As comics fans will find this Friday, the film Wanted falls closer to From Hell and League of Extraordinary Gentleman than to 300 or 30 Days of Night, in terms of how closely it adapts its comic book source material. Like those two bowdlerized versions of Alan Moore books, Wanted bears so little resemblance to its source that its somewhat puzzling that the studio bothered adapting it at all, instead of just giving it an original name.
Gone are the supervillains and superheroes, the costumes, most of the characters, the worldwide conspiracy controlling the nature of reality, the amorality, the metafictional aspects and, um, the plot. All director Timur Bekmambetov and his three-man screen-writing team keep are the title, the names of two characters, and two brief scenes (Wesley shooting flies with a gun; Wesley shooting corpses on meat hooks).
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Neither, really; it’s just an observation (For an assessment of the virtues of the film, I should have a review up at Donewaiting.com on Thursday afternoon).
I think losing so much of it—particularly the superhero/supervillain content and the big idea that the DCU multiverse is really real and the real world is really a fiction, but Lex Luthor and company made us think the opposite—loses what makes Wanted Wanted, but it doesn’t necessarily make the movie itself bad (or good).
The moral point of view of the movie is also almost opposite of that expressed in the comic; the film’s Wesley is a bit arrogant and a total badass assassin, but he’s still the hero; he’s not a murderer, rapist and villain, as he is in the comic.
Movie-Wesley also isn’t a racist.
Is Comic Book-Wesley? I’m not sure, but the case can certainly be made that he is. Or, at the very least, that the white character has some issues with characters with darker skin than his. Or should the case be made that it is the character’s creator, the guy filling his head with thoughts and his mouth with words, who has some issues?
I hadn’t reread Wanted since it’s release about four years ago, and, when I reread it last week after seeing the film, I was pretty shocked at some of the ways race plays out in the book.
During 2006’s Civil War, Millar wrote a scene in which a clone of an Aryan, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Norse god murdered a black hero, and some folks jokingly pointed out the symbolism online. While I was a little bummed about Goliath getting killed, and thought the scene was a turning point for the quality of the series, I certainly didn’t see anything racist, intentionally or unintentionally, about it.
In Kick-Ass, the third issue of which was just released a few weeks ago, Millar has a white kid playing vigilante attack some black kids in the first issue, fight some Puerto Ricans in the second issue (there’s even a panel of a guy shouting, “Hey! ) and then attack some black dudes in the third issue. I gave up on the series due to its exceptionally poor writing, but simply attributed the white guy-fighting-minorities story thread as tone deafness on Millar’s part, akin to his clumsy, out-of-touch pop culture references and complete divorce from how the human body responds to punishment.
But the questionable aspects of Wanted are harder to dismiss.
Here’s a scene from #3, in which the leaders of the five crime families meet, and neo-Nazi supervillain The Future tells off Vandal Sava—er, Adam One:
Now, The Future is not just a supervillain, but he’s a Nazi supervillain, so the fact that this evil jerk is also racist hardly seems like a shock or surprise. He also complains that he was promised the Jews by his fellow evil rulers of the world, and, in the very next panel there, talks about how women fantasize about being raped by fascists.
So yeah, not a good guy. Him hurling racist epithets is pretty much to be expected.
But what about this? Here’s Wesley narrating a scene from #1:
I’m not sure what to make of this scene. He points out that she’s African-American in the narration, and in the next sentence says “I’m embarrassed by the situation.” Embarrassed that he’s being yelled? Or that he’s being yelled at by his “African-American boss” as he says, or that he has an “African-American boss” at all?
I don’t know. But including the words “African-American” to the narration at all encourages one of the latter readings. The art clearly indicates that the woman he’s talking about is African-American, so why redundantly mention her race if he was only embarrassed by the fact that he was taking shit from his boss?
Then, two panels later:
The meaning of the word “cholo” has changed over the years, but is apparently most often used to refer to poor Mexicans or immigrants from anywhere south of the U.S. border these days.
And in #2, there’s this:
I’m not sure what he means by “Spike Lee extra;” is he simply referring to New Yorkers? Because that’s kind of a weird thing to say: “On the way home from work tonight, every New Yorker in the entire fucking world will have spat on my back again.” What does that even me?
Or does he mean “black guy,” like the guys in the panel seem to be?
After Wesley is recruited by the supervillains of The Fraternity and butches up, we get this charming sequence, which is an awful lot like the scene at the climax of Kick-Ass #1:
So Wesley’s a racist, even if he uses softer terms like “Spike Lee extra” and “African-American” instead of dropping N-bombs or terms as crass as The Future used.
That by itself wouldn’t be all that troubling either, as Wesley is, like The Future, a villain too. One of the subversive aspects of Wanted the comic book is that it’s a superhero book without any real superheroes; just villains. Wesley’s a better supervillain only in that he’s smarter and tougher than the other villains, and that he rapes women instead of children and animals, like The Joker Mr. Rictus.
Complicating that reading, however, is this panel:
Wesley’s boss isn’t a supervillain. She’s just a civilian, one who appears in about two panels of the whole six-issue series. And she’s giving Wesley shit, not about his job performance, but about being white. She unfairly stereotypes Wesley as being a member of the KKK and having a small dick just because he’s white.
I don’t understand this panel at all. What’s Millar trying to say? That she’s racist too, and that there aren’t really any innocent civilians in the world? Because it’s a weird example. One would imagine she wouldn’t be able to be in any kind of position of authority if she was always publicly ridiculing her white underlings for their whiteness, you know?
The only other black character in the book is Catwom—er, Halle Berr—er, The Fox, and while she has substantially more panel-time than, say, The Professor or Mr. Rictus, her character is hardly more developed: She likes having sex (to the point that she regards both Gibsons as life support systems for their cocks, which is all she’s interested in about them), she likes money, she likes killing people and she never, ever lets her nouns and verbs or tenses agree.
Considering these scenes, it’s understandable why the filmmakers wouldn’t want to stay too faithful to the source material—some of it is pretty ugly, and would give the film a lot more baggage than anyone would reasonably want to invest millions of dollars into lugging around in public.