10 Films You Didn't Know Were Comics First
May 21, 2020
by Troy-Jeffrey Allen
Comic book movies! They're not just for superheroes anymore. Truthfully, they never were. The mainstream public may forget from time to time, but comic books have inspired plenty of big (or small) screen adaptations. And they aren't all pulled from the pages of Marvel and DC.
To commemorate the recent release of Netflix's Extraction (based on the comic Ciudad) and the even more recent trailer reveal for Old Guard (above), here's a quick list of movies you might not have realized were comics...and the differences between them.
Timecop from Dark Horse Comics
The Movie: The muscle from Brussels - a.k.a. Jean Claude Van Damme - plays a police officer jettisoned into the far far future of 2004. Where time travel is possible and kitchen splits are a guarantee. Easily one of JCVD's better films.
The Comic: If you were to assume that Timecop was a Demolition Man rip-off, you'd be wrong! It's actually based on a 1992 three-part story originally released in Dark Horse Comics Presents. With the exception of the name "Timecop" and the lead character being an officer in the Time Enforcement Commission, the film and the comic are very different. That said, if you read all the lead character's lines with a thick Belgian accent then the film could be seen as faithful.
The Coldest City from Oni Press (FEB171820)
The Movie: Well, for starters, the film has a totally different name, Atomic Blonde. It is also deliberately way more action-packed. Making it an insanely entertaining and stylistic espionage film set in Berlin right at the end of The Cold War. What it isn't, however, is...
The Comic: Truthfully, it is unfair to compare Atomic Blonde to The Coldest City. The book is a taut, atmospheric espionage story and the film is a display of stunt performances from the people that brought you John Wick. In their own unique way, both the movie and the graphic novel underline how abrupt The end of The Cold War felt for those that lived it. Its also kind of amusing that the main character in The Coldest City - Lorraine Broughton - isn't an atomic blonde but a measured brunette. Bonus: The Coldest City had a prequel called The Coldest Winter.
Red from Wildstorm/DC Comics (MAR090211)
The Movie: A 2010 action-comedy starring a then all-star cast of Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, and John Malkovich. Each playing up the fact that they are aging contract killers for laughs.
The Comic: There is nothing comic about the comic. Well, unless you like tons of dark humor. Writer Warren Ellis and artist Cully Hamner crank up the ultraviolence without cracking a smile. Neither does their anti-hero Paul Moses (played by Bruce Willis in the movie), a one-man killing machine who has been deemed a liability by the CIA. While most men Paul's age are retiring, Paul is fighting for his life. All because he spent his career doing whatever dirty deed Uncle Sam told him to do.
All You Need Is Kill from Viz (SEP141737)
The Movie: Okay, okay. Technically, this was a light novel and then a manga and then a movie. Regardless, Edge of Tomorrow is an immensely entertaining, genre-bending space marine story. One that takes subtle, unexpected emotional twists in the latter half of the film.
The Comic: It should be pointed out that Edge of Tomorrow is a very generic title for a movie considering the fact that the book is called All You Need Is Kill. The manga is definitely darker than the film. Also, certain cultural differences do pop up between the two versions (the manga's lead is named "Keiji" while the film's lead is named "Cage."). But that almost goes without saying. The most notable difference, however, is that Rita's character (played by Emily Blunt in the movie) provides an additional perspective for the reader. One that the movie only hints at.
Road to Perdition from DC Comics (JUL110280)
The Movie: A superb cast is assembled for this Depression Era, cat-&-mouse crime film. Tom Hanks plays Irish mob enforcer Michael Sullivan a.k.a. "The Angel of Death." Jealousy and familial ties ignite a conflict that engulfs Sullivan's family and the family of the mob boss he spent years working for.
The Comic: Points to Road to Perdition for calling on the spirit of another great graphic novel, Lone Wolf and Cub. With that out of the way, this is one of those rare instances where both the film and the graphic novel are excellent. The differences between the two are a bit odd, however. Particularly, the hampering down of the violence, the addition and omission of certain players. Not to mention, the fact that Mike Sullivan is called "Mike O' Sullivan" in the book.
Oldboy from Dark Horse Comics (JUL098316)
The Movie: Yes, the image above is from the American remake. But we all can agree that the Korean version by director Park Chan-wook is the go-to. The American movie by Spike Lee isn't bad, but does shy away from some of the bolder elements of the plot. Which I will not give away here.
The Comic: Originally released in Japan's Weekly Manga Action, Oldboy would go on to find a home in America thanks to Dark Horse Comics. The mangas translation from English to Korean film to American film is mostly sound. A lot of that has to do with the fact that, on the surface, Oldboy is a simple revenge concept: a man is kidnapped and confined to a hotel room for reasons unbeknownst to him. Then, after a decade of confinement, he's suddenly released. From there, the manga and film interpretations differ slightly. Which likely has more to do with what the different mediums allows than anything else.
Wanted from Image Comics (JUL180385)
The Movie: Infamously, Wanted was grabbed up by Hollywood and slated for adaptation before the comic book was even completed.
The Comic: Once you get past the initial few pages of the series, Wanted the movie and Wanted the comic deviate aggressively. For starters, the comic book takes place in a world where superheroes exist. The film is about assassins. As for which is better, I'll have to go with the comic book on this. It's a deliberate deconstruction of the superhero genre. Presenting readers with an unsettling world where the villains ultimately beat out the good guys. Now, the most unlikable S.O.B.s rule the land. If you don't like intentionally senseless violence, decidedly unlikable characters, and pitch-black humor...well, go elsewhere.
Red Sonja from Dynamite Comics (MAY052658)
The Movie: Red Sonja is a bit of an anomaly. It was intended to exist in the same universe as the Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan films. For reasons too goofy to even get into here, that never quite happened. Schwarzenegger does appear as a "Lord Kalidor," a Conan-esque character. But the movie as a whole is a departure in quality, continuity, and common sense. As for Red Sonja herself, actress Brigitte Nielsen is undeniably impressive and wears her formidability on her sleeve - even if she's really just wearing a sleeveless, chain link swimsuit.
The Comic: Did you know Red Sonja was technically a Marvel Comics character? She was. Created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith in the pages of Conan The Barbarian #23, the character was a fusion of two disparate Robert E. Howard creations. Since her 1973 debut, Sonja has, arguably, gained equal footing with Conan in pop culture. Spawning a comics career that has stretched across decades and publishers.
The Crow from IDW Publishing (SEP190728)
The Movie: 1994's The Crow is painted in black from start to finish. From its gloomy alt-rock soundtrack to cinematographer Dariusz Wolski's dark dark visuals - this film is definitely a mood. It's all very fitting seeing how this is a morbid revenge story about Eric Draven, a rock star who is murdered the night before Halloween. He's resurrected one year later and proceeds to enact revenge on the people responsible for the murder of his fiancée. The film is known primarily because of the tragic, on-set death of actor Brandon Lee. The movie's lead actor and son of Bruce Lee.
The Comic: Similar to the film, James O' Barr's 1989 comic is also mired in real-life tragedy. The creator wrote and drew the comic after his girlfriend was killed in a drunk driving accident. O' Barr's creation would first appear in Caliber Presents #1. That prequel story would be followed up a short time later in The Crow mini-series., which is the basis for the film adaptations. As for differences between the film and the comic, the death of Eric Draven and his fiancée are vehicle-related in the mini-series. Making it strikingly clear, that O' Barr's story served as a sort of catharsis for the creator.
Kingsman: The Secret Service from Image Comics/Millarworld (JUL170694)
The Movie: A Royal Marine dropout named Eggsy Uwin has opted to run the streets with his punk friends instead of living up to his potential. That all changes, however, when he's bailed out of jail and recruited by a veteran spy named Harry Hart. Harry sees the endless possibilities in Eggsy and convinces him to join The Kingsman, a secret organization that tackles global threats.
The Comic: The film and the comic both credit director Matthew Vaughn as a co-writer, indicating a much larger and far more intricate collaborative process than one would expect from a comic-to-film adaptation. Which makes it surprising how different the comic book is from the movie. For example, Kingsman is an extension of MI6 in the comic instead of an independent organization. Gazelle (played by Sophia Boutella on screen) is actually a man in the comic and doesn't really have the same type of supporting role. Somewhat disappointingly, the equivalent to Samuel L. Jackson’s amusingly colorful, lispy world-beating master criminal is nowhere to be found in the Kingsman comic. Finally, Colin Firth’s character in the comic is Eggsy’s uncle and he pulls a lot of strings to get him off the streets and into Kingsman.
Fun fact: Kingsman co-creator Mark Millar originally pitched this to Marvel as a S.H.I.E.L.D. comic where Nick Fury mentors a kid from the streets. Marvel rejected the concept and Millar repurposed it with Vaughn to make Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Troy-Jeffrey Allen is the Consumer Marketing Digital Editor for PREVIEWSworld.com and Diamond's pop culture network of sites. His comics work includes BAMN, Fight of the Century, and the Harvey Award-nominated District Comics.