Category Archives: Comics

The future of comic book movies

While I haven’t seen it, the consensus is that Green Lantern is hot garbage, the type of overproduced and poorly written adaptation that has long plagued the comic book film genre. Is the problem an essential one, as raised by the Washington Post?

No matter how many times he’s been reimagined, Green Lantern retains a crucial flaw: He’s a DC Comics character, without the weaknesses and neuroses that make Marvel Comics heroes interesting (sometimes even on screen).

I tend to agree with this sentiment. For the most part, the only DC comics I’ve enjoyed (outside of those on the Vertigo imprint) are Batman and specific Superman ones, like All-Star Superman: comics that are grounded in true human experience, no matter how super-powered.*

A recent post over at Nerve proposed five superheroes who should’ve gotten movies before the Green Lantern. I don’t think they make a compelling case for any entries on their list, with Wonder Woman and the Flash sharing the same DC weaknesses as Green Lantern.

The suggestion of Grant Morrison’s transgressive The Invisibles is a nod to the rich world of independent comics, even if the author of the Nerve piece admits there’s no chance of it ever being a film. Its inclusion raises another issue: the viability of less mainstream comics or graphic novels as films. Along those lines, there are a whole host of properties that beg for adaptations. Each of the following has been kicked around in development, and practically beg for cinematic versions: Garth Ennis’ Preacher and The Boys; Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Runaways; Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan.

The question remains: just because something can be adapted, should it be? The works of Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) have been adapted – without Moore’s involvement – with varying degrees of faithfulness and quality. The same could be expected to the works of Ennis, Vaughn, and Ellis. Too much would be left out of the script, due to length or graphic content. The success of Game of Thrones could portend more small screen adaptations of nerd lore, but for now, premium TV adaptations are pie-in-the-sky.

Over the next year and a half, the landscape is littered with big budget comic book films: Captain America: The First Avenger will lead into the mega-crossover The Avengers, both Superman (The Man of Steel) and Spider-Man (The Amazing Spider-Man) will be rebooted, and Christopher Nolan will end his Batman trilogy, arguably the raison d’être for this glut of superhero films. While X-Men: First Class was an imperfect success, will the next batch fare as well?

After these A-listers, what’s next? Are there five superheroes who would’ve been better on film than Green Lantern? With few exceptions, I think Hollywood would be scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point. One exception, coincidentally, is another Ryan Reynolds vehicle: Deadpool, which has a writer and director attached but has been in development hell for nearly a decade. The “Merc with a Mouth” is no Jesse Custer or Spider Jerusalem, but at least he’s not in the Justice League.

* Watchmen, while published by DC, doesn’t fit in the same universe as the majority of DC books. In fact, it’s a response to that type of superhero mythology.

Thoughts on "X-Men: First Class"

X-Men: First Class is a fantastic film that succeeds in both it’s main goals. While it is very entertaining on its own, it also manages to clear the bad taste that X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine left with audiences. Matthew Vaughn infuses the film with retro charm, lets the ensemble cast shine and pleases both fans and novices.

The fact that First Class began development as X-Men Origins: Magneto is apparent: this is Magneto’s film. Michael Fassbender is captivating as Erik Lehnsherr, with the cool precision of Connery’s Bond in his dogged pursuit of Nazis. When the scripts falters, it is because the “first class” elements distract from Magneto’s journey. In the comics (and films, for that matter), Magneto has been more captivating than his counterpart, Xavier, a contrast never clearer than when Magneto is doing wet work while Xavier chugs a yard of beer.

While Magneto is the star, other characters and performances are very rewarding, as well. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is richly drawn, with an arc that is a perfect vehicle for the film’s central issue: mutant pride and rights in the world at large. While Xavier would have his surrogate sister hide her blue skin and love interest Beast would actually try to “fix” her appearance, only Magneto appreciates her true form. I didn’t find her ultimate decision to be out-of-character or abrupt; Mystique is in the same crossroads as Rogue was in the first X-Men, striving to accept herself. The only veteran in the youthful ensemble, Kevin Bacon, handles Sebastian Shaw with ease, almost hammy in his over-the-top evilness.

Outside of pure film criticism, much of the Internet discussion of First Class concerns the film’s social message. Having understood the X-Men as an analogy for civil rights (with Xavier and Magneto standing in for Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, respectively), the films pay little attention – as others have noted – to the civil rights movement, even though it takes place smack in the middle of it (1962, before “I Have a Dream” but after the boycotts and the sit-ins). As in the earlier films, the mutant pride plays more like gay pride. The parallel was played for ironic laughs in X2, with Iceman coming out to his parents (“Have you tried not being a mutant?”); here, Xavier accidentally outs Beast. For his part, Vaughn has said that the issue was simply too big to add to an already busy film, and has hinted that the next could deal with civil rights and the Vietnam War.

Larger than whitewashing the civil rights issue is how Magneto, usually understood to be a fanatic and villain, makes the more compelling argument. Xavier’s vision of peaceful co-existence requires mutants to stay in the closet: don’t rock the boat and wait for acceptance. Magneto, constantly haunted by the Holocaust, refuses to live in the shadows, betray his identity, and listen to those obeying orders. Forgive the pun, but Xavier doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

There is also the predictable nerd trap: how First Class fits into continuity, both comic and film, and whether this it’s a prequel or a rebooting of the franchise. The first issue is dismissed very early on: a title card places the action on Earth-917, to separate it from the mainstream continuity of Earth-616 (Marvel uses a parallel universe convention for this very reason, i.e. to keep fans happy). This nod should be enough to explain why characters are developed how they are. The team assembled by Xavier and Magneto isn’t the “first class” of 1963; the film’s Sebastian Shaw incorporates elements of evil geneticist Mr. Sinister; neither Azazel or Riptide have ever mattered much in the comics. Credit the filmmakers for acknowledging the different universe, and for realizing that diehard fanatics are unable to be completely satisfied.

The prequel versus reboot issue is more complicated. Matthew Vaughn has wavered on how to define his film (to reboot, or not to reboot). Like the Star Wars prequels, there are deliberate references to the preceding films, coupled with a series of minor and major continuity errors. Without spoiling anything, there are a few very obvious references to the Bryan Singer/Brett Ratner trilogy. But can’t these just be fan service for fan service’s sake? The moments are audience-pleasers; isn’t that the point? For what it’s worth, I think it’s a bit of both prequel and reboot, giving the filmmakers the most leverage to tell stories without being hamstrung by the existing films.

How the X-Men franchise continues from here is a mystery, but I have high hopes. Rather than the hopeful note on which the first film in a trilogy usually ends, First Class feels more like a dour midpoint, a la Empire Strikes Back. Xavier is left a broken man, having lost his closest friends and being forced to start from scratch; Magneto’s dark forces are ascendant. It’s an ending that should have audiences begging for more.

To Hell and back with "Wolverine"


Wolverine is very busy these days, appearing in a handful of X-books, leading the brand new X-Force, working in the Avengers, and anchoring a couple of his own titles. Continuity be damned, the Best There Is At What He Does is at the center of the Marvel universe for a reason: he’s a vessel for whatever violent, mysterious storyline a writer can imagine. In the first arc of the re-launched Wolverine book, he became a vessel of an entirely different kind.

“There’s two kinds of Hell. There’s the one down there with the devil and the fire and all that mess. And there’s the one up here. The one we make for ourselves.”
John Wraith

The first part of “Wolverine Goes to Hell” begins with a flashback: Wolverine meeting with former Weapon X member John Wraith, now a preacher in a small town. The two discuss the twisted path that brought these two killers to the church’s steps. On the topic of faith and hope, Wraith promises that Wolverine will be tested – foreshadowing Wolverine’s imminent journey.

Flashforward to three weeks later. Pastor Wraith tends to his flock, but someone – or something – is after him. He heads into the forest, automatic rifle in hand, finally confronting (you guessed it) Wolverine. But not the usual fun-loving Canuck: this version spews venom and fire, and Wraith knows it’s not his friend Logan – it’s Hell.

Meanwhile, Logan’s newest flame, Melita, is pursued by a different group of demons. She’s able to fend them off before being rescued by everyone’s favorite shapeshifter, Mystique. It is clear larger forces are at work. As a coda, Wolverine meets his first adversary in this story: Satan. The art by Renato Guedes and Jose Wilson Magalhaes paints a vivid image of Hell, here and throughout the series. Considering the viscera of Uncanny X-Force, the pair really have to work to capture this twisted vision of the underworld.


“Everyone I ever killed is waiting for me. Waiting to tear me apart.” Wolverine

Satan intends to have fun torturing Logan’s soul, and admittedly, it’s been a long time coming. He’s killed so many that the burden of what awaits him (in this Judeo-Christian framework, at least) must be staggering. But Logan refuses to yield, despite the pain and anguish, fighting off whatever the devil sends at him. As it is in life, it is in Hell.

Above ground, Mystique and Melita form an uneasy alliance. Wolverine’s body is at large, and on a rampage: he gets to Yukio before the women can explain the situation. Luckily, help is on the way, from some guys who have experience with this sort of thing: the Ghost Riders. And as Logan’s soul faces one his deepest sources of pain – the loss of Mariko – another helping hand appears: Puck. Logan’s old Alpha Flight ally clues him in to the situation, the stakes, and what will be lost if he gives up. Not that giving up was ever an option.

“I deserve Hell. I deserve it all.”Wolverine

As Logan’s soul confronts the devil, his demon-infested body continues on a killing path, heading for Utopia and the X-Men. Chapter 3 illustrates these two journeys as parallels: the torment on Logan’s soul writ large on his friends and family. Seriously injuring Angel, Iceman, and Colossus, Wolverine is finally subdued by the Ghost Riders.


In Hell, Logan confronts a different family: his father, Thomas Logan, and his would-be brother, Sabertooth. These confrontations, and what they mean for Logan’s psyche, are not fully developed; these two are just another pair of stepping stones – like Mariko – on his journey. Predictably, Logan defeats Satan and literally climbs out of Hell, seeking those that put him there and hurt his loved ones. He knows he’ll be back, and he’s found peace in that. But for now: revenge.

Logan is free of Hell, but demons still control his mind. A team of Cyclops, Magneto, Emma Frost, and Namor join the fray, with a score of “Plan Bs” in tow. Foreshadowed in the beginning of Chapter 6, Cyclops has developed plans to kill Wolverine for this very situation, plans which they intend to use. Under Magneto’s control, Wolverine’s life hangs in the balance (with a laughably bad panel by Daniel Acuña undercutting the drama).


This is the final showdown: Logan’s soul has already beaten the Devil, but can he beat the demons that still haunt him, even as they lay waste to his mind? To do that, he’ll need every piece of his psyche: Wolverines, assemble!


As the X-Men heavy hitters try in vain to put him down, Demon Wolverine won’t let up. One last ditch, non-fatal plan is proposed, with the X-Women who mean the most to him (and Emma) joining the battle being waged internally. Melita, Kitty Pryde, Rogue, and Jubilee don psychic shogun gear and get to work, but it’s an even better friend who will help save the day.

“This is the only way to save you from Hell, mein freund. We’ve got to burn these demons out… with some fire of our own.”Nightcrawler

The final chapter in the story is a powerful one. It’s romantic, dramatic, and even funny. The pieces of Logan’s mind are emblazoned on doors, their secrets held inside. “Sexual Fantasies,” “Hopes and Dreams,” “Reasons to Hate Myself,” “X-Men I’ve Had Sex With,” “How I Cheat At Cards:” this is Logan’s humanity on display. What else would be at the center than Jean Grey?

The cleansing power of the Phoenix requires loss: from the ashes and all that. To win this final battle, Logan must finally let Jean go. As his body is attacked with everything the X-Men have, he faces one last decision: does he want to live? In a reference to “Here Comes Tomorrow,” (New X-Men #154 and Wolverine #8 below for reference) the Phoenix saves the day, entreating Logan to live, letting go rage, revenge, and his own demons. But what fun would that be?




If not Aronofsky, who should direct The Wolverine?

Well, that was quick: the dream of a Wolverine prequel helmed by Darren Aronofsky appears to be over, as the visionary director drops out for what appear to be personal reasons. I’m assuming that the Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, but also The Tourist) script, based on the 1982 Frank Miller & Chris Claremont miniseries Wolverine, is still on the table. Disappointing, especially after Aronofsky promised such great things, but salvageable. So, if not Aronofsky, who should direct The Wolverine?

The quintessential Wolverine miniseries details Logan’s exploits in Japan. It’s a tale of honor, with a realistic love triangle and plenty of berzerker action; it established the character of Wolverine that the world knows and loves. The pie-in-the-sky director would be Quentin Tarantino, but you can safely put that on the “fan boy wishlist.” Same goes for body-gore master David Cronenberg. And while Robert Rodriguez has adapted Frank Miller before, his style may be too bombastic for this one.

Bryan Singer saved the superhero genre with his X-Men films, but he is stuck in pre-production for three films (Battlestar Galactica, Excalibur, and Jack the Giant Killer) and probably can’t save this one. The same goes for Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen), who takes over the Superman franchise from Singer next year. I’m not sure that Matthew Vaughn would do another comic film after directing three in three years.

Last summer, rumored directors included Matt Reeves, Tony Scott, Kathryn Bigelow, and Timur Bekmambetov. Reeves showed promise on his remake Let Me In, and Bigelow would represent Fox thinking outside of the box; both would be good choices. Bekmambetov would work as well, but he’s tied up with the sequel to Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Pray it’s not Scott; Ridley’s brother hasn’t made a good film in over decade.

One name I’ll totally pull out of nowhere is Edward Zwick, director of The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, Defiance, and Love and Other Drugs; his diverse body of work demonstrates the range required to bring nuance to a comic book movie.

Luckily, Wolverine will return to the screen after the disastrous Origins flick. But without the right director, this prequel might stumble down the same path.

Introducing the Uncanny X-Force, in all their g(l)ory

If you read comics in the 90s, you’ve seen the work of Rob Liefeld, who penned a number of record-selling comics at Marvel before founding Image Comics in 1992. While only at Marvel for a few years, his trademark (and often maligned) style dominated for quite some time. Liefeld is basically the Michael Bay of the comics world: his work is typified by big-guns-and-bigger-tits art that has no basis in reality (featuring an abundance of pouches and a lack of visible feet).

At Marvel, he created X-Force, a team of mutant mercenaries that was more aggressive and “extreme” than the X-Men. Initially popular, interest in the series waned throughout the decade. In 2008, rising writers Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost re-vamped the X-Force brand, with a team of popular characters that included Wolverine, X-23 and Warpath. In the books, the new X-Force was tasked with doing the X-Men’s dirty work – by any means necessary. Stylistically, it was a throwback to the over-the-top drama and violence of Liefeld’s original work – but with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Kyle and Yost ended their run after 28 crossover-filled issues. In their last book, Cyclops disbanded X-Force after finally confronting the group’s body count. This lead to Wolverine to assemble his own black-ops team, with a very Fight Club motto: “This is X-Force. There’s only one rule . . . no one can know.”


Uncanny X-Force (featuring Wolverine, Psylocke, Archangel, Deadpool, and Fantomex) launched last fall with Rick Rememder and Jerome Opena at the helm. This is a team of anti-heroes, all with checkered pasts that are soaked in blood. But there’s also a sense of humor to them, between Deadpool’s fourth-wall-breaking antics and Fantomex’s Eurotrash affectations. They might be dispensing with truckloads of enemies, but they do it with a smile. The romantic undertones to the interplay between Psylocke and Archangel is also interesting, as Warren attempts to harness his inner demons with Betsy’s help. And it doesn’t hurt that the book looks fantastic, with vibrant colors and exquisite pencils that capture the team in all their gory detail.


The first storyline in Uncanny X-Force pitted the team against a frequent foe: Apocalypse. But unlike the towering behemoth they’ve come to know and love, ‘Poc was reincarnated as a young boy. It’s a favorite paradox of the time traveler: would you kill a baby Hitler? How do you reconcile the murder of an innocent, if that innocent will grow into pure evil? It’s a philosophical conundrum, that haunts X-Force even after they solve the problem, in their own way.


The current storyline, “Deathlok Nation,” focuses on Fantomex and The World, the pocket universe from which he was forged. As Grant Morrison proved during his run on New X-Men, Fantomex is an intriguing character with a rich backstory. Rememder is more than capable telling his story and much more, especially considering the ignominious beginnings of the X-Force.

From the longbox: the comic book noir of "Madrox"

The X-Men universe is widely derided for overflowing with characters, teams, and titles. Constantly raising the stakes and looking for new angles littered the narrative world with forgotten and underutilized concepts. For most of the character’s run, Jamie Madrox – the Multiple Man – was emblematic of the problem: a two-dimensional, C-list character with an interesting power and not much else.

Multiple Man, as his name suggests, can create duplicates (or “dupes”) of himself with any kinetic force. The dupes are autonomous and fully-functioning, and were typically used to overwhelm an opponent. Think the clones of Agent Smith in The Matrix Reloaded’s melee battle (and now stop thinking about The Matrix Reloaded).

That all changed in 2004, with a five-part miniseries entitled Madrox, written by twenty year veteran Peter David. Starting with his run on X-Factor in the mid-90s, David fleshed out the ramifications of Multiple Man’s powers, especially his ability to absorb his dupes’ knowledge and experiences.

The Madrox mini-series takes place after M-Day, the reality-changing crossover event that de-powered most mutants in the X-Universe. Jamie has set himself up in the ghettoized Mutant Town, operating a detective agency called “XXX Investigations” (the easy porn jokes eventually result in a name change to X-Factor Investigations, a reference to his crew’s old team).

A bit of exposition explains that Jamie has been sending dupes around the world, gaining their knowledge. When a multiple man can’t decide which way he wants his life to go, he can select all of the above. This accumulation of life experience, and a desire to help people leads to a new career as a detective. Jamie breaks down the formula as e=mc2: “Existence equals myriad catastrophes, squared.”

The strength of the series is its self-referential adoration of film noir. And while Jamie is not self-aware that he’s in a comic book, he’s definitely aware that his life is starting to resemble The Maltese Falcon. He’s been watching “too many old movies” and seems obsessed with playing a Bogart character in real life. He narrates in the wisecracking, self-deprecating prose of Raymond Chandler. The dilapidated offices and dimly lit bars, the femme fatales and menacing thugs – it’s all here.

When one of Madrox’s dupes shows up, dying from a knife wound, his final memories provide the only clues: Chicago’s L train, a beautiful woman and a bloody knife. Like any good noir, a dead body provides more questions than answers. For Jamie, investigating his dupe’s murder is the ultimate (and literal) example of This Time, It’s Personal.

Jamie leaves a dupe behind to mind the store and heads off to Chicago. He hooks up with an old reporter friend named Stringer (who looks suspiciously like Steve Buscemi in Pablo Raimondi’s pencils) and finds out that the woman in his absorbed memories is none other than the girlfriend of a mobbed-up businessman named Sheila Desoto. Jamie starts to piece together his dupe’s relationship with Sheila, and he stumbles upon a larger mystery: who is killing crime bosses throughout Chicago? For fans of film noir, the plot is familiar but enjoyable, if a bit predictable.

The B-story follows the rest of the X-Factor team as they investigate a straying husband. But in true X-fashion, his affair isn’t being consummated in cheap hotels, but on the astral plane utilized by psychics. It’s a brief look into what a team of Strong Guy, Wolfsbane and Siryn can do when playing gumshoe.

The success of Madrox resulted in the re-launch of X-Factor, a series that continues today as Madrox and company solve superpowered and supernatural mysteries. It continues to deal with issues of self-knowledge, identity, and fate, all in the form of hardboiled fiction. For fans of comics and film noir, it’s a no-brainer.