Tuesday, December 13, 2005

If It's a Good Picture, It's a Marvel

Mark Frost was a screenwriter for Fantastic Four (2005). He also wrote for Twin Peaks, not to mention the screenplay for The Believers (1987), the Martin Sheen movie that introduced santeria--well, at least the voodoo-ey version--to American pop culture. Before then, he worked on Hill Street Blues and The Six Million Dollar Man. Taken together, it all makes sense, especially the clear connection between his most recent turn of the big Marvel wheel and the Lee Majors show.

And that connection is the too-frequent awkward/dull touches. I'll admit Fantastic Four sometimes echoes the old comic book. In terms of the characters, there's Ben Grimm's anguish and Johnny Storm's showboating--especially his refreshingly honest recognition that to have superpowers is to be a celebrity; no Batmanesque brooding for this firebrand (sorry). And they have that big-budget high-tech lair--practically open to the public; these are superheroes without secret identities. But again and again the movie seems lazy in its writing, painting by the four-color numbers of the sloughed-off bad years of comic books, when no one was paying attention to them, so no one making them worked very hard.

That seems to be the problem here; but it's understandable that everyone's getting tired, including the viewer: Just type in the keywords "Marvel Comics" on the Internet Movie Database and, between the TV series, cartoons, video games, and movies, you'll get an even 110 titles, from a Captain America serial in 1944 to more than a dozen titles upcoming in 2006-07. 'Nuff said yet, Stan?

To be honest, I grew up a DC comics kid--I know, uncool squares from Smallville, DC fell prey to a cultural shift that glommed onto the edge and angst of Marvel's perennially insecure and uncertain quasi-heroes. But this is unfair. Let's not forget Batman in the '40s toting that gun, orphaned by crime, a bona fide noir code hero. And isn't Puny Peter Parker, photojournalist, simply a not-so-subtle goof on Clark Kent? So maybe I had deep-seated prejudices against Marvel; however, these were substantially altered when I was in high school and college in the '70s, when the comic book renaissance, for better or worse, re-transformed the comic book until everybody looked like Marvel. Between "events" like special (high-priced) issues of Spider-Man and the Neal Adams-ization of DC, I found myself in a world which marginally mirrored my own adolescent tremors via a completely cozy medium, the comic book. Existentialism lite had arrived.

But after a generation and a half of such tortured shenanigans, it seems the Mighty Marvel Marching Society might forfeit its charter, if Fantastic Four is any indicator. We'll see; it's just that as time goes by I may not want to make any real commitment to the comic book movie--aside from that which comes from having a twelve-year-old son, who knows better than I can remember the value of these movies, and whose enthusiasm--or at least tolerance--for them might allow me to sit still for clobberin' time once more.

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