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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

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Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Kick-Ass
The Losers
Iron Man 2
Jonah Hex
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
Les aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec
It Was The War of the Trenches
Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn
The Stuff of Legend Book 1: The Dark
Recent Books of Interest
It Was The War of the Trenches by Jacques Tardi (Fantagraphics)
It Was The War of the Trenches This extraordinary collection of World War I tales offers perhaps the finest work from the lauded Tardi. Each story, based on actual accounts from French soldiers, relates the often-horrific realities of trench-warfare. Disturbing yet compelling images abound: a dead, mangled horse hanging from a tree serves as a warning; rats feasting on corpses; amputations; executions; countless dead. Far more memorable are the impassioned stories themselves. Betrayal, deceit, mistrust, murder, hope, and even humor run throughout these tales. Painstakingly researched, the amazing Tardi perfectly captures the everyday despair of the World War I trench soldier. Visceral, powerful, and effective, the flawless It Was The War of the Trenches blazes a new standard for the war comic.

Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn Written by Grant Morrison Art by Frank Quitely and Philip Tan (DC)
Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn The dynamic duo of Morrison and Quitely, fresh from their extraordinary run on All Star Superman, tackle another iconic character, albeit in a slightly different manner. After the death of Bruce Wayne, orchestrated by Morrison, Wayne's ward and former partner Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing née Robin, dons his mentor's cap and cowl. Joining the fledgling Batman on his mission, Wayne's recently revealed 13-year-old son Damian acquires the Robin mantle. Raised by his morally-challenged mother among the League of Assassins, Damian struggles with the concepts of right and wrong. Still under the domineering shadow of his dead partner, Grayson must deal with his own feeling of inadequacies as he attempts to carve out his own Bat identity. Fueled by Morrison's off-kilter vision and Quitely's and later Tan's exquisite art, the duo challenge the perverse Pyg and the villainous Red Hood in a series of thrilling adventures.

The Stuff of Legend Book 1: The Dark Written by Mike Raicht & Brian Smith Art by Charles Paul Wilson III (Villard)
The Stuff of Legend Book 1: The Dark After the Boogeyman kidnaps a young boy, his toys mobilize to save their beloved master. The metallic Colonel leads Maxwell the teddy bear, Percy the piggy bank, the wooden duck Quackers, the Native American Princess, Jester from the jack-in-box, the angel Harmony, and the real puppy Scout into the feared closet. Upon entering the Boogeyman's domain, toys shake their artificiality and become the things they represent (Maxwell an actual bear, Quackers a real duck, Princess a flesh and blood Indian, etc.) In an amazing cross-pollination of Toy Story and Wizard of Oz, Raicht, Smith, and Wilson introduce a fascinating land inhabited by forgotten toys and fueled by the forces of evil. Newcomer Wilson's lush work ideally supports this imaginative triumph.

Comic Book Realities

Superman (1978)
Swamp Thing (1982)
Batman (1989)
Ghost World
Not that long ago, live action movies based on comics were a scarcity. As a kid in the 70s, a few made-for-TV movies based on Marvel properties littered the airwaves. Spider-man, Hulk, Dr. Strange, and Captain America all enjoy varying degrees of success. Not to be outdone, DC supplied the highly popular Wonder Woman series. Buck Rogers even staged a comeback. These films and series produced in the days before cable and digital effects, all looked inferior even to the current dismal crop of Saturday night originals airing on SyFy.

In the 40s, comic adaptations dominated the weekly serials. Batman, Superman, Captain Marvel, Captain America, The Spirit, Jungle Jim, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Dick Tracy thrilled audiences. In the 50s, Superman and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle starred in their own TV shows. Throughout the 60s, the concept of the live action comics story, save for three seasons and one motion picture of the Adam West Batman, was all but dead.

The 70s rebirth reached its pinnacle with the 1978 release of the first Christopher Reeve Superman. The groundbreaking film, directed by Richard Donner, demonstrated that superhero comic book conventions such as flying -- director of special effects Colin Chilvers and his crew effectively ditched the industry standard of wires in favor of a new blue screen technology -- and super powers could be enacted in a believable manner. While both a critical and financial success that generated three inferior sequels, an awful Supergirl spinoff, and one season of the Superboy TV series all before the end of the 80s, the dreamed of comic-book-to-movies explosion failed to materialize. Over thirty years later, Superman remains one of genre's standards of excellence.

During the early 80s, horror, science fiction, and action films dominated my film existence with only one notable comic book movie. Wes Craven, best-known at that point for the schlockfests The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, brought the cult classic Swamp Thing to the big screen. My then 14-year-old self walked away from Swamp Thing (1982) with only one lasting memory: a nearly topless Adrienne Barbeau. I've managed to see the movie several times since and though not terrible, in terms of quality, the film lags far behind the extraordinary Superman.

A mediocre potpourri littered the rest of the decade: Sheena (1984 with Tanya Roberts), Red Sonja (1985, Brigitte Nielsen in the lead), Howard the Duck (1986, expensive George Lucas-helmed disaster based on the hilarious comic), The Spirit (1987, looks better now thanks to the 2008 travesty), The Return of Swamp Thing (1989, sans Barbeau but with the clothed Heather Locklear), and The Punisher (1989, a wooden Dolph Lundgren lumbers his way though this stinker). All of these movies lost money and are largely forgotten.

In 1989, two significant properties saved the live action comic adaptation from obscurity. HBO premiered the long running Tales from the Crypt series. Adapting the original and controversial 1950s EC Comics tales that lead to Senate hearings and ultimately the stringent Comics Code, the generally excellent show lasted for an impressive seven seasons.

The most important comic book movie since Superman, Tim Burton's ballyhooed interpretation of Batman with the unlikely Michael Keaton as the hero and Jack Nicholson as his arch nemesis Joker also premiered in 1989. The film, lauded by almost everyone and influenced by the darker Batman works of Frank Miller, ushered in an unparalleled mainstream interest in comics and graphic novels. Sadly, the furor quickly ebbed. The series did manage three sequels and a solo Catwoman movie.

Until 1995, I sought out every comic book movie adaptation in some misguided belief that if I didn't, they'd stop making them. I suffered through some less than stellar outings including two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies (1990, 1991), yet another Captain America (1990), a Swamp Thing USA Network series (1991-1993), Dennis the Menace (1993), The Crow (1994), Ri¢hie Ri¢h (1994), and Roger Corman's dismal The Fantastic Four (1995).

Some decent stuff did emerge. Based on Dave Steven's beautiful comic, The Rocketeer (1991) supplied fun pulp stylings. Two quality prime time TV series, The Flash (1990) and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997) offered some excellent scripts and entertaining storylines. Sadly beyond the popular Sabrina, the Teen Witch (1996-2003) and the long running Smallville (2001 to the present), every other attempt at a live action series never attracted enough of an audience.

Tank Girl (1995) stopped my obsession. I realized about half through this wretched movie, that I didn't even like the comic, so why was I there? I swore to be more judicious in my choices.

Thanks to my new discernment, I successfully managed to avoid universally acknowledged crap -- Judge Dredd (1995), Barb Wire (1996), The Crow: City of Angels (1996), Vampirella (1996), Spawn (1997), Steel (1997), and Nick Fury: Agent of Shield (1998) -- until shown on commercial TV or often not all. That's not to say I stopped going to comic book movies after 1995. Like many of my geek brethren, I suffered through Batman & Robin (1997) and enjoyed The Mask (1995), Men In Black (1997), and the underrated The Phantom (1996) in the theater.

Blade (1998), based on an obscure Marvel Comics character, granted a glimpse of comic book movies future. The slick, well-written vampire film starred Welsey Snipes as the doomed half human/half-vampire who seeks revenge against the vampires who killed his mother. Dramatic and exciting, Blade became a huge box office smash, exceeding all expectations. This success paved the way for more ambitious projects.

I approached X-Men (2000) with trepidations. Nothing, not the trailers nor the stars, prepared me for the best comic book movie since Superman. The film launched an unprecedented explosion of comic book superhero movies. Exceeding the popularity and acclaim of X-Men, Spider-Man (2002) captured the finest elements from the long running comic. 2003 saw a couple of inferior attempts (Hulk, Daredevil) all but eclipsed by X2. The X-Men sequel amazingly outdid its predecessor, which sadly managed to set up fans for the disappoint of the dreadful third movie (X-Men: Last Stand, 2006). During the aughts, it seemed every hero starred in their own movie or TV series. Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Birds of Prey, Constantine, Punisher, Switchblade, Painkiller Jane, Mutant X, Elektra, Superman, Hellboy, and Watchmen all received the live action treatment.

This new era also brought the successful return of Batman. While Christopher Nolan's first caped crusader effort Batman Begins (2005) supplied plenty of action with an above average story and an excellent cast, no one could have predicted the success of the second film. Dark Knight (2008) became one of the highest grossing films of the decade and the biggest money-making comic book movie of all time.

Perhaps just as important as the initial X-Men, Ghost World (2001), based on Daniel Clowes popular indy comic, emerged as a cult classic and illustrated that not all comic book movies need be derived from superheroes. Unlike previous efforts, producers now looked beyond the traditional mainstream markets for their licenses. Later that same year, From Hell offered a neutered version of Alan Moore's intricate exploration of Jack the Ripper but still managed a modicum of success. American Splendor (2003) introduced comicdom's favorite curmudgeon Harvey Pekar in one of the finest comic book movies. The non-superheroes did big business. Sin City (2005), A History of Violence (2005), 300 (2006), and Wanted (2007) dominated the box office.

Now commonplace, 2010 offers an ample supply of new adaptations. Kick-Ass, a superhero parody based on the Marvel comic, already rocketed to the top of the charts. The aptly named The Losers poorly adapted the amusing Vertigo comic. The eagerly anticipated sequel to 2008's monster hit Iron Man premieres on May 7. The popular western character Jonah Hex appears in the eponymous movie on June 18. August sees one of the more intriguing comic adaptations to date with Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, a bizarre twist on the romantic comedy. Already a phenom in Europe, Les aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec, Luc Besson's interpretation of cartoonist Jacques Tardi's popular steampunk adventures, hits American shores in September.

In my 70s childhood, I may have hoped my favorite four color adventures appeared on the big screen, but I never dared to imagine the present comic book adaptation reality.


Copyright © 2010 Rick Klaw

Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century. He can often be found pontificating on Twitter and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.


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