06 September 2005

Comics vs. Cinema: "Fantastic Four"



There are a lot of movies based on superhero comics being released these days. As these films are released, I plan to include entries that talk about how faithful they were to the source material, where they deviated from the comics, and whether these deviations were a good thing or a bad thing. Finally, I'll recommend some of the comics that I think best exemplify the spirit of the character or team.

My first entry is about the recent Fantastic Four movie.

What stayed:

  • The origin story. They had to modernize it a little (originally, Reed Richards built a rocket to help America beat the Russians in the Space Race; bear in mind that these characters were created in 1961), and they had to come up with a reason for Susan and Johnny Storm to be there (in the original story, Sue was nothing more than Reed's girlfriend, and Johnny was a teenager who was just along for the ride), but the origin story was otherwise fairly accurate.
  • The Thing/Human Torch rivalry. From Day 1, Johnny would find new ways to push Ben's buttons, and Ben would threaten to murder him, but at the end of the day, they were the best of friends. The film did an excellent job portraying their odd relationship.
  • The Thing, period. Before the Fantastic Four, all comic-book heroes were handsome and noble, and lived to fight crime. Ben Grimm was unlike any hero that had come before him: a disfigured, tragic character that would give up his powers in a second if it meant that he could live a normal life. He's always been one of my favorite characters, and Michael Chiklis was absolutely perfect in the role.
What changed:
  • Doctor Doom. The portrayal of Victor Von Doom was incredibly inconsitent with his various incarnations in the comic. Originally, he was not present when the heroes got their powers (although in the Ultimate Fantastic Four comic, he is there, and I personally think this is a change for the better). Also, he was originally disfigured before he encounters the Four. And he does not have the powers that he has in the film (although in the comics, he seemed to get new powers with each appearance; originally he had a suit of armor, then he also gained the ability to switch minds with any character, and later, it was revealed that he was a sorceror). The greatest change was that he was never the CEO of a billion-dollar corporation. This was a bad idea, and made the character a lot less interesting, in my opinion. Also, Julian McMahon may have been miscast in this role. His snippy, spoiled rich-kid act is inconsistent with the larger than life, megalomaniacal gravitas given to Doom in the comics.
  • Alicia. In the comics, the Thing's girlfriend is white. In the film, she's black. I can definitely get behind this change, as there really isn't as much ethnic diversity in these comics as there should be.
  • The Reed/Sue/Doom love triangle. In the comics, Reed & Sue were in love from day 1. She did get frustrated by his inattentiveness, but it was more of an annoyance that a real threat to their relationship. And she did develop feelings for one of the bad guys, but it wasn't Doom. It was Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, and while she loves Reed, she still has an attraction to Namor. Maybe they're saving that for the sequel.
Recommended Reading:
  • Fantastic Four, Volume 1: This hardcover collects the first year of Mark Waid & Mike Wieringo's run on the series, which lasted from 2002 to the first half of 2005. The first story serves as an excellent introduction to the characters and their motivations. The final story arc in the book, "Unthinkable" is the best Doctor Doom story ever written. Read this story, and you'll understand why I was so disappointed in the movie version of Doom.
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four, vol. 1: This series is a more modern retelling of the old tales. The origin story is closer to the one in the film. Doom's transformation in the comic is not unlike the one seen in the film (although they do a better job here; I can't tell you enough how disappointed I was with the movie version of Doom). Adam Kubert's art is excellent, as is Stuart Immonen's.
  • Essential Fantastic Four, vol. 1: This affordably-priced book reprints the first two years worth of the original Fantastic Four comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It's a little dated (these comics were written between 1961 & 1963), and the black and white reprints can be hard to read at times, but the manic energy of these old comics still comes through and they are a lot of fun.

1 comment:

Tone said...

Nice formating!