6 Comic Adaptations Better than the Source Material
Marvel movies have spoiled us. There was a time – the 90s to be exact – when comic adaptations were considered to be trash until proven otherwise. Even the best of the meagre bunch was a poor imitation of the original material. Things have changed though. Superhero movies are the biggest drawcard in town…but can we say that any of them surpass the original?
Obviously yes. Right there in the title. Let’s take a look.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Taking place in the ‘Millarverse’, a fictional universe based on the works of writer Mark Millar (more on those a bit later), The Secret Service is a good old fashioned espionage thriller. The adventures of old hand Harry and his young protégé reads like a Roger Moore era James Bond adventure with Mark Millar’s well-known predilection for foul language and bigotry. When Matthew Vaughn got involved he adapted it into a smash hit swashbuckling adventure with a more unique tone and personality. Harry went from an Archer style Bond analogue to Colin Firth playing up his innate Britishness to brilliant effect and Taron Egerton’s interpretation of Eggsy being less of a violent prick. The film series – which just began promoting its prequel and have a second sequel and spin-off in the works – is a brighter, more bombastic and downright fun version of events.
Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Verse is a great comic…for Spider-Man fans. Bringing together literally dozens of Spider-Men and -Women from across the dimensions we see everything ranging from black-and-white Japanese Manga books Spider-Man and giant Mechs through to Toby Maguire and Peter Parker possessed by Otto Octavius. The Spider-Army bounces from world to world being pursued by a family of vampires who especially enjoy ‘Spider Totems’ to feed on. The narrative being spread across several titles making it a convoluted read even in collected editions. The animated feature Into the Spider-Verse turned the tale into a character driven piece focused on newcomer Miles Morales, reducing the character count down to single digits and as a bonus developed a whole new style of visual creativity. The comic is plenty epic, but that movie is packed with heart.
Didn’t take long to get back to the Millarverse. Whilst The Secret Service was a courser, more bloody James Bond adventure Kick-Ass gives vigilantes the same treatment. What drags the otherwise fun comic strip down is the racial and homophobic slurs our ‘hero’ Dave Lizewski spills out every second panel. There’s almost no likeable characters. In the film Aaron Johnson plays Lizewski as an underdog who wants to do the right thing in opposition to societies indifference to other’s suffering. That’s a much better message than a loser lying, insulting and belittling people for a power trip.
The Avengers: Infinity War
So here’s a hot take. Or maybe not. The biggest barrier to enjoying the printed classic Infinity War – and it is well deserved to be considered to be a classic – is accessibility. The heavy trade paperback doesn’t even tell the whole story with Thanos being well into his scheme with all the Infinity Gems in hand. Characters like Adam Warlock, Mephisto, Silver Surfer and The Living Tribunal aren’t going to be familiar to the average man on the street and the long metaphysical story isn’t going to appease those looking for spandex-clad thrills. That’s even without getting into Thanos motivation of trying to date the Grim Reaper. Yes, really. Seeking to ‘save’ the universe through depopulation is a tad more sympathetic.
The Umbrella Academy
It’s always impressive to see someone achieve success in two drastically different fields. Gerald Way is best known as the lead singer for the smash hit band My Chemical Romance, and surprisingly also the creator and writer of popular comic series ‘The Umbrella Academy’. This off-beat collection of stories made waves with it’s unique aesthetic and eccentric characters. One thing lacking in the original series – ‘Apocalypse Suite’ – is character development. The heroes only have shallow arcs if any at all, which is a shame as they’re initially fascinating. The recent Netflix adaptation adds the very thing that the comic was missing, giving all seven members of the team with fleshed out personalities, backstories and journeys making the characters the highlight of the show. Especially note-worthy is Vanya’s change from a blank slate tricked by a cult into a complex person who fell victim to a gaslighting scumbag. The show also adds much more diversity to the cast, which feels like an oversight for the comics when you consider the origin of the heroes. The comics are a good read, but we honestly prefer the better developed characters of the show. It’s a weird reversal, as most superheroes have to have their stories trimmed down to fit a script.
When Seth Rogen announced that he was going to adapt Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s ‘The Boys’ for television I filed that under my ‘eh’ list. I had read ‘The Boys’ up until the point where I was to disgusted to continue. The concept is solid: superheroes are real but most are power-mad, hedonistic, drug-fuelled psychopathic rapists whose public image is managed by the corporations that control them. Unfortunately the story reads as though it’s written by a 13 year old edgelord who thinks being offensive will impress people and every issue grotesquely attempts to out-do the previous in terms of gore, foul slurs, sexual abuse and shock tactics. There’s nothing wrong with mature age content in principle but it’s all presented with a juvenile sense of glee that sits awkwardly alongside loftier themes.
Surprisingly the TV series substantially improves on the source material in almost every regard. The ridiculous levels of sexual violence is reduced down to the point where it gets the message that these superheroes are monsters without revelling in it. Spoofing the superhero genre is less emphasised and the political and social themes take a front seat. Government, the Evangelical movement, the mainstream media and corporations are put in the crosshairs while most of the heroes are depicted and physically but mentally weak-willed and psychologically damaged. The Homelander – a Superman analogue – is changed from being a super-powered douchebro to a wimpering ‘Nice Guy’ with mother issues. The Boys themselves are given enough extra character to rival The Umbrella Academy. Frenchie and the Female weren’t given much beyond ‘super strong psychopaths who are French/Female’ in the 72 issue run. Now the adaptation has turned them into a mechanic/engineer/chemist and recovering child soldier respectively. They’re genuinely sympathetic, which is not a term I’d use for anyone in the comics. The casting of Karl Urban and Billy Butcher also goes a long way to making the brutal team leader much more likeable.
It’s almost like you don’t need to include the N word and treat rape like a joke to make a smart, subversive and mature superhero story.