5 comic book stories too dark for the movies?

Feature Ferenc Igali 9 Oct 2013 - 03:00

Are some comic book stories simply too dark for the movies? Ferenc has a look at five controversial storylines to find out...

PLEASE NOTE: There are potential spoilers ahead. Check the name of the comic book storyline, and if you haven't read it, skip to the next entry!

Comic book adaptations on film are everywhere. And I do mean, everywhere. The movie industry is churning out these productions at such a high rate, for two main reasons: there’s an established fan base to draw from, and then there’s the franchising opportunity. A comic book is not a singular event, in any fashion. It’s an experience, it’s a timeline. Timelines make a lot of money – multiple movie deals for just one character out of hundreds – and, there’s the failsafe: if it doesn’t work, you can just pick the next one.

But what about issues with the ‘mainstream’ characters that people love? What about Wolverine for example? We’ve all heard about, or seen, the latest Wolverine film – and soon, the director will be bringing out a slightly more bloody cut on Blu-ray. It  was hard to imagine the adamantium claw-wielding loose cannon that is Logan in a PG-13 cut, but he made it under James Mangold’s tutelage.

Part of that visceral style, especially in visual filmmaking, that gets across the whole Wolverine-is-a-ferocious-animal metaphor is the way in which he dispatches his enemies. If you think about it, for most of them, he’s cutting ribbons in their flesh or driving a weapon through them; and depending on where he ends up with his claws, the people he leaves in his wake could be bleeding for several seconds to hours before that last fated breath.

In the comics, Wolverine has never been an easy character to deal with – he’s by far one of the most troubled of the ensemble crew shopped together by Xavier. For starters, part of the story that The Wolverine is based on, Wolverine Vol 1 #2 (1982) had Logan wandering around half dead in the slums after being poisoned. Then there’s the fact that Sabretooth killed Silver Fox, Logan’s lover and gave him a terrible beating – the death was later retconned (obviously) – but the point stands. This formed part of the story of the film X-Men Origins: Wolverine. If you take the time to think about it, it’s not exactly a very easy emotional concept – in the film Wolverine undergoes the adamantium infusion as a way to get revenge on Sabretooth for killing his lover, which sparks a never ending rivalry between the two that quickly devolve into savage and ruthless fights.

Oh, and the savage beat downs generally happen on Logan’s birthday.

Then there was that time he was crucified.

Then, there was that time Magneto actually ripped the adamantium from his bones.

There was that time he had to kill Jean Grey during the New X-Men run, to save her from melting herself.  Or that time he found out that he had killed his own children. Or when he was forced to murder a son to save lives.

That’s without even approaching the alternate universes of Logan.

It goes on and on – you get the picture.  Some of this stuff makes it into the movies, some ends up on the cutting room floor or the corner of the drawing board – but they all clearly define characters and influence decisions on the big screen. But what about some of the other more controversial moments? How would they play out on the big screen, if they ever made it there? It’s important to know the darker aspects of these stories – some which span several timelines, universes, realities, and dimensions – so that viewers can get a sense of the potential depth of a character. It’s also an interesting thought experiment to look into these controversial moments in comic book history and try guess at how they would affect their silver screen counterparts.

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to delve into five more choice moments in comic book history.

The Magnetic Magician – Magneto

There’s several controversial storylines with Magneto, but we’ll be looking at two major events.

During the New X-Men run, Grant Morrison made a few decisions that cost him a writing gig at Marvel, or at least an extended hiatus – his Planet X storyline really threw a spanner in the works. Well, nothing that couldn’t be retconned by Chris Claremont (the one whose work is the basis for the latest Wolverine outing).

As Morrison pointed out his series, Magneto is really just a ‘mad old terrorist’.

In the Planet X arc, Magneto infiltrates the X-Men in disguise and gets hooked on a pretty powerful drug – which causes him to lose his sanity. The arc ends with Magneto being decapitated by our favourite vanguard, Wolverine.

Then there’s Loeb’s insane run through the world in Ultimatum – where to sum up, Magneto tries and succeeds in destroying much of the known world, killing humans and mutants alike in many orders of magnitude – a mass killing spree set off by Doctor Doom. This is the series in which he rips the adamantium from Wolverine’s skeleton, and then proceeds to get his head vaporized by Cyclops.  Not to mention that during Ultimatum there’s an unusually high number of people being eaten alive – that is, for a comic. That, and so many heroes die that they had to reboot the universe.

In some senses, parts of both of these stories have been given a large prominence in the first run of X-Men films, namely The Last Stand. However, there is a difference in the power hungry Magneto out to ‘save’ the mutant race in the film and the completely deranged mass murderer in these comics. As we’ve seen from the latest Wolverine film, exploring the darker side of characters is becoming quite popular, but could either of these stories ever make it to the big screen?

We’ll go with not likely, at least in the near future; there are very few writers and directors that would want to draw on these series as inspiration, as well as the lack of a draw for a large family audience in such a dark film. But Morrison’s comments and Magneto’s general storylines do pose a great question; when are we going to see more of Magneto, the driven terrorist as opposed to Magneto, the noble-but-very-misguided protector and extoller of mutants? There’s a lot of grit for the character that could be useful for an onscreen adaptation, as well as a wealth of emotion for an actor to draw on.

Hal Jordan – Green Lantern Loses It

Let’s all admit it: despite Ryan Reynolds' best attempts, the Green Lantern movie wasn’t brilliant. The character, the story, and just about everything else lacked depth and motivation. Which is exactly what DC Comics thought in the 90s when they decided to kill off Hal Jordan.

They then brought him back, sort of.

After his hometown is destroyed by Hank Henshaw and an alien warlord known as Mongul,  he goes crazy. He can’t take the loss of his entire town, which include family and old friends (not to mention girlfriends). He proceeds to use his ring to recreate images of the town, in which he talks to the creations of his ring. But when the Guardians summon him back to Oa for a trial, he goes into ultimate revenge mode and starts attacking the Corp, the Central Battery – killing everything in his path. He resigns from the Green Lanterns – not that many are left – and takes on the name Parallax. Sound familiar?

Instead of it being an ancient entity, Parallax is literally Jordan once all is said and done – after the celestial mass murder at Oa, he then proceeds to terrorise the galaxies in his new form for several prominent story arcs through the years. Oh, and he attempts to restart the entire universe by destroying it in Zero Hour.

Considering the way the 2011 film went, it would be hard(er) to adapt a story such as this – but not impossible. To bring some gravitas and darkness back to the role, not just brilliant comic quips, this storyline would be a good foundation for a future film. While it’s unlikely that it will be used, it would be entrancing to watch a Hal Jordan that is completely devastated by loss and turned over to the other side. The dénouement for that story just writes itself.

Spider-Man – Women

We all remember Spider-Man as that carefree guy who was bitten by a radioactive spider, which then turned him into arguably one of the coolest superheroes on Earth. Know what else he’s had happen?

His Aunt May is killed in the Civil War arc. Then, to bring her back, he has to make a Faustian pact with the dev… I mean, Mephisto. What does he want in exchange for letting her soul walk the Earth again? He wants the union between Mary Jane and Peter to dissolve – because their marriage was just too perfect.

Then, there’s the little matter of Gwen Stacy, who had died by this point of the story, having been impregnated by the Green Goblin with super twins who aged at an accelerated rate in the Sins Past story arc.

The chances of this story being used are slim to none – but since we’re following the Gwen arc, hopefully the writers of the Amazing Spider-Man series will include her tragic but poignant death that transforms our favourite Spandex-clad hero.

Identity Crisis – The Justice League

This deserves probably more than one entry alone – this 2004 run is now infamous in the annals of DC history. It also told a Kiefer Sutherland-worthy plotline of one horrendous event after another for one character: Sue Dibny.

She was murdered, set on fire, raped by Doctor Light and generally suffered one of the most decried outings for a female character ever. The storyline was criticised so frequently that it’s impossible not to rate it as one of, if not the most controversial event in DC’s comic history.

This would be a far cry from a summer blockbuster if it was used for a film – and we hope that common sense kicks in and it isn’t, because it’s an unpleasant plot that could destroy the goodwill that any Justice League film builds.

Batman –  Jason Todd

Last, but not least, is the death of Jason Todd. Yes, we know – he gets resurrected circa 2005 – but we’re looking back at the decision to kill him, or rather, let the Joker kill him in 1988.

You see, the ‘original’ Robin – Dick Grayson – had left to form the Teen Titans and was replaced by Jason Todd. He had an eerily similar back story to Grayson, but other than that, was a good character in his own forthright way.

Then came the Infinite Earths reboot of 1985, when his personality, his origin story and his entire history with the Bat was rewritten. Then things got weird – the editors of the comic set up a phoneline to decide whether or not he should die. Humanity, being what it is, decided that Robin should die – and so he did, in a most brutal fashion that was hard to read through. The Joker basically beats his guts out and leaves him to die – not much of a future. Batman is distraught for the next two decades in the comics that he wasn’t able to save him.

We don’t see much luck for poor Jason Todd on the horizon – especially not since Nolan has left the franchise altogether. Only in the dark and twisted world of Gotham recreated are we going to see events such as this – where those closest to Wayne get brutally murdered by his nemesis. I think it would be a great arc to explore for the next Batman reboot, to see a serious relationship between him and Robin that makes us forget the overzealous 60s TV shows. We’ll cross our fingers that movie studios give some credence to Robin (or Robins) in the next film.

The Future?

We live in what’s being referred to as the second golden age of TV drama, with shows like Breaking Bad, Homeland and The Walking Dead. All of these shows are driven not only by drama in the fight between good and evil, but in the struggles their lead characters deal with and the consequences of straying from the moral path. A number of TV dramas focus on what Walter White epitomises: the darker decisions that can have resounding effects for characters in longstanding dramas.

It’s a current trend to use characters that are less stereotypical or just plain archetypes – and use them as a way to show their shades of grey. Perhaps exploring some of the darker moments in the lives of these comic book heroes would bring a refreshing change to the screen, and reinvigorate the trust that audiences had for summer superhero epics.

That, and they’ll get to tackle big questions of morality like Breaking Bad.

Sometimes, it’s okay if the hero isn’t a hero.

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