X-Men Illiteracy

I have to confess, my knowledge of the X-Men universe is embarrassingly poor. You see, just as mutant mania was exploding in the early'80s, I had stopped buying comics. When i got back into the hobby around '85, I was so behind the times that the task of catching up was too daunting. Remember, there were no "Essentials" back then, and who could afford back issues? So the years went by, and the X-Men left me in the dust.

Fast forward to the present. I've read The first 3 volumes of Essential X-Men and every article in Comic Buyer's Guide, but I feel I'm still catching up. This makes my take on the upcoming X-Men Origins film kinda sketchy. Since I really don't know a great deal about Gambit, Deadpool, and some of the other characters, I won't be able to comment on the accuracy of their portrayals in the film. On the other hand, my judgement won't be skewed by a years of indoctrination into the X mythos.
I'm just going to approach the movie as the continuation of the film version of the X saga, and nothing more.

X-Men Origins

Like everyone else, I've seen the X-Men Origins trailers, and to my untrained, biased eye, it looks like it raises the X-Men franchise even higher in quality. I love that they got Liev Schreiber to play Sabretooth. It's hard to believe how far superhero movies have come in terms of casting.

Even though I posted recently about how I dig costumed heroes, it's brilliant how the film's costume designers keep the "look" of the characters very cool even though they're wearing civilian clothes- as far as I know, no costumes are ever donned in this movie. Maybe I have to rethink my stance on costumes- but it might just be that these characters are easier to portray in street clothes than other heroes with more iconic threads. I don't think the "no costumes" strategy would work for other characters.

How Movies Improve Comics: Part 2

Today's thoughts might seem trivial, but hear me out. I'm trying to point out that sometimes movie makers actually improve on the original, classic design of superheroes and those changes sometimes become incorporated into the comics themselves.

The prime example of this, and the movie I referred to in my last post was Spider-Man (2002). The change that director Sam Raimi made that I thought was brilliant was making Peter Parker's web shooters organic instead of mechanical.

I know this change was fodder for arguments among fans when the movie came out, but I think it's worth revisiting. This might be blasphemy to traditionalists, but I believe the movie's organic webshooters are a vast improvement over Stan Lee's original concept. Frankly, I wish Marvel would go ahead and admit this was a change for the better, and make the comic book Spidey's shooters organic.

Another great example of the movies improving on a characters look or design is Batman Begins(2005). The filmmakers greatly enhanced the rationale for the Batsuit by converting it into a high tech military grade combat suit instead of just spandex and latex. Now, I know the comic book Bats has had countless variations on the original costume over the years, but I'm referring to the original design and rationale for the costume.

So, if anyone asks me which I prefer, the film version or comic book version of superheroes, I would say sometimes, just sometimes, the movie version is an improvement on the the creator's original vision of the character.

How Movies Improve Comics

This is not a fully fleshed out thesis, but I believe, in many ways, the film version of some superheroes have improved upon the creators' original concepts. This topic could fill several posts, but I have to start somewhere, so here goes.

I remember reading how several iconic things in the Superman mythos originally appeared not in the book, but rather in the cartoons of the 1930's and serials of the 1950's. The example that immediately comes to mind is the phrase that begins "Look! Up in the sky..."

I think from the very beginning there's been a symbiotic relationship between the comic book version of heroes and their film incarnations.

Here's what I think happens. The movie makers take the basic concept from the book, tweak it, twist it, mold it to fit the 2 hour film format. The artists and writers see things they like on screen, and then lo and behold those elements appear in the book and eventually become embedded in the character's history.

I have a great example of a hugely successful cape movie that took a well known character, and changed his powers in a major way- a change that I believe was absolutely necessary. More on that later. Stay tuned.

Must Haves of Any Cape Movie: Part 3

Without a suitably evil, brilliant, imposing villain, an otherwise great cape movie is doomed to mediocrity. One of the biggest flaws of many a cape movie has been the mishandling of the viital role of the villain. The classic example I use, which has been pointed out by many others, was the portrayal of Lex Luthor in Superman (1978). Why the decision was made to allow Gene Hackman play Luthor as pure camp is beyond me. Supes, supposedly the most powerful being on earth, was pushed to his limit by the hardly intimidating Luthor, his clownish sidekick and airheaded girlfriend.

Many other superhero films have made the same mistake of overlooking the importance of the villain. Of course, there are many examples. Here are just a couple that come to mind- In Hulk, Bruce Banner's nemesis was his own weirdo father and his dad's overgrown poodle. In The Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, whom I was lead to believe was the most powerful villain in the Marvel Universe, just came across as a run of the mill bad guy, and was too easily defeated.

But- there have been some recent films that gave us villains that were more than a match for the hero. Of course, both entries in the new Batman franchise were spot on with their portrayals of Ra's al Ghul and the Joker. Both characters were highly intelligent, capable of brutal violence, and came oh so close to defeating ol' Bats. For me, Adrian Veidt, from Watchmen is the textbook example of a film villain who is more than capable of defeating the protagonists and therefore giving the movie an added level of tension and drama.

So, to wrap up this little diatribe- my new entry in the "rules of cape movies" can be stated as: "In any superhero film, the protagonist must be pitted against a villain whose powers are equal to or superior to his own in terms of either physical strength or intellect."

Hollywood, I hope you're listening. Give us really villainous villains!

Iron Man 2 News

Just read the update on MTV's Splashpage and other sites that Iron Man 2 won't include the alcoholism storyline that appeared in the book in '79. Sounds like they have plans to include that arc in a future chapter. It's great to hear that Marvel is taking their time developing the IM film universe. This is cool because the potential to develop Tony Stark into a Bond-like franchise is tremendous.

I think IM might turn out to be one of the most durable characters that emerge in this golden age of cape films. I say that because the high tech concept fits so perfectly into today's world and Stark is such a universally liked character. I'm willing to bet that Marvel is already considering young actors who will take over for Downey after his 3 or 4 movie run.