As we descend into another season of blockbuster film releases punctuated by comic book hero adaptation sequels, it’s important to remember that there are other options out there. Indie comics have had a long history of successful, or at least interesting, film adaptations, including the likes of Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World, Harvey Pekar’s American Splendour, and the massive multi-media franchise that a little black and with comic called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spawned.
X-Men: Days of Future Past.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Guardians of the Galaxy.
These big budget spectacles will draw hordes of film goers when they hit theatres over the next few months. But there are also a few stellar films that have their roots in comics that are always worth going back to, if only as a palate cleanser between big screen popcorn binges.
The story behind the making of the film is almost as tragic as the story of its hero. After he and his girlfriend are left for dead by a gang, Eric Draven is resurrected by a crow to seek vengeance on them in a brutal fashion. The film is an adaptation of the comic by James O’Barr, who wrote it as way with dealing with his grief after his girlfriend at the time was killed by a drunk driver
As always, the film isn’t a 100% faithful interpretation of the source material, and was accused of having less emotional impact than the comic and of being filled with one dimensional characters. Many loved the dark, violent nature of the film and Eric Draven’s path of vengeance through this world.
That being said, the film had its own real life tragedy when Brandon Lee, son of the legendary Bruce Lee and star of The Crow, was killed in a shocking accident on set. This quite obviously caused production issues as the team behind the film debated on continuing development, changed hands from Paramount to Miramax, and was finally released in 1994.
While some love it and some hate it, The Crow is definably a cult classic and one that is worth re-watching. Naturally, it spawned a series of terrible sequels and a worse TV show with an inevitable reboot on the way. James O’Barr is reportedly signed on as a consultant so there is a modicum of hope for it.
This franchise the very definition of indie success. Well, as long as you ignore the pre-existing popularity and industry clout of the big names behind the comics. This creator-owned series grew from the minds of comic book heavyweights Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., and was published under the Icon imprint by Marvel Comics. Given how popular Millar and Romita, Jr. are, a certain amount of success was guaranteed regardless of the violence.
It’s the story of a young man who loves comics and decides to become a hero, only to bite off way more than he can handle. He allies himself with other “real life” heroes to take on the crime-riddled city. It’s a story ripe for Hollywood adaptation.
Due to the violent nature of the film, director Matthew Vaughn ended up producing and releasing this film independently to great success. It was praised by many critics and did well at the box office. Though it deviates drastically from the comics, straying from the real world practicalities of being a hero into more fantastical elements, it’s still a gripping story and a highly engaging film.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Trying to explain the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels to someone makes you sound crazy. A jobless slacker and part-time musician, Scott Pilgrim embarks on a series of escapades related to his new love, Ramona Flowers. In particular, he must face off and defeat each of her evil exes. Critically praised for bold art and narrative choices, Scott Pilgrim uses a style reminiscent of Japanese manga and 80s video games.
The movie maintains much of this aesthetic, condensing the core narrative related to Scott, Ramona, and the evil exes into one movie as compared to six volumes of the graphic novel. The film utilizes absurd visuals, nostalgic video game audio cues, and a stellar soundtrack to create a unique experience for the watcher. Beck, Metric, Broken Social Scene, Kid Koala, and others all contributed music to the soundtrack with Beck writing and composing the music played by Scott’s band, Sex Bob-omb.
While critics loved the film and fans of the graphic novels seemed to largely approve of it, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World did not resonate with wider audiences on its release. It was, in fact, a bob-omb during it’s time in theatres. The fact that the story was set in Toronto may have had an impact on American audiences but its odd nature was also a factor. And it was a virtually unknown title to anyone who didn’t read comics regularly.
Kind of makes you wonder how Guardians of the Galaxy is going to in theatres.
All three of these movies are great watches and stray from the Marvel/DC norm that contemporary film goers are used to. Before the next Captain America movie hits theatres, which I have high hopes for, check these classic and soon-to-be classic films out.