ThePageBoy

Writing, Reviewing and Criticism In The Internet Age

Tag: Comics

How did it take me so long to get to this, or, Leave Alan Moore Alone!

Right,

I said didn’t I? I asked nicely didn’t I? Please, stop trying to adapt Alan Moore books into films – stop it I asked. Just stop it. But did anyone listen? Clearly not. I’m not angry with you, film industry, I’m just disappointed. Now I know what you’re thinking – is this going to be a blog where you get all angry about the film version of a comic book? Yes. Yes it is, and with very good reason because the adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is one of the most singularly terrible butchering’s of a great source material I have EVER seen.

‘But it’s a fun movie! It’s like a steampunk version of the Avengers movie!!’

NO. NO IT ISN’T.

So once again, I’m back in the world of comics and graphic novels but before you start rolling your eyes, let me re-cap a little bit of comic history and re-introduce you to Mr Alan Moore. Alan Moore is a British comic writer who has done more than anyone alive to make comics a viable literary form. His scripts for his comics are insanely detailed and the finished products are widely accepted as the best graphic novels ever written.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came out at the beginning of the millennium, and was another success for the prolific Moore. In the comic, Moore skilfully synthesises two divergent styles from two different traditions; one, the superhero team and two, the Victorian adventure novel. He brings together the greatest heroes of Victorian literature and puts them into a team together to save the world. What makes ‘The League’ such a brilliant novel is that Moore has a deep knowledge and appreciation of the literary canon he is looking to join, his characters are not just stereotypes – he knows who these people are and his often bold re-imaginings of the characters never seem to be out-of-place and he doesn’t shy away from subverting readers expectations. For example, one of the main characters in ‘The League’ is the great Alan Quatermaine, taken from the 1885 novel King Solomons Mine by H Rider Haggard. Whilst Quatermaine was originally the archetype of the swashbuckling hero, Moore transposes him forward 15 years and makes him an opium addicted old man who wants to keep himself alive. The leadership of his superhero team doesn’t go to the ass-kicking man but instead Moore makes a bold choice. The leader of The League of Extraordinary Gentleman is not a Gentleman, but rather Mina Harker from the 1897 novel, Dracula.

So, what is her special ability that puts her in charge of this team of great men? Nothing at all – except she survived being attacked by Dracula himself and as such Moore recognises that she has to possess a depth of character and toughness that would make her a natural leader. The rest of the team is equally unexpected; Dr Jekyll is a coward, who transforms into a raving monster, and Captain Nemo is a lonely desperate man who serves an Empire he hates. Oh, and the boss? Campion Bond, which is another great way of placing this team of individuals in the literary genealogy of Britain.

As usual with Moore’s work is a bold and inventive comic, crammed with allusions, references and intertexuality. If you haven’t read it, you are in for a huge treat – stunning writing and some of Kevin O’Neil’s finest art ever.

And then they went and spoiled it all by doing something stupid like giving Stephen Norrington $78 million dollars.

The film was intended to serve as the beginning of a franchise, as Moore had written more than one volume but it never happened because the film is nothing less than a disaster. Firstly, the plot – as per usual I will try to avoid spoilers but in order to explain just why this film sucks so much a few small spoilers may spill out. In 1899 a shadowy man known as the Fantom is on the brink of pushing the world into a war and so the greatest heroes of the age are recruited by the mysterious ‘M’ to help save the empire. And it’s here that things start to go wrong. Don’t get me wrong, the heroes are the same; Quatermain, Mina Harker, the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo as well as Dorian Grey. Oh, and one more character who I’ll get to in a second.

The major problem is the casting – Sean Connery plays Alan Quatermaine and he refused to play Quartermaine as the stung-out,w ashed up hero so Quatermaine becomes the leader of the League and the main focus of the action. Yes, that’s right – Sean Connery is an action hero, whilst being in his seventies. The rest of the characters do the best they can but the script hampers them horribly.

Mina Harker is transformed from the brave and cool-headed leader into a sexy vampire woman who needs to be rescued! Stuart Townshend is woefully underused as Dorian Grey, asked only to smirk and crack lame one-liners! Richard Roxburgh smarms his way through the scenery as a villain!  Jason Flemying is lost under horrible looking CGI! An American Tom Sawyer is put into the film for precisely NO REASON!

Oh Tom Sawyer…played by Shane West he is there simply to be an American, in a blatant attempt to ‘widen the films appeal’ (hateful phrase) to the US Audience. Sawyer has no skills, can’t shoot and is horrible annoying to watch – so irritating that West actually demeans Twain’s original character.

Everything about this film is a mess – the action scenes look awful, the plot is patchy and often inconsistent and complex characters are reduced to stale types with awful dialogue. If you want a perfect example of what’s wrong with the film, look at the sequence in Venice. The setup is great – bombs are blowing up the city sending back in the ocean and the heroes yell at each other until they decide that the best way to stop things blowing up is with some explosions of their own. YAY! ACTION MOVIE LOGIC!

All of it, is stupid, lacks effort and has awful execution – it’s no surprise that Sean Connery decided that he’s much rather spend his time counting his money in the sun than trying to act. Summing up, this film is one that I hate because it just shows complete contempt for the source material, taking the path of least resistance with every single choice. Seen the movie? Go read the book and see how it should have turned out. I can’t believe this made $179 million dollars.

But that’s just what I think…

Thanks

ThePageBoy

 

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Marvel Month III: ‘Spider-man, Spider-man’, or, Why puberty sucked for Peter Parker

Right,

A while back I had an idea for a hero. A hero for our time. A hero for the little guy. A hero that me, as someone trapped in the gulag of teenage angst would be able to relate to. This hero was going to change comics for ever, and, make me very rich indeed. Ready? Here it is. THE MAN-SPIDER! A spider, bitten by a radioactive man develops the proportional speed, strength and agility of a man, and hiding a tortured past dons a secret identity to battle crime and injustice. His nemesis? A giant bath-tub and of course, the deadly glass trap!

Thankfully though, Stan Lee has been alive for a lot longer than me and before I could unleash this horror upon the world, he decided to put out Spider-Man in August of 1962. Following on from my column on Thor, (please see last weeks if you haven’t read it, you’ll entertain yourself and increase my views. We both win!) I decided that I needed to review something a little more grounded, something that everyone had heard of – something core to the Marvel brand, and they really don’t come anymore core than Peter Parker – Spider-man.

Do I really need to explain what Spider-man is about? I mean, really? Then OK, for the few readers who have recently emerged from vegetative states lasting the last 50 years; firstly, congratulations and secondly pay attention. Peter Parker is your average down on his luck, angst-ridden teenager; through a freak accident he is granted his powers and tragedy strikes to make him come to terms with the responsibilities and costs of power.

Now, as I said last week with Thor, (seriously, go read it…) the problem I had was trying to find the defining run on the comic; THE story that defines the character like nothing else. This is a little difficult when the character is nearly 50 years old. When it comes to Spider-Man, the problem is a little more pronounced. Here’s why, Peter Parker is, in comic terms, a huge deal. Seriously. Here’s a little list of just how many Spider-Man titles that have, at one point or another, been monthly ongoing since the early 1960’s…

– The Amazing Spider-Man

–  Marvel Team Up

– Web of Spider-Man

– The Spectacular Spider-Man

– Spider-Man

– Sensational Spider-Man

– Untold Tales of Spider-Man

– Spider-Man Unlimited

– Spider-Man 2099

– Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man

– Spider-Man’s Tangled Web

– Amazing Spider-Man Family

– Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man

And that isn’t even all of them. At one point Spider-Man had five monthly ongoing titles. That is, to use a touch of understatement, a hell of a lot of comics. So, in order not to get swallowed by a tsunami of titles, continuities and general geekiness that I just couldn’t cope with I decided upon focusing on a rarity in comics – the complete storyline, Ultimate Spider-Man – by Brian Michael Bendis. Now, if this isn’t the run you think I should  have chosen – please, let me assure you that this wasn’t a choice I took lightly, plus doing a little research I found that Ultimate Spider-man was a big influence on the look and style of the first of the Spider-Man movies.

From the horror of Spider-Man 3, (and don’t worry – I’m getting to it)  some of you may have forgotten just how good the first film was. Even when considered in strictly financial terms this was a blockbuster in the truest sense of the word, being 2002’s highest grossing movie and even today it is the 30th highest grossing movie of all time. EVER! In terms of plot, this is the Spider-Man story that everyone knows. Peter Parker, the nerd we can all relate to gets bitten by a radioactive Spider and fights evil and get the girl, kind of.

Whilst the film is really very good there are a few things that really start to stand out now I have re-watched it. the design of The Green Goblin is dreadful. The dialogue is clunky and as cheesy as a teenager’s socks in places and the CGI often leaves a lot to be desired; though at the time it was quite impressive. What made it such a success is, in my opinion, the performances. Especially the two male leads, Toby Maguire as Spider-Man and James Franco as his best friend Harry Osbourne. These two carry the film – Maguire especially as the teenager forced to deal with something vastly beyond what he’s used to. I’m not wild about the other cast members, though that being said Willem Defoe hams it up as the bad guy and Mary Jane and Parker’s aunt and uncle aren’t really as fleshed out as they should be. Regardless, it was a huge success so as night follows day, the franchise was soon upon us.

Spider-Man 2 was in the world two years later, and let’s be honest, the warning signs were already there. Yes, Maguire and Franco are as good as ever, and it was fun to see them show the struggles Peter Parker has trying to balance his normal life and his life as Spider-Man. Even the CGI had taken leaps and bounds forward. And yet…The whole film suffered from some major problems of tone – whilst Spider-Man as a character has always been slightly more light-hearted than others this film failed to pull it off. Poor Alfred Molina as Doc Ock suffers here, as he looses his wife in one scene then starts building a GIANT DEATH MACHINE in the next. The film feels crowded and emotionally cramped as they desperately try to squeeze enough cameo’s and pointless ‘zany’ scenes in to keep cinema go-ers and fanboys alike happy. But it made even more money than the first and then…along it came; Spider-Man 3.

Spider-Man 3…Now, to be honest I was really excited about the idea of the third film. The trailer looked amazing and I was really excited to see Venom on the big screen. And it all went so, SO wrong. If the second film was crowded then the third is standing room only. The goofy fun moments started to stack up and the whole thing felt almost schizophrenic. Yes, that’s right – I’m talking about “EVIL PETER!” There have been plenty of criticisms of this whole thing which have been made already, but I will just say this. Milk, cookies and jazz dancing in the club is not a subtle or dramatically consistent way to articulate the tortures of the hero. NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT!

So, how does this compare to the comics? Well, actually, the place I think it all went wrong is when the films stopped being influenced by the comic books. The first film, for its slightly corny moments is a really solid hero movie. It’s fun when it needs to be, but it also takes the time to keep a tone that is…well, good. As a medium, the novel is a slightly slower paced one than the film and I think this holds true even for comics. The comics are action packed and do keep things consistent by not over doing it. Whilst it’s true that even now some of Bendis’s dialogue isn’t quite as hip or zany as it might have been when it first came out the writing is generally of a very high standard, and the influences to the first film can clearly be seen. Regardless of the criticism I said previously I really do like this run and I struggle to come up with any real substantive problems with it. The art is bright, dynamic and very clean and the stories the creative team come up with made me remember why Spider-Man can be so much fun to read. What I really enjoy about the comics is that it manages to balance the tone between fun, light-hearted banter and some kick ass action scenes. I think that maybe one of the most enjoyable scenes in the run is Spider-Man’s first battle with the Kingpin, who beats Spider-Man, tears off his mask and throws him out of window. Spider-Man’s comeback? A stream of fat jokes. It’s funny, it’s active and it just works.

Maybe I’m being harsh or unfair but I think that if this run had carried on influencing the screen writers then maybe the second and third films would have been better. Maybe the power and success of the franchise went to Sam Rami’s head and he wanted to see how much he could get away with. But again, the question has to be, as a franchise just how good an adaptation are these movies. The more I’ve thought about the more difficult I’ve found it to honestly answer, so there comes the best thought I could really muster…Ready…?

The three films, considered as a whole seem to come off as the product of someone who read the comics, but didn’t really pay that much attention to things like structure, or tone. Or emotional consistency. Or how to write dialogue. Or how to design a villain costume. Whilst I think, solely as films, these films are good fun entertainment, as an adaptation I really don’t feel like they do Peter Parker justice. Well, they almost do, they come so close to pulling off the tricky combination of Spider-Man as the everyman and the avenging superhero. I like the films, I do, but I don’t love them as the closer something gets towards being really good, the more disappointing it is when it falls short.

Look, maybe if I read a different run, (and believe me, I will be) I would have come to a different conclusion. Reading Ultimate Spider-Man has made me want to check out the classic runs from Stan Lee and Jeff Loeb and Gerry Conway and Dan Slott. Maybe these films have taken elements of other parts of the Spider-Man canon and maybe, if I read some more comics I’ll get the films.

This trilogy could have been great. It’s good but massively flawed and as an adaptation it takes some elements of this great run but somehow doesn’t quite come off. So, an ambiguous ending to this week’s column and I know it sounds like I haven’t quite managed to get to grips with the entire thing. But honestly, when I had this much source material to deal with, I’m just impressed I managed to get this column out within three years!

It’s never easy when dealing with a character as big and as omnipresent in comics as Peter Parker and if you think that I’ve missed something important, then please let me know and enlighten me as to what you think.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

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Marvel Month I: An Apology, or, ‘I’m not really a big enough geek for this.’

Right,

First off, let me expunge the first reaction you may be having. This isn’t an apology for me beng too busy to update regularly because I’m out doing things that the internet doesn’t approve of; like having friends who aren’t pixels and talking to girls, (joking! A bit…) This post wasn’t even supposed to be an apology – it was intended to be a huge announcement of the first ever theme month.

This was where I was going to be proud to announce the commencement of…MARVEL MONTH! That’s right, a whole month of me assessing the Marvel movies and the source material they came from. A month of superheroics, kick-ass action, bad guys and saving the world. A whole month of geek awesomeness.

And that’s where I hit just a couple of really small snags. The first one came when I was looking for which comic should be the first one to be reviewed. It should have been obvious, it really should have been but all I can say is that I was so grateful for getting past The Da Vinci Code I just wasn’t thinking straight. Then it hit me. The first comic I wanted to read has been going since 1963. That is a really long time. Really – a loooooooooooooong time. So, there’s 49 years of comics to read. I can’t do that, nobody can. Not in a week, where I also need to watch the movie!

Then, I hit upon the obvious and simple solution. I don’t need to read it all, because the people who wrote the movie probably didn’t, and if its been going since 1963 the law of averages says that a big chunck of these comics aren’t going to be worth reading. sorry to be harsh, but that just seems to be the way things are.  If you don’t believe me just try to read some of the Batman that was churned out in the 1960’s and try and tell me seriously that it  meets any definition of the word good.

So, this is where I hit my second snag, and to be honest, this one I don’t see a way through, so here’s why I need to apologise. Again. Here we go…

I am not an expert on comics. I read them for a bit but didn’t have the money or the dedication to keep up the habit. But some people do. Some people must have read every comic, are familiar with the mythology of the comics, the lore, the references, the jokes even. Sorry, but that isn’t me.

Here’s what I can do though, and maybe what I should be doing. I’m going to spend the time looking into each character and find the run that helps shape and define the character and then treat that as the source material. If it isn’t the run you would have chosen or the writer you love then, sorry… But surely the success or failure of the film shouldn’t hinge on me having read Journey into Mystery #92. Maybe I’ll get round to it, but in the meantime this is the best way I’ve found.

The more eagle-eyed and comic loving may have picked up on the one or two clues in this article, the first film in ThePageBoy’s is Thor directed by Kenneth Branagh, after a little research I decided on the jaw dropping run by Walt Simonsen Vol1 #337-382.

Right, I’m off. Got comics to read.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

Oh, don’t worry; there will be more jokes in the next column. Promise.