Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Wanted: Originally a Comic, not a Movie

Some spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.

So I kind of thought the movie "Wanted" that came out this summer wasn't very good. It seemed like there was a movie in there somewhere, but it was neither funny enough, nor did I feel like I was seeing anything worth my 2 hours and $6.00 to make me think this was something to tell others to see.

I was recently recommended the comic, assured that it was different. Being the polite sort of League that I am, I did not inform the folks who recommended the book that I have a love/hate relationship with Mark Millar, the guy who wrote the original comic of "Wanted". He's sort of an over-caffeinated little troll in his interviews, and he has no problem hyping himself and completely making up whatever facts he feels will help his image, projects, etc... Example: artist of the comic of "Wanted" JG Jones, drew the original Wesley Gibson character to look a bit like Eminem. Millar later claimed Eminem's people wanted to cast the rapper in the part in the movie. This was never true, and Millar now plays it off as if it was the press which misunderstood, and not some posting he made online. Apparently Eminem's people asked Millar to quit saying Eminem was interested.


If I didn't care for the movie "Wanted", I found myself disliking the comic slightly less. At least it wasn't boring. It's just derivative and vulgar and was the sort of high-octane, high calorie, low-nutrition comics that tend to wear me out.


In fact, they make a point in both works that Gibson isn't going to be "wanted" by the law in either work, because they have such a super-awesome secret society of assassins and bad-guys, that the cops can't do anything about them.

Millar uses "Wanted" to tell a DC Elseworld's tale in which the super-villains have taken over Earth. As those of you who've seen the movie will attest: Que? How can Millar not just be embarrassed that the producers so soundly gutted his work? I've literally never seen such a departure from a comic's source material to the big screen. If Producers truly understood what happened there with "Wanted" I wonder if it wouldn't do more harm to Millar's Hollywood career than good...

The movie of Wanted roughly follows the first issue of the comic, and then wildly diverges from the source material to such a degree that I can't really figure out why the producers bothered to cite the comic as even an inspiration for the movie.

Millar's tin-ear for American, non-white bread dialog shines through, and he drops the f-bomb at least twice in every word balloon, robbing profanity of any potency or punctuation, and making his characters sound like mildly idiotic 8th graders trying to sound tough. Lifting from the Wildstorm/ Rick Veitch method of thinly disguising known characters, Millar sets up a somewhat intriguing scenario of a post-Crisis world reformed in which the villains have won the day, and are living in the shadows as the super-wealthy (which Millar seems to think $10 million means super-wealthy, which... come on. Maybe in 1955). Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to know what to do with the scenario once its in place, except tear it apart.

You can sort of begin to see some of the differences between movie and comic here...

The comic winds up having the same problem as the movie, in that it seems to be challenging the reader to embrace... something. Chaos? Anarchy? Ignoring the fact that we generally aren't waking up one morning to find out we have super powers and millions in the bank. There's a last page with Gibson directly addressing the reader, and I felt the way he was describing, but not in the manner in which Millar intended. More in the "you've got to be @#$%ing kidding me" manner. Your plot was useless, your characters shallow stereotypes and interesting only in playing the "who is the analog for who?" game that he and others had already done for Wildstorm. And that ending made sense only in that it was on the page and we sort of had to go along with it, because that's what we had to do to finish the comic.

And it's sort of tough to differentiate between the casual racism/ homophobia of the book's narrator and the voice of Millar himself. One has hopes that Millar just really understood the mechanics of the soon-to-be villain, but given the evidence we get regarding Gibson's childhood and how he was raised, it doesn't seem in synch. Which is either Millar waffling, or Millar having a very weird idea about race relations/ LGBT issues in the US. There's just a lot of language that, maybe is intended to make things "gritty", but it doesn't seem to actually come from anywhere, other than a sense of bigotry ingrained prior to Gibson's transformation.

I just got really tired of it. Just as dealing with it in real life really wears me out.

I am aware that there's a class of comic reader out there who gets a small thrill from gratuitous violence, and I am occasionally part of that crowd. Especially when I'm reading anything by Garth Ennis (that dude knows how to push my "sweet lord, they did not just do that" button better than anyone). Millar's handling of the ultra-violence is so unsubtle and steady that at some point, its just a torrent of blood and death you can hop over to jump to the next plot point.

That said, JG Jones' art work is really, really nice throughout. His character designs interesting and familiar, while avoiding any copyright problems. I can see why Morrison had pegged him for "Final Crisis".

My difficulty comes in that: It may sound as if I'm picking on "Wanted" for spoofing DC material, but that isn't really the case. I wouldn't mind at all, if I felt there were a story here rather than just a bunch of things happening in some sort of sequence.

Mostly, knowing when this comic was originally released, it just seems like its about seven years behind the trend. Millar favors co-opted style over substance. The names of characters ("$#!T-head", etc...), all seem to have come from the Garth Ennis school of inappropriate hilarity, founded in the mid-90's. Pair that with the Warren Ellis school of bad-asses routinely declaring how bad-ass they are (founded, also, mid-90's) , an opening which, really, seems to have been taken from an early draft of "Fight Club", and you're left with the actual plot. Which is sort of nonsensical, and whose "twist" ending doesn't work. Even for a comic where the arch-villains are the protagonists.

I'm a little baffled by the huge audience for Wanted as a comic. I'm even more baffled how the movie and comic relate to one another.

I've had it mentioned to me that "Wanted" was optioned after the first issue, and a script cranked out before the comic series was done. And the producers must have liked their script much more than the comic itself (which, really, would make no sense to anyone but comic nerds, anyway). So they stripped the characters of their comic-book styled outfits, and nicknames. And put in some other plot about monks/ weavers (which, really...? how was nobody suspicious?). At any rate, its an interesting case study.


Simon MacDonald said...

So what you are saying is you didn't like the book and you'll never trust my recommendation again? :)

What I liked about the book is that 'evil won' to borrow the tag line from Final Crisis. I always wondered what it would be like if the hero's lost. I also enjoyed the analogues between the Wanted universe and DC even thought the choice of name for the Clayface analogue was juvenile. The last reason I like the book may seem weird but I liked the fact I was disgusted by portions of the story. For the story to create such a visceral reaction in me it must be powerful.

What I didn't like was the obvious borrowing of real life celebrities to be characters in the book. Don't get me wrong the art was great but I didn't love seeing Eminem on every page. Also, you could tell that this book was being written as a movie pitch.

All and all I did enjoy it and it certainly sparks some good conversation.

The League said...

I think I've read enough Garth Ennis and others so that I think I know what you're talking about as per the visceral reaction. There are a few moments in the current "War is Hell" Marvel comic that just blew my mind with the brutality of the WWI air war.

That's a fine line, and I don't think this is what you're saying, but I want to clarify for anyone else and bring up an extreme example... If I draw a comic about a guy running puppies through a sausage maker, its going to get a strong reaction, too.

But I think my problem was story. I just felt like there was so much wasted potential here. Millar had this great scenario he'd cooked up, and then couldn't do anything with it. In many ways, the reintroduction of Wesley's father is where the comic falls apart for me as it was so pointless and meaningless to Wesley and the reader.

I hadn't thought too much about the movie pitch, mostly because of the DC-continuity-analog-centricity (say that five times fast). In some ways, I think it sort of forced the studio's hand to tell a completely different story when they did roll film.

And, Simon ol' buddy, you weren't the only one to suggest I give the comic a shot. It was a critical mass of folk telling me to try out the comic. I'm glad we can chat on this. Its always interesting to see how different comics ping off folks' radar.

Simon MacDonald said...

Agreed you can get a strong reaction from the readers by taking the low road, i.e., puppies in a sausage maker. Staying topical I can think of two great examples in the Watchmen that disgust me but at the same time drive me to read on. However that's Alan Moore and he's 20 times the writer Millar will ever be.

I have to concur the setup and concept were much better than the payoff. In fact the payoff is too meta textual for me. I won't get into the exact details for fear of spoiling it on the readers.

J.S. said...

Once again, I think you've written yet another review that puts more thought into analyzing the work than the writer put into creating it.