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Top Five Comic Book Movies That Outdo Their Origins

Nick Nadel’s Tuesday column examines the increasingly busy intersection between comic books and the movies.

Comic-book fans love to debate the various ways in which Hollywood has ruined our beloved characters. (Joker killed Batman’s parents! Spidey has organic web shooters! The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were neither extraordinary nor gentlemen!) But occasionally comic-book movies actually improve upon their source materials. Let’s take a look at five comics that got an upgrade in the transition from page to screen.

1. Men in Black
Before his obscure, independent comic book was sold to Hollywood, Men in Black
writer Lowell Cunningham worked as a security guard in a blue-jeans
factory. This fact is infinitely more interesting than the violent,
blandly drawn comics he wrote for Aircel (later Malibu) Comics. The
hit movie wisely played up the comedy and narrowed the MIB’s focus from
generic monster-hunting to extraterrestrial management.

2. The Crow
Created in the wake of his fiancée’s death, James O’Barr’s original Crow series is undoubtedly heartfelt. But it doesn’t hold up in the face of the big screen adaptation. O’Barr’s loose, slightly amateurish artwork can’t compete with director Alex Proyas’s bracingly gothic images, and O’Barr’s writing often verges on the mawkish. The movie also has a huge asset in Brandon Lee, whose haunting performance elevates the material from its pulpy, revenge-fantasy origins. (The story was also designed to be a one-off, making the many sequels and spin-off comics redundant.) O’Barr gave us an unforgettable creation and donated the proceeds he earned from the film to charity. But his vision still works best on the silver screen.

3. The Phantom
Yes,
the comic strip is beloved by millions, but it’s also mind-meltingly
dull: The movie Phantom “slammed evil” in under two hours. Now that’s power! Billy Zane’s pecs are a
bit too much, but he is wearing a costume that hasn’t changed one bit
since the Great Depression. The film’s no Raiders (heck, it’s not even The Shadow ),
but it does have some zippy energy and a decent villain in Treat
Williams’s Xander Drax. No less an authority than the New York Post‘s Liz Smith claims that a sequel reuniting the original cast is in the works. One hopes they’ll let Zane wear his underwear on the inside this time.

4. Blade
I’ve previously credited Blade
with kicking off Marvel’s moviemaking renaissance, but the horror hit should
also be applauded for dragging its protagonist out of the seventies.
Prior to his big-screen breakthrough, Blade was mostly relegated to a
supporting role in comics like Tomb of Dracula and Vampire Tales.
Forced to join the unfortunately named Nightstalkers during the
nineties, Blade was on the verge of fading into obscurity when Wesley
Snipes and director Stephen Norrington rushed in and saved him. The Hollywood franchise updated Blade’s costume and arsenal, giving him a
stoic, tough-guy attitude. It’s
telling that the Blade currently hacking his way through the Marvel
universe on paper is nearly identical to Snipes (only with fewer tax problems).

5. Josie and the Pussycats
This
underrated comedy attempts something that has never once entered into
the Archie Comics lexicon: satire. Updating the cheesy girl group for
generation TRL, Josie is a scathing indictment of
youth-oriented consumer culture disguised as a Rachel Leigh Cook
vehicle. Okay, so maybe it’s not that deep. (The presence of Tara Reid
lowers the film’s IQ by at least 50 points.) But the fact that
directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan ( Can’t Hardly Wait ) manage to get in a few swipes at the mainstream marketplace is admirable. Personally, I loved it.

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