Summer blockbusters often transform comics properties for movie audiences that may not know the source material, while hopefully still appealing to hard-core fans. At the start of the 2016 summer season, we saw Marvel and DC bring out their big guns: Captain America: Civil War and Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. These were huge tentpole movies based on some of their most cherished comic book characters. Even if you don't read the comics, you've heard of Captain America, Iron Man, Batman, and Superman. Our earlier blog post explored some of the source materials for Civil War and other comics-based movies, but today, we'll look at some of the lesser-known comics properties that are making the transition to the big screen. As you get ready to line up for popcorn, explore some of the comics that inspired their silver-screen adaptations.
DC's latest offering is the much anticipated film based on their series of semi-rehabilitated bad-guys gone good, the infamous Suicide Squad. This group of supervillains, inmates of the Belle Reve Penitentiary, has been given a get-out-of-jail-free card in exchange for taking on some of the most dangerous assignments the U.S. government has to offer. Part of the excitement for the upcoming movie is based on a lot of media buzz concerning Jared Leto's turn as the Joker. While it's not likely that he'll be a member of the Suicide Squad himself, the Clown Prince of Crime plays a pivotal role in Harley Quinn's origin story. It sounds like Leto really got into character, playing insane pranks on his fellow actors and refusing to break character on and off the set. It'll be interesting to see how this deranged version of the Joker compares to Heath Ledger's amazing portrayal in The Dark Knight. The rest of the cast includes Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Will Smith as Deadshot, Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, with director David Ayers at the helm.
Suicide Squad: Vol. 1, Kicked in the Teeth
by Adam Glass and Federico Dallocchio
In Adam Glass's reboot of the series, part of DC's The New 52, the Task Force X is comprised of supervillains willing to take on black-ops missions in exchange for time off their prison sentences, all under the control of warden Amanda Waller. The series features characters Harley Quinn, Deadshot, King Shark, and El Diablo, supervillains whose morally-compromised worldview allows them to take on the dirtiest jobs, such as wiping out a coliseum full of innocent, virus-infected sports fans. Part of the pleasure of Glass's story is watching alliances form, only to be broken as each one of these villains double-cross each other trying to get the upper hand on their team-mates and their wrangler. With friends like these, who needs enemies? If I have any complaints about the series, it's that Glass seems very willing to kill off characters before we've really gotten to know them. The casualty rate for this group of misfits is pretty high, as might be suggested by the title. Some characters are introduced in just a handful of panels before they're offed. Dallocchio's beautiful, hyper-kinetic work is visually exciting, with the action clear and easy to follow. His renditions of these villains are just wonderful.
Suicide Squad, Vol. 1, Trial by Fire
by John Ostrander and Luke McDonald
If you want to go a little farther back in time, you can also read John Ostrander's take on the series. In this earlier incarnation of the Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller has assembled some of DC's bad guys like Captain Boomerang, Bronze Tiger, Enchantress, and Deadshot to take on the missions no one else would take. In Ostarnder's Suicide Squad, the convicts all report to Rick Flag, Jr., a war hero with a crumbling psyche who hopes to balance the debt he owes to the many men that have died under his command. Ostrander's run on the series is best known for its willingness to humanize the bad guys, often exploring their emotional motivations and mental states from the perspectives of penitentiary staff. Waller would often send in members of the Suicide Squad over the objections of Belle Reve's resident psychiatrist, Simon Lagrieve. In this graphic novel, the members of Task Force X face off against terrorist supervillians the Jihad, white supremacist William Hell, and soviet super-squad The People's Heroes.
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been very successful at mining some of their mainstream superhero properties, it'll be interesting to see what director Scott Derrickson will do with the cinematic adaptation of Doctor Strange, Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme and protector of the Earth from all mystical threats. Neurosurgeon Stephen Vincent Strange loses full use of his hands after a tragic car accident. With his career as a surgeon cut short, Strange searches for a way to regain his abilities. He discovers the Ancient One, who trains Strange as her star pupil and successor in the mystics arts. I'll admit, as soon as I heard Benedict Cumberbatch was attached to the project, I knew this would be a film I'd have to see, having really enjoyed his starring roles in Sherlock, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and The Imitation Game. Of course, if you've been paying attention to the internet buzz, there have been some very valid grumblings about Marvel's decision to whitewash the role of the Ancient One, casting non-Asian Tilda Swinton for the part. The jury is still out on whether this weird cult fave character will mesh well with the rest of the MCU. But if last year's Guardians of the Galaxy is any indication, Marvel has the ability to transform even lesser-known comics properties into box office gold.
Doctor Strange, Vol. 1, Way of the Weird
by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo
This is a story arc that easily introduces novices to the world of Doctor Strange, master of the mystical arts. In this collection of stories, dark forces seek to destroy the Sorcerer Supremes from various different dimensions, and they have our earth next on their list. Doctor Strange battles a tribe of Soul-Eaters who are preying on a young boy's soulscape, a giant Malebranchian Psyche-Leech munching on an old man, and a handful of Mind Maggots who have infected a timid librarian, leaving her with a gaping mouth on the top of her head. But these are only signs that something bigger is coming. As one of Stephen's fellow mystics warns, "When all the birds fly away in a hurry, get ready for a storm." Aaron's entertaining story comes to life in the vivid and colorful artwork by Bachalo, who does an amazing job illustrating a wide array of otherworldly beings and imaginative landscapes. Even something as prosaic a walk down the street is turned inside out and upside down when Bachalo populates the sidewalks of New York City with all the unusual things witnessed by Stephen Strange's open third eye.
Ryan Reynolds' take on the merc with a mouth was a huge box-office hit, making it the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. Although its release this past February means it's not really a summer blockbuster, it recently made it to DVD and onto the HPL catalog. Director Tim Miller drops you immediately into the middle of Deadpool shooting bad guys, wielding his deadly katanas, cracking wise, and breaking the 4th wall to explain how he got in this mess. The movie received a strong R rating for its over-the-top violence, language, and occasional sex scenes, but for those familiar with the source comics, the idea of Wade toning it down for a PG-13 rating just wouldn't have worked. In this adaptation of Deadpool's origin story, Wade is hunting down Ajax, the man who made him what he is. Ed Skrein plays Deadpool's nemesis, while Morena Baccarin plays the love interest, Vanessa. For fans of Firefly and Serenity, seeing Baccarin back on the big screen was an extra treat.
Night of the Living Deadpool
by Cullen Bunn and Ramon Rosanas
What would happen if you took the mouthy Deadpool and put him in the pages of a zombie-ridden post-Apocalyptic Manhattan? While Deadpool was in a chimichanga-induced food-coma, the end of the world as we know it hit. Deadpool wakes up to find the streets are filled with flesh-hungry zombies and he's the last of the world's superheroes. Bunn skewers zombie apocalypse trope after trope, making winking nods to Romero's Night of the Living Dead series, Raimi's Evil Dead series, and Kirkman's The Walking Dead series. This graphic novel is equal parts creepy, violent, and hilarious. Rosanas illustrates all the present action in somber black, white, and grey, with only Deadpool in his normal red and black; the funny flashback scenes, where Deadpool ignores the signs that a zombie virus is spreading, are done in full color. This is a great one-off story which requires almost no previous knowledge on the part of the reader; all you need to know is that Wade is the perfect zombie-killing machine.
--Dan J., HPL, Virtual Library Services