Comic Quick Hits

Brightest Day #7 (of 26)

This is the “spine” of the DC Universe for the next year, following characters resurrected at the end of Blackest Night. And this particular issue has been hyped as the “every thing is revealed” moment. Former spectral hero Deadman aka Boston Brand comes in direct contact with the mysterious White Lantern, and when he does all the resurrected heroes and villains hear a voice telling them why they were brought back. Of course this voice is vague as hell, but the most interesting for me was Maxwell Lord seeing that his destiny is kill a character whose book is coincidentally on the ropes for cancellation. As a stand alone story, it wasn’t too great, but for the overall narrative it does set an interesting direction for things.

Superman:  The Last Family of Krypton #1 (of 3)

DC returns to its Elseworlds imprint, a focus on “What If?”, parallel reality type stories. The conceit here is that the entire El family (Jor, Lara, and little Kal) escape Krypton and arrive on Earth in the 1970s. Jor immediately uses his alien technology to make life better for humanity, while Lara pushes the philosophic belief of Rao-ology. Lara is the focus here and becomes concerned about Kal’s isolation in the world, so she begins interviewing Earth family’s to find one he can live with in disguise to learn what it is to be human. Guess who she picks. There’s some sub plot threads involving Jor and his Jorcorp, a company developing household devices using Krypton tech, and the child prodigy Jor hires (said prodigy is a very familiar figure in the Superman mythos). What I really enjoyed was a big divergence from the standard Superman story that centers around Lara and has me looking forward to the rest of the series.

Shadowland #2 (of 5)

Marvel’s urban NYC event continues. Daredevil, still inexplicably wearing this new costume, is confronted by old friends Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, and Spider-Man. Meanwhile, The Kingpin and Lady Bullseye summon a very familiar Marvel comics character to help in their fight. I’m most intrigued about Moon Knight’s involvement in the story. He gets himself captured by Daredevil’s forces and locked up in the Hand’s prison. Moon Knight has always been a great premise to me, like a completely insane Batman with multiple personalities. The mini-series  is keeping me hooked, which is quite an accomplishment, as it features characters I have never clicked with. Definitely much better than Marvel’s last big event book, Siege. I think it works in part because its keeping the scale small and local.

Page to Screen: Batman – Under the Red Hood

In Page to Screen I look at comic books adapted to film.

Batman – Under the Red Hood (2010, dir. Brandon Vietti)
Adapted from Batman: A Death in the Family by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo, Batman: Under the Hood by Judd Winick and Doug Mahnke
Starring Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris, John Dimaggio

I’m never one to be against resurrecting comic book characters. It does happen way too often now for the impact of it to amount to much, but if done well it can make for some brilliantly interesting development for the characters affected by the return. In 1988, through a rather callous and cynical phone-in vote, the fans voted for the second Robin aka Jason Todd to be killed off in the current story arc of Batman. Todd was a polarizing character, who started out simply as a blank slate replacement for Dick Grayson. As time went on, Todd was revamped into a counter to Grayson, a rebellious teen who didn’t listen to the advice of Batman. It was a much more interesting take on the Robin character than Grayson had ever been, frankly. But the fans at the time seemed to balk at this brazen rebellion towards the Dark Knight and got young Jason beaten to death by The Joker. Fifteen years later, a new criminal figure appeared in Gotham, calling himself The Red Hood, a blatant reference to the costumed identity the man who would become The Joker wore on the night of his transformation. As Batman investigated further, he would learn The Red Hood was tied to what he saw as his greatest failure.

This latest from DC Comics high end animated film department takes the very end of the Death in the Family story and merges it with a “greatest hits” compilation from Winick’s run on Batman. I was surprised that some more esoteric elements were included, particularly, Batman and Nightwing’s battle with the super android Amazo. In the original comics, that story was tied to both The Red Hood and plot development for Infinite Crisis, the big event at the time. Winick, who handles scripting duties here as well, reworks the moment as a part of the more condensed plot of the film. He also takes his epically long struggle between Red Hood and Black Mask and turns into a much more satisfying and shorter story. Despite the film’s length of 75 minutes, it feels like we got at least a treatment for what could be a longer live action film story.

This is the first true solo Batman comic story since the animated series ended. In a lot of ways, it could be shoehorned into The Animated Series continuity; in TAS we eventually got Tim Drake as Robin and Grayson as Nightwing. It could be said this story takes place in between the Fox version of TAS and the WB follow up, a sort of untold tale of the lost Robin. The voice acting is very well done and Bruce Greenwood sounds so much like Kevin Conroy (Batman in TAS) I thought for a second it was him. Neil Patrick Harris does an excellent job providing comic relief in the first half as Nightwing, but it was disappointing that the character sort of vanishes from the story. John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama) tackles The Joker and reminded me how strange it is to not hear Mark Hamill’s voice coming out of the animated villain. He’s good, its just a different style and laugh than I suspect myself and my peers are used to. Jensen Ackles rounds out the cast as Red Hood and does a decent job.

What I saw here was how two stories that are important to the canon, but have always felt poorly executed, can be retold in a way that shows its all about the craftsmen behind the scenes. I’ve been surprised by Judd Winick twice in the last week, first by the latest Justice League: Generation Lost issue and now this. I suspect when he is made to really collaborate with others we see the weaknesses in his storytelling diminish. Instead of these stories coming off a cynical and mean, which they do on paper, a lot of redemptive qualities are brought to the front in the animated film. Where Batman and the other characters are left at the end of the story is a very interesting place and serves as a reminder as to what separates Batman from the gun-toting vigilantes that followed in his footsteps. It’s also nice to see a Batman affected by mistakes, something we rarely get in any medium he shows up in. To see Batman as a vulnerable and human figure, a father wracked with guilt, provides an incredibly deeper picture of the character.

Between the Panels: REBELS v2

REBELS v2 #1-18
Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Andy Clarke and Claude St. Aubin

DC Comics has been building a rich science fiction mythos since the 1950s with characters like Captain Comet and Adam Strange. In the 1960s, we were given the futuristic teen team the Legion of Super-Heroes. In the 1980s, elements from the present day DC Universe and alien races introduced in Legion stories came together in an event called Invasion! In this story we were introduced to Vril Dox and a group of aliens all imprisoned by beings bent on invading the Earth. By the end, Dox and company escaped and would go on to form LEGION (Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network). These galactic peace-keepers would eventually be usurped by Dox’s rapidly intelligent newborn, Lyrl and form the REBELS (Revolutionary Elite Brigade to Eradicate L.E.G.I.O.N. Supremacy). The entire series met with cancellation in the mid-90s, though the characters would continue to pop up from time to time. Recently, the concept was revived and it is hitting on all cylinders, making sure to avoid the mistakes of its predecessors.

The new series opens with Vril Dox being chased to Earth by his soldiers that used to work for him in LEGION. It’s quickly revealed that the majority of planets under LEGION’s protection have been taken over by the Star Conqueror, a parasitic species of starfish parasites that attach themselves to humanoid hosts and communicate collectively. Dox goes about recruiting aliens who have escaped the infestation, including his now adolescent son, Lyrl. The group works to defeat the Star Conqueror through schemes developed by Dox. Along the way he recruits Captain Comet, Adam Strange, Starfire, and many obscure alien species. The entire first year of the series is taken up by the battle with the Star Conqueror and, while that seems like a long time to stretch a story out it is very entertaining.

Vril Dox is one of those anti-heroic characters that is so much fun to read. He’s the son of Superman villain Brainiac, but instead of going for galaxy conquering through mechanical beasties like his pop, Dox has opted for using diplomacy and backroom deals to conquer. He does offer peace for the systems that get LEGION protection, but there always seems to be an interesting catch. More often than not, his schemes involve putting his closest comrades in the path of destruction without them being aware til the moment has passed. He also possess zero sentimentality, as exhibited in the way he doesn’t hesitate to turn on his equally nefarious son Lyrl.

Because the series is part of the shared DC Universe, its inevitable that big events will crossover. During Blackest Night, where black rings were resurrecting the dead, Dox encountered the deceased mother of his child, Stealth. The issue plays with some of the ideas Geoff Johns has developed with various colors of the Universal Spectrum, and Dox ends up in possession of a yellow Sinestro Corps ring for a short time. Another bit of fallout from the Green Lantern comics is that the Vega System, an area of space that was allowed to be autonomous for millenia is now opened up, and Dox quickly swoops in and gets involved in an arranged marriage with matriarch of Tamaran, Komand’r to bring the planet under the umbrella of LEGION. The most recent storyline finds Dox’s father, Brainiac being placed in a prison on their home planet Colu, but of course escaping and this time going after his offspring.

If you are looking for a fun space faring series that focuses on one of the smartest villains in DC this would be your thing. In addition to Dox, there was some interesting work done with Captain Comet recently. He was a superhero in the 1950s, who left earth in the early 60s, and returns to visit the graves of his family. There’s some interesting things being said about the cost of immortality when those around you aren’t, and it makes me hopeful to see the development of that character in the series as well.

Comic Quick Hits

Action Comics #891

Paul Cornell delivers yet another awesome issue of his run on Action. Instead of focusing on the adventures of Superman, Cornell has opted to make Lex Luthor the focus of the series. Its hard to pull off villain-centric books by Cornell plays into the whole super scientist aspect of the character. There’s even the incorporation of long time Captain Marvel villain Mr. Mind, which makes me instantly love the issue. When you can have a mind controlling Venusian caterpillar in your story you have won me over. This has quickly become one of my read as soon as a I can books.

The Flash #4

A decent fun issue that continues building towards something. I can’t help but feel Johns is stretching the story a lot here. What’s gone down in these first four issues could have been told in two. With hints towards the next storyline, “Flashpoint”, this can come off as feeling like killing time till then. Its well written though, and the future Rogues of the 25th Century are interesting, in that they model themselves after villains but are police in their era. We get some interesting info about a possible path for Flash’s wife, Iris, and I wonder if this is something Johns will carry through on. Francis Manapul’s art is amazing though, he’s one of the best artists I have ever seen on this character, really captures speed on the page.

Green Lantern #56

Green Lantern just can’t fail. With Geoff Johns’ development of the other colors in the universal spectrum it has really made the Green Lantern mythos absolutely riveting. This issue spotlights Larfleeze, the Orange Lantern, whose power comes from greed. There’s a brilliant bit where Larfleeze has learned of the Santa Claus myth and has plans to force the fat man to give him every thing he desires. It’s just one of those clever little bits that makes the comic so much fun. Long time GL baddie Hector Hammond also plays a major role and it has me anticipating next month and the continuation of this story. Also, Doug Mahnke’s art is spectacular.

Green Lantern Corps #50

There’s some interesting things going on in the GL Corps. This issue we learn that the Cyborg Superman is back from the dead and, because he is a machine, is invisible to death. He believes the answer lies with the robotic Alpha Lanterns who police the Corps. At the same time we get some info about the mysterious figure who is plotting behind the scenes. My guess is that is Appa Ali Apsa, one of the Guardians of the Universe who went crazy years ago. The mystery here, and also popping up in the solo Green Lantern book definitely has me hooked.

Justice League: Generation Lost #6 (of 26)

Just when I was beginning to tire of this series, Winick and Giffen deliver an awesome issue! The majority of this issue jumps back to #1 when Captain Atom left Earth’s atmosphere to release an atomic explosion he absorbed. The way his power work are he absorbs the explosion, gets displaced in time for a few hours, and then ends up back in the present. The place he ends up in reveals some things about the effects of Max Lord’s plan if he and the League fail to stop it. It’s also one of the first times I’ve clicked with Captain Atom character. Conceptually I’ve always liked him, but never seen an applied version that I enjoyed. After reading this, I’m really hoping Cap plays a bigger part in the story.

It Should Be A Movie – Girls

Girls (2005-2007)
24 issues, Written and Illustrated by Jonathan and Joshua Luna, Image Comics

In the 1970s there was a renaissance period for both horror and science fiction. Of course there was still schlock being made but there was also a lot of thought provoking speculative fiction presented to the movie going public. These films used the facade of the fantastic to talk about modern day issues and challenges. Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth looked at how fame corrupts once noble endeavors. Mad Max dealt with the fears of lawlessness. A Clockwork Orange chose to examine the ways in which society seeks to erase the individual by examining the most despicable element. A film adaptation of Girls would follow in the footsteps of these films as a picture looking at relevant social issues in a fresh inventive way and it would haunt the audience for a long time after.

In the fictional locale of Pennystown, USA the young Ethan Daniels is tossed out on ass after getting drunk and causing trouble at the local bar. Stumbling his way home, Daniels comes across a naked young woman who appears to not be able to speak. In his alcoholic haze he brings her to his house where he tries to get her to talk, instead she forces herself on him and they have sex. In the morning, Daniels gets the authorities but when they return to his home they find she has laid several eggs that hatch into full grown duplicates of herself. These strange women wander the town, killing any woman they come in contact and attempting to mate with any male. The townspeople attempt to leave Pennystown but find it surrounded by an opaque white  dome that has cut off their communication with the outside world. In addition there is what appears to be a giant sperm in a field outside town. Tensions build as the women begin to see the men as weak and pathetic, as many of them succumb to the strange women, only exacerbating the problem and creating more of the savage creatures.

In a country where we hear permissive sex being blamed for all society’s ills, the Luna Brothers examine that idea more closely by sequestering these townspeople and discovering how they behave when sex becomes weaponized. While the actual science fiction elements don’t have a tight wrap up (things are left fairly ambiguous) , the story is a springboard for fascinating character interaction. The townspeople are variety of races, ages, and sexualities. One character is revealed as being gay in a rather gruesome way. This is comparable to films like Lifeboat or Cube, where you have people thrown into a pressure cooker and we sit back and watch how all the tension and building violence plays out.

The look of the comic is so crisp, clean, and symmetrical I was reminded of the way Kubrick would frame a shot. That in mind someone like a Paul Thomas Anderson would be already adept to film this. Even more than that, I see Duncan Jones, who brought us the minimalist science fiction masterpiece Moon being tailor made for a project like Girls. With Moon he showed us that the climax we expect for a film is not necessarily the one that is appropriate for the story. Throw in Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Ethan Daniels and think you would have a very fascinating film on your hands. In many ways it would be the opposite of Pandorum, released in 2009, where a awesome sci-fi premise was abandoned in favor of thoughtless action. So while we wait for Hollywood to greenlight a Girls film, do yourself a favor and pick up the collected volumes.

Newbie Wednesday – Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 (2010, dir. Jon Favreau)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwenyth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Don Cheadle, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Slattery, Jon Favreau, Paul Bettany, Garry Shandling

In 2008, two major comic book based films were released: The Dark Knight and Iron Man. By the end of the summer I had seen The Dark Knight three times, Iron Man only once. Now, I admit a predisposition towards the DC Comics characters, but I have enjoyed many of the Marvel movies (X-Men 1 & 2, Spider-Man 1 & 2). The first Iron Man was an enjoyable film, I just never found it as amazing as it seems much of the movie-going populace did. Robert Downey Jr. is a great, witty actor but the character is where my problems lie, because Iron Man/Tony Stark just isn’t that interesting.

It’s been two years since Tony Stark went public with his superhero identity of Iron Man. The news made its way to Russia, where Ivan Vanko, son of a Soviet physicist betrayed by Stark’s father sees his pop’s designs being used in the Iron Man armor. Vanko spends awhile building his own cobbled together suit to attack Stark but is arrested. The second villain in the picture is Justin Hammer, a military industrial complex billionaire who is frustrated with being unable to copy Stark’s technology. These two forces will inevitably come together to create a force that will challenge Stark’s resources. And these are two of the myriad of half-hatched plots and sub-plots that turn the film into a complicated mess.

Iron Man 2 is definitely suffering from sequel-itis. The pressure to up the ante in comic book franchises is hard to fight and so many new elements are introduced to try to keep the series feeling fresh. The part that is missing though are motivations. Stark is given a very weak motivation do something in the film and it definitely comes across as a plot element thrown in about a dozen drafts into the screenplay. Hammer’s motivation is only a few shades different from Obadiah Stane’s in the first film and Vanko’s reasons for revenge are just as hackneyed. Every thing felt like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle you had pieced together so many times that it just wasn’t fun anymore.

What the picture did have was a lot of “sound and fury signifying nothing”. There were “hot babes” and “sweet rides” but for an hour and a half that’s pretty boring. There were a lot of attempts to hint at the Thor movie coming next summer (all the mentions of New Mexico from the SHIELD people) and of course more hinting at the inevitable Avengers film. But all the actual material dealing with Tony Stark fell flat. Vanko didn’t ever come across as a formidable enemy and Hammer was the sort of character you knew was doomed to fail from the moment he showed up on screen. Scarlett Johansson was stage prop, but her stunt double did an amazing job. Looking at it all together, its not much better than some of the mediocre Marvel movies (Daredevil, Fantastic Four), sadly not even the power of RDJ could save it.

Newbie Wednesday – Kick Ass

Kick Ass (2010, dir. Matthew Vaughn)
Starring Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong

There’s a sort of geek wish deep down in those that read comics that somehow, someway they could don a cape and cowl and fight the criminal element of this world. The superhero idea goes all to the mythological heroes and into figures like King Arthur and Robin Hood to the Three Musketeers and the pulp mystery men and finally into comics. So our protagonist proposes a very legitimate question early on “How come no one has ever tried to be superhero?” It’s obvious that there are plenty of crazy people in this world and it comes as no surprise that there actually *are* people who have tried this. You can check them out at the World Superhero Registry. So how does the hero of our film try to tackle the nuances of masked crime fighting?

Dave is a high school student who is invisible to the opposite sex, but very visible to the bullies and street thugs of his city. After being robbed one to many times, Dave purchases a few essential components and becomes the mystery man known as “Kick Ass”. Kick Ass is immediately sent to the emergency room after his first battle and has steel rods and plates put in him that ironically grant him a certain level of invulnerability. And this is where the film completely goes off the tracks of its premise “What if superheroes were real?” and decides to be no more different than any other comic book flick. The duo of Big Daddy and Hit Girl are introduced, a father-daughter team of armed to the teeth avengers as well as The Red Mist, the son of a local mafia don who suckers his pop into stocking him up. The film goes through a lot of tonal changes and shifts, finally settling into a fairly predictable final battle sequence.

The movie is only shades different than Superhero Movie, a descendant of the Scary Movie parody genre. Whereas that film knew it was a comedy and behaved thusly, Kick Ass seems to want to be aloof and post-modernly ironic, yet still be a “bad ass” super hero movie. I’m not willing to go as far as Roger Ebert in his review, calling the film “morally reprehensible”. After watching the 2006 remake of Hills Have Eyes I think it could serve as a contender for that. I didn’t have a problem with the concept of this young girl, trained to be a super soldier by her father, slaughter masses of mob men on screen.

My problem with the film came from a couple elements that diverged from the comics which actually lent it real world credence. If you know me well, you know that I am not one of those comic book geeks who natters on about minutiae that differs slightly from the source material. I’m a geek who can be reasonable about conceits that have to be made in the process of adaptation. However, the first divergence from the original mini-series that irked me was when Dave reveals he is not truly gay to his love interest, she has mistaken him as such for the majority of the film. In the film, she is unnaturally forgiving and its implied the two have sex, after which they are a couple. In the comic book, she is pissed and eventually has her new boyfriend beat Dave up. That would be the actual real world way the story would play out. So while the film wants to be a wry commentary on the implausibility of superheroes in the real world, through this change it actually invalidated its premise to me.

The second divergence colors the audience’s entire perceptions of a character in a disturbing manner. In the film, Big Daddy was a police officer whose career was ruined by the mob, sending him to prison, while his wife went broke and died on the table giving birth to Hit Girl. Once out of prison, Big Daddy began training Hit Girl. In the comics, Big Daddy raised Hit Girl with this story. In reality, he was a no body, an accountant who had a mid-life crisis and kidnapped his daughter to create this more exciting existence. Once again, the film compromises its original intent for the sake of “superhero-ing” it up. I found the film to be enjoyable, but nothing I would watch again. Because it is too scared to make its characters truly real and give then the downbeat ending that naturally would happen it ultimately fails and ends up being yet another generic comic book movie.

Spider-Man: The Reboot

It was recently announced that instead of Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire returning to the Spider-Man franchise for a fourth picture, Sony Pictures went with the idea of rebooting the series. This was seen as a possible response to Spider-Man 3‘s performance, though it made over $366k domestic. In reality, the decision was a business strategy. Raimi and Maguire could rightful claim a raise in salary based on the performance of the first three films, which would preclude that a fourth would net the studio another boatload of cash. Instead of having to raise salaries, Sony opted to go for a group of emerging actors and filmmakers to bank on, all of whom would naturally not have the big pay day Raimi and Maguire would deserve.

While it seems quite soon to implement a reboot of the franchise (the first film was released in 2002), this is where we are. Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) has been officially signed to helm the new picture which will find Peter Parker a teen again and suffering the persecution of school bullies presumably. It sounds like whomever is picked for the titular role will actually be close to the character’s age which will be interesting to see. Maguire was 27 when he was cast in the first film so he was quite a bit older than the adolescent Parker. The current rumors circulating point to Logan Lerman, star of the upcoming Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Lerman is 18 so he’ll be the age equivalent of Parker and he’s not new to acting so he has some definite talent. Lerman has had major roles in The Patriot, The Butterfly Effect, 3:10 to Yuma, Gamer, and the WB drama Jack & Bobby. The fanboy side of me when it came to film died years ago so I see this an opportunity to see a different interpretation of the character, and honestly Spider-Man 3 was dreadful so another Raimi outing was not something I was looking forward to. My only demand is that J.K. Simmons be retained as J.Jonah Jameson, it was the role the man was born for.
I’m very intrigued about who the villain for the reboot will be. I personally think Doctor Octopus and Sandman was realized perfectly in comparison to their comic book personae, and I have always felt that Green Goblin never lived up to his comic book potential. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Goblin again and it could always be a case of a Heath Ledger/Joker surprise, wherein a new actor shows up and really gives us a version of the character that nails it. If they are looking at villains not yet on screen Kraven the Hunter might be an interesting pick. Mysterio is unused but I have never gotten why that character wasn’t killed off years ago. I have a feeling the franchise will probably use The Lizard or Electro. Both are the result of scientific accidents so they can be neatly threaded in with Parker’s origins.
While I hope they skip over it, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing Parker get bitten by a radioactive spider and discovering his spider-like abilities. I do wonder if they will go organic webshooters or decide to emphasize Parker’s scientific prowess and have him build the wrist gauntlets. That said, I think a pretty tight plot would tie The Lizard aka Curt Conners origins to Parker’s. Both involve animal DNA melding with human and resulting in bizarre hybrids. Parker’s class could take a field trip to Conners’ lab or university lab and the accident could effect both men. Not sure what direction they will take the franchise in, but I am excited to see what new elements they bring to the character.

Hypothetical Film Festival #3 – No Capes Comic Book Films

The super hero movie is valuable stock in Hollywood these days. From Batman to Iron Man to Spider-Man and the X-Men, every superpowered being in print is fodder for the next big budget blockbuster. On the flipside, existing parallel to the Big Two (DC and Marvel), has been an independent and creator driven comics industry. Out of this alternative has come unique and quirky stories that use the sequential art medium to tell stories off the beaten path. Here’s a few that would make for a dynamic and engaging film festival.

From Hell (2001, dir. The Hughes Brothers)

While I am no big fan of this adaptation of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s graphic novel, it is still decent film even though it loses the essence of the original work. The story follows British Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp) who has been brought onto the Jack the Ripper case. He befriends East End prostitute Mary Kelly (Heather Graham), whose friends are being picked off one by one. The mystery unfolds as part of a dark Illuminati conspiracy and the Ripper’s motives are attached to satanic machinations. The Hughes Brothers, best known for their contributions to African-American cinema with Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, and the wonderful documentary American Pimp, devise a few clever visual tricks but nothing that can raise the film too far beyond a mediocre level. The best part of the film are those metaphysical and occult concepts of Moore’s that made their way from the page to the screen.

American Splendor (2003, dir. Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini)

From my earlier review: “American Splendor is one of the most unusual comic book adaptations of the 2000s. While this is an origin story, there are no capes or tights. Instead its vintage records and perpetual scowls. Cleveland native, Harvey Pekar began chronicling his life in underground comic books in the 1970s after befriending cult comix artist Robert Crumb. The film works as a docudrama, that features the real Pekar commenting on his life mixed with Giamatti acting out the anecdotes. Even the illustrations from the comic books are animated and spliced amongst the live action sequences. The entire form and style of this film is unlike any other I have seen and have not seen it attempted since. Giamatti does an excellent job mimicking Pekar, but if you have seen the film you can agree nothing surpasses the natural curmudgeon of the original.”

Ghost World (2001, dir. Terry Zwigoff)

Based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, Ghost World follows the post-high school graduation summer of surly teen, Enid (Thora Birch) and her best friend, Rebecca. The two girls move from episodic moment to episodic moment, slowly growing apart. Enid is the voice for many of the mid- to late 90s proto-hipsters. She has a love of old blues vinyl and kitschy ironic pop culture, and it comes across in a less forced away than many contemporary hipsters do. The summer is a growing time for Enid as her poor temper is forced to dissipate as the responsibilities of adulthood set it. A very sharp, clever film that appeals to the introverted English major type (as I can speak from experience).

A History of Violence (2005, dir. David Cronenberg)

Based on the overlooked graphic novel by crime writer John Wagner, Cronenberg reinterpreted it and took the main character, Tom McKenna (Viggo Mortensen) in a different direction. The inciting incident, a pair of murderous thieves hold up Tom’s small town diner, is the same but the choices the character makes and how figures from his past choose to interact with him is where the changes occur. This is a wonderful film that displays Cronenberg’s gifts as a filmmaker. He is totally comfortable in quiet moments and knows how to jolt the audience without playing to cheap shocks. This is also a film that gives an ending that doesn’t need a twist to create a powerful impact.

Persepolis (2008, dir. Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud)

Unlike the other films of this list, the author of the graphic novel had a direct hand in the adaptation and direction of their work. Persepolis chronicles Marjane Satrapi’s adolescence in Ayatollah-ruled Iran and her eventual relocation to Europe when her parents become afraid of the oppression in their country. Both the film and graphic novel give a wonderful history lesson on Iran and showcase how great America’s ignorance is about Iran’s relations with Iran and the rest of the Arab world. On a microcosmic level, it is also the story of a young girl who tests the borders of rebellion and transitions through the awkward moments of childhood into a confident and brilliant young woman.