Forgotten Comic Book Adaptations

The 2000 film X-Men is, from what I’ve read, generally considered the beginning the now-almost-ridiculous comic book-to-movie “boom.”  I always think that it’s weird, because way before that film came out there were films that were adaptations of comic books/graphic novels/comic strips.

At the same time, films have come out since then that, to a lot of people’s surprise, that are comic book/graphic novel/comic strip adaptations.  I’m always surprised how many adaptations there are out there that never get mentioned (or rarely do) when the conversation about comic book adaptations comes up.

Annie– The 1982 film is technically based on the musical, which itself is based on Harold Gray’s 1924 strip Little Orphan Annie.  I was sort of surprised to read just how weird this strip was back in the day, as Gray seemed to use it a lot as a sounding board against socialism and liberal ideals like The New Deal.  I mean come on, one of the protagonists of the strip is a weapons manufacturer and the ward he rescued from a public-services orphanage, where she suffered.

Batman– Tim Burton at his peak and the definitive influence on Bruce Timm’s magnificent series, it’s so weird to think that Burton never read any Batman comics.  Interestingly, a lot of elements from this film made their way into the comic after this 1989 film (as well as 1992’s Batman Returns), never mind how much of them have been ripped and “modernized” for Nolan’s films.  Anyway, a lot of people will say that Frank Miller saved Batman by bringing the darkness back to the character, but at the same time you can’t really deny the impact this film had, despite what the franchise became later on.

Dick Tracy– This movie is so pulpy you could squeeze it out for some fruit juice.  It’s so weird to think that it was made in 1990 and was based on Gould’s anti-gangster 1931 newspaper strip, it seems like ages ago when it really wasn’t.  The really bright pop art aspect of it is the strip and to an extent the film’s most memorable aspect.  I watched this recently and was surprised at how many people are in this movie, casting-wise.  Dustin Hoffman, Madonna, Al Pacino, Dick Van Dyke, and William Forsythe, to name a few?

The Shadow– I don’t care what anyone says, I love this movie.  I absolutely love the kung-fu pulp steampunk neo art deco-ness of it.  The Shadow‘s another 1930’s pulp character that actually started as a radio serial before coming to strip form in 194o, I think.  The 1994 film starring Alec Baldwin was an apparent flop, but I loved it and will watch it whenever it’s on TV (rare occasion).  I wonder if it’s on DVD…

Men In Black– This one was honestly, quite a shock to find out was initially a comic book.  The film is technically based on the obscure 1990 Aircel Comics title created by Lowell Cunningham.  Aircel was bought by Malibu Comics in the 90’s, which itself ended up being bought by Marvel at some point.  The story’s had a few significant changes between book and film, and to this day that movie is one of my favorites.  I like that whole franchise in general, the second movie wasn’t too bad and I used to watch the MIB cartoon a lot.

American Splendor– Does this count?  I think it does even though it’s a weird meta combination of bio film and autobiographical comics.  Harvey Fuckin’ Pekar, man.

Art School Confidential-This was a Clowes comic actually, the guy who created Ghost World.  It wasn’t a book really, more a strip that’d appear in one issue of Clowes’ book Eight Ball.  How the fuck you get a movie out of a four-page strip, I’ll never know.  You’d have to ask Clowes, who wrote the script.  The original comic is pretty funny and applicable to any really artistic school program (film or literature are prime examples), though I can’t say the same for the film since I haven’t seen it.

The Crow– I don’t think James Barr has done anything else since writing this comic in 1989.  The 1994 film was the original 90’s goth worship idol before Tim Burton blew his load all over Christmas and Halloween at the same time.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles– Your brain would explode if you actually sat down and compared the original comics with the film, never mind the cartoons.  I mean seriously, the original TMNT comic book started out as an obvious parody of Frank Miller’s Ronin.  I think the recent (2007?) CGI TMNT movie is the closest the films have ever come to being similar to the TMNT comics.

The Rocketeer– If you don’t like guys in rocket packs fighting Nazi’s and gangsters, then there really is no way to help you.  That’s like thinking Dracula having a castle on the moon or giant gorillas with guns aren’t cool. I don’t remember much about the movie other than that it was sort of fun and cool and the Rocketeer’s art-deco helmet totally blew my mind.  There’s a new uber-neat collection of this comic, which, first appeared in 1982, out now, with lots of extra stuff.

Tank Girl– I think this movie was the first one I was consciously aware was a comic-book adaptation when I saw it, so seeing it become a weird 90’s wannabe cyberpunk version of “Dune” was a bit of a shock.  Still, they managed to get Ice-T into the kangaroo makeup. Random factoid guaranteed to make you uncomfortable…a few years ago through a comic book fansite I found out that someone had made semi-licensed, semi-official Tank Girl vibrators.

Josie and the Pussycats– Fucking Archie Comics, man.  I’m not going to lie, I may or may not have seen this 2001 movie in its entirety.  The original comic started in the 60’s I think (Wikipedia says 1963).

The Mask– Yup. Not only was it a comic but a comic from Dark Horse too, which surprised me quite a bit.  One of the creators, John Arcudi, is a Team Hellboy guy who’se worked on BPRD.  Another one of the creative team from this comic book (which I’ve never read but has crossed over with Batman and The Joker) is Doug Mahnke, who’se illustrated the Justice League, amongst other DC stuff.

Just consider this next time you think that all they’re making is comic book movies these days and you start bitching about how no one’s had an original idea since the late 90’s.


About Costa

Writer. College professor.
This entry was posted in American Splendor, annie, Art School Confidential, Batman, blogging, books, comic book movies, comic books, dick tracey, josie & the pussycats, MIB, random, tank girl, the crow, the mask, The Rocketeer, the shadow, tmnt. Bookmark the permalink.

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