Friday, June 18, 2010

In which I babble about three comics-based movies I haven't even seen yet

I've been a terrible comics fan this summer. Despite being mildly interested to rather excited about each of them, I have yet to see Kick-Ass, The Losers or Iron Man 2...and now we can add Jonah Hex to the list of Comics Movies You'd Think Someone Big Into Comics Would Maybe See On Opening Weekend.

I don't have any reason for having not seen any of those movies yet, I guess I just don't get the movies as much as I used to now that no one pays me to watch movies and then write a few hundred words about whether I thought they were any good or not. I hope to at least see Iron Man 2 on the big screen, and hopefully Jonah Hex, which I am honestly quite curious about.

There have been tell-tale signs that things weren't going so hot with Jonah Hex throughout the production, and I got a sinking feeling when I saw that first trailer, in which they revealed that Jonah Hex apparently had a super-power of some sort other than simply being Jonah Hex.

The reviews I've seen so far haven't been pretty. In fact, they've been so not pretty that Jonah's profile might actually be prettier than the reviews.

Keith Phipps' review for The Onion's AV Club, summed up the movie rather pithily: "Jonah Hex is what happens when someone promises to deliver a releasable movie by a certain date, and then doesn’t." Phipps notes the stitched-together, at-conflict-with-itself nature of the movie ("[E]very once in a while, a film limps into theaters so stitched together, it’s a wonder it doesn’t rip apart in the projector.") The AV Club, by the way, gives the movie the letter grade of "F." Marmaduke earned a D.

I'm still curious. In fact, maybe now I'm a little more curious than I was before I started seeing reviews. (Phipps' review also says the movie's only 81 minutes long. How the hell do you make an 81-minute feature film in 2010? The average comic book superhero movie is like five hours now, isn't it?)

Part of the reason for that curiosity is simply I don't understand how exactly one can screw up making a Jonah Hex movie. He's not all that complicated a character. He's a Clint Eastwood-style cowboy hero, a bounty hunter with a heart of gold (or at least a heart much less black than one might expect him to have) and a hell of a visual hook. Jonah Hex is pretty much tailor-made for a 21st century Western, since he wears the ugliness of the era right there on his face. He's a poke-in-the-eye-obvious metaphor for an exciting, adventure-filled but ultimately quite ugly period of American history. He could have quite literally been the face of the modern, post-deconstructionist western.

And I'm not talking about the character's potential or anything. That's just who and what he is, in terms of visual design. His back-story and the details of his life are awfully unimportant—and, in fact, factor in to very few of the Hex stories I've read over the years—so he's not like Batman or Spider-Man where a filmmaker needs to make a lot of decisions about how much of a specific story to tell, which of the hundreds of characters to include and how to deal with the audience's preexisting understanding of the character from all the other media examples they've seen of him. (By the way, how many cartoon appearances does Hex have? I know he was in Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: The Brave and The Bold. Wasn't there a time-traveling episode of one of the Justice League cartoons, too? Is that it? Anyway, the point is, he's not like Superman or Batman or Spider-Man or even The Hulk).

A studio could take just about any Western script they have in their script slush pile, change the protagonist to a horribly-scarred bounty hunter, and hey, what do you know, it's suddenly a Jonah Hex movie.

I realize my words have very little weight here, given that I'm going off of a couple of reviews rather than the movie itself, but it sounds to me like Jonah Hex may have gone wrong by trying to turn a character who was little more than a generic cowboy with an interesting look into superhero character, complete with super-powers and a plot involving saving the day. Hex comics were and are almost all straight Westerns, not superhero comics, so bending his home genre toward another simply because of a faulty perception that the medium of comics automatically equals superhero seems like a pretty huge, fundamental problem that it would probably be pretty difficult to recover from.

Or hell, I don't know, maybe the folks who made the movie were just incompetent. I guess I'll go see it at some point and find out for myself.


Maybe Keith Phipps just hates ugly cowboys, though? Let's check another of my favorite sources for film criticism, The Village Voice. Oh shit, "Bracingly inept, Chef Boyardee spaghetti western Jonah Hex is the rare 80-minute movie that you can’t even call 'taut.'" Heh. "Chef Boyardee spaghetti western."

Okay, they can't all be like this. Let's just head to Yeesh, as of this writing it's got a 14% positive rating. "There isn't a single reason to see this movie...Director Jimmy Hayward fails to establish a viable reason for this movie to exist..." ah, wait, here are a couple of positive reviews.

Kevin Carr says "Jonah Hex is not a good movie. Not by a long shot...But that didn't stop me from having a hell of a lot of fun watching it." And Amy Biancolli says: "I think Jonah Hex could have exceeded 80 minutes to make room for some real visual invention. And three-dimensional characters. And a plot. A plot would have been nice."

Those are the positive reviews? Because those are not very positive things to say about a film.


The bad news, of course, is that if opening weekend box office reflects the buzz and reviews the film is getting then that means a Jonah Hex 2 isn't terribly likely, and even a "reboot" would be a long shot (It didn't take long for Punisher and Hulk reboots, of course, but I think both of those characters/franchises were perceived as a lot more exploitable than Jonah Hex).

So I guess that means we're unlikely to see Hex vs. the undead or Hex vs. Lovecraftian monsters movies in the near future, and a movie about a Hex wandering around a post-apocalyptic future is definitely out of the question, as is a feature-length, live-action adaptation of the recent episode of Batman: The Brave and The Bold where Mongul hires Jonah Hex to capture Batman to use as a gladiator on War World.


I'm curious what, if any, impact the (presumed) failure of the film might have on DC Comics' publishing plans for the character. It's no secret that the book sells pretty abominably in the direct market. According to the monthly Beat analysis, the Jonah Hex monthly comic moved a little over 11,000 units, and that's about the neighborhood it's been hanging around in for most of the past year, with occasional fluctuations in response to particular artists (#50 was charted at just over 15K for example).

That's generally around cancellation levels for DC, but Hex has continued to hang on. There are several possible reasons for this, of course, including the fact that those numbers are pretty rock solid (it may only sell around 11K a month, but it always sells around 11K a month, instead of dropping drastically each month) and that the collected trade editions may do just fine in bookstores, regardless of how many serialized issues direct market retailers buy to sell their customers.

I suppose it's also possible that writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have compromising photos of Dan DiDio (that would explain why DC's launching a Freedom Fighters ongoing monthly from the pair all of a sudden!).

Or perhaps DC's kept publishing the monthly so long in order to have plenty of Hex material to sell civilians when the movie came out. If that is the case, and the movie has now come and gone (and if it does end up being a flop and thus not birthing a healthy film franchise), then perhaps DC will pull the plug on the monthly?

That's a lot of if's, I know.

Personally, I don't read Jonah Hex, save for a random issue here and there when I like the artist involved, or in the form of a trade paperback I randomly find at a library, but I do kind of hope it sticks around. Regardless of the state of my personal pull-list, I like knowing that DC is publishing the sort of book that anyone can pick up at almost any time and get a complete, done-in-one story, and I love the idea that they're publishing a book in which a Jordi Bernet-drawn issue will be immediately followed by a Darwyn Cook-drawn issue, and that in any given month you might see J.H. Williams III, Val Semeiks, Paul Gulacy or Phil Noto under its cover (And the covers themselves have all been from a who's who of great comics talents). Whatever else it may be, Jonah Hex is a pretty great showcase of comics artists.


As lax as I've been about getting to the movie theater this summer to see the latest crop of based-on-a-comic movies, one film I can guarantee I'll be at on opening day (barring some unforeseen tragedy) is Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

I was kind of worried when star Michael Cera was first announced, as I have a hard time matching him to Bryan Lee O'Malley's comics character, and the first trailer left me kind of nervous. But the second trailer, and now the new "international trailer," have dispelled all my worries and I find myself super-excited about the prospect of a live-action Scott Pilgrim movie.

Seriously, this looks so good:
If you're reading this blog at all, chances are you've already seen that trailer somewhere, as I think just about everyone who writes about comics on the Internet has either posted it or posted a link to it (You're welcome for the free marketing, people who made Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World!)

Director Edgar Wright posted it on his blog the other day, and I can't tell you how happy I was that he also listed the songs featured in the trailer, solving a problem that's been plaguing me since the second trailer was released: What is that goddam song that starts at around the 1:50 mark with Kim Pine pretending to shoot her self in the head and plays throughout the rest of the trailer?

I can't tell you how many times I've watched that second trailer, because even if I was counting, I would have lost count pretty quickly, as it was a very high number. At least part of that was due to the fact that the song played throughout the back half of the trailer got stuck in my head, which meant I had the trailer stuck in my head, and ended up compulsively re-watching it over and over, in a half-conscious attempt to get the song out of my head by getting over it.

Since I didn't know what the song was, I had no choice but to watch the trailer a billion times or so. (So great job whoever put that trailer together! You pretty much hypnotized me at one point!)

Well now I know that the song is "Invaders Must Die" by The Prodigy, from the 2009 album of the same name. Like the song that plays over the opening of the second trailer, "Great DJ" by the Ting Tings
But whatever, I finally knew the name of the song, and could listen to it over and over to break its hold on me! I was somewhat shocked to learn I actually kind of liked a Prodigy song, given how much they used to irritate me in the mid-to-late-'90s. I think I like "Invaders Must Die" slightly more with explosions, cymbals and the clanging of metal weapons mixed in over top of it though.

Oh, and the song that plays just before the "If we're going to date, you may have to defeat my Seven Evil Exes" bit is from "It's Getting Boring By The Sea" by Blood Red Shoes, which is a pretty damn awesome song. (Actually, I've liked all of the Blood Red Shoes songs that I've heard so far).

So hooray for the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World trailers, I love everything about them, and particularly like the way they seemingly improve on some gags from the original comic (like Scott's terrible drawing of Ramona's hair when he asks Comeau if he knows a girl with hair "like this," and the fact that Comeau immediately recognizes her; in the comic Scott just dangles his fingers to evoke Ramona's hair). I'm still kind of nervous about this, as I think some of the idiosyncratic humor of the comic's characters' dialogue delivery gets lost when it's polished up and spoken by professional actors, but so far it looks so great.


I was surprised to learn that Sony's adaptation of the Smurfs comics—or, more likely their adaptation of the cartoon adaptation of the comics—is going to be a horror movie.

At least, I assume it's going to be a horror movie. That would explain why all I feel when I see this

is confused terror.


snell said...

Sadly, I saw Hex. Think Wild Wild West meets The Crow while trying to impose a silly al Quaeda metaphor onto 1876 involving secret WMD's motivationless villains.

No, I didn't make any of that up.

Thomas said...

I love the character of Jonah Hex--and I had very, very bad feelings about it ever since I saw the trailer with its mish-mosh of The Crow, Wild Wild West and The Lone Ranger with the utterly awful Megan Fox playing Tallulah (who is not middle aged, missing an eye or facially scarred).

What did kill me desire to see it in the movies was hearing about the length. I will not pay nine dollars or more to see something that short.

LurkerWithout said...

Jonah Hex was in the middle part of a time travel arc of JLU yeah. Batman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman are chasing a time thief and end up in the Old West. There the thief was being used to give a group of bad guys future tech. They team-up with Hex and I think El Diablo and Batlash...

The next part of the arc has the JLaers in the future of Batman Beyond plus middle-aged Static...