Lesser-known comic book tie-ins to popular movies

Want the continued story of Cloverfield, 28 Days Later, From Hell and more? Their stories were picked up away from the screen...

While the films in the list below will almost certainly be familiar to fans of the horror or thriller genres, their lesser-known comic counterparts may well not be. Each of the following films either started out as comic books or have comic book tie-ins that expand, evolve and enhance their cinematic universe.

If you’ve ever wondered what fate befell the protagonists of 28 Days Later, debated how the monster in Cloverfield can be incorporated into the traditional Japanese kaiju canon, or yearned for an insight into the wider vampiric mythology of 30 Days Of Night, then read on for ten comic book tie-ins to popular horror and thriller films that are well worth your time.

The Crow

The Crow, Alex Proyas’ 1994 neo-noir film, is a cult classic among horror fans. On the eve of their wedding, Eric Draven and his fiancée are violently murdered by a street gang. Eric is resurrected by a crow, which many ancient Northern European cultures believed carried spirits to and from the afterlife, in order to avenge their wrongful deaths. The film’s otherworldly visuals and storyline were eerily reflected by the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of its leading actor, Brandon Lee, on set. The gun used to shoot Lee was not checked properly and, though it was loaded with blank rounds, there was a dummy cartridge still trapped in the barrel. When the gun was fired by actor Michael Massee, the blank round was released with the force of a live bullet. Lee was shot in the abdomen and died after several hours of surgery.

Fittingly, Lee’s fiancée Eliza Hutton, as well as his family, pushed for the film to be completed as a testament to the actor. Miramax eventually took over the distribution and used body doubles and computer generated imagery to complete Lee’s scenes. The film grossed over $50m, more than doubling its budget, and to this day remains a lasting legacy to its star.

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Not only did the film begin life as a comic book but the inspiration for the story was drawn directly from another tragic death. The comic’s creator, Dan O’Barr, conjured the tale as a means of coping with his grief after his girlfriend was killed by a drunk driver.  He channelled his anger at the cruel, sudden way in which she was taken from him into a spirit of vengeance, embarking upon a dark path of violent retribution.  The book’s themes of love, loss, death, grief and pain are etched on every page in beautiful black and white lines. Similarly, O’Barr’s prose is poetic, quoting lyrics from Joy Division and The Cure, with chapters named after song titles. Published by Caliber Press in 1989 the series had four original issues: Pain, Fear, Irony and Despair.

In 2011 O’Barr released the The Crow: Special Edition, which has over 60 pages of additional material. The book includes extra flashback scenes of the couple’s life together to enhance the love story and truly is the definitive edition of O’Barr’s poignant creation. Though later incarnations of the series were released from 1996 onwards, the original comic remains a stunning, haunting and ethereal piece of art that, like the film adaptation in this solemn franchise, speaks to and stays with the reader long after putting the book down.  

Oldboy/Old Boy

Directed by Park Chan-wook, Oldboy (2003) is an excellent South Korean thriller. The film won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004, when Quentin Tarantino was the President of the jury. It is the second film in the director’s Vengeance trilogy, bookended by Sympathy For Mr Vengeance (2002) and Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (2005).

The basic story: Oh Dae-su is kidnapped and imprisoned in solitary confinement. Food is delivered through a hatch in the door and he has only a television set for company, through which he learns that his wife has been murdered and he is the main suspect. Fifteen years later, after mentally and physically preparing his body for an altercation that does not come, he awakens on the roof of a building. He receives a taunting telephone call from his captor, telling him that he has five days to work out why he was incarcerated; if he is successful, Dae-su’s captor will kill himself. Dae-su thus sets out to seek vengeance and find his daughter, who was four when he was taken, encountering a twisted tale of hatred, retribution and dark desire.

The American remake in 2013, directed by Spike Lee, was – it’s fair to say – not as critically acclaimed as Chan-wook’s film. There was also a 2006 unauthorised retelling of the story in the Bollywood film Zinda/Alive, directed by Sanjay Gupta. The film courted controversy when a legal investigation was instigated by the original film’s production company, but this was eventually dropped.

However, before all of these adaptations, the story of Old Boy began life as a Japanese manga serial series. Written by Garon Tsuchiya and illustrated by Nobuaki Minegishi, the series ran between 1996 and 1998 in the magazine Weekly Manga Action from Futabasha Publications Ltd. In 2007, the American release of the comic, via Dark Horse Comics, won the Best US Edition of International Material – Japan category at the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards.

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Less violent than the films, the comic also differs in several ways; the protagonist, Shinichi Gotō, is not driven by revenge. Permeated with paranoia, the comic sees Gotō drawn gradually into the mystery of his incarceration. He is also considerably younger than the middle-aged Dae-su, as he is twenty-five when captured and released ten years later. The plot of Chan-wook’s film is more convoluted than in the comic, with a much darker catalyst for Gotō’s punishment. This is also true of the character relationships and motives, which are much more complex in the film in that they serve several narrative functions. Though the film adaptations are an interesting development in the franchise, the comic is a seminal piece of modern manga.

Whiteout

Whiteout is a 2009 thriller film, directed by Dominic Sena, and starring Kate Beckinsale and Gabriel Macht as Deputy US Marshal Carrie Stetko and UN Special Agent Robert Pryce. Stationed in Antarctica after her partner was killed in Miami, Stetko is due to return to the US in two days, during which time she plans to retire from service, before the winter sets in and she is stranded for several months. When a body is found in her jurisdiction and she is herself attacked, Stetko must use her detective skills to evade and find the killer, all the while racing against the onset of winter. As bodies pile up, Stetko soon determines that the killer is trying to access the cargo of a soviet plane that crashed in the region during the Cold War. Unfortunately, the film was a commercial and critical failure; under $18m was received from box office sales, against a production budget of $35m.

Written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Steve Lieber, Whiteout began life as a limited comic, released in 1998 over four issues by Oni Press. This was followed by Whiteout: Melt in 2000, which sees Stetko returning to Antarctica to hunt down stolen nuclear missiles from a Russian science outpost. A third instalment was planned for release in 2007, alternatively entitled Whiteout: Thaw and Whiteout: Night, but this has yet to materialise.

The initial limited release comic is colourless; thick black ink against the white background generates the sense of isolation and disquieting stillness of the detective story. As an extension of this, and aided by Rucka’s realistic dialogue, Stetko is immediately presented as a woman with a past, who has gone to the ends of the earth to escape her troubles.

Interestingly, the comic book features two female leads, the other being Lily Sharpe, a British secret agent, who was replaced with a male lead in the film adaptation. Rucka, who also wrote Lazarus and Black Magick, writes strong, nuanced female characters – it is speculated by fans that Sharpe is actually another undercover character from his comic universe, Tara Chace from the Queen & Country series – and it’s a shame that the decision was made to remove the dynamics of a female duo from the film. The male-orientated and harsh environment shapes the characterisation in the comic beautifully and, aside from losing a key character, the female pairing would have translated well cinematically.

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The film does retain a lot of the elements of the source, but the heart of the story remains within the comic. If you caught the film and weren’t so sure, be sure to check the comic out.

28 Days Later

28 Days Later is a post-apocalyptic zombie(ish) film, released in 2002 and directed by Danny Boyle. The story? A synthetic rage virus is unleashed in the UK when animal rights activists unknowingly infiltrate a research laboratory and some of the primates escape. Twenty-eight days later, we follow an emaciated man, Jim (Cillian Murphy), as he awakens from a coma only to find himself in a living nightmare. Society has collapsed with the spread of the virus and, along with a small band of survivors, Jim must evade the infected and survive the remnants of a British military unit that capture the group.

The film is a subtle, haunting portrayal of power, survivalism and base instincts. It has some fascinating commentary on gender politics, particularly in the scenes between the army officers and the two women in Jim’s group. The critical and commercial success of the film ensured a sequel in 2007, fittingly entitled 28 Weeks Later. The film takes place six months after the initial outbreak, which spread across the British Isles. With the quarantined area declared safe, British refugees return home only to find that the infection hasn’t been wiped out completely and that the strain is even stronger than before.

The comic book series 28 Days Later was released between 2009 and 2011 by BOOM! Studios. Written by Michael Alan Nelson and visualised by Declan Shalvey and Alejandro Aragon, the comic is set during the period between the two films, with several issues directly referencing elements from the sequel. It follows the fate of Selena (played by Naomie Harris in the film), who is a refugee in Norway after the virus was contained in the UK. She is approached by an American news team who want to enter the quarantine zone in the UK to capture the full story, as NATO are due to infiltrate the infected area to begin the restoration process. A tense, fast-paced ride that continues the exploration of a fascinating character and the spread of the virus across Europe, this is a must read for fans of the film.

There is also a graphic novel, 28 Weeks Later: The Aftermath, which is unrelated to its comic predecessor. Written by Steve Niles, with artwork by Tim Bradstreet, Dennis Calero, Diego Oimos, Ken Branch and Nat Jones, the graphic novel contains four short stories – three of which focus on three separate groups of survivors before the narrative strands conjoin in the final fourth section. All of this additional content – an engaging mix of character study and social horror – perfectly complements and broadens the scope of the films.

Child’s Play

The horror film franchise Child’s Play consists of six films that feature the serial killer Charles Lee Ray, or Chucky (Brad Dourif). Fatally wounded by the Detective who obsessively hunted him for his crimes, Chucky participates in a voodoo ritual to trap his soul in an ironically named ‘Good Guy’ doll, to prevent his soul from going to hell. The original film, released in 1988, was a psychological horror with little humour, but as the series developed, it became much more satirical and comedic.

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Chucky quickly became an iconic horror character and the cult following led to a comic book adaptation in 1991. The three-issue comic was released by Innovation Publishing and was a summary of the second film in the series, Child’s Play 2. The success of this adaptation resulted in an original comic series, entitled Child’s Play: The Series, being published in 1991. Though it ceased to run after only five issues due to limited interest, Innovation Publishing returned to the adaptation format and released a three-issue run in 1992 to coincide with the third film, Child’s Play 3 (1991).

In 2007, Devil’s Due Publishing ignited the franchise with a crossover series called Hack/Slash Vs. Chucky. Here, Chucky was dropped into the comic universe of Image Comics’ Hack/Slash and pitted against protagonist Cassie Hack, who fights monsters that prey upon teenagers. Featuring a convoluted plot that involves the possession of the dark side of Hack and increasingly gory violence – including the use of surgical instruments, satanic murder, and death by whipping – the series paved the way for a solo comic venture entitled simply, Chucky. The first four-issue series was released in 2007 by Devil’s Due Publishing and sees Chucky stalking Andy as an adult. A second volume was planned for release in 2009 but no further issues materialised. Though the earlier comics can be hard to obtain, they belong on the shelves of any fan of the franchise. Later adaptations Hack/Slash Vs. Chucky and Chucky are horror hoots, retaining the humour and graphic imagery that has become synonymous with the series.

Cloverfield

Cloverfield was a runaway success upon its release in 2008. Directed by Matt Reeves and written by Drew Goddard, the film grossed over $170m worldwide. A found-footage monster movie, it follows a group of friends as they navigate through New York in the aftermath of an attack upon the city. Earlier this year, a rumoured but highly secretive sort-of sequel was released, 10 Cloverfield Lane

Kishin is a monthly manga serial that was released in 2008 in four chapters over four months, through the website of Japanese publisher Kadokawa Shoten, to coincide with the original film. Interestingly, the comic shares elements with both films: the romantic relationship from the first film, in which two of the protagonists admit their feelings for each other amidst the destruction, and the intimate proximity of the characters in the sequel as they take shelter from the danger.

Kishin centres on two teenagers, Kishin Aiba and Aiko Sasahara, who take refuge when a monster attacks Tokyo. The series takes place before the events of the original film. In keeping with traditional kaiju narratives, the series presents a convoluted backstory involving the monster, complete with a corrupt corporation, secret scientific experiments and a strange link between the monster and our protagonist.

Though an official English translation unfortunately doesn’t exist, there are several websites containing English translations by fans. The delicate artwork alone makes this tie-in worth a look and, added to the many references to the viral marketing campaign that was rife during the build-up to the original film, as well as the open ending of the comic, this comic is a necessary component in the overall Cloverfield series.

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Dellamorte Dellamore/Cemetery Man

Released in 1994, Dellamorte Dellamore (or Cemetary Man) is a comedy horror film directed by Michele Soavi. The convoluted, philosophical and somewhat metaphysical plot of the film centres around a cemetery caretaker in Italy, who succumbs to encroaching madness as the dead start rising from their graves – including his love in various guises.

Though the film was based on the novel of the same name by Tiziano Sclavi from 1991, it also drew from the comic series Dylan Dog, also created by Sclavi. Though the comic had a different storyline and protagonist, Dylan Dog, this character was graphically based on actor Rupert Everett, who would ironically become the star of the subsequent film adaptation.

Sergio Bonelli Editoire originally published Dylan Dog in Italy in 1986. It remains one of the country’s most popular series; with over 300 issues and several reprints, it has also been published in several languages. Several writers and artists have contributed to the series over the years.

Following the adventures of Dylan Dog, a private investigator who lives in an apartment in London with his assistant, Groucho, the main character bears more than a passing resemblance to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s master sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. The comic has a surrealist, darkly comedic and pensive tone – Dylan Dog is a vegetarian, recovered alcoholic, and a romantic loner with a fear of heights, small spaces and bats – that translates easily onto the original film.

The main character from the original film, Francesco Dellamorte, somewhat confusingly appears in a couple of special issues of the comic: Orrore Nero (Black Horror) and Stelle Cadenti (Falling Stars).

In 2011 a second film, Dylan Dog: Dead Of Night, was adapted directly from the comics. Though a 680-page collection of the original comic series, Dylan Dog Casefiles, was released in 2009 to tie-in with the film, there are several differences between this adaptation and the source material. Notably, Dylan Dog: Dead Of Night is set in New Orleans instead of London, Groucho has been renamed Marcus due to copyright issues, and the overall tone of the film is lighter, lacking the darker themes of the comic and previous film adaptation. Though the beloved comic is a wonderful world to delve into, the filmic adaptations have a charm and wonder all of their own.

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From Hell

From Hell is a comic book based on the notorious crimes of Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel, London at the end of the 1800s, in which several women – general consensus suggests five canonical victims at least, all prostitutes – were brutally slain. Penned by Alan Moore and illustrated by Eddie Campbell, the comic was serialised from 1989 to 1996 before being collected into one volume in 1999. It was adapted into a Hollywood film starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham in 2001, directed by the Hughes Brothers. The title refers to text from the 1888 letter received by authorities in Whitechapel, which is considered by many Ripperologists to be an authentic message from the killer. Moore’s comic adopts Stephen Knight’s theory, in which he claims that the murders were a cover-up to prevent the birth of an illegitimate heir to the throne of England. Knight posited that Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, had an affair or fell in love with a prostitute. To prevent the woman revealing the truth, the Royal Physician, Sir William Gull, was allegedly dispatched by Queen Victoria to silence both the woman and her associates – all prostitutes – who were privy to the scandal. Despite this conspiracy angle, the collected volume includes forty pages of notes that detail Moore’s research into the case, recording facts against the fictional elements of the book that were conceived by him. Though the film more than doubled its budget of £35m, it was considered a disappointment by many.  It removed several elements from the comic, including the in-depth, psychological focus on Gull, which provided some history for his character and reasoning for his actions. The film also removed the distinct Lovecraftian influences within the comic; the social landscape of Victorian London was used as a character in and of itself within the comic, with landmarks used to weave the city’s history around the masonic sub-plot engineered by Moore. Similarly, the involvement of Sir Walter Sickert, the English painter who is himself considered a suspect by some Ripperologists, was reworked in the film to fulfil dual roles that don’t quite work. To be fair, not much does work in the way of the film’s plot; this is evident in the tacked-on love story between Inspector Frederick Abberline and the killer’s last alleged canonical victim, Mary Kelly.

The stark black and white pages of the comic captured the convoluted plot perfectly. When added to Moore’s incredible attention to detail – fact or fiction – the result is a must read for fans of horror comics and especially true crime enthusiasts. The film is enjoyable enough for anyone interested in Jack the Ripper, but pales in comparison to the comic.

30 Days Of Night

30 Days Of Night was released in 2002 as a mini-series, in three issues, by IDW Publishing. Written by Steve Niles and drawn by Ben Templesmith, the comic started life as a screenplay but failed to secure financial backing. In an ironic turn of events, the comic would go on to spur two film adaptations as well as several additional comics that expand the world of the film. The comic embodies a rather clever approach in its titular play on the location used – the real town of Barrow, Alaska. It makes complete logical sense that creatures who cannot live in daylight would converge upon an area of perpetual night for an extended period – and human buffet – as they pick off the locals.  In reality, the continuous period of  ‘night’ experienced by people living in Barrow is not actually ‘full night’ but a murky, soupy dusk.  Residents must endure this sunless existence for sixty-seven days, not thirty, followed by uninterrupted sunlight for the rest of the year.  The vampiric mythology employed by the comic is also interesting and complements the human interactions well, though the film does not touch upon this narrative strand.  In the comic, the vampires were ruled historically by a ‘Council of Elders’, led by the vampire Vicente. Exposing themselves to the human race millennia ago, the vampires were massacred; the few survivors, led by Vicente, retreated into mythology. In the present day, upon hearing of the vampires raiding Barrow, Vicente sets off to intervene – lest his kind be discovered and hunted again.  With glittering black eyes and enlarged fangs, the vampires in the comic resemble ultimate predators of the natural world; they possess increased speed and agility, with developed senses.   This all stems from a virus, which infects victims through the contamination of blood. The film, which retains the title of the comic, was released in 2007 and directed by David Slade. It had a difficult pre-production period, with several writers involved at various stages, which is perhaps the reason for the many changes made from the comic. It eschews the vampiric history of the book and presents the creatures as feral monsters simply harvesting their prey.  Any pathos or characterisation is lost, much to the detriment of the overall film.  Though it retains the central characters, who fend off the vampires – weakened by the extreme environment – until one of the surviving humans sacrifices themselves to save the others, the human element doesn’t make up for the somewhat shallow vampires. Despite limited critical success, the film was a hit ($70m banked worldwide) – and a sequel was released in 2010: 30 Days Of Night: Dark Days. The sequel, directed by Ben Ketai, follows one of the survivors from the Barrow massacre as she tries to convince people that vampires exist. This of course leads her into the clutches of the creatures and she must once again fight for her life. Though both films are enjoyable entries in vampire cinema, the original comics have a just little more bite.

Army Of Darkness

In 1981 Sam Raimi unleashed The Evil Dead upon the world. Several vacationing teenagers discover – in a dilapidated cabin in the woods – an audiotape that when played releases ancient Kandarian demons, or Deadites, which then possess the group. The resulting combination of macabre humour and gallons of gore meant that this supernatural horror film was incredibly influential upon the genre. Made for less than $100,000, it grossed almost $2,500,000 during its theatrical run. This level of success spurned several sequels – Evil Dead II (1987); Army Of Darkness (1992); and a television series, Ash Vs. Evil Dead (2015) – as well as video game adaptations and a contentious remake of the original film in 2013.

This expansive universe was widened even further by a series of comic books that tie-in to the various incarnations of the franchise. In 1992, Dark Horse released a three-issue mini-series, which was adapted from the first film by John Bolton. This was followed by a four issue series in 2004, Ashes 2 Ashes. Written by Andy Hartnell and visualised by Nick Bradshaw, the comic picks up where Army Of Darkness ended, continuing protagonist Ash’s (Bruce Campbell) time-travelling adventures. The adaptations continued, crossing over into literature and popular culture; Army Of Darkness Vs. Re-Animator incorporates H. P. Lovecraft’s short story Herbert West- Reanimator (1922) and Stuart Gordon’s horror comedy Re-Animator from 1985. The comics also incorporated a slew of familiar faces from horror cinema: Freddy, Jason, Hack/Slash, Vampirella and Xena: Warrior Princess, to name but a few.

Most recently, Army Of Darkness: Furious Road (2016) sees Ash teaming with several supernatural creatures – including Dracula’s daughter and Frankenstein’s Monster – in a future world overrun by Deadites. The sheer volume of the comic book adaptations and their potential for crossover storylines – coupled with the humour and seminal status of the franchise’s mythology – ensures that readers know what to expect with the comic books, and are going to have a groovy time with any of the issues.

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