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Favorite Comic-Book Movie

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I was browsing through the "Cowardly Daredevil" thread, and read DanBuck's evaluation of a few comicbook movies. There are a lot he didn't mention. Can we run a poll on favorite movies based on comicbook characters?

Some entrants DanBuck didn't mention: The Superman films, The Phantom, Barb Wire and I know there's more. I would propose limiting the poll to Superhero flicks, and so not counting movies like The Garfield Movie. I would say that Dick Tracy belongs in the poll too, though he's just a normal joe with abnormal enemies.

I would also propose limiting the poll to movies that ran in the theaters, and so eliminate the pilots for shows like The Flash and The Incredible Hulk. (Though, I'm a big fan of The Greatest American Hero!).

Edited by crimsonline

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I would say that Dick Tracy belongs in the poll too, though he's just a normal joe with abnormal enemies.

I agree, with its utterly beautiful production design which actually made an effort to allow non comic book fans to appreciate the beauty of comic book art, it's certainly the only one I'd even consider voting for. I'm sick to death with the lot of them!! smile.gif

Phil.

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Since this seems to be the closest thing to a thread on comic book movies in general ...

Matt Zoller Seitz (Salon) and Ross Douthat (Evaluations blog) take a pair of sticks to the genre.

Seitz:

The comic book film has become a gravy train to nowhere. The genre cranks up directors' box office averages and keeps offbeat actors fully employed for years at a stretch by dutifully replicating (with precious few exceptions) the least interesting, least exciting elements of its source material ...

I don't relish saying any of this. I grew up on superheroes and superhero films. ... I will always treasure that iconic shot of the Joker hanging his head out of a car window in "The Dark Knight" like a family dog on a road trip, and the poster-ready wide shot of Superman in "Superman Returns" hoisting the Daily Planet's globe on his shoulders, and that slow-motion image of Peter Parker in "Spider-Man 2" -- an ex-superhero playing hooky from his obligations -- stumbling down a Manhattan street to "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head."

But for God's sake, enough is enough.

Douthat adds:

It’s a good question, but of course once you start asking questions like that it’s a pretty short leap to wondering why we couldn’t have a movie about a Tony Stark-like figure — say, a screwball comedy about a billionaire’s romance with his omnicompetent assistant, which is basically the best thing about the “Iron Man” franchise anyway — in which he isn’t a superhero at all. And from there, it’s an even shorter leap to questions like, “what kind of movies would a clean-and-sober Robert Downey, Jr. be making if he wasn’t already signed up for ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Iron Man 3’ and the sequel to last’s year ‘Sherlock Holmes’ (which was basically a superhero flick dressed up in Victoriana)”? ...

Sometimes I try to imagine what the 1970s would have been like if comic-book movies had dominated the cinematic landscape the way they do today. Francis Ford Coppola would have presumably gravitated toward the operatic darkness of the Batman franchise, casting first Al Pacino and then Robert De Niro as Italian-American Bruce Waynes. Martin Scorsese would have become famous for his gritty, angry take on the Incredible Hulk, with Harvey Keitel stepping into Bruce Banner’s shoes and Diane Keaton as his love interest. ... And Terence Malick — well, O.K., Malick probably would have still made “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven,” and then disappeared for 20 years.

Both are well worth reading in full.

In a sense, they made complementary arguments: Seitz argues that comic-book movies adapt the least interesting parts of their source material, while Douthat argues (at least in the case of Iron Man 2) that the comic-book elements are the least interesting parts of the film. In the case of Iron Man 2, which I enjoyed a good bit, I think he has a point.

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In a sense, they made complementary arguments: Seitz argues that comic-book movies adapt the least interesting parts of their source material, while Douthat argues (at least in the case of Iron Man 2) that the comic-book elements are the least interesting parts of the film. In the case of Iron Man 2, which I enjoyed a good bit, I think he has a point.

Sometimes the comic book elements are the least interesting parts of the film, but not always.

If we look at the first Iron Man, the big fight scene at the end was just not nearly as interesting as the what had gone before it. But there were comic book and non-comic book elements that were really important to the movie. The Paltrow - Downey chemistry was great romantic comedy stuff, but the armor testing scenes were also really good physical comedy, and a couple of the flight sequences were really exhilarating.

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Seitz:

"director Chris Nolan's M.O. is to have his characters deliver freshman psychology and philosophy dissertations while whirling the camera for no good reason and cutting every few seconds"

"Where's the heart in Nolan's movies? Where's the poetry? Where's the soul?"

I wonder how much of this is related to the source material. In my recent foray into graphic novels, some of which has involved capering through a lot of X-Men, Superman, Batman, Iron Man, etc... territory, I frequently notice something: this is not good literature.

Whoever writes the dialogue for much of these standard comics tends to follow a typical pattern: Step 1. Use a lot of big words in a sarcastic tone. Step 2. Have the hero or villain explain their motives with reference to some real world psychological or philosophical trend. But what happens is that, and I don't know how to say this without sounding like a complete tool bag, a lot of big words end up used incorrectly, and a lot of simple philosophy gets treated as earthshaking stuff.

So you end up with a bunch of superheroes sounding like fifth graders that are praised a little too often by their parents for "knowing so many big words." As this is the case, I expect absolutely nothing from any superhero movie other than a few good camera angles or effects, and that is about it.

This is sad, given the meta-history of superheroes explored in Chabon's Adventures, but I think the aesthetic mantle of the American superhero ended up falling on the shoulders of genre cinema, which produced nuanced gems like Hang em High, Prime Cut, Vanishing Point, etc...

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So you end up with a bunch of superheroes sounding like fifth graders that are praised a little too often by their parents for "knowing so many big words."

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm going to quote this one a lot.

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The best film adapted from a comic book is Chan-Wook Park's OLDBOY. The best film about a comic book superhero? BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM.

The core problem with contemporary superhero cinema is this: it's just too big. With the budgets they're dealing with, they have certain obligations regarding audience expectations that tie them down. It's blockbuster filmmaking. Superheroes work better in smaller, episodic formats (which is why something like BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES worked so well).

Edited by Ryan H.

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I'm interested Zoller Seitz's assertion that the zombie genre films contain the heart and soul - and daring! -- that most of the superhero films fail to achieve. (I would probably agree with him in ranking Nolan's Batman films, Raimi's 2nd Spider-man at the top end of the recent crop, and appreciate a lot about the, admittedly flawed, original 1978 Superman film). I definitely encourage anyone with an interest in the comic book as literature to check out Robert Kirkman's WALKING DEAD, which is perhaps better than the entire recent crop of zombie films (though soon to be adapted by Frank Darabont into a mini-series).

One of the problems, as M. Leary noted, is that a lot of superhero's aren't great literature. That said, I think the best of the best characters, mostly Superman and Batman, are iconic in a King Arthur or Sherlock Holmes way. (Also, interesting to check out Alan Moore's treatment of the TWILIGHT OF THE SUPERHEROES from 1986 which is floating around the interwebs, in which he talks about how the open-endedness of the superhero comic prevents the characters from achieving true legendary status, and how his proposed - never completed - comic and Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, attempt to amend this). Batman and Superman have the iconic moments, and a daring director can play around with it. (Seitz alludes to this in his praise for SUPERMAN RETURNS, which I found interesting but ultimately disliked greatly).

That's why Ryan H. is right when he says that BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (and MASK OF THE PHANTASM film) are among the best works ever made about Batman. They got the right handle on the character (and MOTP is perhaps MORE adult than THE DARK KNIGHT if we consider maturity confronting the difficulties of relationship and balancing our mission against our desires, rather than just undergraduate existentialism). I might go so far to say that Paul Dini understands Batman better than anyone else (comic book writers included).

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One of the problems, as M. Leary noted, is that a lot of superhero's aren't great literature. That said, I think the best of the best characters, mostly Superman and Batman, are iconic in a King Arthur or Sherlock Holmes way.

I'd say there are a few comics here and there that have made me take notice. For example, I had a real blast with BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN, which might not be entirely substantial but is a downright terrific bit of pulpy whodunit with top-notch visuals and an absence of the irritating chest-beating self-importance that characterizes many of the "serious" Batman stories. And from the same writer/artist team, SUPERMAN: FOR ALL SEASONS, which, for my money, is the best thing to ever feature Superman as a character. They're fun, entertaining reads, but they also touched a real nerve here and there.

Also, interesting to check out Alan Moore's treatment of the TWILIGHT OF THE SUPERHEROES from 1986 which is floating around the interwebs, in which he talks about how the open-endedness of the superhero comic prevents the characters from achieving true legendary status, and how his proposed - never completed - comic and Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, attempt to amend this.

Interesting that you note this, since Christopher Nolan recently said that BATMAN 3 affords him the opportunity to conclude his Batman story in a way you can't do with the comics. That struck me as a very surprising comment (and even more surprising that nobody's been buzzing about its significance), because the implication is that his Batman film will end Batman.

(And on a side note: there is no comic more overrated than Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.)

That's why Ryan H. is right when he says that BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (and MASK OF THE PHANTASM film) are among the best works ever made about Batman. They got the right handle on the character (and MOTP is perhaps MORE adult than THE DARK KNIGHT if we consider maturity confronting the difficulties of relationship and balancing our mission against our desires, rather than just undergraduate existentialism). I might go so far to say that Paul Dini understands Batman better than anyone else (comic book writers included).

Yes. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES was a near-perfect blend of style, pulp adventure, and creativity. It's a blast to watch. BATMAN: THE MASK OF THE PHANTASM, in many ways, is the series at its most adult (they were allowed to dabble in violence and allow that violence to have actual consequences; it's actually a fairly dark little movie). Heck, you'll probably do better watching BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES than you will actually reading the source material.

Edited by Ryan H.

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One of the problems, as M. Leary noted, is that a lot of superhero's aren't great literature. That said, I think the best of the best characters, mostly Superman and Batman, are iconic in a King Arthur or Sherlock Holmes way.

Yeah, I unfortunately became interested in getting at least a basic ed. in comics after reading Chabon's book, which underscores the mythic/iconic purpose of superheroes. The great idea of the comic superhero is just something that seldom actually pans out.

Very interesting point about the lack of closure in the comic book format, as closure is the entire function of narrative according to Booth, whose book on narrative is still widely used as a textbook. This is just a total aside, but I wonder if the lack of comic book closure is at all related, symptomatic, or otherwise just a point of interest for the post-boomer generations that were avid about comics - these generations often being characterized by arrested development.

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In honor of The Avengers opening this weekend, my Top 5 Superhero Movies (from this month's issue of CT).

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To answer this thread's original question, I nominate Ghost World.

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Actually, the original post proposed limiting things to Superhero movies. Just because Enid wears a Batman mask does mean it qualifies. ;)

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Actually, the original post proposed limiting things to Superhero movies. Just because Enid wears a Batman mask does mean it qualifies. wink.png

Hence, the appearance of THE MARK OF ZORRO on SDG's list (Zorro having his debut in pulp magazines and film serials, rather than in comic books).

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Sure...but I would put Zorro in the Batman realm. :)

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Actually, the original post proposed limiting things to Superhero movies. Just because Enid wears a Batman mask does mean it qualifies. wink.png

Hence, the appearance of THE MARK OF ZORRO on SDG's list (Zorro having his debut in pulp magazines and film serials, rather than in comic books).

Don't think that this question didn't come up. My list of arguments why The Mark of Zorro qualifies as a superhero movie is longer than my Top 5 column.

Sure...but I would put Zorro in the Batman realm. smile.png

Historically speaking, shouldn't it be the other way around? :)

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Yeah...I should have phrased it more as "I would say that characters like Zorro and Batman occupy a similar place in the concept of the super-hero as skilled crime fighters who have no extra-natural powers." :)

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Actually, the original post proposed limiting things to Superhero movies. Just because Enid wears a Batman mask does mean it qualifies. wink.png

Hence, the appearance of THE MARK OF ZORRO on SDG's list (Zorro having his debut in pulp magazines and film serials, rather than in comic books).

Don't think that this question didn't come up. My list of arguments why The Mark of Zorro qualifies as a superhero movie is longer than my Top 5 column.

Sure...but I would put Zorro in the Batman realm. smile.png

Historically speaking, shouldn't it be the other way around? smile.png

Yes, and in Len Wein's THE UNTOLD LEGEND OF THE BATMAN (a mini-series from the early 80s drawn by John Byrne and Jim Aparo that I read a lot as a child and took as the "canonical" origin story for a pre-CRISIS Batman) the Wayne family is in attendance at THE MARK OF ZORRO in the cinema (rather than the opera MEFISTOFELE, as in Nolan's films) on that fateful night.

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Yes, and in Len Wein's THE UNTOLD LEGEND OF THE BATMAN (a mini-series from the early 80s drawn by John Byrne and Jim Aparo that I read a lot as a child and took as the "canonical" origin story for a pre-CRISIS Batman) the Wayne family is in attendance at THE MARK OF ZORRO in the cinema (rather than the opera MEFISTOFELE, as in Nolan's films) on that fateful night.

I remember Untold Legend. And Frank Miller picked up on that tradition in both The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One.

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If The Mark of Zorro (1940) can be considered a superhero movie, what about The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)?

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If The Mark of Zorro (1940) can be considered a superhero movie, what about The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)?

The case is less strong there. Although the Scarlet Pimpernel has one key ingredient of superhero status, a secret identity, he lacks the mask-and-cape / costume approach to dual identity that is a key marker of the superhero mythos.

Also, his band of followers is more a mark of a renegade folk hero in the tradition of Robin Hood than a superhero like Batman or Zorro.

That said, the Scarlet Pimpernel is clearly a forerunner to Zorro and thus to the modern superhero. In particular Percy's affectation of foppish fatuity in his respectable real-name identity, and use of a colorful pseudonym in his hidden work, are direct precedents for the subterfuge of Don Diego, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne.

Edited by SDG

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P.S. For what it's worth, even Robin Hood, in common versions of the mythos, employed a dual identity very early in his career, maintaining a respectable legal status as a landed gentleman with a name like Robert Fitzooth or Robert of Locksley while working subversively under the name of Robin Hood. However, this is prologue to the more well-known stage of Robin's career as an outlaw living off the land in Sherwood Forest with his Merry Men.

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In honor of The Avengers opening this weekend, my Top 5 Superhero Movies (from this month's issue of CT).

 

And now, coinciding with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, my new Top 10 Superhero Movies, via Catholic Digest.

 

I also reflect a bit on why we love superhero movies. (Not surprisingly, I come up with some theological reasons.)

 

Tolkien contended that mythic images enchant reality, or rather, reveal its magic: “By the forging of Gram cold iron was revealed; by the making of Pegasus horses were ennobled; in the Trees of the Sun and the Moon, root and stock, flower and fruit are manifested in glory.” At their best, likewise, Superman and Wonder Woman reveal manhood and womanhood, elevated above mortal frailty.

 

Think of the traditional qualities of the resurrected body: impassibility, subtlety, agility, clarity. Aren’t these dimly reflected in various types of superpowers? Invulnerable, immortal heroes like Superman or Thor have a kind of “impassibility”; “ghost-type” heroes who walk through walls, like Vision and Shadowcat, suggest “subtlety”; radiant superhumans like Starfire or the Silver Surfer mirror “clarity”; heroes like Nightcrawler (who can teleport), Elastigirl, and Spider-Man in varying ways evoke “agility.”

Yet superheroes are not glorified saints. When our heroes do right, they speak to our ideals; when they fail, they remind us that even the best of us have feet of clay.

 

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I'm pleased to see that you give HULK a shout-out.

Edited by Ryan H.

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I'm pleased to see that you give HULK a shout-out.

I really, really wanted to find a place for Hulk on the Top 10 itself. Especially with three Batman movies staring me down (two Nolans and the animated Mask of the Phantasm). That kind of non-diversity goes against my whole philosophy of list-building.

 

But I'm already on record with The Dark Knight on my original top 5, so I wasn't going to bump that.

 

And Batman Begins is such a well-crafted origin story. Hulk, as much as I admire it, is a more flawed film.

 

Hulk could possibly have edged out Mask of the Phantasm ... but in the end my preferential option for family entertainment decided that one.

 

So there it is.

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