Good Comic, Bad Movie: From Hell

I'm kicking off a new regular feature here at Living Between Wendnesdays, where we watch and review the painful adaptations of your favourite comics. Sometimes it might be more like, Good Comic, Pretty Good Movie (Ghost World), or Terrible Comic, Awesome Movie (The Spirit...kidding!).

I'm starting with an Alan Moore book, since those are the smoothest and most faithful comic adaptations there are...NOT! (Yup, I'm bringing that back.) It's old news that Moore hates all the film adaptations of his books and they are the most whined about, refuted, debated and delayed comic movies around.

I actually think From Hell might be a pretty tolerable film on its own, but having just read the comic for the first time, I wanted to punch this movie in the nuts while wearing giant silver rings on every finger.

Like most adaptations, From Hell is just skimming the surface. Johnny Depp stars as vision-having, opium-smoking Inspector Abberline, who is a sort of mish-mash of the comic's Inspector Abberline and the psychic Robert Less. Heather Graham is Mary Kelly, the only prostitute in Victorian London who looks like she just spent a week at a spa.

An adaptation that's skimming the surface is fine for say, Twilight, but Moore and Eddie Campbell's comic is amazingly complex. From Hell itself is a historiography—not just a history or historical fiction—but a story about how we understand history and fiction, how the lines between what's true and what's made up are constantly blurred. From Hell the comic is about the culmination of  everything wrong with Victorian culture, and about the sickness within the whole Western world. From Hell the movie is about Jack the Ripper cutting up ladies and Abberline solving the case.

The film is basically a cop drama set in the 19th century. There's even a carriage chase at the end, and Abberline is kicked off the police force because of his crazy obsession with the case. He doesn't turn in his badge and truncheon, but close enough.

It just seems silly to turn the whole thing into a mystery, when in the comic, we know that *spoiler alert!* William Gull is the murderer from very early on. In the newest edition, dude is on the cover! He's almost the protagonist, or the anti-hero at least, and the story at times serves as a character study of man going totally bananas.


The otherworldly elements that pepper the book are almost entirely left out. You get none of Gull's spooky metaphysical time-traveling or his hallucinations brought on by his stroke. The whole is-it-magic-or-is-he-insane or is-there-really-a-difference thing doesn't come across. The only supernatural element still there is that Johnny Depp's Abberline is psychic, which actually doesn't serve much of a purpose, except that we get to see Johnny Depp tripping out in a bathtub a lot.

The art direction in this movie is definitely lacking. You can tell they tried, they really tried, oh so hard!

Moore and Campbell's book gave you the feeling of what a gross, awful place Victorian London was, what with the lack of hygiene, rampant alcoholism, unlivable slums, no social systems to support people, etc. The women who were having sex in alley ways, making just enough to survive, really were already in hell.

The film, however, looked like a stage play. I kept expecting Abberline to break into a dance number on the street and sing, "I'll find the Ripper if it kills me! The Ripper's day has come! I'll use my psychic powers! Now where's the opiuuuummmmm!"

The biggest thing that broke the illusion was defintely Heather Graham, with her perfectly sculpted eyebrows, her gleaming white teeth and her perfect skin. Her characters is super whitewashed and totally hotted up. We never, ever see her having awful sex with scary, plague-ridden dudes. She only has hot make-out sessions with Johnny Depp. While the book's Mary Kelly is an alcoholic who is trying to survive when she knows she's on a serial killer's to do list, Heather Graham is basically just a one-dimensional love interest. At best, Mary Kelly is Abberline's buddy cop sidekick, hot on the trail of the Ripper! 


Johnny Depp was fine. Whatever. And the rest of the cast was pretty good, especially, Jason Flemyng, and the fat guy who announces the news in Rome. Oh Robbie Coletrane was in there too, although I can't think of him as anyone but Hagrid now, so that was a little distracting. "'Appy 11th birthday! Yer a wizard, Inspector Abberline! Blimey, that's why ya 'ave dreams about murdered women! There a be more a that at 'Ogwarts!"

The thing is, I don't know how this book could be adapted properly. Maybe our old standard request as comic fans— an HBO series? I'm not even sure that would work. Moore knows the score, Hollywood. Maybe you should leave his books alone. Except Lost Girls. I think we'd all watch that one.

Superman/Batman Is As Superman/Batman Does.

Superman/Batman is one consistently stupid book. Like its spiritual predecessor, World’s Finest, it teams up DC’s heaviest hitters month after month, and in true Silver Age fashion, there is a bit of an “anything goes” approach, where wild ideas abound but logic is often the first thing to go out the window. It’s a title that began with President Lex Luthor putting a million-dollar bounty on Superman’s head because a Kryptonite asteroid was going to collide with Earth, and became even more idiotic with each successive story. The idea that Superman’s nemesis Metallo had possibly been the real murderer of Thomas and Martha Wayne was raised early on in the series, but never resolved. There have been heartfelt but confusing tributes to the Silver Age, Alan Moore, and, for some reason, various Marvel comics (Luthor as Wolverine? Atomic Skull as Ghost Rider?). The book features a supremely annoying house style of writing where the two leads narrate in hilariously homoerotic tandem, constantly commenting on what the other must be thinking right now. In defiance of all odds, it somehow became even stupider when Jeph Loeb wrapped up his 25-issue arc.

However, I submit to you that, despite all these flaws, Superman/Batman is the most consistently accessible and yes, entertaining, mainstream book featuring these two leads a lot of the time. This comes with a couple of qualifiers—neither Grant Morrison or Geoff Johns can be writing Supes or Bats in another title at the time, which makes for pretty short windows. Also, the art is a huge component of the book’s debatable success. Ed McGuinness or Carlos Pacheco can make Loeb’s foolishness a lot more palatable, for instance, and Rags Morales or Rafael Albuquerque will make the proceedings run a lot more smoothly than, say, Whilce Portacio or Shane Davis. While the storylines are often modern glosses on Silver Age tropes—our heroes get shrunk, or their powers goes crazy, or they meet adorable l’il kid versions of themselves—they are usually fun, dumb adventures that only last a few issues at most. It’s also the most self-contained of the mainstream DCU books—this title does not pause to acknowledge Crises, whether Infinite or Final, nobody’s Battling For The Cowl, and there’s nary a New Krypton to be found in the cosmos.

Take this week’s issue #60, for instance. Current writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson deliver the first of a two-parter called Mash-up that finds Superman and Batman suddenly inhabiting a city called Gothamopolis, where familiar old faces are strangely mixed and matched. For instance, our two confused leads almost immediately run into the Justice Titans, a team made up out of amalgamated JLA and Teen Titans members. Among these weirdos are Night Lantern, Donna Wonder, Star Canary, Flash (‘cause he’s in both teams, get it?), Hawk-Beast, and Aqua-Borg. That’s right, Aqua-Borg. There’s an obligatory misunderstanding and fight scene, but they all eventually put aside their differences and go to the Justice Tower to solve the mystery, where we learn that they’ve been saving the silliest JT member for last; Terranado, a mash-up of Red Tornado and Terra (whose alter ego is Terra Mark V, which is actually kind of clever).

Soon, they’re all off to S.T.A.R.kham Labs (I know, right? Seriously!), where they fight Doomstroke, who it turns out is working for evil genius…Lex Joker. Well, why not, I guess. To be continued.

This is a very silly issue of a very silly book, and yet, it was probably my favourite comic of last week. I honestly don’t want to think too hard about what that means for the state of the industry right now, but there it is. It had the two best superheroes ever confronting a weird mystery, it had a couple of cool fights, and a cliffhanger ending that made we want to learn just what the hell is going on. It also had striking artwork by Francis Manapul (Legion of Super-Heroes), who is trying out a cool new style—very brushy and angular—that is lushly coloured here by Brian Buccellato. Manapul is the artist on the new Adventure Comics title debuting in August, which I am now officially a lot more excited about. For more goodness, check out Manapul's official website. You'll be glad you did.

This may all sound like I’m damning this book with the faintest of praise, but it’s sincere—this comic provided a kind of diverting entertainment you don’t see much of nowadays. You don’t have to know what’s going on in a zillion other books, there isn’t any disturbingly adult content that has no business in a superhero title, and there was something new and ridiculous to capture your attention on practically every page. This, by design or otherwise, seems to be the unofficial mission statement of Superman/Batman. As mission statements—or superhero team-up comics, really—go, you could do worse.

Two "Girl" Comics and a Buffy: My Lady-est Week Ever


Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade #6

Grant Morrison does an excellent fill in on the final issue. No. But seriously, this issue had some time traveling, multi-universal craziness worthy of Final Crisis. In a nutshell, Mr. Mxyzptlk makes everyone trip out, and Supergirl saves the day. I really loved this series, and I feel like other creators of all-ages comics should use this as their template: it was fun, had wide appeal and used familiar tropes but also had its own thing going on. And it came out regularly, so kids (and adults) didn't lose interest. (I'm looking at you Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam. Great book, but c'mon! You're not Optic Nerve!)


Power Girl #1

I feel pretty invested in Power Girl as a character. I guess 'cause she's often been such a joke, or she's been the iconic image of why comics are just for dudes. So I totally love the way Palmiotti and Conner make her not suck. I love how she can be funny and brave and cute and relate-able! That said, I found this issue a little lackluster, and just not as emotionally engaging as I was expecting. It was the first issue though, so I'll quit my complaining until a few more come out. I did love the way Power Girl looked, especially her boots! Those round buckles! I loved when that dude called her "Pee Gee." And I was really into her grumpy cat.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer #25

The Buffy comic was losing me for a bit there, as the stories seemed a little forced and not totally fresh. But this issue pulled me back in. It was nice to wrap up the Dawn storyline that's been naggingly unresolved since the first issue of the series. I felt like the conclusion was honest, and even told us that Dawn is a bit a like her big sister, and maybe sleeps with people for the wrong reasons. There was some nice Xander and Buffy dialogue and Buffy even mentioned watching Veronica Mars! (A little late to name-drop this sadly canceled show, but still cool. Although, if this season eight comic takes place the year after Buffy the show ended [and the show was always on the same time-line as real life], then Veronica Mars wouldn't have even been on yet when the events in this issue took place!!! How did Buffy get those DVDs? Did Superboy punch a hole in the world?)

Anyway. How 'bout that Jo Chen cover? Perverted! 

Free Comic Book Day 2009 Post-Mortem


Free Comic Book Day 2009 has come and gone, and once again, the event was a raging success. At Strange Adventures (more specifically, at St. David’s Church Hall around the corner—the event outgrew the store some years back), we gave away in the neighbourhood of 20,000 comics. Actually, we ran out shortly after 1 PM, which is definitely the earliest that’s ever happened. Cal and a small army of volunteers gave away the freebies, while Rachelle, Tiina, and myselft ran the store, and we were swamped as well—it seems that when people are given a bunch of free comics, they usually supplement them with comics and graphic novels that they have to pay for. This is a good arrangement for everybody. Anyway, here are some random observations about this year’s FCBD, in no particular order:

1. FCBD usually happens the day after a major comic book movie is released, and it’s usually the hot topic of discussion. This is a lot more fun when the movie is, say, Iron Man. When it’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, there is a lot of shrugging and saying things like “I dunno, it was better than X-Men 3”. That right there, my friends, is faint praise indeed.

2.    People are a lot more receptive to trying new comics out on FCBD, and not just the free ones. For instance, we sold a ton of random comics off the kids’ rack, lots of copies of recent buzz books (like Vertigo’s creepy new Unknown Soldier series, and tons of Green Lantern related stuff), and a whole lotta trade paperbacks and hardcovers. One guy even bought all four Absolute Sandman collections, after admitting that he’d never read any of it! That is a dude with no fear of commitment.

3.    Funniest/Most Ridiculous Quote of the Day, delivered by some random gothy-looking kid: “Frank Miller’s comics are okay, but I prefer his movies.” Say what now?

4.    When little kids show up in super-hero costumes for FCBD, it is not only adorable as all get out, but it makes all the hard work involved totally worthwhile.

5.    When I have a few drinks in me, as I did at the FCBD after-party at the Seahorse (thanks again, Cal!), do not, I repeat, do NOT get me talking about how cool the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents are. If you do, you’d better get comfortable—you’re gonna be there awhile, trying to decipher my slurry ramblings.



Until next year…

Wednesday Interview (Wolverine Week Edition): Steve McNiven

Wolverine Week continues here at Living Between Wednesdays, and our Wednesday Interview segment finds us chatting with Steve McNiven, currently hard at work on the Old Man Logan arc in the pages of Wolverine. The Halifax, Nova Scotia based artist first found fame drawing Meridian for CrossGen Comics, the company that launched the careers of other future Marvel superstars like Jimmy Cheung, Steve Epting, and Greg Land. Snapped up by Marvel, McNiven kicked off a new title, Marvel Knights 4, with writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, followed up by the Ultimate Secret miniseries with Warren Ellis and a run on New Avengers with Brian Michael Bendis. In 2006, Steve and writer Mark Millar turned the Marvel Universe’s greatest heroes against each other in the Civil War miniseries, a landmark event that included the public unmasking of Spider-Man and led to the death of Captain America. Steve followed this up by collaborating with writer Dan Slott on the inaugural Brand New Day arc of Amazing Spider-Man, (which relaunched the title as a thrice-monthly series), and now he and Millar are collaborating again on Old Man Logan. This dark, frightening, storyline, set years into a possible future, sees a broken-down Logan who has vowed never to pop his claws again on a journey across a nightmarish America that has been conquered by the worst of the supervillains. Logan and his companion, a sightless Hawkeye, travel the country in the old Spider-Mobile, eluding the Mole Man’s Moloids, an all-new new Kingpin of Crime, and, oh yeah, a Dino-Venom.

Holy $#!% is right! Steve was able to tear himself away from the drawing table long enough to answer a few of our questions about his influences, his collaborators, and what it’s like to draw a world where the bad guys have won.

1. You’ve worked with fan fave Mark Millar twice now, on Civil War and the current Old Man Logan arc on Wolverine. What is it about this particular collaboration that works so well for you? Do you guys have plans for a third project together in the future?

I was talking to my Wolverine editor John Barber about this just the other day. I think Mark writes just the kind of script that makes it fun and challenging for me to draw. He tends to be a very visual writer and has a great flow from panel to panel so I don't find myself having to 'fix' anything to make the story work, and that means that I can concentrate on the fun stuff. But it's more than that, something I couldn't adequately define, a sensibility perhaps that we both share that allows us to work well together. I dunno, but I'm glad it's there because I have so much fun working on his stuff, maybe more than I should as I tend to savor the pages a bit too much and  get way behind on the schedule. He's also a real pro, and I've never had to wait for script from Mark, ever, and I count my blessings as it happens to so many other artist's that I've talked to. All in all I'm a pretty lucky guy.

2. Between the present-day crossover action of Civil War, the dark future Marvel Universe we’re currently seeing in Old Man Logan, and your runs on Marvel Knights 4 and Amazing Spider-Man, you’ve gotten to draw pretty much the entire Marvel Universe. Are there any other characters, or genres, even, that you’ve been dying to get your hands on?

 Yeah, I have drawn a bunch of the Marvel characters, but most not in any real depth, so there still are many characters out there to have some fun with. Really though I don't tend to chase characters. I chase the writers . A great writer can make almost any character compelling enough for me to want to work on. A terrible writer can ruin your enthusiasm , sap your strength and it shows on the page. But if I were to just look at the Marvel characters that I'd like to draw more of then I'd probably could have some fun with the X-Men, maybe the Hulk and definitely Spidey again because he's such a huge challenge to capture artistically and I don't think I've really got a good feel for him yet. Genre wise I'd love to do some Sci fi and Fantasy based stuff as I'm an avid book reader. If you haven't read anything by Alastair Reynolds, or Matthew Stover, do yourself a favor and go check them out.

3. Old Man Logan takes place in a dystopian future where the supervillains have conquered America and killed most of the good guys—pretty grim stuff. Additionally, it’s probably one of the most violent comics to come out of mainstream Marvel in quite a while. Do you ever find it tough to have to make some of the images in this series come to life?

Sometimes, yeah, it can be a bit challenging, but it's always a good thing to push yourself artistically, going places that may be uncomfortable or unsettling. Sometimes it can be a bit of a struggle but it's worth it if the final work helps to convey the story. You know, It's still a head scratcher as to why North Americans find graphic violence so palatable but overt sexuality is still off the menu so to speak. The grim and gritty is a hell of a lot of fun fun to draw for me. Post apocalyptic stuff has always held an appeal for me, from Blade Runner to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, there is a great chance in there to show some exciting visuals.

4. Who are some of the comic book artists who inspired you to start drawing in the first place, and which current artists are you following these days?

Well, all the artists  that I worked with down in Florida during the CrossGen years really set me along the path and I still count myself lucky to get that face to face training ( even if the place was insane). From there it was a wide variety of artists, from  Charest to Hitch, Moebius to Otomo and more and more than I have the time to list. And of course there is an even wider field of art out there, not wrapped up in the commercial needs of comics that is always a huge inspiration. It's always interesting to see art that is divorced from commerce content wise, because it's so full of experiment and accident, and those things are essential to artistic growth.

5. Old Man Logan is wrapping up over the next few months. Can you tell us anything about what you’re doing next, or have you even thought that far ahead yet?

 Mark Millar and I are kicking around a few things, but it's too early to really get into any specifics, sorry. I am looking forward to pushing my art around in different ways and I am starting to make a more conscious effort to play around with different looks lest folks ( and myself!)  start to get bored of the same old thing from me.

The Long Awaited Wolverine/Larry Flynt Crossover!


In honour of Wolverine Week here at Living Between Wednesdays, counting down to the ol’ Canucklehead’s first solo film adventure (if you can call a movie crammed with so many mutants a solo adventure, that is), I’m going to discuss the first Wolverine comic I ever read. Actually, it was also the first X-Men comic I ever read—Uncanny X-Men #129, to be precise. A key component in the now-legendary Dark Phoenix saga, this issue not only introduced yours truly to Wolverine, AKA Logan, AKA The Best There Is At What He Does But What He Does Isn’t Very Nice, it also marked the first appearances (not just to me, but ever) of Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde. Furthermore, it was also my first taste of the unstoppable art team of John Byrne and Terry Austin—because of my multiple re-readings of this issue, Byrne became the first comic artist whose style I could recognize, even if I couldn’t pronounce his damn name properly for several more years.

This issue’s use of Wolverine is also especially significant because it pretty quickly gave me an idea of what the character was all about. Short, nasty, and adamantium-clawed, yes, but a trip to the local Malt Shoppe with Kitty Pryde was particularly insightful—check out what Logan is perusing at the magazine counter. Sports Illustrated? Nope. Mad Magazine? Guess again. Atlantic Monthly? Close, but no cigar.

Hustler? Wow, that guy likes the hard stuff. Have a look at Peter’s shocked expression—“By the White Wolf”, indeed. A few panels later, Logan has moved on to Penthouse, but the elderly shopkeep is losing his patience.

Oh man, Logan is absolutely ready to disembowel a citizen because he’s too cheap to pay for a porno mag! A citizen who says “liberry”, even! Thankfully, the armor-clad Knights of Hellfire crash the party, so we never get to see how this would have played out. One thing is certain, though…don’t ever come between Wolverine and his pornography. ‘Cause he will mess you up. This is a lesson I learned at the tender age of seven thanks to this issue, and it hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

I also learned that when he's off duty, Wolverine likes to dress like a tiny cowboy.