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Saturday, September 21, 2013

EDITORIAL: Top 5 Greatest Comic Book Adaptions in Film

Hello viewers of Superhero Movie News! I've been thinking long and hard about what I wanted to do for my latest Editorial as I do, roughly, one a week, and after some back and forth, via Direct Message on Twitter, with @KnightGambit (shout-out!), I figured it out. This week we're going to discuss (in my opinion) the Top 5 Greatest Comic Book Adaptions!

Now, let me explain this before I dig deep into my topics. The way I'm going about this article is that I can say a specific character counts as a comic adaption, a specific story-line counts, or even a specific film or possibly a fight scene. That is what counts here. The only thing I am not counting are animated features and that’s just because three Batman animated films would be the top three on this list and as much as I love that that is so, that’s not quite fair. So on that note, let's get started!


5: Wolverine

Let me start off with my Number 5, that being, Wolverine! Wolverine has been on the big screen, played by the amazing Hugh Jackman, for 13 years, ever since 2000's X-Men.

Now just to be clear, I’m not talking about a specific film here, I’m talking about the character of James aka Logan aka Weapon X aka Wolverine.

I think the reason Logan is my Number 5 is pretty simple and that is because of how the character has not only been written, but how the character has been played. Sure, Wolverine’s origins and even his story have been changed for the X-Film franchise, but the personality, and brutality in some instances, of Wolverine has not changed.

For example, when we first see Wolverine in X-Men he’s fighting for money in a cage. Okay, that’s totally Wolverine! Or how about in the first and second X-Films how he’s searching for who he is because of his loss of memory? That’s also right out of the comics. Even in X-Men: The Last Stand when he decides to take leadership in the X-Men to face Magneto’s new Brotherhood and the Phoenix, that is also something that Wolverine would do in the absence of Scott Summers (who was handled poorly in this franchise overall…) or Charles Xavier. Not to mention in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which I, overall, actually enjoy), Wolverine’s origin, for all its flaws in that movie, is pretty much spot-on, in terms of the Weapon X program at least. I mean, watching Logan rise up out of that water and go insane was crazy awesome!

Plus, let’s not forget Wolverine’s brief cameo in X-Men: First Class where he brushes Professor X and Magneto aside so he can have another beer. Classic!

And then there’s this summer’s The Wolverine… I have to admit, aside from First Class and maybe X2, this one is probably my next favorite. The Wolverine is loosely based on Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s 4-issue Wolverine limited series that redefined the character as even more of a bad-ass than he was previously (and remember, he took on the Hulk in his first appearance!). Aside from the changes made from that mini-series in the film (changes which I honestly liked better, yes, even the giant robot), The Wolverine sticks pretty close to the basic story, and I love it for that!

Wolverine is a character that you really can’t, for the most part, screw up. Even those who don’t like X-Men: The Last Stand (which is everyone) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which is most) has to admit that Wolverine is still the most solid character in that film and that Hugh Jackman still played the character perfectly. Quite honestly, I don’t want anyone else to play Wolverine as long as I’m still alive! On that note, I have a feeling that X-Men: Days of Future Past will be the last X-Flick for a while and that if I had seen it already, that it would have made my list here.

4. Spider-Man No More!

For those who don’t remember, “Spider-Man No More!” was a once-issue arc that took place in Amazing Spider-Man #50 back in 1967. The issue, along with the plot for Superman II, served as inspiration for Spider-Man 2. I’ll say it right now, just as fact not as much opinion, Spider-Man 2 is one of the greatest comic book films of all time. It just is. It’s even better if you can get the 2.1 version (with 8 extra minutes!). Spider-Man 2 is the example to all comic book/superhero films of how to make a sequel that rivals the original. “So why didn't you just put Spider-Man 2 up there as one of the greatest comic book adaptions instead of just this arc?” you ask… Well, maybe I should have, but I honestly wanted to focus on just this specific arc for a reason.

In the comics, Peter decides he doesn't want to be Spider-Man anymore because he fails to be there for his Aunt May when she suddenly falls ill. However, in the film Peter’s life begins to fall apart which causes him to begin to lose his powers when he needs them most. Peter then decides one night to quit being Spider-Man so that he can put his life back together. His relationship with Mary Jane, his grades in Doctor Connors’ class, his friendships, and his being there for Aunt May all strengthen after he quits being Spider-Man. But one day, Peter sees a guy being mugged, and there’s nothing he can do about it. After that, Peter Parker (not as Spider-Man) rescues some kids from a fire without the aid of his powers; shortly after, Mary Jane was kidnapped by Doctor Octopus and Peter realizes (along with the rest of NYC) what Spider-Man really means to people.

Obviously since Spider-Man 2 is a film and not a comic book, the writers were able to explore more in Peter’s life in terms of what he would do after quitting being Spider-Man. In the comic, he’s able to bring his grades back up, he hangs out with friends and family more often, he quits his job at the Daily Bugle, and he almost accepts a job offer that Norman Osborn extended to him issues ago. But he decides to return to being Spider-Man after helping someone in need. Spider-Man 2 was able to show why Peter needed to return to being a hero more-so than the actual comic did in my opinion and it gives a new updated and fresh take on what Spider-Man not only means to people in general (i.e. the little boy that helps Aunt May move), but also to Peter Parker himself.

The main reason I did not put Spider-Man 2 in general up here, and I could have easily done that (especially with Harry becoming the next Goblin at the end), but I wanted to do this specific story arc because I think that Spider-Man 2 actually did a better job than Stan Lee and John Romatta Sr., and I do not say that often! The film really digs deeper into why Peter feels he has to quite, making the reason more than just one act of not being there for May, and it also gives us a psychological perspective on Peter’s powers. They decides to fail him when he feels like he should be Spider-Man no more, where in the comics they actually stay with him the entire time.

Overall, I just think the film did it better. Plus, you've gotta love the panel-by-panel shot of Peter throwing the Spidey suit into the trash (as seen above), that is right out of the comics!

3. Batman Begins

Say what you want about The Dark Knight Trilogy, but there is no denying that Batman Begins is the most comics-accurate of the three films. What Christopher Nolan did with Batman changed the character forever. Whenever people think of Batman now, they think of The Dark Knight. In my opinion, that’s a bad thing. I love Nolan’s Batman series, I really do, but the Batman we see in those films is NOT the Batman of the comics that we all knew from our childhood (and of course now as well).

However, I cannot even for a second deny that Nolan, well, really David S. Goyer as he wrote it, emulated and adapted some of the best arcs from Batman comics into his Batman universe. Whether it’s Year One, Knightfall, No Man’s Land, The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, etc. You name it, it’s probably in The Dark Knight Trilogy somewhere. But I’m not putting The Dark Knight Trilogy as a whole here as my #3 pick, I’m only putting up Batman Begins.
Let me explain.

Batman was most accurately portrayed, in Nolan’s films, in Batman Begins. In this film Christian Bale WAS Batman. He was smart, he was fast, he was stealthy, he was even a detective, he was a superhero, but he was not invincible. I’m not saying that Nolan made Batman invincible, he’s not (i.e. The Dark Knight Rises), but in this film it makes sense for him not to be. Batman Begins is almost a straight-up adaption of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Now, I know Batman: Year One got an animated film that actually was a panel-by-panel adaption, but in terms of live action Begins is the best we’re going to ever get. The reason I have this film on my list of “Top 5 Greatest Comic Book Adaptions” is simple, because it took what was established in the comics and made it better.

An adaption of something is not a straight-up frame-by-frame match with the source material; it adapts the source material to make it better (or sometimes worse). Batman Begins too what Year One (and now, currently Zero Year) established as Batman’s beginning and formed something new out of it while still keeping key elements of the story in-tact. These elements include Gordon not yet being Commissioner, the bats masking Batman’s escape, Batman being chased by cops, Batman saving a little boy, obviously Bruce’s parents still being murdered, Batman going after organized crime (something that didn't happen before Year One), Bruce Wayne returning from years of training, and an end scene on top of CGPD headquarters with Gordon foreshadowing the Joker. Were Ra’s al Ghul or Scarecrow in Year One? No, they were not, but now that we've seen them in Batman Begins (again, an adaption of Year One) could we now see them in Year One if Frank Miller had re-written it now? Yes, absolutely.

Quite honestly, I think I would prefer Batman Begins to Batman: Year One (Gasp!!!) if not only because I think it focused more on Bruce and his being Batman for a first year, where Year One is really (and let’s be honest here) more focused on Jim Gordon. Which, let me clarify, is not a bad thing and I love Year One for that, but if Batman is in the title, then Batman should be the main focus. Batman Begins does a fantastic job of adapting to Batman: Year One by honoring the source material, but changing it enough to keep it interesting, entertaining, and a fresh take on the Dark Knight legend.

2. Marvel Cinematic Universe – Phase One

I was honestly really struggling to decide if I wanted to just choose one film, character, or arc from the MCU, but I could not for the life of me decide on which one to choose. So, I decided to choose all of Phase One!

Phase One is interesting because it was something that had never been done before. Never have films so different from another and heroes so different from one another come together to not only form a team, but to share a timeline, a continuity, that gets people excited.

Let’s start with the film that started it all: Iron Man. Iron Man is an interesting film because it took a character that was not all that well known and made him an icon that most of the world now recognizes. I think this film is probably one two best films in Phase One, the other being The Incredible Hulk, because it showed the world who Tony Stark is and what Iron Man can do, not just as a hero, but as a franchise. The film adapted one of my all-time favorite Iron Man stories into a universe that I could actually believe is happening now. The Mandarin has always been my favorite Iron Man villain, but the Iron Monger aka Obadiah Stane is a close second. The Invincible Iron Man #200 is one of my favorite Marvel comic books in general, and for sure my favorite issue of Iron Man. So when I saw it adapted on the big screen, I was floored with excitement.

Now I have to be clear about something here, outside of the Iron Man animated series from the 90’s and from few issues of Iron Man, The Avenges, and some other books (Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, etc.), I did not know all that much about Iron Man until this film, and I did not really care much about Tony Stark until this film. I’m one of those people who knew Iron Man before-hand and thought he was cool, but didn't really dig into him until his movie. In all honesty, I was the same way with Daredevil and Blade as well. But back to Iron Man, I love everything about the film. The origin (which I knew from the “Extremis” arc) was adapted perfectly and in a way that made me even prouder to be an Iron Man fan. I thought the film was adapted very well from two of the best story arcs in comics.

The Incredible Hulk, which came out the same year, is a very different animal because it isn't necessarily based off of any Hulk arc in particular. It includes elements from the Ultimate universe’s Hulk’s origin as well as the old Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno television series, but it’s not based off of any specific arc, but the Hulk comics in general. Originally, the film was supposed to also include Rick Jones (a character that I love and was mad that got deleted), but Edward Norton (who starred as Bruce Banner) rewrote the script to disclude him from the film, and in turn the entire MCU (but he still made it into the video game!!!). I love this film because I think it really gets the psychology and motives of Bruce Banner in a way that film has never really got before (I’m looking at you Mark Ruffalo!). Hulk (Ang Lee’s film) almost got there, but didn't dig deep enough. I, being a HUGE Hulk fan myself (believe it or not), thought that Bruce’s desperate search for a cure while trying to contain his love for Betty Ross was perfect for this film and reminded me why I love Hulk comics so much. I mean, my first comic was an Incredible Hulk comic!

On that note, the way they portrayed General Ross was perfect in The Incredible Hulk, a character literally ripped from the comics and pasted in the film, and I thought they did a great job with Betty as well. Samuel Sterns and Emil Blonsky were adapted from their comic book counterparts, but I think they worked well for the story that was being told. That being said, I liked the origins of Abomination and the Leader much better here, and it leaves me hoping and praying for a sequel in the near future.

I’m going to skip around a bit more because Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk are my favorites and the two that, in my opinion, adapted from the comics the best. However, let me mention the rest of Phase One as well. “The Demon in a Bottle” story that they threw in Iron Man 2, in my opinion, actually worked. I actually really enjoy Iron Man 2, much more than Iron Man 3, but I feel like they didn't really try and base the film off of any specific arc. That being said, I loved how War Machine was adapted into the film, and the presence of S.H.I.E.L.D. was definitely felt.

Thor is also an interesting one because it is also not really based off of any particular story arc, but I feel that they adapted the comics much better than they did for a lot of other heroes. Let me explain, Thor comics to me have always been hard to read and to understand. I never much cared for Thor in the comics because, much like Wonder Woman, his story is never really relevant to the Marvel Universe unless he’s a part of a team on Earth. Too many times in comics we see Thor and Wonder Woman not interacting with the people they swore to protect, unless they’re a part of the Avengers or Justice League and working with them at the time. Otherwise, they’re fighting Greek or Norse gods in another dimension. Here in Thor, we actually have Thor interacting with humanity and protecting it from the evils of his world. We get major set-up for The Avengers and Thor is now a character we feel for and can relate to. If a film like Thor can change my entire perspective on a superhero that I didn't even care about in the comics and adapt him into someone I do care about, then to me it belongs on this list (Man of Steel!!!).

Captain America: The First Avenger is a fantastic film. I’ll say that right off the bat. It’s great! It’s a very good period piece, World War II story, and superhero epic that feels like it was ripped from a comic book. Based mostly on the Ultimate version of Captain America and some comics from the 1940’s, The First Avenger really shows us what it means to be a hero. Captain America had always been a hero that I enjoyed as a kid, but I never really understood him growing up. I never got why he was who he was. I think this film does a great job at not only updating his origin, but also updating Captain America by making him an even more stand-up guy that we thought he was. Again, it made me feel like a kid reading a Captain America comic: that gets my vote!

Finally, let me talk briefly about Marvel’s The Avengers. The Avengers is a film that we’ve been waiting for since Iron Man, but it’s also a film we thought we’d never see. I love this movie, I have problems with it, but regardless of those issues I cannot deny that it is one of the best comic book adaptions out there. Adapting The Ultimates, Avengers #1, and other classic Avengers stories, this film brings together Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to fight the foes that no single superhero could withstand (even though Thor DID withstand Loki…). This film was filled with comic book adaptions. From the Avengers fighting the Hulk to the alien invasion, even the team fighting Loki in Germany felt like it was from a comic book. These heroes are characters that I was honestly not sure would work in live action. I thought Hulk and Iron Man would be fine, but I thought Thor and Cap would be too corny, and Black Widow and Hawkeye would be lame (well, that one’s true), but low-and-behold, the film was a success! I feel like this film adapted what the Ultimates did very well and made it not only safe for kids to watch, but also entertaining for everybody, and if that means adapting some bad stuff out, then I’m okay with that. I also liked that they made Bruce Banner more of a hero than a villain like they did in the Ultimates and even Avengers #1 because the Hulk is more misunderstood than any other hero out there. He deserved some praise.

Like I said above, MCU – Phase One is definitely one of the best comic book adaptions out these are they adapted an entire universe for the general audience so that kids could have “new” heroes to look up to alongside Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men.

1. Watchmen

“Oh my gosh, he put Watchmen BEFORE The Avengers!?!?!”

Yes, yes I did. To tell you the truth, The Avengers is a fantastic comic book adaption, but it’s not all that fantastic of a movie. I’m sorry if I hurt some Whedonites by that statement, but it’s the truth. Watchmen however, is an almost panel-by-panel adaption of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons epic as it remains one of my favorite comic book films and definitely the best comic book adaption that I have ever seen.

Not only does Watchmen stay true to the comic (for the most part), but what the film changes actually is better than what the comic originally had. Now, let me be the first to tell you that I thought the alien squid from the comics was cool, BUT I actually like the idea of the blue nuke better. Here’s why, because anyone could have been responsible for the squid, or it could have invaded on its own, but if you nuke a city with a blue energy beam, then there can only be one man responsible.

The funny thing about Watchmen is that each character is based off of an actual DC Comics character as that’s what Alan Moore wanted to do before he created the Watchmen. Imagine if Rorschach had been the Question and Nite Owl had been Blue Beetle (Ted Kord of course), how different would that have been? But by creating the Watchmen, Moore had complete and utter freedom to do whatever he wanted with these characters and show the world for what it really is.

I think that’s why people like the book so much, is because it shows the worst humanity has to offer, and the truth of the matter is that stuff like that actually continues to go on. There’s no “world peace” like Ozymandias says there is, it cannot exist. There will always be evil. But the idea of world peace is what keeps heroes and people in general going. The idea that maybe one day, we can achieve this, and that’s the story of Watchmen.

I don’t think people who watched the film looked for a meaning in it. They went because it’s Zack Snyder, or DC Comics (who did Batman!), or because it looked like a good action-flick.  The truth of the matter is, Watchmen is going to be the film that is always the most accurate to the source material, because the story actually demands that it stay that way. Yes, small changes were made along the way, but overall the film is a straight-up adaption of the source. Similarly, I feel the same way about The Wolverine, but Watchmen will always take the cake.

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): X2: X-Men United, RED, Green Lantern’s origin from Green Lantern, Spider-Man’s origin in Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man, Bane breaking Batman’s back in The Dark Knight Rises, Professor X/Magneto friendship in X-Men: First Class, Fantastic Four’s origin in Fantastic 4, Daredevil’s origin in Daredevil.

I also want to note that I have not seen films like The Crow or Kick-Ass as honestly, I have no real interest in either. I may see them one day or read the comics one day, but as for right now, I have not.

Well guys, that’s it for this Editorial. Be sure to come back next week for my sequel Editorial on the “Top 5 WORST Comic Book Adaptions”. Excelsior!

Michael J. Petty

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Senior Editorial Editor on SMN, I also work as an Administrator on Across the Airwaves Productions and as a Staff Writer on the Superman Homepage. I enjoy movies, comics, television, music, and long walks on the beach. Just because he's on the side of the angels, don't think for one second that he's one of them.