Alternate Cover: 5 comics that are better than the film versions
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.
2 February 2009