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The Secret Influence of Comic Books – From Transformers to I Love You, Beth Cooper

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The summer of 2008 was pure heaven for comic book fans: Iron Man, The Dark Knight, heck, even Wanted offered geeks four-colored cinematic glory. But now that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is out of the way, the rest of 2009 feels a little light on the capes and tights. But look closer at this summer’s offerings: Comic books have exerted their influence over the multiplexes in some obvious (and some not-so-obvious) ways.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
The first Transformers movie took concepts and characters from the ’80s cartoon and comic book, put them in a blender and hit “Michael Bay.” Fans recognized elements like the All Spark — similar to the “Matrix” from the Marvel comics series and the 1986 Judd Nelson/Orson Welles animated movie — but for the most part, these robots in disguise didn’t really resemble anything that came before them. The new movie, however, gets its title villain from the recent Transformers comic series published by Dreamwave Studios. Fallen first appears in Transformers: The War Within: The Dark Ages (penned by long-time writer Simon Furman) as one of the original thirteen Transformers who betrays the creator Primus — he’s Judas, as a giant robot. We’ll see how the character is portrayed in the movie, but it appears he’ll have ties to the Transformers’ origin. We also almost got to see human industrialist G.B. Blackrock from the old Marvel series, but Michael Bay apparently found the name “too cartoony.” This from the guy who had a dog urinate on one of the Autobots.

Terminator Salvation
terminator-125.jpgWhile the latest Terminator installment is firmly rooted in established movie continuity (one would hope), there are some interesting comic book tie-ins. First off, there’s the movie’s uncredited co-writer, The Dark Knight‘s Jonathan Nolan. We all know how Nolan’s last collaboration with Christian Bale turned out, so this could bode well. Then there’s IDW’s Salvation prequel comic, and Terminator Revolution, a continuation of the T2 saga from Dynamite Entertainment. Terminator has an interesting history in comics, occasionally meeting the likes of Superman and Robocop (in a Frank Miller-penned series). Perhaps when the current movie series run its course, we’ll see Skynet team up with Omni Consumer Products.

I Love You, Beth Cooper
I-Love-You-Beth-Cooper-125.jpgBelieve it or not, this cheesy Hayden Panettiere vehicle — which looks like the ungainly offspring of Superbad and The Girl Next Door — has a comic book connection: The book on which it’s based features illustrations by indie comix legend Evan Dorkin (Milk & Cheese). Dorkin’s illustrations add to the novel’s humor, showing the physical toll a night with the titular cheerleader takes on hapless teen Dennis Cooverman. Paul Rust, who plays Dennis, looks like a Dorkin drawing come to life. But that’s about where the similarities to the book end, as the trailer makes the movie look as monotonous as every other teen comedy released in the last decade.

G.I. Joe: Revenge of Cobra
snake-eyes-125.jpgIf there is anything even remotely cool or interesting about Stephen “The Mummy” Sommers’ take on the “Real American Hero,” you can thank longtime G.I. Joe comic book scribe Larry Hama. Through his work on the comic (which at one time outsold The Uncanny X-Men) and on the filecards that came with the action figures, Hama established the many character traits and story points that fans know and love: Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes being part of the same mysterious ninja clan? Drawn from Hama’s own background in martial arts and Japanese history. Cobra Commander’s transformation from an average guy to a maniacal extremist? That’s Hama too. Snake Eyes and Scarlett’s romance? A Hama creation that was more complex than the cartoon’s simplistic Duke/Scarlett flirtation. The fact that Sommers brought Hama in as an on-set consultant speaks to the writer’s influence on the franchise. Though even he couldn’t stop the filmmaker from bringing in those silly accelerator suits.

G-Force
G-Force-125.jpgBased on the award-winning graphic novel, G-Force follows an intrepid team of secret agent guinea pigs. Can they stop diabolical billionaire Leonard Saber from — I’m kidding. Sassy talking animals plus high-octane action? This brilliant concept could only have come from the mind of Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Have you noticed any comic book connections in other 2009 summer movies?

For more comic book movie news and opinions, follow Nick Nadel’s column on Twitter. Special thanks to G.I. Joe expert Tim Finn, currently writing a book on the “Real American Hero” incarnation of the venerable brand.

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