Archive for the ‘Marvel’ Category

The “X-Men” sub-genre of books within the Marvel Universe tend to be very different from one another. There are various teams, agencies and allegiances and too many characters to name here. Within so many of those X-books the idea of change remains a fitting constant. All of these titles have seen massive shifts in tone, characters and concept. This edition of The Unadapted will look at one of those teams that’s had relatively little in the way of exposure outside of the page.


Right off the bat, there’s no way to address the timing of this particular write-up without discussing the ending of the recently released Guardians of the Galaxy film. So either proceed knowing that we’ll be getting into spoiler territory or leave now.

**This entry was written by Brian Baer as part of my Guest Column series. Thanks Brian!**

“Whatever knows fear burns at the touch of the Man-Thing!!!”

This oft-printed caption box is typically the only introduction to the Man-Thing required. A brilliant scientist was betrayed in the Florida Everglades and, thanks to an experimental serum, became fused with the swamp vegetation. Now a shambling, barely conscious creature, the Man-Thing’s highly empathic nature causes him to reach out with a burning touch. Anyone in his presence feeling fear would be scarred, immolated, or worse.

*NOTE* Since this film was recently released, this will be a quick, spoiler-free write up that focuses less on plot and more on the feelings that this film evoked within me.

All franchises mutate.

Fittingly, the X-Men franchise is the only comic film series from the modern era to run continuously. These movies are able to adapt and evolve like the mutants on which they are based. In the 14 years since X-Men first hit screens we’ve seen three different iterations of the Hulk (in two different film series), two different, unconnected adaptations of The Punisher, and two whole Spider-franchises. And yet the X-Men continue on, undaunted. There have been ups and downs in their 14 years as a franchise, but with this film I can honestly say that it was all worth it.

It’s rare to see a studio actively admit that they have learned from their past mistakes. But, in the lead-up to this film, everyone involved very publicly acknowledged the miss-steps of the series and assured fans that it would be actively correcting them. That’s a shocking amount of honesty from a studio (it’s telling that one of the most vocal supporters of this retcon campaign was a writer on X-Men: The Last Stand, which is considered a very low point for the franchise). And that’s cool, but in the lead-up to the film’s production there were still plenty of unknowns. The cast seemed unwieldy and continued to grow well into production, some of the character designs were met with skepticism and outright laughter, and focusing on Wolverine in lieu of letting another mutant shine rubbed some the wrong way. While many remained hopeful, there was a growing tide of fanboy whining that threatened to derail the sentiment put out by the studio and makers of the film.

“I don’t like his costume!
Naturally, this film will suck!”
-Fanboy #973

Luckily, fanboy rage is usually misguided. The film was released a couple of weeks ago and it is not only an unqualified financial success (highest grossing X-Movie in only 2 weeks) but also a critical darling (92% on Rotten Tomatoes) as well as the closest a cinematic outing has been to the comics on which they are based.

There are many things to love in this movie: The interaction between the classic and future casts, Sentinels on screen at last and the complicated relationship between Magneto and Xavier. However, to me there is one moment that is the most important of not just the film, but the entire film series: it features a lovingly crafted and warmly set ending that provides a sense of hope in an otherwise dire and dark story.

Because at the end of the day, that’s the purpose of the X-Men. They are here to remind us that life isn’t fair; that there are people out there who hate others just because of who they are and how they choose to live. Some of them will proselytize and do everything in their power to destroy the life that YOU find normal and what’s worse is that they will cloak those sentiments in politics or religion. But in the end, if we band together and face those evils we will overcome them. It may take years or decades but it WILL happen. Evolution marches on and the only thing it leaves behind is antiquated thinking.

Marvel hasn’t had the greatest track record with direct-to-video releases. Sure, most of them weren’t terrible, but they also weren’t amazing. Especially considering what DC had been cranking out during the same 3-4 years of their direct competition in this field. It’s also rather telling that Marvel’s initial contract with Lionsgate has expired forcing them to make animated features piecemeal (only 1 or 2 a year, sometimes less) through different animation houses while DC continues to release 3-4 a year consistently even though Warner Premiere (their initial distributor) no longer exists.

Anyway, Hulk Vs. was a two-part anthology film that featured the jade giant going toe-to-toe with another Marvel super hero. One of the films focuses on Banner’s alter ego under Loki’s control as he tears-ass through Asgard. The other finds him hiding out in the Canadian wilderness which brings him into conflict with Department H’s top agent, The Wolverine. Although, that’s really only the first 5 minutes or so of the film. After their initial confrontation, the new enemies are hunted down by some of Logan’s old compatriots that are rather sore he left their team. The two are sedated, captured and forced to team-up in order to escape and take out their mutual enemies. And who might said enemies be? Why, none other than Weapon X!

“Strike a pose!”

The introduction of this team provides the movie an opportunity to delve into Logan’s backstory. The filmmakers wisely condenses all of the interesting parts into one extended flashback. Forget X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this is the furry Canuck’s REAL origin. Awesomely, the entire section of the film is lifted almost entirely from Barry Windsor-Smith’s exceptional Weapon X story from Marvel Presents. it focuses exclusively on his training and vivisection at the hands of the malevolent Dr. Thornton and sensibly excises anything that isn’t needed to push forward the narrative.

It’s fine, kids. They’re robots…blood filled robots.

From there, the story really picks up. Wolverine forces Hulk out of Banner in a pretty inventive way (one that could never be shown if this was on television) and they cut through Weapon X soldiers and mutants alike. The brutality of these fight scenes is pretty amazing. I’m someone who spent his entire childhood watching Wolverine use his claws primarily on doors and robots. seeing him slice into a soldier and having a crimson stream shoot out, or hack the hand off of someone was a bit jarring in the best way possible. For the first time, the comic’s version of the character was accurately adapted into animation without the need to (pardon the pun) de-claw him.

“It’s-a me, Deadpool!”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the inclusion of Deadpool in this film. Many people are familiar with the Merc with the Mouth and even more are familiar with his in-name-only appearance in the aforementioned 4th X-Men movie. Discounting that film, this is Deadpool’s first real appearance as a character (not a cameo) in comic book media. And it completely nails the characterization. He’s sarcastic and deadly and shockingly funny. A friend of mine watched this film shortly after Origins. Without knowing the character’s history, he asked, “Those are supposed to be the same guy? Why didn’t the movie use this version?” I’m sure there are many reasons as to why he was so drastically changed in Origins, but that’s a post for a different day.

Place your bets!!!

With Hulk Vs., Marvel’s track record in animation reversed course quite expertly. Sadly, it was short lived. Lionsgate/Marvel’s next feature was Planet Hulk, an excellent adaptation of the comic series which actually improves on the original in some regards. After that, their partnership made only one more feature, the kid-friendly Thor: Tales of Asgard which was only saved by the writing of Craig Kyle. It wasn’t bad, but it was certainly a return to their regular, mediocre form.

There was talk of a whole spinoff series of Hulk Vs. movies. I know Hulk Vs. Venom and Hulk Vs. X-Men were thrown around, but nothing materialized. In the end, it was probably for the best. I had hoped that this would be a new direction for Marvel’s DTV department. In the end, it was more of a fun diversion. But it’s certainly worth watching. It’s short, fun, violent and tells a story that is incredibly true to all characters involved.

Many people in my generation (read: old) have very fond memories of Saturday morning cartoons. Waking up early in order to watch our favorite animated adventures was a way of life that seems to have been pushed to extinction with the advent of 24-hour cartoon channels and streaming services. Everyone had their favorite show back in the day. We all watched all of them, but lines were always drawn. ReBoot was better than Eek the Cat (unless it wasn’t to you). More often than not, X-Men was at the top of everyone’s list. When it was cancelled, it left a bad taste in a lot of fans’ mouths. When a follow-up cartoon was announced, the flavor remained the same. Sure, loyalty to a particular brand of entertainment is great, but fanboys are never good about letting go (hell, I’m still sore about Young Justice being cancelled). Which was really too bad for this show. It wasn’t the same as the original cartoon and didn’t have the slavish devotion to the source material or the same large-scope in its storytelling. But in a lot of ways, it was just as good (if not a bit better) than the original.

“Like, totally radical? Pshh, as if…”

The primary conceit of the show is that it follows the X-Men while they are still inexperienced children (the exceptions being Wolverine, Storm and later Beast who serve as mentors for the core students) being rescued and counseled by Professor X in a world hostile to the newly emerging mutant race. At first glance, that seems like an obvious and cloying attempt to court the youth demographic. However it actually served as a way to add some self-doubt to the heroes that were previously incredibly confident in the past incarnation. Aside from some early episode annoyances (like Kitty Pryde’s voice) it rarely used the youth of the characters to be “hip”.

“That’s cool, I’m in like 12 comics anyway.”

Since I mentioned Kitty Pryde, she’s an excellent example of why this show was so awesome: the cast. The series took the wise step of introducing a new team of X-Men and filling its ranks with a mixture of fan-favorite characters, many of whom had had very little screen time in the past show (or none at all). Aside from regulars like Cyclops, Wolverine and Jean Grey we got characters mostly new to animation like Shadowcat, Berzerker, Nightcrawler and Sunspot. Some characters -*cough*Gambit*cough*- who were fairly overexposed at the time were given smaller guest roles so that less-seen mutants could enjoy a little of the limelight.

Marvel’s Harley Quinn

And of course, this show cannot be discussed without mentioning X-23. When the clone of Wolverine debuted, she was met with trepidation from most fans. Dismissing that her introductory episode was very well done, its understandable that the decision to introduce a young, cool version of Logan caused some unease (if not outright agitation) from fans. And yet, she turned into a fan-favorite character, largely due to her complicated personality and haunting backstory. She was a clone raised in solitude (after 22 failed attempts) and trained/tortured to become an assassin for Hydra. When she was 12, she was put through the Weapon X process. You know, the one that was absolute torture and almost killed an adult Wolverine? Yeah, they did it to a kid. The depth of her conditioning and the question of “what makes someone good or evil” is the core of her story and essential to what makes her an intriguing character. It’s incredibly refreshing to see what could have been a largely disappointing and obvious trope be so fully subverted.

The series lasted 4 seasons (making it Marvel’s 3rd longest running cartoon) and ended on quite the high-note. The X-Men, Brotherhood, SHIELD and other random characters all join forces in an effort to thwart the subjugation of the human race by the ancient mutant Apocalypse. The excellent finale’s final moments give a glimpse of all of the triumphs and losses we’ll never see in the team’s future before settling on a class picture of the extended X-Men roster. Even for an old cynic like me, it was touching.  

Class of 2003
Sadly, this series is rarely thought of by fans today. X-Men is fondly (and rightly) remembered for how groundbreaking it was and Wolverine and the X-Men is still being mourned for its short but dramatic run in 2009. I love both of those series, but as far as I’m concerned, the X-Men are 3 for 3 in television and now that this series is streaming on Netflix in its entirety, hopefully more people will give it a chance.

Comic books have come a long way since my childhood. There are many, many reasons for this. First, is an aging demographic base that demands more complicated stories and intricate plotting than when they were children. I am firmly within said demographic. I am 30 now, and easily read more comics than I did when I was 13. I would guess that this is true for most adult comic readers. Thus, the industry works to appease those who spend the money.

The second reason would be the logical evolution of the medium. While comics (meaning pictures and words combined to tell a story) have existed for countless centuries, the concept of a “comic book” or “bandes dessinées” is relatively new when compared to the history of literature and drama. As such, it is still in the early stages of its natural evolution. It has changed greatly in the 75+ years since the creation of the “Super Hero”* and will continue to change even more in the future.

Third, and what I find the most interesting, is the popular and profitable spread of comics into other media. Comic books have a long history in film and television but it has only been recently that they have become such money-making juggernauts. At any given quarter within the last few years, films based upon comics have dominated the box-office and made obscene amounts of money.

The purpose of this blog will be to look back on every piece of comic book media from the realms of film, television, animation and home video. Essentially, reviewing and giving information on each piece of comic book media that is presented. While the artistic and financial triumphs within the medium are worthy of discussion, I am also very interested in the adaptations that failed (either creatively or monetarily) and examine the reasons behind both. This may be considered a daunting task, but if you’ve ever seen my collection of comic-book movies, you’d know that I’m up for it. With that comes the question of what should be examined first…


*Note that the term “Superhero” dates to 1917, but for the purposes of comic based Super-humans, I am tracing it to around the time of the creation of Superman (1938) and Sub-Mariner (1939). Since DC and Marvel collectively hold the copyright to the term “Super Hero”, I think that is appropriate.