Comic Book Movies NOT Based on Super-Heroes
Tim Burton’s Batman film hit theaters more than 25 summers ago, super-hero movies had been a relative non-factor. Sure, the
first two Superman films were great,
but comic book-based movies were few and far between.
with geek culture trending, it seems like a new super-hero saga debuts every
weekend, such as the recently released Fantastic Four, based on the Marvel Comics property. These
types of films are fun (actually Fantastic Four was a big drag, from what I've read), but we’re nearing super-hero saturation.
for the comic book fan who’s tired of seeing super-heroes on the silver screen,
there are some alternatives, movies not involving men and women in tights. These
include such films as: From Hell
(2001), a thriller about Jack the Ripper; 300
(2007), an epic fantasy war picture; and Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, a stylized, over-the-top crime drama
are 10 more quality comic book movies—listed chronologically—with nary a
super-hero in sight:
based on the work of underground artist Robert Crumb (the subject of the
brilliant1995 documentary, Crumb), Fritz the Cat was the directorial debut
of Ralph Bakshi, the animator responsible for such controversial fare as Heavy Traffic (1973) and Coonskin (1975). Fritz is an
anthropomorphized college student in mid-1960s New York City, a cool cat as it
were. The freewheeling feline experiments with group sex, smokes marijuana and,
in one of the film’s many satirical touches, gets chased by cops depicted as pigs.
the current DVD release is unrated, Fritz
the Cat was the first X
-rated animated movie released in the United States. It
is the top grossing independent animated film of all time, generating more than
$100 million worldwide. Fritz the Cat
is dated, but fascinating for its quirky encapsulation of the zeitgeist.
the mid-late 1980s and early 1990s, Heavy
Metal, which adapted stories from the long-running magazine of the same
name, was a staple of the midnight movie lineup at the late, lamented Forum 303
Mall in Arlington. Comic book aficionados and hipster film buffs alike enjoyed
the animated anthology for its fantastic art (by the likes of Richard Corben
and Bernie Wrightson), iconic soundtrack (including the title track by Sammy
Hagar) and otherworldly characters, from futuristic cab driver Harry Canyon to
nerd-turned-fantasy-hero Den to Captain Sternn, a “double-dealing,
backstabbing, larcenous, perverted worm.”
get the full effect, watch Heavy Metal
on Blu-ray, with the speakers turned up to 11. Just be sure the little ones are
asleep—as with Fritz the Cat, this is
no kids’ cartoon.
film that the late, great Roger Ebert said falls “somewhere between buried
treasures and guilty pleasures,” Swamp
Thing brought DC Comics’ mythical muck monster to the silver screen. The
movie never reaches the heights of the two classic Swamp Thing comic book runs—the Len Wein/Bernie Wrightson story arc
of the early 1970s and the Alan Moore-penned revamping from the 1980s—but it
does entertain, thanks to ample doses of action, adventure and humor, and even
a little heart: played by a rubber suit-wearing Dick Durock, Swampy has a
touching relationship with the beautiful Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau).
ably by Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm
Street), Swamp Thing spawned a lesser
sequel (Return of the Swamp Thing), a
short-lived cartoon and a solid live action TV series.
by writer/artist James O’Barr as a way to cope with the death of his fiancé at
the hands of a drunk driver, The Crow is a character surrounded by real-life
tragedy. During the making of the movie that is based on the comic book (The
Crow first appeared in 1989 in Caliber
Presents #1 and went on to star in several mini-series), Brandon Lee, who
played the vengeful title character, was accidentally shot and killed.
Phoenix-like from the ashes of all this carnage is a dark, dramatic,
action-packed, visually arresting thriller that is as fresh and exciting today
as it was 20 years ago. The film is also a fitting tribute to Lee, a great
martial artist and budding action star whose life was cut tragically short.
by Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family),
Men in Black was a blockbuster smash,
turning a pair of obscure, poorly drawn comic book mini-series from the early
1990s into a full-blown franchise. The film, which eschews its more serious
source material in favor of pure comedy (a welcome change), stars stone-faced Tommy
Lee Jones as “K,” a secretive government agent who battles aliens, and dapper Will
Smith as “J,” his wisecracking partner. Both wear black suits, ties and shades,
and both handle funky weaponry as they vanquish a variety of creatures created
by the ever-imaginative, Oscar winning makeup maven, Rick Baker.
crowd-pleaser with boffo special
effects created by Industrial Light and Magic, Men in Black spawned two sequels and a cartoon series.
published in serial form in Eightball
#s 11-18 (1993-1997), Daniel Clowes’ masterful Ghost World was collected into a graphic novel in 1997. In 2001, it
was adapted somewhat loosely for the silver screen, featuring Thora Birch as Enid
Coleslaw, a pseudo-intellectual social outcast, and Scarlett Johansson as
Rebecca Doppelmeyer, her misfit (though more attractive) friend. Both girls are
cynical, and neither has a clue what to do after graduating high school. On a
lark, they answer a man’s newspaper ad for a date, bringing a perfectly cast
Steve Buscemi (as Seymour) into the picture.
his review, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment
Weekly summed up Ghost World
nicely, calling it a “buoyant, funny and disarmingly humane comedy of beautiful
losers in revolt.”
who thinks comic book movies offer nothing more than musclebound heroes
thwarting cartoonish villains should check out Road to Perdition, an Irish Mafia thriller set in depression-era
Chicago. Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name, which was written by
Max Allan Collins and drawn by Richard Piers Rayner, the film features an
all-star cast (Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law) and received six Oscar
nominations, including a win for Best Cinematography.
not universally praised by critics (some said it was “emotionally detached”), Road to Perdition has many esteemed
fans, including Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas
Morning News, who called it “wrenching but never manipulative, stoic but
never dull, exhausting but never wearying.”
several appearances on Late Night with
David Letterman during the 1980s, Harvey Pekar is hardly a household name.
However, he was a
legendary comic book writer, helping define the sequential art memoir, working
with such artists as Robert Crumb and winning awards for his anthology series, American Splendor (1976), and the
graphic novel, Our Cancer Year
(1994). The film version of American
Splendor, starring Paul Giamatti as cranky Clevelander Pekar, and James
Urbaniak as Crumb, translates Pekar’s life beautifully, serving as both big
screen biopic and slice-of-life comic book adaptation.
he didn’t win an Oscar for the role, Giamatti absolutely nailed Pekar’s look, mannerisms
and voice, earning him Best Actor awards from the Chicago Film Critics
Association and the International
A History of Violence (2005)
Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) owns a diner in the sleepy town of Millbrook,
Indiana, population 3,246. “Nothing much ever happens here” until one night at
closing time, when two men try to rob Stall’s humble establishment. Stall kills
both bad guys and is hailed as a hero, but the action puts a strain on his
family and sheds light on his secretive and violent past.
of director David Cronenberg’s (The Dead
Zone, Naked Lunch) most mature
films, A History of Violence is based
on a 1997 graphic novel by Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner and Vince Locke.
Masquerading as a mainstream crime drama, it is a gripping, Darwinian tale of
survival of the fittest, exploring the nature of cyclical violence.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
nebbish Michael Cera (Arrested
Development) is Scott Pilgrim, a Canadian bass guitarist who sheepishly
asks an Amazon delivery girl named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on
a date. Unbeknownst to him, in order to win her over, he must defeat her “seven
evil exes,” including a super strong movie star and a pair of Japanese twins
who can summon powerful creatures. The battles play out like a video game,
complete with popup text, extra lives and exaggerated fighting moves, an
innovative approach that complements Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series quite
the characters in The Big Bang Theory
were real, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
would easily be one of their favorite films.