Oh, No: A Comic Book Movie!

Following a daring moonlight escape during which I bribed the guard with some candy cigarettes and left a daddy-shaped dummy in front of my computer (to replace the daddy-shaped dummy that’s normally sitting there, his wife thought sardonically) I got to see Toy Story 3 at a late screening last night. I really… well, I’m not going to use the word “enjoyed” to describe that experience. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean; the film’s “A” story felt like it was adapted from a Walking Dead hardcover. If you haven’t seen it, I’ve already said too much, but take heart: I’m glad I saw it after looking forward to it for a long time.

There was a time, of course, when I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. I was a huge fan of the Toy Story movies, but there was a time when I dreaded it.

I don’t know how many people remember this, but there was a time a few years back when it looked like Disney and Pixar were headed for a nasty divorce. Their relationship was winding down, and their renegotiations started to read like the final turns in one of those four-hour games of Axis & Allies where you’ve forgotten why you were ever friends with any of the other players in the first place. During some late inning of the game of hardball, Disney piped up and said, “You know, we actually own the Toy Story characters. We can just go ahead and make another one without you.” They began to do exactly that: they formed a new computer animation studio for the sole purpose of cranking out knockoff Pixar sequels—SpiteCo, I think it was called—and started developing a movie about Buzz Lightyears being recalled and shipped back to Taiwan. It sounded so cheap and uninspired, even all these years later I got bored and irritable just now finishing that sentence. I was inconsolable when I heard about it. A friend said, “Hey, a big studio is spending a lot of money to make a movie out of that thing you like!” and I said, “Oh, no. Oh, no.”

People who like comic books are well acquainted with this feeling.

Right next to Toy Story 3 at the end of the multiplex hallway last night, of course, was a little cinematic bonbon by the name of Jonah Hex. If I’m telling you this as if it’s news, that’s because it very well may be: current box office estimates suggest that the movie made roughly $47.11 over the weekend. Worse still, it sounds like it got more than it deserved. According to RottenTomatoes.com, Toy Story 3 is 98% “fresh.” Jonah Hex is grateful to see 14%. Seeing it shoot up from 10% to 14% was the best part of somebody in Los Angeles’ weekend.

And we knew all this, didn’t we? Jonah Hex fans saw all of this coming months ago. I’m not even a Jonah Hex reader (I know, I know; the library has received my request) but even I knew enough to see that trailer with the dead rising and the machine gun horse and say, “Oh, no. They’re making a movie out of that thing my friends like. Those poor guys.”

Of course, the reason my friends like Jonah Hex so much is because it is exactly not the kind of story that prominently features machine gun horses and presidents giving out giant cartoon badges. But the layman doesn’t know this. The layman sees Josh Brolin resurrectin’ cowpokes, and at some point it registers to the layman that this hooey was based on a comic book, and that’s when my phone starts ringing. Curious friends trying to be polite, trying not to phrase their questions so that they begin, “So! This ridiculous garbage that you spend all your free time on….” Their politeness doesn’t change the fact that by the time the conversation is done I want to find a physical manifestation of Comics, shake him hard by the shoulders and shout, “Goddamn it! I’ve told people I like you! People whose opinions matter to me! Knock it off with the movies, already!” Then maybe I give him an extra slap for Punisher: War Zone.

We go through this… I was going to say “cyclically,” but it’s starting to feel like “perpetually.” Ben Affleck is who? Jessica Alba is what? The Loom of Fate is where? Which Spider-Man dance number? Shoot which mothaf***a?

They’re making a movie out of that comic you like! You like Howard the Duck, right?

This should have been a summer of celebration for people who want their comics seeping into popular culture, but it’s not even July and I find myself feeling like I threw a party and nobody came. I sort of feel like I threw a party and everybody came just to tell me they weren’t coming, then laughed a little bit and went to another party across the street. This “summer of the comic book movie” has been a big beige shrug. Besides Jonah Hex, we had The Losers and Kick-Ass, which unlike Hex no one could accuse of being unfaithful to their source material. Kick-Ass in particular was passionately loved by everyone who didn’t passionately hate it, but it turns out both of those groups add up to about 300 people. The Losers would have been delighted to get 300 people.

There’s always Iron Man 2, I suppose. I’m sure it made its money and has its fans. I liked it well enough—it certainly didn’t embarrass me with any weaponized livestock—but I haven’t heard anyone say two words about it since the weekend it came out.

What was before that? Surrogates? Whiteout?

The Dark Knight erases a multitude of sins… but The Dark Knight came out quite a while ago now, didn’t it? Still, even a couple of years later, that bleak, greasepainted terrorism allegory manages to give me hope. After all, The Dark Knight was the sixth Batman movie in my lifetime. When I saw the third and fourth… well, let’s just say a movie like The Dark Knight did not look like it was in the cards and leave it at that. If the franchise that brought us Arnold’s Mr. Freeze can be redeemed, we can never give up hope that there’s a director around the corner waiting to treat us right. I mean, they managed not to screw up the X-Men. For a while.

Besides: there’s always Scott Pilgrim.

Jim Mroczkowski is donating all his Star Wars toys before they break out in open revolt and seize the basement. He's too busy playing with Twitter to give them the attention they really need.


  1. *Shaking*

    *Rocking in corner*

    "Scott Pilgrim is coming"

    "Scott Pilgrim is coming"

    "Scott Pilgrim is coming"


  2. Kick-Ass was probably the best comic-book in a while.  I enjoyed it more than IM2.

  3. This is the 2nd article I read over in three days citing Kickass as a failure, but I’m not so sure. It cost $30 million and has made, pre-dvd sales, $95 million. That seems (without anything more than scuttlebutt for the advertising dollars Lionsgate spent) like a pretty keen take to me.

  4. You’re exactly right about Iron Man 2.  It made a shitload of money, and then no one cared at all. It actually did better than the first, but it was no cultural phenomenon the way the first one was.  Then again, what matters to the greenlighters?  The cashola.

  5. To be fair, it’s not just comic books that get this.  I had a friend in college who insisted that the novel "The Scarlet Letter" must be awful, based on how bad the adaptation staring Demi Moore was.  (I acutally do think "The Scarlet Letter" is awful, but for non-Demi-related reasons). 

    But for the most part, we’re trained to take, "The book is better" for granted with film adaptations, even in cases where it might not be strictly true.  There’s a popularly understood "hierarchy" and "Novel" beats movie, while "movie" beats comic book.  And the less popular opinion knows about a given medium, the more likely this fallacy is to control. 

    I’m not sure that the current trend is really saying, "Comic book movies are destined to be shitty" so much as it’s saying "The general overall trend of big Hollywood movies these days is to be shitty."  

  6. I think the 2008 wave of excellent comic book movies was run over by the follow ups, with people trying to repeat successes, which is nearly impossible.

    And yes, Kick-Ass was very good and very fun. It didn’t light the world on fire, but it did make a lot of money for what was invested in it.

  7. The first ‘Iron Man’ movie was ‘Iron Man 101’ to the vast majority of the audience.  I think that’s hard to compare to any other big superhero movie.  Most people had some idea who Superman or Batman or Spider-Man was going in, and in a sense we just sat through the origin in order to get to the second movie.  I think it would have been hard to follow up ‘Iron Man’ with a movie that made a similar splash because, what’s left to do that’s new?  To me, the movies were pretty comparable, but even as somebody who really liked IM 2, I didn’t have a lot left to say but "that’s a worthy follow-up."

  8. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World will make 100 million plus worldwide!

  9. No matter what happens, we’ll always have the Dark Knight.

  10. @ottoot–what may look like a decent profit to you and i, looks like failure to Hollywood people. Kickass had a HUGE advertising budget…Prob pretty close to or greater than the budget of the movie. To be considered a success especially for a summer action comic book film they’re prob hoping for 2x-3x the budget in box office returns. Thats just Hollywood thinking and studio expectations. 

    Even though Kick Ass made some money, Studio people might use it as an example of why properties without big name superheroes (Batman, Iron Man) aren’t worth sizable investments, which could be really bad for a lot of really good smaller properties…Lets hope not!

  11. DOH! and by that i meant 2x 3x the movie+advertising budgets. They were prob looking to crack 100+  million. 

  12. @wally  My understanding is that Kick-Ass is a different case because it was largely made by private financing.  So it doesn’t need to gross as much to cover its budget.  I don’t know HOW successful it was on these terms, but it may be too much of a special case to apply to anything else. 

  13. @ohcarlone–the filmmakers made money…thats not in question. But the distributer has a different set of financial expectations and i think thats what dictates things going forward. It’ll be tough to make indie films in certain genres like comic book adaptations if distributors don’t think its worth dealing with. 

  14. @ wally. I disagree.  Kick ass may not have been a blow the doors open success but it would not be cosidered a failure to the studios. If Shaq in Steel didnt convince the studios that no one likes non-big names then i dont know what will.

     When it comes to films in general i think we can all learn a lot from Nolan and Favrue. The studios need to stop looking for whos hot and bring in who can act as their lead.  RDJ and Bale have shown us that these characters can only truley come to life in the hands of actors that are truley commited to their craft. Using Hex as an example,  sure Brolin is an OK actor, but Megan Fox??? I mean sure shes hot, but jenifers body showed that her looks arent exactly ticketworthy.

    If you look at IM2, the majority of its flaws are in its side characters (NOT INCLUDING ROCKWELL). there wasnt enough of Rourke who matches RDJ’s character commitment, there was too much Sam jackson (can’t believe i just said there was to much jackson in a film) and in my opinion black widow was done poorly. In short, RDJ is who carries the film.  ANother great example is fantastic 4, why can’t hollywood find a beautiful lead with some chops.

    If the studios need to learn ANYTHING it is that America and the rest of the world of cinema goers have grown to reapreciate a better quality film when they see one.  We no longer need whos "hot" at the time to drive tickets (although im sure if robert pattinson was cast as , i dont know, the flash, every teenage girl would flock to see it…… twice)

    i feel like i have gone off tyopic here and started saying things that most of us agree on but so be it.

  15. I do think the conversation here is about at least 3 different things, which are threatening to get conflated: 1. artistic success, 2. commercial success, and 3. "buzz" and conversation about a movie.  These things aren’t totally separated but they’re charted on different axes.  The only one of these movies I feel like has generated a lot of conversation is ‘Kick-Ass,’ and that’s because reactions were so divided. 

  16. @ed209af–i was just saying why i thought the press was calling it a failure. I agree with a lot of your points. Unfortunately Hollywood will always be a star driven, hot star of the moment kinda place..especially with summer action movies.

  17. I’m actually getting sick of comic movies for the time being.  I feel enough has reached enough and maybe we should take a break making them for a while.  At least until some worthy actors that actually read comics and are passionate about the source material can perform a good role.  Even though all these conversations and articles are good for us to vent, I’ve found even discussing the issue tedious.

  18. @vadamowens: I couldn’t care less if an actor in a comic book movie reads the comics involved. As long as they do a good job, what does it matter?

    (Also, no one is holding a gun to your head making you read and/or comment on comic book movie articles.)

  19. True my movie "Kick-Ass" which is based on my life is the best movie out this year thus far.

    "Loom of fate" by the way is something I saw in…A Grant Morrison comic!!!  Of course!!  Seven Soldiers by Grant is where I saw the brilliant idea.  Maybe the script writer of the "Wanted" screen play was a Morrison fan?  Probably.

  20. @conor Why do you always go for the jugular if you think someones being critical? I was just commenting, not tearing down on the article or the thread.  I was voicing my frustration with the topic in general and I think my intent was clear.

    I think knowing the material can help provide more depth to the character.  I see nothing wrong with thinking that. 

  21. @vadamownes; Believe me, that wasn’t going for the jugular. That was playful. But also serious.

  22. It sucks when you can’t hear tone or see expressions.  It’s too easy to allow your current mood to decide the intent of something written. My bad.

  23. After a couple years of reading Conor’s comments on the website and such, it’s just that Conor is just very direct.

  24. I don’t think its important that an actor be a comic book geek in order to play a comic character well. Its an added bonus. I mean Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart are Shakespearian theatre actors first, movie actors second and they did a pretty good job in the X films. There are a ton more examples. A good actor with the proper preparation should be able to play any part that he/she is suited for. 

  25. I’ve came to that conclusion as well.

  26. @wallythegreenmonster> wait….Jessica Alba didn’t read Sin City ??in a lace black negligee? like in my dreams?


  27. Conor’s no different in person.

  28. It’s a shame that this year of B-level films (sans Iron Man 2) have all failed commercially so far. Cause this should show film studios that comic films are going to be the next big thing in films. All of the b-level comics have failed and only the big character succeeded like it should have.

    Unless Scott Pilgrim makes a shit load of money, this is a bad year for comic films…..commercially.

    Next two years though, that’s gonna be a crap load of big, blockbuster comic characters coming out though. 

  29. @Josh: I’m sure Vada and most of us here is also the same in person. We’re just saying stuff about stuff.  🙂

  30. An actor doesn’t need to be overly familiar with (or passionate about) the source material. One of an actor’s most important responsibilities is to obey the script. If the writers and casting directors have done their jobs, and the director’s vision is in line with the overall theme, the actor need only convey the character’s psychology and physicality. This, like anything else, can be executed poorly. But it’s rarely due to not having read enough comic books.


  31. @jj well put:)

  32. Agreed.

  33. The Dark Knight proved, if nothing else, that "a good comic-book movie" is the same thing as "a good movie". Until studios learn to put as much effort into storytelling as they do into marketing, & learn to trust the gifted filmakers that (somehow!) keep turning up, we’ll all be gifted with the shit sandwiches that pass for films nowadays. And that means ALL films.