Summers in Toronto can be apocalyptic.
If it isn’t the plague of
aphids infesting our air supply, it’s the
flood of crap at the multiplex.
This summer is no exception, the big screens blazing
with that favourite goose of the unimaginative exec: the comic-book
adaptation. Typically a cargo of unremitting camp, the genre in recent years has
traded its roller skates for Hush Puppies, recruiting both artisans and menials
to wring cinema from chimera. Director Bryan Singer continues to cash in on his
arthouse cred, revivifying yet another spent franchise with Superman Returns, while Rush Hour‘s Brett Ratner subs for Singer on X-Men: The Last Stand. But Americans aren’t the only ones to have put their comics on camera.
In 1961, the reigning king of European comicdom, Tintin, was made
flesh in the Belgian feature Le Mystère de la Toison d’Or (The Mystery of the
Golden Fleece). Lanky, pale-faced Jean-Pierre Talbot starred as
the flare-haired reporter, and the gruff Georges Wilson made a
crack Captain Haddock. Though Hergé’s iconic characters and gut-tingling plots seem tailored for the big screen, the film and its
1964 sequel, Tintin et les Oranges Bleues (Tintin and the
Blue Oranges), did little more than play dress-up.
The rights to a future Tintin project currently sit in Steven
Spielberg’s tumid billfold. (Pray he and Tom Cruise aren’t brainstorming.)
While the Belgians were Frankensteining their bandes dessinées, from
across the English Channel came Modesty Blaise: kittenish superspy
who, with her slippery sidekick Willie Garvin, tangled in various
criminal intrigues at Her Majesty’s behest. Writer Peter O’Donnell
and artist Jim Holdaway first published the series in the early
1960s in The London Evening Standard. The 1966 Modesty
Blaise movie marinated in the era, juggling Bond spoofery with
New Wave freakouts and hefty kitsch, predating Austin
Powers by three decades. Monica Vitti starred, with the
indefatigable Terence Stamp as Willie. The cult hit became a DVD
Another choice video is the Japanese samurai epic Lone Wolf and
Cub, one of manga’s arch-works, by Kazuo Koike and Goseki
Kojima. The 28-volume, 8,000-page epic traces a shamed executioner
and his young son on their passage through Hell to find the family
that betrayed them. Its bristly inking and sombre mood spread like
herpes through comic art in Japan and America, with public flare-ups
from celebs like The Dark Knight‘s Frank Miller, and Max
Allan Collins, whose graphic novel Road to Perdition
(recently filmed with Tom Hanks in the lead) moved the tale from
18th-century Japan to 1930s Chicago. The original film, 1973’s
Sword of Vengeance, is fodder for wood-paneled basements,
with its fountains of blood and sage samurai wisdom. Like the comic,
the movie was serialized, with five more episodes of varying
quality. In 1980, North American audiences got a cut-and-paste of
the first two films called Shogun Assassin, but the first and
best chapter is now out on DVD.
Such titles don’t draw the crowds that mutants and muscular aliens do. But they give the indie buff
something to watch this summer when the swarms descend.