Movies & TV Based on Comics That You Haven’t Seen Yet
Our cinemas and TVs have become flooded with superheroes. Since Iron Man proved that a well constructed comic narrative can be reproduced as a big-budget spectacle so long as you retain the core character there’s been a rush to turn every costumed adventurer into big money. Comics, however, or not restricted to heroes and there’s a whole glut of great movies and shows that you may not have heard of, let alone known that they’re based on a comic.
Here’s a couple you may want to check out.
Locke & Key
After one failed attempt to turn this into a series, Netflix has managed to adapt the comic series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez for a spooky delve into a unique mythology. After the murder of husband and father Rendell Locke, the remaining members of the Locke family move to Massachusetts to live in the family homestead known as Keyhouse. Not long after the children begin finding mysterious keys, each having a unique magical property. They allow the holding to control people, start fires, teleport and even manipulate the contents of people’s heads.
It’s an extremely well told story that draws you into it’s lore almost without effort. You simply can’t wait for them to find another key and discover its power, and the visually interesting ways they bring the effects to life. This is unsurprising, given that it’s written by the son of Stephen King who has built a solid reputation of their own. If you’re looking for your next Netflix binge, try Locke and Key.
A History of Violence
Viggo Mortensen doesn’t turn up on our cinema screen often any more. His collaborations with David Cronenberg will have your questioning why, because Eastern Promises and A History of Violence showcase some amazing work. The work on the latter is what we’re here for today, where Mortensen plays a small town cafe owner with a loving wife and children. His world is shaken when two guys try to rob his establishment and threatens his staff, and he quickly puts them both down.
Being considered a hero by the local media isn’t what Tom Stall is looking for though, he’d rather have his privacy. This is because Tom has a past life, a very violent past life, that he doesn’t want intruding on his new, idyllic world. It’s a tense thriller with complex characters that isn’t going to end well. This grim tale was original a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, Wagner being the creator of many significant British comic characters such as Judge Dredd.
Harvey Pekar has always felt like an outsider, and developed a cynical and sometimes antagonistic world view. He has always loved jazz, and collecting records led to a friendship with subversive underground comic artist Robert Crumb and their collaboration on American Splendor. This autobiographical comic showcased Pekar’s life and outlook and became a cult hit, with many other artists taking up the challenge of illustrating his writing.
The cult comic became a cult film, with the perfect casting of Paul Giamatti as Harvey telling the story about how his life became a comic book. Capturing the good and the bad of his life, the movie became an essential extension of comics and blends the forms together to create a remarkable and heartfelt movie.
Fritz the Cat
While we’re on the subject of Robert Crumb, let’s take a look at another one of his works. Known as a unique satirist who captured the tone of 20th century Americana, one of the best known works he produced was ‘Fritz the Cat’. The bold and hedonistic anthropomorphic feline had been described as an outlet for Crumb’s desires, acting as a cocky poser on a series of wild adventures.
Just as famous is the the 1972 film directed by animation superstar Ralph Bakshi. Actually, infamous might be a better descriptor, as it became the first animated movie to be given an X Rating. Although Crumb eventually fell out with the film-makers over political undertones in the movie, the film itself was a hit. It leaned heavily into the X Rating as part of its publicity, playing up the sex and drugs. It still has a strong influence today, with a frame appearing as an easter egg in a ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ strip.
Road to Perdition
A gangster movie based on a comic is not that unique. A gangster movie based on a comic and starring Tom Hanks as a hitman is a bit more unexpected. It’s an early piece from director Sam Mendes, based on the books by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, and is easily the best looking movie on this list. As a bonus is features one of the last brilliant performances from Paul Newman as a mafia boss and a bulldog-faced Jude Law as a photography obsessed assassin.
Michael Sullivan is an enforcer for the mob during the great depression, a secret he keeps from most of his family. When Michael Jr., his 12 year old witnesses Michael at work it turns them all into liabilities, with the father and son going on the run to escape their fates. It’s a dark drama set in a bleak and unforgiving world, and a fantastic film that doesn’t get the attention it deserves these days.
My Friend Dahmer
Sometimes you think back to that weird person in your class at school and wonder what happened to them (I’m writing blog, if you were wondering). This isn’t a problem for comic writer and artist Derf Backderf, because everybody knows what happened to his peer and friend Jeffrey Dahmer. Backderf was often quizzed on what it was like being friends with a notorious serial killer and cannibal, as you’d expect, so he told his story in this comic.
This tale is, at times, empathetic with Jeffrey Dahmer as a teenager, and it outlines his loneliness and lack of support during these formative years. We see his family fall apart of abandon him, his increasing reliance on heavy drinking and his inability to fit in with his peers. Don’t get into your head that this story excuses what Dahmer did, as we’re frequently reminded of his horrifying obsession with road kill and dismemberment. Both the comic and the impressively acted movie are unsettling and upsetting, but insightful in a way we’ve never seen before.
The Umbrella Academy
If there’s one this in the list that you have already seen, it’ll be this one. Just in case you haven’t, here it is. Gerald Way and Gabriel Bá brought a new perspective to superhero comics, creating a sinister and twisted iteration of the X-Men known as the Umbrella Academy. One day a number of women around the world, who weren’t pregnant, suddenly give birth. Seven of the children are adopted by a strange scientist who raises them to be a team of superheroes.
This is a rare case of the adaptation affording enough time for the characters to be better fleshed out. Spaceboy, The Rumour, The Kraken, The Seance, The Boy, The Horror and The White Violin are a unique bunch and it’s wonderful to see how their unusual abilities and upbringing have impacted on their lives. With time travel, impending apocalypse, lies and betrayal forming the basis of the story, these oddballs are a delight to watch. Get onto it before the second season.
That isn’t to say that we can’t include some actual X-Men on this list. Matt Nix brought us this under-appreciated slow-burn reworking of the X-Men mythos over the last couple of years, but it unfortunately burnt out after a couple of seasons. Rather than replicating or tying into the continuity mess of the movies, the series created its own world where mutants are in hiding and struggling to survive as a feared minority.
For fans of deep X-Men lore this is an especially tasty treat, because we get popular characters who haven’t been deemed important enough to get a leading role on the big screen. Blink, Warpath, Polaris, The Stepford Cuckoos, Shatter, Sage, The Hounds, The Purifiers…even the lawyer who could turn into a dragon. It’s a great alternative to the glossy antics of Wolverine and pals.
This title is almost tailor built for modern television, being a genre bending police procedural. Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas had a hand in bringing Chris Roberson and Mike Allred’s screwball comic to the screen, recognise its value as an ongoing series. Our hero is Liv, played by Rose McIver, who becomes a zombie. In order to stave off the potential fate of her kind and become a mindless, drooling monster she has to keep up a regular diet of fresh brains. This conundrum is solved when Liv takes a job at the local morgue, with her boss helping to hide her secret as her condition piques his scientific curiosity.
The twist is that Liv takes on the traits and some memories of the recently deceased after consuming a chunk of their grey matter. Having an insight into the fate of murder victims Liv is able to provide clues to the local constabulary (under the guise of being psychic). Meanwhile there’s a rising zombie population in Seattle, giving us a solid ongoing mystery to work around the monster-of-the-week cases.
For the last – and possibly best – on the list we’re returning to the realm of the X-Men for Legion. Weirdly enough it’s the X-Men properties that don’t hang their identity on the popular brand that prove the most interesting. In the long, long running comic series ‘Legion’ is the son of Professor Xavier, whose fractured mind house a multitude of personalities with their own powers. Noah Hawley took the work of comic legends Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz and created a mind-bending and addictive series that seems to delight in messing with viewers heads.
David Haller is a patient in a mental institution, mistaking his telepathic and telekinetic powers for schizophrenia, where he meets Syd and Lenny. Syd has the ability to swap bodies with those who she touches, while Lenny is David’s long term friend whose role we can’t even begin to explain. We won’t say any more, because the show remains intentionally ambiguous for much of the first season. Needless to say, you’re going to have your concept of mutant superpowers and visual storytelling folded inside out and redrawn. This is the most artistic depiction of a mainstream comic we’ve ever seen and it’s delightful.