Monday, April 12, 2004

Looking To The Stars: Comic Book: The Movie- A Review

Is there anything more enjoyable than a weekend spent at the comic convention?

Many things, yes, as those of us who have girlfriends and wives can tell you.

Even those of us who love the lowly comic book are hard pressed to find much enjoyable about the Con itself. Yes, there is the sense of comradely friendship as you walk among your fellow fanboys… the chance to meet the creative souls behind your favorite books…the thrill of the hunt as you look for the one back-issue or action figure that will complete your collection… and the numerous people in colorful costumes.

On the other hand, there’s the annoying fanboys yammering about Aunt May’s original hair color, the pretentious creators who insist that they are true artists while Writer X is crap, the outrageous vendor prices where they want double the list price for that statue of the girl on the dragon and the one guy who is convinced that he looks just like Michael Keaton as his muscle-enhanced Bat-suit has shifted all the fat to his already prodigious belly. Still, the Con experience, the good and bad, is captured to perfect effect by Mark Hamill in his film: Comic Book, The Movie.

Hammil, who probably knows more about the horrors of the Con (as both a fan and a celebrity) than anyone, plays Don Swan. Swan is a history teacher, comic-shop owner and fanzine publisher. He is also the world’s greatest authority upon Commander Courage: a super-patriot hero of the Golden Age and the biggest hero ever in the reality of this film. Even Stan Lee himself bows to the superiority of the creator of CC!

Swan has just been hired as a creative consultant on the new “Codename: C.O.U.R.A.G.E.” movie, based on the recent revamp of the original Commander Courage comics. The current series is based around a jingoistic, terrorist-fighting assassin and his spandex cat-suit clad partner; Liberty Lass; a far cry from the original comic’s flying, super-strong hero and his nephew sidekick, Liberty Lad. Needless to say, Swan is less than thrilled with this news and sets about trying to win over the film’s executives to basing the movie upon the Golden Age hero. To tell more would spoil the whole movie. Suffice to say, Swan and the executives use every tool at their disposal to stop the other, including swaying the only surviving heir to the Commander Courage legacy to their way of thinking and putting out different costumed characters to plug their image of the movie.

There are a lot of cameos here from faces and voices famed. Yes, many of us would know Stan Lee, Kevin Smith and Hugh Hefner by sight even without their names being flashed on the screen but I wonder how many people who view this movie will recognize the faces of the people who voiced Harley Quinn, Cosmo from “Fairly Odd Parents” and “Fry” from Futurama.

In addition to the plot of the film, we get a camera’s eye view of the San Diego ComicCon and a very nice simulation of the Con experience. From a John Belushi look alike in a Wolverine costume to the model-gorgeous woman in the Black Cat costume, we see the gamut of costumed types as the camera roams the convention floor. We also get to see such favored con past times as haggling over prices, flirting with the hotties in the skimpy costumes and scaring the pants off creators with just how devout a fan you are.

And I was not expecting NEARLY as much vicious satire of Hollywood and the comic book movie as this movie contained. It was a pleasant surprise however, and what “This Is Spinal Tap” was to metal bands, this movie is to comic books, comic conventions and Hollywood. I don’t just mean this as a comparison: I mean that this movie IS the equal of that famed satirical flick.

To give one example of the humor, we find out that Peter David was the writer on the much-hated (by Don Swan at least) Codename: C.O.U.R.A.G.E. Swan notes with all seriousness that while he liked David’s work on Aquaman, Supergirl and the Incredible Hulk, he never read “Codename” as he just could not bring himself to see his favorite character so vilely altered. The joke here, for those of us in the know, is that David has done the exact same thing to all the abovementioned characters and taken a lot of flack from the fans of the Kara Zor-El Supergirl, the dumb Hulk and the Aquaman with a shirt and both hands. There’s also a fair number of gags involving giant spiders as the ultimate sign of Hollywood corruption in a comic book movie screenplay. (If you don’t get this one, click here.)

Yes, this is a bit in-jokey. But honestly… who else besides a comic reader is going to watch a movie like this? Who else besides a comic fan is going to be able to watch a movie like this and laugh at it? For despite the fact that this movie does give a pure and unabashed, if somewhat fantastic at times, look at the world of comic cons and more, comic fans, it is done with love. Hammill seeks to praise these things, not bury them, and does a remarkable job in conveying the love of comicdom and just what can drive a man to such lengths to ensure that his favorite hero is treated right on the big screen.

Final Score: 9.0 out of 10.0.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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