Even the most infrequent cinema-goer cannot have failed to notice the spate of comic book adaptations that have taken over our screens over the past few years. Where once you had just Superman and Batman, a whole cannon of comic book heroes have made the transition from page to film reel over the last decade, the likes of Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Men of X, Spider and Iron, not to mention reboots of the afore-mentioned Superman and Batman.
Now, almost all comic book adaptations follow a set formula – namely, ordinary Joe/Peter/Bruce acquires/inherits superhero powers, faces an almost equally super-powered nemesis, deals with his inner demons, vanquishes said Nemesis and then returns the situation neatly to where it had begun to await the next adventure. Even the much-vaunted “The Dark Knight”, whilst exploring some more shadowed aspects of being a superhero, adheres to this formula.
This episodic structure, is, of course, central to selling comics and the longevity of any series, but there are some comic book adaptations out there that dare to be different. And, admittedly with a rather over-long intro, but hopefully a punchy end (rather like both Kill Bill volumes in reverse), here is the point of the article; to showcase the Comic-book films that dared to defy convention:
(Warning: plot spoilers follow!)
V for Vendetta
Adapted from Alan Moore’s ten comic book series, V takes standard comic book conventions and perversely contravenes them all. For example, take the following superhero formulas..
1. Explore your protagonist’s origins, his “non-super” side.
– V says no thanks, let’s keep him faceless and masked for his entire screen time and not really mention anything about who he is and what he was before he became V. Oh, except that he likes classical music, of course.
2. Make your Superhero, however anguished, identifiably good.
- V kidnaps and tortures Evie, in a surprisingly successful effort to turn her into an ally. Not exactly good, is it? Oh, and he wasn’t even really sorry about it
3. Fight ultimately for the authorities (working to help them, even if they think otherwise) by dispatching the villains that would threaten the status quo.
- Well, V’s ultimate aim is to overthrow a totalitarian police state through acts of terror. Sort of a one man Al-Qaeda. But with more specific demands. Actually, come to think of it, it’s more like those Father’s for Justice people. But with better outfits.
4. Return to the status quo at the end of the film ready for the next adventure.
- Well, let’s see. Err…..there was a masked man at the start. And slightly more than one at the end. That’s as close as you get. Having the hero die and his protege blow up the Houses of Parliament doesn’t really qualify on this score, does it? Oh, and there is a revolution. But apart from that, it’s almost exactly the same at the end as the start.
OK, not strictly a super-hero film, but the men in question, and particularly King Leonidas are pretty super. And it is adapted from a graphic novel by Frank Miller.
Let’s take a look at the following off-formula attributes of this film. Well, firstly, everyone dies, including the King. But then, a fair number of people would have known that already if they know their mythology, so that’s not too much of a surprise. But the surprisingly dark sub-plot where the Queen essentially ends up permitting herself to be raped to try and secure some military support for her King is so far off-formula it’s practically in Persia. Or somewhere else far, far away
Again an Alan Moore adaptation (in conjunction for Dave Gibbons), this film takes the perversely anti-hero aspects of the previous two films and takes it into a further dimension. An alternate dimension, to be precise. In 1985.
The film features superheroes who rely on technology, on intelligence, and a big blue god-like being with genuine super powers and a big blue penis, rather disturbingly. Try and find that in any other superhero adaptation! Whilst relying on a few stock superhero adages – the origins sub-plots and the issues to deal with, the film manages to cram in rape, mutilation, extreme violence, impotence and vaporisation. Oh, and a big blue penis. In case you missed that the first time.
But repetitive cock jokes, aside, the film’s crowning glory is the sheer subversiveness of it’s two main protagonists. Rorschach is a masked psychopath who brutally murders almost everyone he comes across in prison at one point (though they do attack him first), and yet somehow his pursuit of the truth and his refusal to accept any grey in his world of black and white (quite literally, in the case of his shifting mask) ends up with him somehow being ennobled by his ideals – a quite remarkable feat.
Similarly, we have in Ozymandias another super-hero who proves not only that super-powers are nothing compared to a cunning plan, but that it is possible to have a comic book villain who doesn’t explain his plan while there is still time to stop it. Even more impressively, he puts his ultimate aim of doing good on a mass scale (no rescuing the occasional person from criminals or the catching the odd crashing plane for him, he has far, far grander vision) over both his conscience and the bonds of friendship.
Killing a few millions for the greater good. Dying because you would not compromise your principles.
Now that’s daring to be different.