Alternate Cover: 5 comics that are better than the film versions

News James Hunt 2 Feb 2009 - 06:13

Cinema doesn't always treat comic books very well. Here are five that really deserved a lot better than they got.

With the Watchmen movie on the horizon, you’re all going to have to get used to hearing the phrase “the comic was better” no matter how good the movie ends up. The truth is, the source material is almost always better than the adaptation, whatever the medium, but there are some movies that have done justice to the source material. Still, not every comic-to-film translation can be cinematic gold, so let’s have a look at comic properties that weren’t done with even the slightest amount of justice by the film versions.

5: Daredevil (and by extension, Elektra)
The Ben Affleck-fronted Daredevil wasn’t quite as bad a film as it’s made out to be, in my opinion, but there’s no denying it’s not a patch on the comics it was aping. Daredevil, as a property, isn’t exactly A-list, but Frank Miller’s take on the character was brilliantly executed, noir-influenced superheroics that amped up the tension and made Matt Murdock into a man haunted by his life as a crimefighter. There’s a reason they strip-mined Miller’s work for the film’s story beats, after all! Start with Man Without Fear, a re-worked origin written by Miller and pencilled by John Romita Jr., which actually started life as a movie pitch, then work through Miller’s run from there. When you’re done, look for Kevin Smith’s Guardian Devil and Brian Bendis’ Out to follow up.

4: Tank Girl
Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett captured lightning in a bottle collaborating on the original Tank Girl comic. By comparison, the movie was about as poor a film as you can legitimately give a cinematic release, mostly failing to capture the spirited anarchy of the comics. Read anything with Hewlett’s name on for the best experience, but really, when a film’s that bad then any Tank Girl comic you pick up is going to be automatically better.

3: Fantastic Four
Contrary to popular belief, there was a good Fantastic Four film – it was just called The Incredibles. John Byrne’s Fantastic Four run epitomised the idea of a superhero family, successfully combining big, fan-pleasing ideas such as the Trial of Galactus with a gentle, soap-opera tone. Read Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne Vol. 1. Or, go for the OTHER definitive run – Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s genre-defining work about superhero explorers that turned Marvel into the juggernaut it is today. Their run is mostly available in two gigantic Fantastic Four Omnibuses, and worth every penny. Either way, you should forget the two F4 films immediately, because neither came close to representing the property correctly.

2: The Hulk
There have been many stabs at making the Hulk work – two big-budget films, several TV-movies and a series, but the fact is, Peter David’s epic 13-year run on the character remains far more interesting than any of them. David takes the Hulk to new levels of pathos and humour, deeply rounding out both Banner and the Hulk as separate characters sharing the same psyche. Most of his run simply wouldn’t work outside of comics – the Grey “thug” Hulk working as a vegas bouncer? A “merged” Banner/Hulk personality where the Hulk remains articulate even when big and green? The general public simply won’t accept anything other than the “hulk smash!” version, and more’s the pity. Start with Hulk Visionaries: Peter David Vol. 1 and keep going. You can probably avoid anything not by him, though.

1: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Ever since I left the LOEG film (aka LXG, or the “League Of eXtreme Gentlemen”) and heard a movie-goer say, "Well, you can’t blame the movie writers for the bad story, it was based on a comic!” I’ve made it my personal mission to spread the word: the movie is ridiculous crap that’s barely even related to the comic version. In the comics, Moore and O’Neill crafted a rich, nuanced world populated by fantastic characters with so many literary easter eggs that entire books have been written about each of the volumes. The movie, by comparison, had Tom Sawyer driving a Victorian supercar. Just buy LOEG: Vol. 1 and pretend the film doesn’t even exist.

Special “zero” entry: The Spirit
I admit that I’ve not seen the film version of The Spirit, but Will Eisner is a genius who defined the aesthetic language of graphic novels. I can say with complete confidence that there’s no way you can put that on a screen and retain what made Eisner – and The Spirit – worth paying attention to. Eisner’s work isn’t just a better comic, it is to comics what Citizen Kane is to filmmaking.

Bonus: 5 comics that have film adaptations to be proud of:
5: X-Men (X2)
4: Iron Man (Iron Man)
3: Batman (The Dark Knight)
2: Spider-Man (Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2)
1: Sin City (Sin City)

James writes Alternate Cover every Monday at Den Of Geek. His previous column can be found here.


Click here for a list of ALL the lists at Den Of Geek...

Comics being made into movies

 

2 February 2009

 

Disqus - noscript

"Wanted", anyone?
Angelina is hot and everything, but that doesn't cover the fact that the comic book heroine looks alarmingly--and convincingly--like Halle Berry. Total miss.
Not only that, but here's a great assessment of the movie a friend gave me: Someone who read one issue of the comic, told someone about it; that person told a screen writer about it; the screen writer told a production assistant about it; the production assistant told his secretary about it; the secretary's high-school son wrote about it as his first English assignment and his teacher wrote the screenplay from that.

JUDGE DREDD. SWAMP THING. FROM HELL.

I don't think we can EXPECT a typical movie to improve on any particular comic or normal book. It's simply a matter of how much time you have to tell the story in. The two media are really suited to different ends; you can't get the same visual impact, sense of absorbtion or pacing in a comic / book as you can in a movie, but on the other hand there's simply not the amount of narriative space, opportunity for the reader to go back and re-read parts at will, or to pause and read (optional) expositionary footnotes, thought bubbles, or examine the detailed art / description of a scene-setting frame. It's the same thing often when films are turned into books; you wouldn't try to novelise Die Hard, would you?

A good example of this could actually be found in manga/anime (as that's where my own deeper knowledge on this subject lies...). The best translations of the comic books to moving pictures tends to happen when they're small screen, made into TV series, typically 26 or 39 episode ones (but even the 13-ep ones give you a full Lord of the Rings runtime to tell your story in easily-digested "chapter"-like chunks). There's still the loss of detail, but there's plenty of room to build up and explore the characters, include a great number of their best adventures without abridging too much, etc. But the attempts to take something like Akira, Striker/Spriggan, Ghost in the Shell, or Nausicaa, and make one-shot films from them are generally disappointing - even though the Nausicaa adaption was made by the same guy who drew the comics, when only a couple of volumes of the full run had yet been published. Too much has to be squashed in to too little time, the wilder concepts or philosophies have to be dumbed down so that you're able to sell it to a broad enough audience to recoup the production costs (whereas making a comic can cost you little beyond a stack of art board, pencils, pens, a few notebooks, the print run and living expenses, and when you sell small segments of the whole story at maybe 1/3rd the price of a movie ticket, so it's more lucrative or at least less costly should your crazy ideas turn people off)... so it's going to lose something of the original. Note that even the otherwise masterful LOTR directors cuts suffer this effect quite badly, because even a 10+ hour running time isn't enough to cram in a single (enormous) book...

Think about how long it takes you to *read* the things, for a start - and where dialogue is concerned, people tend to read faster than normal talking speed.

However I can still nod and agree with the list; if a director, screenwriter and cast make an effort and get into the spirit, they can at least make a great, enjoyable film from a subset of the original property. These ones don't really get close - I haven't even bothered to put myself through LXG, thanks to the sheer hokiness of the *trailer*. For a start, where the hell did they get a streamlined version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the late 1800s, and what does it run on?

And I haven't seen the Spirit yet, but I so want to before its run ends; having been lucky enough to find some reprints of the original comics in my city library, having done with Ghost in the Shell and exploring the rest of the shelf. Great stuff, if you get over him being able to completely hide his identity with a simple Lone Ranger mask :) The trailer looks like it preserves a good bit of that, except for SLJ going Doc Ock. Fingers crossed!

Kardwell- spot on my man. How this list could possibly have missed the travesty that was Judge Dredd coming off the back of 25yrs + of great 2000AD stories. Shame on you James!

gah, my carefully divided paragraphs hamstrung by a lack of layout preservation in the comments posting thing, there. sorry about it coming across as "wall of text"

The Dolph Lundgren /Punisher/ movie was a decent action movie--just not very Punisher-ish.

I enjoyed Blade and Blade II, although my generosity didn't extend the abysmal third outing.

Punisher movies always suck.From the Dolph Lundgren one and on. Because to me they are just movies about a guy with a lot of guns. Nothing too superhero-ish about that, we see that in every movie. I do think he would make a good secondary character in another hero film. Sort of like the vigilante that goes against what the main hero believes in, but still on the same side. Maybe he could have made a Daredevil movie better, one where the hero has a high moral code.

"The truth is, the source material is almost always better than the adaptation"... pretty much says it all. I've yet to see a comic adaptation that improves on the original source.

You forgot "Watchmen". ;)

JUDGE DREDD. SWAMP THING. FROM HELL.

"Wanted", anyone?
Angelina is hot and everything, but that doesn't cover the fact that the comic book heroine looks alarmingly--and convincingly--like Halle Berry. Total miss.
Not only that, but here's a great assessment of the movie a friend gave me: Someone who read one issue of the comic, told someone about it; that person told a screen writer about it; the screen writer told a production assistant about it; the production assistant told his secretary about it; the secretary's high-school son wrote about it as his first English assignment and his teacher wrote the screenplay from that.

I don't think we can EXPECT a typical movie to improve on any particular comic or normal book. It's simply a matter of how much time you have to tell the story in. The two media are really suited to different ends; you can't get the same visual impact, sense of absorbtion or pacing in a comic / book as you can in a movie, but on the other hand there's simply not the amount of narriative space, opportunity for the reader to go back and re-read parts at will, or to pause and read (optional) expositionary footnotes, thought bubbles, or examine the detailed art / description of a scene-setting frame. It's the same thing often when films are turned into books; you wouldn't try to novelise Die Hard, would you?

A good example of this could actually be found in manga/anime (as that's where my own deeper knowledge on this subject lies...). The best translations of the comic books to moving pictures tends to happen when they're small screen, made into TV series, typically 26 or 39 episode ones (but even the 13-ep ones give you a full Lord of the Rings runtime to tell your story in easily-digested "chapter"-like chunks). There's still the loss of detail, but there's plenty of room to build up and explore the characters, include a great number of their best adventures without abridging too much, etc. But the attempts to take something like Akira, Striker/Spriggan, Ghost in the Shell, or Nausicaa, and make one-shot films from them are generally disappointing - even though the Nausicaa adaption was made by the same guy who drew the comics, when only a couple of volumes of the full run had yet been published. Too much has to be squashed in to too little time, the wilder concepts or philosophies have to be dumbed down so that you're able to sell it to a broad enough audience to recoup the production costs (whereas making a comic can cost you little beyond a stack of art board, pencils, pens, a few notebooks, the print run and living expenses, and when you sell small segments of the whole story at maybe 1/3rd the price of a movie ticket, so it's more lucrative or at least less costly should your crazy ideas turn people off)... so it's going to lose something of the original. Note that even the otherwise masterful LOTR directors cuts suffer this effect quite badly, because even a 10+ hour running time isn't enough to cram in a single (enormous) book...

Think about how long it takes you to *read* the things, for a start - and where dialogue is concerned, people tend to read faster than normal talking speed.

However I can still nod and agree with the list; if a director, screenwriter and cast make an effort and get into the spirit, they can at least make a great, enjoyable film from a subset of the original property. These ones don't really get close - I haven't even bothered to put myself through LXG, thanks to the sheer hokiness of the *trailer*. For a start, where the hell did they get a streamlined version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the late 1800s, and what does it run on?

And I haven't seen the Spirit yet, but I so want to before its run ends; having been lucky enough to find some reprints of the original comics in my city library, having done with Ghost in the Shell and exploring the rest of the shelf. Great stuff, if you get over him being able to completely hide his identity with a simple Lone Ranger mask :) The trailer looks like it preserves a good bit of that, except for SLJ going Doc Ock. Fingers crossed!

Kardwell- spot on my man. How this list could possibly have missed the travesty that was Judge Dredd coming off the back of 25yrs + of great 2000AD stories. Shame on you James!

gah, my carefully divided paragraphs hamstrung by a lack of layout preservation in the comments posting thing, there. sorry about it coming across as "wall of text"

The Dolph Lundgren /Punisher/ movie was a decent action movie--just not very Punisher-ish.

I enjoyed Blade and Blade II, although my generosity didn't extend the abysmal third outing.

Punisher movies always suck.From the Dolph Lundgren one and on. Because to me they are just movies about a guy with a lot of guns. Nothing too superhero-ish about that, we see that in every movie. I do think he would make a good secondary character in another hero film. Sort of like the vigilante that goes against what the main hero believes in, but still on the same side. Maybe he could have made a Daredevil movie better, one where the hero has a high moral code.

"The truth is, the source material is almost always better than the adaptation"... pretty much says it all. I've yet to see a comic adaptation that improves on the original source.

You forgot "Watchmen". ;)

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