Favorite Comic Book Movie Adaptations

These days, a lot of the hype is about movies being developed based on comic books. No need to mention them, just see what’s playing theaters.

Well, back in the day there were many comic books based on movies. The best examples were the Star Wars adaptations when the first Star Wars film came out that led to continuing stories past the movies.

Before our mobile devices could stream/download through Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, etc. growing up back in the 70 to the 80s- the only way you can hold a hit movie in your hands were either photonovels or hand-drawn comic book adaptations, based on the movies.

Part of my collection growing up then included one-shot comic book adaptation of movies. For some movies- the comic books were part of the tie-in merchandise. Some comic book adaptations were great, others not too great. If the art the subject were good, I purchased it. I’m a big fan of these well-drawn adaptations of films – even if the movie was not the best.

There were many, but here are my favorites in no particular order:

2001: A Space Odyssey- by Jack Kirby. Printed in oversized tabloid form, it was pure Kirby epic as he saw it.  This movie was meant for Kirby

 

2010: The Year We Make Contact– the sequel to the 2001 movie, was drawn by Tom Palmer, whom I like to think of as a really good understudy of John Buscema. Palmer took advantage of dozens of photographic references supplied to him by MGM.

Raiders of the Lost Ark– art by John Buscema, inked by Klaus Janson. Buscema was one of the founding Marvel Comics 1960s artists who took over many books after Kirby left. Janson, for those who may not know, was the inker of The Dark Knight Returns. The Raiders comic book did not have many photographic references, but it was still masterfully executed.

The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi– art by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon. Williamson, the long time #1 Flash Gordon artist had a good partner with Garzon- tons of photo references and great storytelling that set the standard for Star Wars comics.

Blade Runner– art again by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon. Their art was so stunning that even in black and white it stands above their competition. They also drew scenes that were in the script, but didn’t make it into the movie.

Flash Gordon (1980)– art by Al Williamson, naturally.

* Batman (1989)– art by Jerry Ordway. He had tons of photo reference and has solid storytelling skills, which helped make this adaptation stand out from the rest.

The Wizard of Oz– Marvel Comics and DC Comics with art by John Buscema- I haven’t seen the movie in ages, but Busema’s art is always good and this was the first collaboration between the giant comic book companies.

Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer– Marvel Comics- art by Buscema. John Buscema was one of the greatest superhero artists, but he liked Conan more than superheroes- he did really great work on Conan comics for years, so for who would pencil the movie adaptation- Buscema was an obvious choice.

Meteor– bad movie, even if it starred Sean Connery, but great artwork for the adaptation. Artist Gene Colan, another important Marvel 60s founding artist, had no photographic reference for the movie, but the story he was given had extra scenes that were not in the movie.

Creature from the Black Lagoon– artwork by Art Adams- the hyper detailed animated style is something you gotta see.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula– art by Mike Mignola- I’ve seen many of the Dracula movies-Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Luke Evans- and although I am personally partial to Frank Langela’s 1979 Dracula with John Williams (brilliant as usual) theme song, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula seems more authentic to the book and Mignola was given a lot of photo references and mixed the references with his dark style to create a unique work of art. The adaptation was published by Topps usually known for trading cards and was Mignola at the top of his game.

Logan’s Run-artwork by George Perez. A few years before he became famous for his run on Teen Titans and 10 years before Crisis of Infinite Earths, you could tell George Perez was a superstar artist. This was a really good adaptation done in the Marvel Comics style.

Duneart by Bill Sienkiewicz. If there ever was a marriage between a movie and an artist, this would be it (along with Mignola’s Dracula). The Dune movie was really weird and  director David Lynch butchered the source. It was kind of hard to adapt Dune from book to movie to comic book, but Bill and his eclectic style was perfect for the comic book adaptation.

Well, there it is. That’s my list and though I do enjoy iTunes and Netflix, I still enjoy traditional hand-drawn, hard copy adaptations of movies.

Walter L. Stevenson

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Captain America: 75 Years As A Living Legend

Alex Ross Captain America art

This year is a true landmark for Marvel Comics’ Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty. It’s not just because Captain America is the star of the biggest movie of the year (to date) Captain America: Civil War, but most importantly because this is the year Marvel is celebrating his seventy-fifth anniversary.

Imagine that number, three quarters of a century old and up there with the likes of modern-day legends like Superman and Batman. Unlike those two icons, Captain America didn’t always enjoy a high level of popularity. There are many reasons which reflected the mood of the times and the character’s level of development.

Unlike Batman and Superman, Captain America was undeniably a byproduct of the World War II era. When he made his debut in Captain America Comics #1 in 1941 World War II was occurring.

War-Born Hero

The U.S. was not involved in the war but Captain America Comics #1 coversooner or later the country would be and this left U.S. citizens with frayed nerves. It was the right time for a morale booster in the comic book pages. Comic book creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, both of whom were Jewish and particularly alarmed by Adolf Hitler’s undisguised anti-Semitism, wanted to bring to life an American counterpart to the so-called German Aryan super race. Keeping that in mind they created Steve Rogers, a weakling who wanted to serve his country and was transformed into the super-soldier Captain America.

To their shock, almost immediately after his debut, Captain America became a sensation with the American public. But after the war ended, interest in the Sentinel of Liberty waned. The public was ready to move on from its war footing and Captain America was too ingrained in the World War II era to seem relevant in a post-war America. Even an attempt to modernize him in the 1950s as a “Commie Smasher” failed to reignite interest and before long his title was canceled. It seemed as if he would be relegated to the dustpan of comic book history. Or so it seemed.

Legendary Rebirth

Thanks to the efforts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 1960s, the good captain was resurrected as part of the new wave of comic book superheroes that took the nation by storm. Due to the ingenuity of Lee and Kirby, Captain America was brought back into the limelight after being found frozen in the landmark comic book The Avengers #4. This plot twist was ingenious in that it brought back the same character without having to pull an Earth-2 introduction of a new character with the same name. At the same time, the man-out-of-time twist added a lot of pathos to Captain America, who now struggled to find a place in a new world and find a sense of relevance. Of course, what helped the captain’s newfound popularity were the exciting stories that placed him in the middle of the Avengers’ battles. From these early tales it was obvious that Captain America was a born leader and the other team members gravitated towards him and treated him as such. It wasn’t long before he became the actual leader of the Avengers and led the team into higher levels of greatness.

Captain America lives again

At the same time, he was rewarded with his own comic book that featured many interesting supporting characters and villains, among them a resurrected Red Skull–his greatest enemy during World War II.  But what kept the stories interesting was the character development of how he struggled to fit in and overcompensated by throwing himself into his work of saving the world.

This came to a head in the 1970s during the Watergate era when he lost faith in the U.S. government and actually gave up the Captain America identity. This theme would be revisited time and time again in several stories in the following decades that coincided when the nation was plagued with self doubt.

The Heart of America

Sam Wilson: Captain AmericaDuring these events other heroes have taken up the mantle of Captain America and provided fresh new outlooks on what it is to be the iconic hero. Most readers know that currently Sam Wilson,  who was Captain America’s partner the Falcon, is the new Captain America. The twist here being that Wilson is  African-American, but it feels natural because who else but Steve Rogers former partner is worthy enough to wield the shield and honor of being Captain America? It is a testament that the role of Captain America is larger than any one person.

Fans of the more traditional Captain America should not fret. As these cyclical stories go, eventually the original hero will reclaim the mantle. Steve Rogers has done it in the past, most famously after he was supposedly assassinated in Ed Brubaker’s acclaimed run of the title last decade. Keep that in mind with the current absurd plot twist that Steve Rogers is a Hydra sleeper agent. This is just a sales gimmick and it too shall pass.

With Sam Wilson as Captain America now, this development illustrates the universal appeal of the superhero. Despite his bright costume, Captain America isn’t some jingoistic right wing ideologue who sprouts platitudes about making America great. He is more than that, he is a symbol for what this country represents and strives for: freedom, justice, perseverance, hope, and decency. He doesn’t go around boasting about the U.S., he just fights for what is universally right. It is part of his core belief and why he resonates with people from all walks of life.

Another reason for his success is because given his situation, it would be natural if he wallowed in self pity, but he doesn’t. Of course, he does have regrets and doubts, but Captain America just plows ahead and adapts to any situation.

Reaching Legendary Status Through Film

These days, seeing how popular he is in our culture, it is hard to believe that some had doubts about his widespread appeal, especially overseas. It’s why his first film Captain America: The First Avenger was called simply The First Avenger in Russia, South Korea and Ukraine, while other countries were given the choice of dropping the name Captain America, but kept it anyway.

Chris Evans as Captain America

 

That film and its sequels turned him into a A list superhero that has in many ways eclipse Marvel Studios’ most popular superhero Iron Man. Much of the credit is due to the smart writing and direction that delivered exciting and thought provoking films. Of course, the casting of Chris Evans was truly inspired. Marvel Studios could have gone the easy route and hired some square-jawed hunk but went with Evans. His portrayal of Steve Rogers/Captain America feels natural and he emotes a sense of empathy and iron will that quickly won over audiences. Just like with Robert Downey, Jr. or Hugh Jackman it is difficult to imagine who can take over the iconic role.

Captain America patriotIt is clear that the superhero is more revered these days because of the films but it is more than that. Captain America has a special quality that is sometimes hard to pinpoint but he evokes an ideal of who we all should be, not just Americans but everyone. That is why we are all celebrating his 75th anniversary.

José Soto

The Merits & Flaws Of Past Fantastic Four Films

ff cast 2

The Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics’ first superhero team, always had a hard time with its live-action adaptations. The new reboot isn’t an exception. Filmmakers can’t seem to be able to properly translate what worked for this team in the pages of comic books into movies. Still, putting aside what went wrong with the three previous movies, they did get many parts right. It’s just that they missed the mark, sometimes by a mile.

The Fantastic Four (1995)

Bernd Eichinger and his Neue Constantin studio bought the film rights to the Fantastic Four back in the ’80s, but couldn’t raise the funds for the movie. By the next decade in order to prevent losing the rights the studio with Roger Corman’s help produced The Fantastic Four a quick, cheap adaptation.

old ff castOh boy, this movie was a mess, it’s on the level of those Godawful monstrosities made by The Asylum. The acting was hysterically bad, particularly Joseph Culp as Doctor Doom. Talk about hamming up the scenes! Then there were the zero-grade special effects. It’s hard to believe that a million dollars was spent on this fiasco when you see that they used animatics during the one scene that the Human Torch (Jay Underwood) used his full powers. Want a guaranteed laugh? Check out the film’s final scene when Mr. Fantastic (Alex Hyde-White) waves goodbye with an obvious fake arm from the sunroof of his wedding limo!

Yet, as terrible as the film was, it had a certain charm. The production nailed down the team’s look right down to the costumes, even The Thing (Michael Bailey Smith) was impressive. This is amazing considering how far off the mark more professional productions were with their versions of The Thing and Dr. Doom. Never mind the acting, at least they looked like their comic book counterparts!

bad ff

Despite their inexperience, you could tell that the actors and production team were trying their best. They honestly believed this was going to be a big deal, but tragically for them it wasn’t. The cast and crew didn’t know that the film was never intended to be released and it wasn’t. Nor did they expect the film to get its infamous reputation as bootleg copies of the film circulated. Still, while it’s a terrible movie, it warrants a viewing for either fans who want to see a more faithful adaptation or drunks needing a good laugh.

Fantastic Four (2005)

When the superhero movie boom started early last decade, it wasn’t long before the FF got their shot at the limelight. 20th Century Fox released Fantastic Four in 2005, which turned out to be a modest hit, but received mixed reactions.

ff cast

Even though Fantastic Four was a more polished and professional film with a $100 million budget (compared to the reboot’s $122 million) it seemed routine and bland at times. doomWhat was worse was that Fantastic Four was hobbled with a poor villain, a vital component of any superhero film. Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon) was completely wrong from the casting to his backstory. In this version, he was your typical evil CEO who was part metallic and had electric-based powers. Those kind of changes wouldn’t have bothered people so much if the actor was a good fit. But, McMahon just didn’t have the gravitas that Doom requires because he’s a larger-than-life villain.

Ben Grimm/The Thing (Michael Chiklis) was also altered, but with different results. His look didn’t match the comic books’ version because he was human sized and lacked that famous protruding brow line. Also, his story was altered in that he was married, but his wife (briefly played by Laurie Holden of The Walking Dead) left him after she saw how he was disfigured by the accident that gave him his powers. But these changes weren’t too jarring and more importantly, Chiklis and the production captured Ben Grimm’s essence. Like in the comics he was downtrodden and full of self pity. He quarreled with his teammates, especially Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), who loved pulling pranks on him.

real torch

The other highlight was Johnny himself. Evans channeled the nature of this young superhero brilliantly. He reveled in his powers, he was brash, brave and loved life, which is why he was a good foil for the moody Thing. Evans was so convincing as the happy-go-lucky Human Torch that when he was announced to play Captain America, some people doubted he could portray the more mature and grounded hero. He proved them wrong. Continue reading

Daredevil Is Marvel’s Best TV Show

all posters

Brutal, gritty, engaging, authentic. Those are thoughts that come to mind when watching the new streaming TV show Daredevil on Netflix.

Daredevil is easily the best Marvel TV show ever done and puts Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter to shame with the ease at which it draws in viewers and in terms of quality. It’s even better than the DC TV shows The Flash and Arrow and that is a very high bar to pass.

matt and karenSet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Daredevil is undeniably more urban and grounded with its rare, vague references to the MCU and focuses correctly on the intimate lives of petty criminals and average folks in New York’s Hell Kitchen neighborhood. That locale is decidedly different than the actual neighborhood (now called Clinton) and that’s due to collateral damage from the climactic battle at the end of The Avengers. The result is a return to the seedy, hard-boiled streets the neighborhood last saw in the recent past and the perfect framework for Daredevil.

Based on the Marvel Comics superhero comic book created by Stan Lee and Everett, This version is heavily influenced by the stories done by comic book legend Frank Miller. It also uses many elements from Miller and John Romita, Jr.’s comic book mini-series Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, which depicts the origin of the blind superhero Daredevil. This TV show introduces Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind defense lawyer who operates secretly as a vigilante clad in black and uses his superhuman senses to aid him in fighting crime. As he comes to prominence both in his professional field and as a superhero, his work attracts the attention of Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), a major crime lord. And, of course, before long they’re butting heads with each other.

One thing to praise about this show has to be the performance of Charlie Cox. He just hits the ground running matt and claireas the sympathetic and haunted hero driven with a supernatural sense for justice. More importantly, Cox doesn’t go overboard with his portrayal and hits the right balance of lawyer by day, vigilante by night. Even though he is a superhero with enhanced senses (minus sight), and an indomitable fighting spirit, Daredevil is vulnerable and human. He takes severe beatings and even when he wins the aftermath shows on him through nasty cuts and bruises. This vulnerability makes him more endearing to us and we’re more concerned for the outcomes of battles.

These fight scenes are just brutal and stunningly filmed without the cheap use of shaky cams. There was one sequence in the second episode “Cut Man” that lasted for several minutes and the stunt work and cinematography done by the production was perfect. It exemplified the graphic and cringe-inducing nature of the fights in Daredevil’s world, while coming off as authentic. There wasn’t any use of special effects or wire work, just good old fashioned stunt work that was wonderfully choreographed. Each punch or kick looked like they hurt the fighter and the victim, and every punch that Daredevil landed took a lot from him but his unrelenting nature kept us cheering for him and at times I wondered if he would falter.

daredevil street

Complementing this realistic take on fighting is the way the show depicts his use of super senses. There aren’t any overdone CG sequences like in the Daredevil film. Instead, rather subtle and simple camera and audio tricks are skillfully used to convey Murdock overhearing conversations from afar and so on.

Speaking of camera work, as mentioned above, the cinematography throughout the series is film-quality work. It seems like we’re watching mini-movies on our TV sets. Plus, the production decision to film in New York City paid off grandly as we feel the grittiness and glamour of the Big Apple and the background complements the characters we meet.

fisk and madameLet’s start with Fisk. Thanks to D’Onofrio’s subtle, but terrifying performance, Fisk is a huge, beefy, but cultured villain who is just broiling under the surface. His world is one of sophistication, but at the right moment (or wrong if you’re unfortunate enough), Fisk just let’s out this primal fury as he savages his opponents. It goes without saying that this show is very violent and not for the faint of heart.

But don’t think this course world is filled with vicious criminals. It’s also populated by more sympathetic types like Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) who is Murdock’s law partner and a likeable presence. Others include the lawyers’ secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), a nurse who provides medical aide to Daredevil. Both are well played by these actresses and these women have many nuanced layers to them.

daredevil waiting

Daredevil is a triumph for Marvel and helps expand the intricate and varied MCU. More than that, it’s actually a surprisingly effective crime show without going over the top. This means that unlike say Gotham it doesn’t overly stress its comic book origins, which would’ve resulted in something that bordered on camp. No, Daredevil respects its source material and skillfully brings the hero and his world to life.

José Soto

 

It’s Official Now: Spider-Man Will Join The Marvel Cinematic Universe!

spidey mcuMarvel Studios and Sony Pictures officially announced on February 9 that Spider-Man, the beloved flagship superhero of Marvel Comics, will now be a part of the hugely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It’s clear that the rumors and email leaks about this happening were valid.

This development obviously paves the way for Spider-Man to appear in other MCU films like Avengers: Infinity War and give Marvel tighter control over the character. In addition, this agreement between the two studios will also allow for characters from the MCU like Iron Man or Thor to appear in standalone Spider-Man films.

First the plan is for Spider-Man (who sadly will be recast–spidy irongoodbye Andrew Garfield, you were a great Spidey) to appear in an unspecified future MCU film. Then another solo Spider-Man film will be released on July 28, 2017 that will be a co-production between the two studios with Marvel’s Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal overseeing the film. The announcement didn’t make clear which film Spider-Man will appear in, but undoubtedly he is a shoo-in for Avengers: Infinity War, Part I. That film is due to come out in 2018 so that means he can probably make his debut appearance in next year’s Captain America: Civil War! That would be just amazing (pardon the pun) since Spider-Man was an integral part of the comic book mini-series of the same name last decade. UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has reported that Spider-Man will indeed make his MCU debut in the third Captain America film.

 

From glancing at the MCU and Sony’s original film schedule, the next Spider-Man film, originally scheduled for 2018, has been bumped up a year earlier. The new schedule pushes back the new Thor film, Thor: Ragnarok, to November 3, 2017 and the Black Panther debut film will now come out in 2018. The domino effect continues as Captain Marvel will now premiere on November 2018 and the Inhumans movie has been re-scheduled for 2019.

One film that may have been lost altogether is the Sinister Six film that was supposed to come out next year and directed by Drew Goddard. In the joint announcement there wasn’t any mention of that movie’s fate, which was to feature Spider-Man’s greatest foes teaming up to defeat him. Perhaps Goddard may be assigned to direct the next Spider-Man film instead.

Also unclear is whether or not plans to do a film about the Black Cat will go forward. Given the crowded production plate, there may not be any room for that character now, which is probably for the best. While a vital character in the Spider-Man mythos, the Black Cat may be unfairly compared to the more well-known Catwoman by average moviegoers who don’t follow comics.

live civil warOverall, this is hands down very exciting news that pumps new blood into the floundering Spider-Man film franchise. Now he is back where he belongs with the right people making sure we get the best Spider-Man on film. And that is how it should be because Spider-Man is Marvel’s best known and popular superhero. So, it only makes sense that Marvel Studios handle Spider-Man. Just look at what they have accomplished to date. Starting with Iron Man and continuing with Guardians Of The Galaxy, Marvel Studios have shown that they produce the most faithful and spirited big-screen adaptations of their superheroes. In the end, it benefits both studios. Sony still retains their film rights to Spidey, but pass on the logistics of putting out a quality film to another studio that has proven they have the talent to produce a topnotch Marvel superhero film. Marvel Studios gets a bonafide superstar added to their roster who can help pave the way for a Phase Four of their MCU because let’s face it by the end of the decade some of the actors currently playing our favorite heroes may either want to move on or be too old by then to realistically play the characters. Who better than Spider-Man, who will probably be recast with a much younger actor, to help spearhead the MCU in the future?

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This development also demonstrates the tenacity of Marvel Studios and Disney. Systematically, they have steadily regained the film rights for many of their characters. With Spider-Man now in their clutches, the only big name characters not under Marvel’s direct control are the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Trying to regain the rights to the X-Men from 20th Century Fox will be much harder to pull off if not impossible given the frosty relations Marvel has with Fox and the continuing success the latter film studio has had with the revitalized mutant film franchise. That could be the main reason why Marvel seems to be de-emphasizing the mutant heroes lately. But as for the Fantastic Four…that would depend on how Fox’s reboot is received. If it flops, then Marvel has a stronger hand in getting them back. If it succeeds, then it will be quite some time before the Fantastic Four joins Spider-Man and the rest of the Marvel Universe on film.

For now though, let’s celebrate this film development.

José Soto