The Hidden S in Phone Booth

A short look at films influenced by comics and that then influenced comics... Not to be too obvious, but a lot of comics are being made into films at present. Many more are being optioned, properties major and minor bought and sold in the hopes that a star, director or studio might be onto the next big franchise. What then about the properties that started out as films and made it into the comics? There is a debate that I hear occasionally about what is a comic character or, more interestingly, what is a superhero. Is Jimmy Olsen a superhero? No? What about when he goes into the bottled city of Kandor and fights crime as Flamebird with Nightwing (Superman)? Is Indiana Jones a superhero, Snake Plissken? Luke Skywalker, Neo from the Matrix? No? Even though they have had their own comic series? Am I starting to sound like Ted and Brandon? Yes I am. So then, the idea and definition of a superhero is more complicated than it might appear. The analysis for this would be a great, nerdy mass of a topic for a college thesis and perhaps The Hidden "S" will tackle it one day on this publication. For now, here are some superheroes who started out in the cinema and found a life later in the comics. Star Wars It might be fair to say that the genesis of modern fanboy culture started with Star Wars in 1977. Sure there were earlier science fiction works that were influential, most notably 2001: A Space Odyssey released less than a decade before. Star Wars, however, has had the resonance of something like Gone With The Wind or The Wizard of Oz. Like these other films, watching it is not just a pleasurable experience but an almost religious experience. It is hard to remember today, but films would play in theaters for months if they had the audience. In this way, a film like Star Wars which played for months and months in many theaters managed to have a kind of religious effect on its audience by giving the gathered a collective experience. Picasso had an adage (which I am paraphrasing) that "Bad artists copy, great artists steal." It might be a stretch to call George Lucas a great artist, but steal he did; Star Wars is an amalgam of pop culture genres (western, sci-fi, sword and sorcery, Saturday morning serials, samurai films, fantasy lit and even British comedy). Lucas' ideas come from everywhere, including comic books. More than once has it been noted that Darth Vader and Doctor Doom have some noteworthy similarities. As with some other films on this list, the influence of sword and sorcery comics of the time like Heavy Metal also weighed heavily as an influence on Lucas' epic. Also, the idea of a deep mythology within a film reflected the history that some comics bear due to years and even decades of publication. Also, of the films on this list, Star Wars seems to have had the most "life" as a comic. It remains a strong performer for Dark Horse with a built in fan/collector base. I am no big fan of Star Wars (send your complaints to!) but as I understand it great care has been taken to use the comics as a bridge to events in the Star Wars mythos, as a way to fill in gaps in the timeline before and after the films, etc. So, there is a sense of continuity about the canon and what the canon actually consists of. Echo Station Interview with Will Brooker Indiana Jones Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark is another great example of how Lucas/Spielberg were influenced by comics. The character is a bookish professor by day that moonlights as a rakish archaeologist between semesters. Professor Jones is not just any archaeologist either, he is ultimately enlisted by the US government to go after the mythic Ark of the Covenant which comprises the plot of the great first entry in the Indiana Jones series, Raiders of the Lost Ark from 1981. The main comic influences in the film are in the split personality of Professor Jones/Indiana Jones. The first sequence of the film introduces the character and we are shown his resourcefulness, skill and daring. Once this sequence is over, we see Professor Jones in his classroom complete with tweed suit, glasses and a noticeable softening of his demeanor. Seeing the film for the first time, this juxtaposition between man of action and academic is a shock. This divide, to me seems at least, seems somewhat influenced by the Clark Kent/Superman dynamic (complete with glasses). Lucas eventually went on to expand the biography of the character in the television series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which to me always seemed to be a kind of outgrowth of the “Year One” concept that was popularized with the Batman: Year One series. Snake Plissken The film Escape From New York is overtly comic in its premise: a superior ex-soldier by the name of Snake Plissken has to fly into New York, which is a prison, to rescue the President of the United States. Snake Plissken, the anti-hero of Escape From New York, is very much influenced by comics. Most notably another superior ex-soldier, Nick Fury. Plissken shares a give 'em hell attitude and, most notably, an eye patch with the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. This film's viewpoint of a rotted urban environment was picked up later in the decade by Tim Burton's first Batman film in 1989. Darkman Darkman from 1990 was a bit of a mainstream breakthrough for Sam Raimi. The Darkman film was an outgrowth of Raimi’s unsuccessful attempt to make a film adaptation of the pulp hero The Shadow. Raimi’s work has always been highly influenced by the comics and horror lit and this film was an interesting blend of the two. Darkman/Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson slumming it a bit) is a kind of combination of Dracula and Batman. The character is emotionally scarred like Bruce Wayne, but physically scarred and enhanced like Dracula or even Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The Matrix The Matrix from 1999 was possibly the most influential science fiction film of the 90s and its look influenced fashion, inspired a spike in martial arts enrollment and made Keanu Reeves into a genuine grown up movie star. The Wachowski Brothers film had the most revolutionary special effects in a film since the original Star Wars and seemed to channel some of the mind-blowing imagery of the original Heavy Metal comics as well as some of Jack Kirby’s later stuff like the New Gods creation where a fictional race co-existed with the Earth. The last two films of this trilogy were critically and commercially underwhelming, but the first remains something of a landmark due to its special effects and late millennium timeliness. When Neo/Reeves steps out of the phoneboth and hurtles into the sky it seems like a great Superman montage as well as a glimpse of what a Wachowski Superman film might have felt like. Of very current films, the Transporter series seems to have some real comic elements that have not been adapted to comics (as far as I know). A lot of current television like 24, X-Files, Buffy and Lost seems to be suitable for comics and some of these series have managed to have some success crossing over into the comic medium. There are some genuine advantages to go the film to comic route rather than the comic to film route. Mainly, there is no need to worry about buying a property when you can create it yourself (a problem in Hollywood where most of the artists need to copy because most are bad). Also, there is no potential for fanboy backlash with regard to casting because you are just casting a film and not trying to fill the role of Thor, Dr. Strange, Green Lantern,etc. etc. The Hidden "S"