I recently read Albion, the graphic novel by Alan & Leah Moore about the long-forgotten superheroes of British comics – characters like the Spider, and the Claw, and Captain Hurricane, who liked nothing better than biffing up the Fritz with his bare hands. Some of the characters I knew, some I didn’t – but the book is a wonderful evocation of a by-gone age and a dark subversive story to boot.
To be honest, most of the British comics I read as a kid were reprints of the American comic books - Spider Man, Thor, X Men, all that mob – which I also read in their full-colour American versions. (I was nothing if not blindly loyal.) And for years a love of Marvel comics was my secret vice. I once had a script meeting with Geoff Deane – screenwriter of Kinky Boots and It’s a Boy Girl Thing and the TV comedy A Many Splintered Thing – which was totally derailed when a), ah, shucks, we ordered that second bottle of wine and b) we started talking about Marvel comic books.
Now of course comic books are so much the mainstream that that secret buzz is utterly lost. Comic book movies are not a cult thing; movies in which no one wears tights or has super powers have become the new cult thing. Drama, let’s face it, is the cult thing.
For me, though, the influence of comic books and graphic novels on movies has been a wonderful thing – it’s led to audacious cinematography (Sin City, the 600), rollercoaster family action (Spider Man, Fantastic Four), and a deep-rooted understanding of the fact that spectacular doesn’t always mean stupid. The Matrix is perhaps the greatest of all modern comic book movies – even though it isn’t based on a comic book, the original pitch was accompanied by storyboarded images, and the sheer intelligence of the mythology betrays a knowledge of Chris Claremont, Peter David, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Mark Millar, and more.
It’s possible to have too much of a good thing though. I adored Iron Man, and I’m looking forward hugely to the Dark Knight next week. But it would be great to see spectacular mythological movies that create some new mythology, and break some new ground. The Hollywood way is to cherry-pick the tried-and-tested and the famous, to ‘acquire properties’ like Narnia and His Dark Materials and Lord of the Rings. Sometimes the results are fabulous – Lord of the Rings, especially the first one, was a blast of raw energy, and a labour of love.
But sometimes the results are less compelling. The Golden Compass is a glorious spectacle – but it squashes and simplifies the genius of the original in a way that is painful. It’s a sprint through the Uffizi gallery, with never a moment to pause and look at the paintings. And the recent Wanted is a really great action movie, for those who love action movies, and that includes me; but it really is a pale imitation of the subversive graphic novel on which it is (very loosely) based. I liked it when I saw it; but it really hasn’t stayed with me, and I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.
That’s why I loved Albion – it’s full of forgotten mythologies, and cult characters. These are comic book creations, not ‘properties’. And the quirkiness, and the differentness, and the non-mainstreamness, that’s what really appeals to me.
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