The biggest divide among comic fans is the age old "DC Vs Marvel" debate. This feud - I never quite understood it. If you like comics, then why does the publisher matter? Sports fans and comic geeks aren't so different as they fight over which “team” is better. I am going to break down this long lived feud from my perspective using something I know about, film!

It's impossible to avoid comic book movies these days with several coming out a year; that being said, I'm going to split this up into several posts.  Let's call this first one the BB Age or Before Blade. Yes, that's right; I credit Blade as kicking it off, and not X-Men.

Ignoring the serials and TV pilots, the first real comic book film was made by DC.

Superman I, II, & III – 1978, 1980, and 1983

My Opinion – I: Good for the time; II: Not as big a fan as others; III: Hollywood Homicide bad.
The People – I: 86%; II: 75%; III: 24%.

Yeah, Adam West had a Batman movie first, and it had nothing to do with the comics. So, here we have our first true attempt at a comic movie; a product of it's time, Superman kicked things off strong and ended up spawning a lackluster series of sequels. The first won a special effects Oscar, which was a good start for the genre. Given the style of books back then, the movies did a good job capturing the spirit of the character. How well they hold up to modern audiences is up for debate. At the time, though, it helped to shoot comic book films into the mainstream – at least until the third movie when they ran out of ideas.

The third Superman film forced the popular comedian Richard Pryor into the plot. Due to this odd pairing the tone of the film is wildly inconsistent and quickly starts to feel like an attempt to boost Superman’s box office appeal with a flavor of the week celebrity. If you need an idea of how half-baked the plot of this film is look no further then to the master plan of the villain, Ross Webster. After Superman stops him from taking over the world’s coffee supply Ross decides his mission in life is to kill Superman. Ross hires Richard Pryor, a down on his luck computer program who is caught embezzling money from Ross’s company. Impressed instead of mad Ross hires Pryor to build a super computer and you can pretty much guess where things go from there.

Swamp Thing – 1982

My Opinion: For shame, Wes Craven.
The People: 35%.

After two steps forward, Swamp Thing helped comic films take two steps back. Made by a personal favorite of mine, Wes Craven, ST was a low budget and campy affair. Normally this would be a good thing, but with the production values of a made-for-late-night cable TV movie – and extremely dumb script – it's hard to find the diamonds in this rough. Well, unless you want to see a guy in a morph suit with fake vines glued to it throwing around midgets, which on reflection does sound pretty awesome. Luckily, no one outside of the know was aware that ST was connected to DC, giving them a pass on this horrible and smelly stain on the history of comic cinema.

Supergirl – 1984

My Opinion: The first female super hero movie, and the last for quite awhile.
The People: 26%.

A large-budgeted Superman spin-off with no Superman; it makes up for it's lack of super men by featuring Jimmy Olsen as the only character to appear in all five Superman films. This box office disaster is over two hours long with three different cuts to torture yourself with. Faye Dunaway makes an appearance as the leading villainess, whose entire performance is dialed up to eleven. Reading the description of the film you might be tricked into thinking it's good; in reality, though, it's just a never-ending string of bad dialogue and corny special effects. It's hard for DC to sweep this one under the rug when the title character is obviously branded. Not that they didn't try; Warner Brother's pawned off the home video distribution onto other companies until 2006, when they felt it was safe to admit they produced this piece of crap.

Howard the Duck – 1986

My Opinion: Unless you want to see some hot duck on human action, it's a pass.
The People: 39%.

Technically it's the only Marvel film made before Blade to be released in US cinemas. Some of you may recognize this character from his little cameo in a recent Marvel flick; even then you still don't know who he is. If you've even seen the trailer for this movie you know why it's an abomination, though I'm not sure how you could make a good Howard the Duck film. Or, why you'd want to – not that it matters. In the right hands even an insane concept like Guardians of the Galaxy can turn out awesome. Sadly, it was not in the cards for this off-the-wall concept – the movie is more famous for being produced by George Lucas than anything else. A rather ironic first film from the company that brought you The Avengers.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace – 1987

My Opinion: Bad.
The People: 16%.

After the failure of Supergirl, they figured it was time to bring the golden boy back. Adding Richard Pryor to spice up the threequel wasn't the answer, so Superman was back sans the Chris Tucker sidekick. If you thought him fighting Ross Webster – the millionaire and villainous coffee tycoon – was bad, then just you wait. This is widely considered one of the worst films ever made, just behind Howard the Duck. Superman battles the creatively named Nuclear-Man, a solar powered clone, and Lex Luthor because he was in the films that were good. This movie has such a bad reputation it thrust Supes into a Phantom Zone film hiatus that lasted almost 20 years.

The Return of Swamp Thing – 1989

My Opinion: Barely a movie.
The People: 28%.

I am as confused as you how this got a sequel. Craven was busy working on The Serpent and the Rainbow, so they hired Jim Wynorski. Jim is an eccentric D-movie filmmaker who is known for comedic levels of unconvincing violence and gratuitous nudity. There's a great documentary on him called Popatopolis. I'd recommend it as it's vastly more enjoyable then this inconsistent piece of crap. Jim has a lot more to offer as a documentary personality than a filmmaker. Don't fret though; if the first two Swamp Ass movies weren't enough to make you hate the character he was also gifted with a terrible cartoon that lasted an impressive five episodes, lest we not forget the 72 episode live-action USA series that was filmed quickly on a shoestring budget. It is amazing to me this franchise never caught on and yet they still tried to shove it into the mainstream. He did have a catchy theme song, though.

Batman – 1989

My Opinion: Good, if you like Prince.
The People: 84%

After blowing it's wad rather early on DC decided to try launching it's other successful character: The Dark Knight. This was a lot more difficult than it seems as his public persona was Adam West punching sharks and acting questionably with his “side-kick”, Robin, and so difficult it took almost twenty years to get here with poor ideas ranging from Batman in Outer Space to casting Bill Murray as the Caped Crusader. After a few equally odd casting choices and an even odder director, the first Batman movie is an earnest attempt at making a good comic book film, though in retrospect it isn't nearly as tied to the comics as it appears. Borrowing more from the books visually it was a nice gateway drug for people who weren't familiar with this darker, more brooding version of our black spandex wearing hero. Oh, also there's not one but two Prince dance numbers. Burton claims he read and loved The Killing Joke. Later it came out that's the only Batman comic he read which explains why the Dark Knight uncharacteristically tosses The Joker off a roof at the end of the film. Maybe he doesn't like Prince.

The Punisher – 1989

My Opinion: Cheese, the smelly Swedish kind.
The People: 32%.

Due to the lack of Marvel films in the BB age, I broke my rule on straight-to-video films, though technically it was released in theaters internationally and only missed a US release due to the distribution company's money woes. This Punisher adaptation has somewhat of a cult following. With it's dark concepts and cheeseball execution it plays oddly in a way only 80's films can. If you caught this on TV in the middle of the night it might hold your attention 'til the beer runs out. As far as comic movies go, though, it just doesn't have much to offer. It's actually known more for staring Swedish action man and chemical engineer Dolph Lundgren than actually being about the Punisher. I like Dolph and all, but even he can't make the poorly choreographed action scenes engaging. Let’s hope when Jon Bernthal said he researched “everything Punisher” to prepare for the role he skipped this one.

Captain America – 1990

My Opinion: A shield to the face.
The People: 16%.

No, not Chris Evans. We're putting this one on here for the same reason as The Punisher because Marvel was quite barren during this time. Taking a cue from the “how not to do super hero costumes” book, we have the dorkiest Cap ever, though Red Skull's make-up has some appeal. Linking him to the murder of JFK and MLK, though, is a pretty stupid way to make us hate him. One can imagine being a murderous Nazi would be enough. This movie is just plain dumb, and not in the fun B-movie way. I guess if I was Marvel I'd try and stop people from showing this, just like Fantastic Four; I'm starting to see a trend in burying embarrassing films here. Much like The Punisher, this film was completed and then kept from the US public until two years after it was screened overseas. I guess you can call this the Cap film you weren't meant to see, or maybe that's this one:

Batman Returns – 1992

My Opinion: Good.
The People: 72%.

Some people love this film, some people hate it. Personally, I'm a fan. Is it a good Batman movie? Not really, but it's a great Tim Burton film that reeks of him during his prime. It's also the last good Batman movie for 13 years. Before CGI came along and made him lazy, Burton had an amazing eye for rich, Gothic scenery. He captured it all from the city to the characters themselves. He also turned Catwoman in a nerd sex fantasy that is still going strong. So strong, in fact, she had her own planned spin-off. We'll get to that later.

Batman Forever – 1995

My Opinion: That circus scene . . .
The People: 33%.

Jim Carrey was the bee's knees in the 90s, so the idea of him playing the Riddler was bat-boner inducing. Not because he was a good fit for the character, but because he was freaking Jim Carey. Anyone who watched this train wreck of a movie, though, wishes Carey was around for the first film because he would have made a much better Joker.

Ditching the Gothic tone in everything but set design, openly gay director Joel Schumacher decided to take Batman back to the Adam West days. This is a confusing decision considering all the work done to move the public away from that goofy version of the Dark Knight, made even more so by the fact that the franchise was already highly successful. Most of the movie is Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carey trying to out-ham each other. The rest is an inane mishmash of bad ideas: Insane lighting choices, ridiculous sets, Jim Carey's Riddler bulge, and bat nipples. Oh, and let's not forget Val Kilmer. On second thought, let's.

Batman & Robin – 1997

My Opinion: Remember Alicia Silverstone? Didn’t think so.
The People: 16%.

I get it: Batman Forever somehow made money, so let's spend 40 million more on the sequel. It's a great example of how star power and huge budget does not a good movie make. This is really what happens when you just let a director run free, and when he clearly wanted to make a different movie. Unlike Batman Returns – where Burton's style complimented the source material – Mr. Schumacher turns Batman into a two hour Broadway show complete with organized dance numbers disguised as fist fights. Not even Arnold's horrible ice puns are enough to salvage this mess. It just confuses me that the man who brought us the criminally underrated film Falling Down could four years later make one of the biggest box office disasters in film history – so big it set Batman back almost ten years.

Steel – 1997

My Opinion: Kazaam was better.
The People: 16%.

Finishing up 1997 was DC's last film – until the god-awful solo, Catwoman movie seven years later – we have Steel. Little known fact Steel is actually a Superman character created during the awful Death of Superman event. Another box office bomb, this was a thinly veiled and poor attempt to capitalize on Shaq's popularity. For some reason they chose this newer character no one has heard of, though I guess their logic was no one had heard of most of these characters. Naturally, they stripped Steel of what little history he had and rewrote everything. This was a perfect storm of bad that even had it's own song sung by the Shaq-ster himself. If you've sat through this thing without a mocking commentary track, then I am truly sorry.

That is all, super peeps: The last of the BB comic films. Well, the Marvel and DC ones, anyway. If I were to do every comic adaptation I'd be here for a year. Still, it's not hard to see that DC was leading the pack; having four times the films certainly helped. How many of them were actually good, though, is up for debate. Let's see how they fare in the second age of comic films.

Until next time, true believers.

All public ratings courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.


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