The Best Uses of Comics Book Storylines In Superhero Movies
5. Green Lantern
So Warner Brother's 2011 Green Lantern movie, directed by Martin Campbell, isn't exactly what one would call a "good movie" by any stretch of the imagination. For costing a reported $200 million dollars, it looks very cheap, and it is hard to see just where all that money went, because the movie only spends about 15 minutes total in space, where all the bulk of the special effectsy stuff takes place. Maybe it all went to Ryan Reynolds' personal trainer and body waxer.
Having said that, though, whatever its flaws may be, Green Lantern pulled from tons of recent comic book lore, specifically writer Geoff John's run on the title over the past decade. Hal Jordan's tragic past with his test pilot dad, his training by alien Lantern Kilowog (all three minutes of it anyway. Really, it's three minutes of screentime. I've checked.) and the notions of willpower and fear giving the rings their energies are all ideas lifted straight from recent comic book stories. While one can fault Green Lantern for many things (and should), fidelity to the comics isn't one of them.
4. X2: X-Men United
A lot of the things that Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy gets praised for doing, like being the first films to take comic book heroes and put them in a darker, more realistic world, were in fact done by Bryan Singer first in his X-Men films, specifically X2: X-Men United. For people who say Singer's X-Men movies don't draw from the source material, I say they're only looking at surface stuff (in other words, the costumes) and pretty much ignoring everything else.X2 specifically drew from some of the very best of the X-Men comics, while still maintaining its own unique storyline particular to the movie universe.
Singer and company took elements from storylines like the Phoenix Saga (not the Dark Phoenix Saga, mind you, but the original manifestation of Jean's Phoenix abilities from Uncanny X-Men #101 and onwards), the second arc of Mark Millar's Ultimate X-Men, Barry Windsor Smith's original "Weapon X" series from Marvel Comics Presents that gave us Wolverine's backstory, with then the bulk of the film's plot taken from Chris Claremont's seminal X-Men original graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills. Yet all of these disparate story elements drawn from years of comics smoothly coalesced into one film, a film that still had to serve as a sequel to the previous movie's themes and story, and not being allowed to forget those either.
3. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man
If Bryan Singer's X-Men got the modern comic book movie ball rolling, it was Raimi's Spider-Man in 2002 that really blew the barn doors open. But more than just a fun superhero flick, Spider-Man plays like the Cliff's Notes version of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and John Romita's first decade or so of Spidey stories, condensed successfully into a two-hour narrative. We go from Peter Parker's accident with the radioactive spider and his high school bullying at the hands of Flash Thompson, to college days with his roomie Harry Osborn and the love triangle with Mary Jane Watson, to the discovery by his arch nemesis the Green Goblin of his true identity. All of this stuff played out over a decade's worth of comics, and yet Raimi made it all unfold over two hours fairly seamlessly and without feeling like it was rushed.
Sure, there is some stuff very much not like the comics - organic web-shooters, for one, and combining Mary Jane with Gwen Stacy - but for the most part Raimi's movie is a love letter to the stories that made Spider-Man a household name back in the sixties.
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
Most of the Marvel Studios films, while in no way unrecognizable from their comic book counterparts, also play kind of fast and loose with the comic book stories they are based on. The Iron Man movies, for example, take Tony Stark's basic origin and character, and then more or less gloss over most of his well known comic book stories. The first Thor just deleted his Donald Blake alter-ego all together. See the list above for Iron Man 3.
But at Marvel Studios, the great exception has truly been Captain America. Cap's origin story plays almost exactly as Jack Kirby drew it back in 1940, and no one thought to update the Red Skull into something more current - he's his old evil, Nazi, metaphorical mustache-twirling self, straight from the pages of those old comics. And there were several other moments lifted straight from the comics, from Cap punching Hitler square in the jaw to the use of the Cosmic Cube, to HYDRA...Captain America: The First Avenger pulled from the very best of the comics. Heck, they even found a role for Arnim Zola. And from the looks of the trailer, Captain America: The Winter Soldier looks to be inspired even more from the comics than the first movie was.
1. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Saga - Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan may not be a superhero comics fan in general, but there is no doubt he's a Batman comic book fan, based on the huge amount of story elements taken from the actual comics in his Dark Knight trilogy. The Dark Knight trilogy is, in fact, like a giant homage to the past forty years of Batman comic books spread across a seven hour narrative. Batman Begins is highly influenced by Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, and the opening scenes, with a young Bruce Wayne falling into a cave of bats while still a child, is directly lifted from flashback scenes in Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Bruce's training with Ra's al Ghul is certainly influenced by the globetrotting Batman stories of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams from the seventies.
But it was the second film,The Dark Knight, which had the largest amount of story references lifted from the comics pages. Which is why, in many ways it is the ultimate Batman movie. Bruce Wayne ditching Wayne Manor for a swanky penthouse is yet another homage to the Seventies version of Bruce Wayne. The Joker's attempt to take a good man and drive him insane by giving him "one bad day," as he does to Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, is something he attempts to do to James Gordon in Alan Moore's seminal Joker story The Killing Joke.
Then there's Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's 1997 mini-series, The Long Halloween. The "A" Plot in this graphic novel is about the serial killer Holiday, who kills someone once a month, on that month's most prominent Holiday. But the "B" Plot is about how the the freaks take over from the Mafia in Gotham, a theme thut runs heavy in The Dark Knight. The other major element in The Long Halloween is how the trinity of Lt. Gordon, Batman and Harvey Dent form to try to save Gotham, and the eventual transformation of Dent into Two Face. I'd say this one might have been a more prominent influence on The Dark Knight than even the Killing Joke was.
But it doesn't end there, kids: The Dark Knight Rises then contains even more references to famous Batman comic book storylines, like the use of Bane from Knightfall, the No Man's Land story arc, and several more. How much of these references can be attributed to screenwriter David S. Goyer, and how many can be attributed to Nolan, is anyone's guess. But one thing is very clear: the Dark Knight trilogy owes a far heavier debt to the comic book stories than the Burton/Schumacher films could on their very best day.
HONORABLE MENTION: The Wolverine
This past summer's Wolverine movie was a pretty dang faithful adaptation of Chris Claremont and Frank Miller's original Wolverine mini-series from 1982, with several sequences taken straight out of the comic. It may be Fox Studios' most faithful X-Men related movie yet.
Previously by Eric Diaz: