Pop quiz: name some movies based on comic books. Go. If you’re like 99 percent of the general population, you just rattled off Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, and Iron Man. If you happen to be a certified geek — a club of which I proudly call myself a member — you might even correctly cite some lesser-known properties like Watchmen, Wanted, and Hellboy. But yours truly has gone a step further, analyzing the meteoric rise of comic-book adaptations and plumbing the murky depths of history’s more obscure adaptations. The result is a set of movies that you probably didn’t know were based on comic books because, with few exceptions, the characters don’t wear tights. So you think you’re an expert on comic adaptations? See if you know these five surprising comic flicks.
If you don’t recognize that this film is based on a comic, it might be because the comic is “Hellblazer,” which, while not exactly “Batman,” has run steadily since 1998 under a DC imprint. While in the movie Keanu Reeves’s John Constantine is a chain-smoking cynic searching for salvation after being condemned to hell for a childhood suicide attempt, the latest comic is a bit less dramatic. In the issue, Constantine is not only battling a vengeful niece but searching for a new thumb. Yes, a new thumb. I wonder how he hails a cab.
4. Judge Dredd
As with Constantine, you probably didn’t know Judge Dredd was based on a comic (because you’re not a total nerd), but it kind of makes sense that it is. The weekly British comic “2000 AD” has been in publication since 1977 with a rotating series of sci-fi stories. One of its most popular recurring characters is Judge Dredd, the one-man judicial system brought to life on the big screen by Sylvester Stallone. Dredd’s comic face always remains hidden by his imposing helmet, but Hollywood is not a fan of hidden faces, so the first rule broken was having Dredd remove his helmet. To be sure, Stallone’s Dredd is as fiercely dedicated to upholding the law as his comic counterpart, but he looks better doing it.
3. Mystery Men
Yes, they’re superheroes — sort of — based on “Flaming Carrot Comics” — about a hero who wears everyday clothes, flippers (in case he has to swim), and a giant carrot mask that spews fire and hides a nuclear-powered pogo stick. You would think that such lunacy would have made the comic popular, but the only notable thing to emerge was the blue-collar superhero group Mystery Men, which was adapted to film in 1999. The comedy featured a bevy of mediocre superheroes, none of whom wore a giant carrot mask nor used a nuclear-powered pogo stick. They all have unimpressive powers yet must somehow save the day. I suppose superheroes with unimpressive powers have a better chance at saving the day than no one, but the idea still does not fill me with confidence.
You may not expect that “Virus” is a comic because you think of comics as superhero sci-fi, not horror. And the 1992 comic is Über-creepy, telling of an alien propagating itself by combining electronics with the dead bodies. In 1999, writer Chuck Pfarrer felt that Hollywood special effects has progressed enough to properly depict his story, and the idea in the film predominantly remains the same: a salvage crew encounters an apparently deserted ship that really hides an alien terror. The film plays up the horror aspects of the plot — and down the sci-fi parts — which also masks the movie’s comic origins.
1. Howard the Duck
In 1977, George Lucas could do no wrong. It was another story in 1986, when he produced an adaptation of the comic “Howard the Duck.” Yes, the movie was based on a comic. You probably only remember the duck and the icy reception the movie received — particularly the infamous duck-on-woman love scene. But there was a comic. Howard made his first appearance in 1973, and his misadventures were written to be existentialist social satire, not a punch line in movie trivia. And on the page, Howard even had the honor of meeting Spider-Man. I wonder how Howard feels about Spidey’s huge box-office success.