The Addams Family had a long running, heavily syndicated live action comedy show. Richie Rich was a saturday morning cartoon staple. Flash Gordon… well… he’s Flash (awww-ah), and a popular radio program back in the day. The only comic that didn’t have a more popular outlet was Over the Hedge, a combination of Pogo and Doonesbury that was definitely funnier than the latter.
This category was a two horse race, and since we are contractually obligated to “never directly review Flash Gordon, ever, no matter how much we talk about it, no really, it is kind of ridiculous“, I went with The Addams Family. Honestly, no matter how much campy fun Flash is, The Addams Family (and to a lesser extent, its sequel) is a masterpiece. Fresh, funny, and packed with amazing talent, it is one of the best comedies of all time. John Astin and Carolyn Jones may have put Gomez and Morticia on the map, but Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston will alway be our morbid-paramours.