The 90's Panel: A look into comic books that rocked my world
A true expert...
Before the silver screen- there was the beige page
Growing up as an angry young teenager with a serious case of ADD, it wasn't easy getting me to read an entire book from cover to cover- and enjoy it. But as anyone with an over-active mind will show you, they also have equally restless imaginations. Imaginations that need a constant source of entertainment that is fresh each time they view it: so for them, there is the graphic novel. Or "comic book" if you want to be a blunt snob. And while comics are in no way a new medium, a lot can be said for what I think was the peak of the art during the 90's when heroes were made or reinvented, series were born, and the geekiest of geeks had a home in the comic shops before internet console gaming kept them out of the sunlight forever.
These days I don't think that anyone even reads comics anymore and its no surprise since we live in the digital world. But it is disappointing. While I love that some of the most legendary series are being adapted into blockbuster films; there was a time when liking these characters and stories during their printed form would've gotten me stuffed into a middle school locker. Now those jocks that kept me a "closet comic fan" are lining up at theaters to see Robert Downey Jr put on his metal trousers to become (an AWESOME) Iron Man. Yeah, I am still bitter over that...
Recently I have wondered what kind of graphic novel heroes really did well translated into film; more specifically, the rags I read in the 90's. And even more so I wondered what didn't work out well in theatrical release. If they didn't, is a reboot necessary? I also wonder what became of my favorite comic book protagonists and when will the cameras roll for them? Above all else, what was really a damned great series and why did we forget such brilliance?
This was all so much to take on but I wouldn't be any of the aspiring writer I am today if not for series such as these, and for some reason, I begin this retrospective with my biggest disappointment as a comic geek.
Todd Macfarlane's "Spawn"
The creation of a super human hero is usually a noble call to the character (like Batman) or an amazing accident (ala radioactive spiders). Things didn't go so well though for assassinated mercenary Al Simmonds. After being whacked by his own team, Al becomes a Hellspawn: ranking officer of the Devil's army against Heaven has been sent back to earth from beyond the grave to create havoc on earth on the Devil's behalf. But while our pro is a corpse in Satan's coolest living battle suit, he makes the choice to do good during his second time 'round this world- as opposed to working for the man below. As Spawn's story goes, Al is tortured by the memory of his lost love, Wanda, and shattered life living on the streets. Spawn must avoid cruel mentors like Clown (better known for his alternate form, the Violator) and trust the mysterious Cagliostro who acts as the angel at his other shoulder. As Al moves on more he encounters freaks, demons and old friends all to get closer to killing the men who killed him first.
Todd Macfarlane (no relation to Seth of Family Guy fame) didn't just create this series, he created an multimillion dollar empire. In short order, the success of Spawn kick started the coolest action figure company that still produces great toys. An HBO animated series was made that shocked and awed viewers with sex and violence not widely seen in American cartoons. The comic was good too- at first. Then Hollywood stepped in...
Spawn was made into a special effects film horror show disaster with a thin plot in 1997. I wanted so badly to like the film but it was no use trying. The story was vague to the book, the acting was awful, and the series itself had to change because of the terrible writing and character changes the film made while being produced. What made the adult comic series of Spawn lose even more of its balls was the fact that its film was PG-13. All in all, Todd bit a little more off than he could chew, thus burying his golden egg, then losing it in the sand.
I fell out of love with Spawn in 1998 and heard little of it after that; perhaps things got better for it as a comic series but after the 2 hour cinematic assault of all visual filler and no intellectual killer, I moved on and grew up. Rumors still surface often of a sequel/reboot of the original but at this point, if a former mega-fan like me doesn't give a hoot, no one else does either.
The Icing on the Cake: Remember all that bad ass Spawn Memorabilia? Well its all worthless now and repels girls.
Some of the coolest toys ever! And no one I knew ever took them out of the packaging.
When goth was cool...
Maybe you wouldn't be interested in James O'barr's epic, adult themed series because of Hot Topic and Twilight's assault and rape on goth culture. The original graphic novel was black and white, the tortured protagonist painted his face; a lot like those scary kids that cut themselves and listen to The Cure. Don't let the current state of goth steer you away. I assure you, that anyone who skips on The Crow because they're not into the 'goth' thing have seriously missed out.
Our hero, Eric, is out for blood after a gang of thugs kill him and his fiance the day before their wedding. Assist by the resurrecting power of a crow, Eric climbs out from his grave an invincible but still emotionally distraught angel of death. As his adventure moves on, he creatively finds and eviscerates his murderers one by one, not only achieving his goals for avenging his and his fiance's murder, but also taking out a scummy mafia king.
This series soars! Men will love the action- girls will love the romance and if you're not into reading the whole thing, then you're in luck- The Crow was made into a beautifully dark, and fast paced action/romance film in 1994. Starring Brandon Lee (who died in an on set accident while making the film), this story of revenge and justice for the dead, all in the name of love was one of the best comics to film made for the time. Audiences got a great story without special effects or over complicated character abilities- if you've ever been in love, then The Crow is easy for one to follow.
So what went wrong?...Sequels.
The Crow:City of Angels came out in 1996 and retold the same great story but critics and audiences weren't impressed again. Other films were made that got worse and worse, with the last film starring C-list actor Edward Furlong (that kid from Terminator 2, remember?). As for myself, I wanted to love the continuation of revenge stories assisted by a cursed black bird, but it got repetitive. The comic series also dragged readers through many of the same story over and over again; so its easy to see why you've not heard much from The Crow since it's first great comic book film made in 1994. Regardless of all this mess, if you never have read a graphic novel and want an uncomplicated read should give the original book a chance and enjoy a beautiful walk on the dark side.
Before the sequels ruined it all...
Cause the covers, they be a'changin'
While this series was made in the 1980's, it wasn't until the mid 90's that I encountered the series that asked:
What if superheroes were real?
Suppose they defended our country, and really cleaned up the streets, or could even be Godlike? While most of our minds revert to our inner-child and think that a world saved by Superman is an ideal place, Alan Moore saw that world without the rose-colored glasses. With a back story treated with doses of Vietnam and The Cold War, a whole group of empowered, talented men and women in super hero suits struggle to keep America safe, free and above all, sane.
As a group, The Watchmen is a collection of vigilantes and crime stoppers that wear masks and capes in an effort to strike fear in the hearts of their criminal opponents. As the years move from the 50's to the 80's the hero lineup changes as does the chaos gripping the world ranging from small time thugs to world threatening dictators. The series of Watchmen was 8 huge issues of graphic novel story, each with fictional newspaper clippings, diary entries, press releases, and extra stories that run parallel to the main story.
While the roster of The Watchmen is large and shifting, the stand out characters that move the story the most is the hardcore, conservative ass-kicker Rorschach, shy and noble Nightowl, and the all-powerful, blue Uber-man Dr. Manhattan. A murder of one of their original members stirs a pot of investigation, mystery and espionage that boils down to the fate of the world as nations aim their nuclear powers at one another. Each character tries to help the situation in order to try and save the world, but each member of The Watchmen is different and the group finds themselves at odds with each other. Dr. Manhattan isn't so sure of saving a humanity that gives him no respect, Rorschach is fighting more for his right-leaning beliefs, and Nightowl wrestles with his own cowardice. And can the group trust one of its most prosperous members and former leader: sellout businessman Adrian "Ozymandias" Veidt?
The Watchmen has been such a popular series since 1987 that it earned a spot in Time Magazines' 100 greatest novels list. To be held at such high esteem next to great American novels that aren't comic books is a feat that every writer, artist and creator in graphic novels aspires to; Alan Moore most definitely raised the bar. And every visual film director from Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam to Requiem for a Dream helmsmen Darren Aronofsky tried to put this story to film,but the projects never left the ground.
The multi-layered epic flew around Hollywood for 2 decades until 300 director Zack Snyder took on the biggest challenge of cramming what should have been a 8 hour TV series into 3 hours of cinema. The results of that were mixed between comic geeks that felt the film got it all wrong, critics that didn't like superhero stories to begin with, and fanboys that loved it too much. Personally, I find the movie to be a quite well made but unfortunately too much for just 1 movie.
You are not truly a fan of the graphic novel until you have read The Watchmen.
From the director of 300... comes 3 hours.
Preacher and the coolest cast of characters you'll ever see
In 1997, I read my first issue of this series and within a month after skimming through all the issues available at my local comic shop, I convinced my mother to buy me a subscription. The only thing that was wrong with this series was that it ended in the year 2000. Created and written by Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis and illustrated by co-creator Steve Dillon- Preacher is a hell ride from Texas that blazes a trail from New York to Paris, all in a search for God. Following the traditions of westerns, murder mysteries, spiritual drama and drug films- Preacher has a little something for everyone. It also helps if you like your humor black.
Jesse Custer is our anti-hero protagonist: a country-wise preacher from a small Texas town that becomes "a man possessed" by The Word. The Word is a God-like power to command people to do whatever you ask them, but the origin of this power also explains it's biggest drawback. The Word came from a Demon and Angel hybrid that escaped the prisons of heaven and crashed to earth landing on the first bad-ass, man of God it found. Now Jesse, his love Tulip, and a drunken Irish vampire hit the road and travel the world to find God. The gang feels that Jesse's possession is due to God leaving Heaven to live on earth- thus putting the Kingdom in the hands of irresponsible Angels. So, as blasphemous as it may sound: God has some explaining to do. Hot on their trail is an indestructible cowboy known as The Saint of All Killers, a secret society that owns the last living Christ descendant, and every run of the mill whack job that knows the power and influence of Jesse and The Word.
Jesse Custer was really an influence on me because of his "be your own man" philosophy. He was a man that gave up believing in a doctrine and believed in himself to find the answers. Jesse loved his woman enough to involve her on his mission and treated her more like a friend rather than someone he needed to constantly save. A smoking, foul-mouthed man of action that practiced what he um, ... preached. He was only this good of a man because he had a good father and his imaginary friend was John Wayne. He is an American bad ass and not an ass-HOLE. If there was a comic book hero that anyone could be without having a radioactive spider bite him or be born on Krypton.
After a 75 issue run, Preacher ended and gave birth to nothing after. No Movies, No killer HBO series or action figures. Comic fan and film director Kevin Smith salivates to the idea of putting the whole adventure on film or TV; he once called the series "Better than going to the Movies". People into comics almost universally love this series and those that encounter it notice the brilliance of the series. Fans love the honest vulgarity, realistic stance on organized religion, sex because of love, colorful characters, and believability in our protagonist. As a reader, I was always let down at the end of each issue- I never wanted it to end.