?Just like we live in a golden age of comic book movie, we live in a golden age of straight-to-DVD comic book movies. Sure, they’re not all stupendous, but live-action films like Iron Man and The Dark Knight should be enough to convince you that theater-going comic fans have it better than ever before. Likewise, comic fans that like to stay home are equally blessed, because Marvel, DC, and even Dark Horse are making animated features starring their best superheroes, and, for the most part, doing them well. Sure, everyone has their own favorites that everyone else hates, but
we’ve learned to take the good with the bad when it comes to
adaptations of our beloved characters into moving pictures.
Unfortunately, for every terrible live-action comic book movie that manages to get to theaters, there at are least three animated DVD feature movies that seem like they were thrown together by a group of writers with the vaguest of super
hero magnetic poetry kits, and they need pointing out as well. Here’s a list of the five best and worst to
ever cross our home entertainment thresholds.
5) Green Lantern: First Flight
Origin movies are the bane of comic book adaptations. You’ve got to explain who the character is and how they got their powers, but too many movies get stuck in the process and spread it out over the entire movie. Green Lantern: First Flight handled all this beautifully by starting at the beginning with Hal getting his ring and then putting him right to work as a brand new space cop. From there we get the rad, space epic that all Green Lantern fans have always wanted. Hopefully the big screen version will take a few pages from this book which has big time space aliens, a good deal of GLs, ring-slinging, villains in the form of Sinestro and the Weaponers of Qward and most importantly, very little Earth, just the way it should be with an army of space cops.
4) The Batman vs. Dracula
The Batman was kind of the redheaded stepchild of the Batman animated world as it followed the beloved Batman: The Animated Series. Not nearly as groundbreaking or grown-up as its predecessor, The Batman still came out swinging, trying to hold its own weight only to get cancelled after five seasons and followed up by the hilarious Batman: Brave and the Bold. Eventually turning into a de facto Justice League cartoon itself, The Batman was also notable for spawning the first animated feature pitting Batman against a classic monster in the form of Dracula who rolls into Gotham, makes Penguin his slave and starts turning folks into vampires under Batman’s cowl-covered nose. Since its still aimed at kids, you don’t get to see Batman slaying vamps Buffy-style, but he does have some pretty sick fight scenes between him and Drac that makes the whole thing worth while.
3) Hulk Vs.
Marvel Studios had a lot of misses in the straight-to-DVD animated feature department (more on that soon), but Hulk Vs. was the first one to really bowl viewers over. Up to this point, their interpretations were either watered down versions of hardcore stories or the aforementioned magnetic poetry compilations, but Hulk Vs. took the basic idea of the Hulk (i.e. he fights) and did it up by throwing him against Thor and Wolverine in two 40-ish minute episodes. Sure, they probably both could have lost a few minutes and been made up of just fighting, but they get credit for breaking the mold and trying something different. We’ve got high hopes for the Planet Hulk DVD which comes out on February 2nd.
2) Hellboy: Sword of Storms
The animated Hellboy movies are an interesting case because they’re not just based on the comics, but Guillermo del Toro’s movies (technically the first one), which offers up an interesting dynamic because some of the artistic direction comes straight from the comics while the stars of the movie voice the characters. Sword of Storms does a much better job of capturing Hellboy’s character and also brings in a healthy dose of creator Mike Mignola’s style in the form of some random zombies and even a nearly word for word adaptation of the short story “Heads” in the middle of the movie. The rest of the flick is an original story pitting Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. against some pissed off Japanese gods and drops Hellboy in a crazy Japanese dream world. We wouldn’t mind a few more entries in this series, especially if they more fully adopted Mignola’s art style.
1) Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman’s one of those characters who doesn’t really have a defining storyline. She’s more known for being part of the Justice League or as the star of a 30-year-old TV show that no one watches anymore. But, there is some coolness in the character. She’s a freakin’ Amazon warrior after all and that’s the route the writers took when putting this animated feature together. It also doesn’t pull any punches, pitting Wonder Woman against nothing less than a giant army of zombies! Keri Russell may not be the best choice for her voice, but we’ll forgive that for a kick ass story with tons of murder and even some swearing! Again, we’re hoping that whenever the Wonder Woman movie gets off the ground, it’s more like this than an ultra-boring look at Princess Diana being molded from clay for an hour and a half.
The worst are yet to come, starting on the next page.
5) Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman
What’s the best way to make a Batman movie boring? Copy another Batman movie and telegraph the ending 20 minutes in. Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman has a nearly identical plot to that of the theatrically released Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, with a new masked vigilante running around causing trouble. Could it be one of the three new female characters introduced early on? Well, of course, and guess what? It’s all of them! Shocking. Unless you’ve ever seen another movie with a twist ending, this one remains one of the few negative moments in the grand history of the Batman: The Animated Series franchise.
The coolest thing about the epic “Death of Superman” story from 1992 was, you guessed it, the fact that after a long and grueling battle across the entire country, Superman died defending the world from an alien monster who decimated the Justice League. So, what did the geniuses behind Superman/Doomsday do? Kill Superman early, keep him “dead” for a bit and then pit him against a clone. We get that they probably couldn’t have captured the entire story with all of the brand new Supermen, but a slightly more faithful adaptation would have been appreciated. As it is, the Justice League episodes “Secret Society” and “Hereafter” did a far superior job of dealing with a supposedly dead Superman than this movie designed specifically for that purpose. Really, we’re just upset that we never got to see an animated Eradicator.
3) The Invincible Iron Man
Oh, where to begin? The overcomplicated plot? The fact that Tony’s life gets saved partially by a Chinese mystic? The Mandarin being an ancient king whose four rings grant him immortality? The prophecy about Iron Man saving the day as the “Iron Night”? The four elemental god-things in place of actual Iron Man villains? Does it even matter? There’s no rules that say Iron Man shouldn’t get tangled up in mysticism, but tying the most technologically advanced hero to magic in his origin just seems ridiculous. Add on to that all of the unnecessary changes, like whatever the hell the Mandarin is in this (why only FOUR rings?!) and the elementals and you’ve got a movie that falls short in nearly every possible way. Who would have thought that it would take a big time Hollywood movie to come along and show everyone how to do a superhero story with their so-easy-your-grandma-can-understand-it plot that stays true to the comics while still veering off into its own awesome territory?
2) Batman: Gotham Knight
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Get some of the biggest directors in anime (as far as we Americans were told) and have them play in Chris Nolan’s Batman movie universe in small segments taking place between Batman Begins and Dark Knight but without any of the movie’s actors, of course. Bang, surefire hit, right? Nope. Not only did they try to do a story that had already been done better on Batman: The Animated Series with people sitting around talking about what Batman is like, but it’s just freaking boring, which is actually impressive because the segments are only 10 to 15 minutes long. I fell asleep three times during this movie and I didn’t even go into it tired. The combination of shaky animation and tired stories that don’t top anything that have come before them, puts this anthology in the hugely disappointing section of the animated comic movie department in the sky.
1) Dr. Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme
What’s cool about Dr. Strange? He’s the best magician in all the dimensions. He fights giant demons whose body parts are made of fire. He hangs out with a hottie like Clea and his boy Wong who can kick ass like Strange can throw up the metal sign and spout spells. He’s also kind of a dick, but he’s earned it by being the best he is at what he does. The potential for an animated feature to really jump into this territory with all kinds of cool monsters and a few nods toward artist extraordinaire Steve Ditko was gigantic. Instead, in this version, Dr. Strange sees a demon skull that causes him to swerve his car, the ensuing accident ruins his hands. Instead of manning up like he does in the comics and searching for a mystical cure, he tries to kill himself only to be stopped by Wong. There’s also a lady doctor he has a history with and loves and he joins a team of mystic superheros. And he dresses like, well, like Dr. Strange did in the ’90s. So instead of having a jerkass who refuses to quit and will do anything in his power to get his hands back, you’ve got a jerkass quitter who almost kills himself. And then joins a team.