Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Miracle Pictographs
    Graphic Novel Reviews by Spencer Ellsworth
August 2008

Somebody get a band-aid! Magneto walked by the knife drawer again.

Wanted, Hellboy: Seed of Destruction

Comics and movies used to make bad couples. Anyone who's been a fanboy long enough has run into one of the really terrible comic adaptations that have been shelved over the years. The 1994 Fantastic Four, for example. There's the great scene where their ship crashes and Johnny Storm first catches flame, then proceeds to run around like Wile E. Coyote yelling, "Whoo! Wow! What a ride!" And the Thing's muffled shout through the rubber mask, sounding a lot like the "Revenge of the Sith" Darth Vader, "What have you done, Reed? What have you done?"

(Although the 2005 adaptation wasn't much of an improvement. The real way to do the FF would be to set the movie in the actual early 60s, and use all the retro elements, including the "flying bathtub" FantastiCar, the Kirby monsters and big-headed, slant-eyebrowed villains, and use Gollum-style modeling for a computer-generated Thing.)

(Oh, and get actors with actual charisma.)

Comic-book movie successes used to be more exception than rule, and the rules were still a compromise. Even Tim Burton's Batman was more Tim Burton than it was Batman. Richard Donner's Superman was saved from absolute cheese by Christopher Reeve's spectacular performance.

All of the sudden, though, comic book movies have been transformed into the most popular, and usually successful, movies on the screen today. I've already had my fanboy freakouts over Spider-Man and X-Men, and liked the screen's Iron Man better than the comic incarnation.

Sin City and 300 showed that a movie can be slavishly devoted to the comic book form and be better for it. And of course, like anyone with eyes, I adored Batman Begins, the movie that really made a superhero plausible. (The only thing left to salivate over is the upcoming Watchmen.)

But what about this summer, you say, with tights all over the place? Hold your plasma rifles, folks. We're going to delve deep into the psyche of men in tights.

The first harvest of the last few weeks is Wanted, an adaptation of Mark Millar and J.G. Jones' comic about supervillains winning their eternal battle with the heroes. Those of you who have seen the movie are probably saying "Whahh?" That's right, Wanted started out with a straight-up costume angle. The movie converted the super-villains into a cadre of assassins, and made their goals considerably more altruistic. It totally removes the Big Idea from the comic, but at the same time, it stops the Big Idea from making the characters as repulsive as they became in the comics.

Comic story: Wesley Gibson is a passive loser who gets approached by a gorgeous woman. Same as the movie. In the comic, this woman proceeds to murder a restaurant full of innocent people. After that, Wesley meets the secret cadre of supervillains who have been running the world. You see, at one point the heroes and villains finally had it out and the villains won. Not content with destroying the superheroes, the villains erased all memories of them from history.

In the scene where a supervillain explains this to Wesley, we see a certain beefy black-haired man sitting in a convalescent home while the voice-over villain gleefully rubs his hands together saying, "I got to decide what happened to his life, and now he just sits around wondering where everything went wrong."

Unlike the movie, in which Wesley learns to use his "anxiety attacks" to be an assassin, Wanted the comic focuses mostly on turning Wesley Gibson into the nastiest bastard alive. Where the movie starts with his father going from an office building to stop an assassination, the comic starts out with his father making porn before he stops an assassination. Pretty soon after being contacted by the cadre of supervillains, Wesley shoots the cheery old man who sits in front of his apartment building in the head.

Wanted the comic makes the movie look like The Little Mermaid. It's absolute nastiness simply for the sake of nastiness. At one point Wesley goes into a police station and murders everyone there for kicks, then considers raping a female office before he decides to just shoot her. In the climax, Wesley's father asks Wesley to kill him because, "I couldn't bear the thought of some half-trained trash finishing me off." Wesley, because he loves his father, does just that.

Forget art, ideas and execution for a minute. Why exactly are we supposed to care about these characters?

I had to force myself to finish this one, and I like Mark Millar's writing and J.G. Jones' art. The characters are so incredibly repulsive that the only entertainment value comes from the creation of different unique supervillains.

The funniest one is definitely, uh, "poop"-Head, who is made up of the excrement of the evilest men who have ever walked the Earth. Mister Rictus is a nice creepy figure, a former pastor who died and returned knowing that there was nothing beyond the end of life, and thus became an amoral force for evil. J.G. Jones does a great job of designing the different characters with his reliably brilliant art. However, I thought his panels were too crowded in Final Crisis by the writing, but I find myself having the same reaction here. Maybe he's always too crowded.

The hyper movie made us feel kind of sorry for Wesley as a loser, and cheer for him to be a successful assassin. The movie even had a morality to Wesley's actions. The ultraviolent comic has a much more original idea, and has a lot of fun with it, but ultimately you'll come away from it sickened.

Unlike the distance between the comic and movie of Wanted, the spirit of Hellboy's films reflects the comics perfectly. Seed of Destruction was the inspiration for the first film -- sorry, folks, but there is no graphic novel version of The Golden Army. At least not yet. Like Guillermo Del Toro's vision in the movies, the comic is entirely the overpowering idea of one man. It's Mike Mignola, one of the most unique artists to ever grace the comic medium.

Mike Mignola's work is a paean to the power of line and shadow. Each panel swims in darkness and silhouette, illuminated, with light clinging in washed-out fragments. His art is minimalistic in places, gorgeously detailed in others, but always united by his master of lines, from sharp angles and swirling circles. I've never seen art that made me realize how important lines are. Mike Mignola could draw straight lines on paper and I would buy them.

Seed of Destruction features, much like the first movie, a team of paranormal investigators hunting down Lovecraftian frog-monsters who kill at the behest of Rasputin, survived from the Russian Revolution, having joined the Nazis and summoned forth Hellboy. Unlike the world-hopping movie, this one takes place mostly in an old haunted mansion, going from closets with dead bodies to a deep murky moat to an underground chamber where Rasputin is raising a god-monster.

Hellboy is a hard-boiled fighter in this comic, as he is in the movie. The dialogue by co-writer John Byrne, in contrast to the fantastic situations, comes off as tough as a serial detective's. Hellboy's running commentary includes such pieces as, "I hit water and the piece of my brain that's still working tells me I can't have fallen as nearly as far as it seemed" and in conversation with the aquatic Abe Sapien, "Hellboy! Let's get out of here!" "You always were the practical one, Abraham."

In the end, Mignola treats us to a massive Cthulu tribute, a dark tentacled god that rises from the deep to kill at the behest of Rasputin. Elizabeth, the pyrokinetic love interest in the movie, here more of a sulking loner, wakes up from a trance and burns the beast, taking the whole mansion with it. Rasputin, who has already been stabbed through the chest and thus bears a big ragged hole through his middle, rises black and dark from the flames even as they're burning him down to a skeleton, and grabs Hellboy.

"Think, creature, think!" he says. "If you kill me you will never know who you are! You will never understand the power inside you."

Hellboy draws his fist back for the final punch and says, "Yeah, you're right." Then he knocks Rasputin's skeletal body to pieces and says, "But I can live with it."

Hard-boiled and uncompromising to the end, Hellboy the comic in its distinctive vision is a perfect compliment to the distinctive films by Guillermo Del Toro. The same way Del Toro creates worlds that are the only ones of their kind on film, Mignola creates worlds that are unique to comics. There's nothing else like Hellboy.

See this month's Extra! edition to find out the scoop on Batman, his movies, his tights, and his Big Questions. (Hint: They don't have to do with Robin's short pants.)

Read more by Spencer Ellsworth


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