I used to be a big comic book collector, back when you didn’t need financial aid to pay for the latest issue of “The Amazing Spiderman”. Of course now you can’t just by “Amazing” by itself anyway and learn what everyone’s favorite neighborhood webslinger has been up to. Now you have to also buy the 200 other variations of “Spiderman” since The Powers That Be will invariably do a “crossover”, where a storyline begins in one comic and continues into another. It’s a royal pain in the ass and adding that to the hike in prices, the hobby has become way too expensive. And frankly, I wish the whole comic book industry would just implode on its own greed and holographic covers and numbered editions so we can start all over again.
Mark Hamill, many decades removed from “Star Wars”, directs “Comic Book: The Movie”, about lifelong comic fan Don Swan (Hamill) who is hired by a movie studio to be a technical advisor on a big-budget movie based on a comic book character called Commander Courage. When Swan realizes the studio plans on making the movie based on the new reincarnation of Courage — a violent “Punisher”-like figure — he launches a secret plan to “convince” studio execs Anita (Lori Alan) and Taylor (Roger Rose) to scrap the new and go back to the old. Swan’s plan involves showing the clueless studio execs the magic of comic books at the Comic Con, an actual annual gathering of comic fans and retailers in San Diego.
The bulk of the film, shot on digital video, takes place at the Comic Con, with Hamill intercutting footages from the convention with interviews with well-known names in the world of fandom. The conceit is that Commander Courage is an actual comic book character, and that all the real-life famous faces have some tie-in with Courage. Comic scribe Peter David plays David, but this David is the one who “re-launch” Courage into the bloodthirsty version. Bruce Campbell plays Campbell, but this Campbell is the star of the upcoming movie.
For comic book fans, and most fanboys in general, “Comic Book” will work on many levels. For everyone else, I’m not so sure. After all, if you had no idea who Peter David was, or understand the obsessive worship of Bruce Campbell (“Evil Dead”), then you won’t “get” 80% of the movie. Surely Hamill must have realized this, since although the fanboy niche is quite loyal, there’s not that many of them out there. Thus, to broaden the film’s appeal there are cameo appearances by other notables such as Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, movie director/comic book geek Kevin Smith, and Donna D’Errico, as an airhead actress hired to play the new Courage’s sexy sidekick.
For everyone not interested in the world of comic books, the scripted scenes and characters are pretty funny, although not as natural. Jess Harnell (the movie’s co-creator) is a stoner cameraman who spends his time showing Leo (Billy West) how to pick up chicks and looking for some “herb”. Alan and Rose play the slimy studio execs well, but since their characters are such easy targets the gags directed at them don’t quite have as much impact as the film’s more natural jokes. Although it is funny that Taylor keeps getting people’s name wrong, and you have to wonder if it’s on purpose.
Because much of the film takes place on the floor of an actual comic book convention going about its business, there are plenty of scenes where everyday fans do a double take when they see director Mark Hamill walking around in character. It must have been quite something to see Luke Friggin Skywalker walking around going geek over comic books and spouting comic book history like his life depended on it. There are a lot of funny moments like this sprinkled throughout the film, giving the movie a strange “is it reality or is it all a bad dream?” feeling. And just seeing Hamill and company interact with convention goers who may or may not know what the hell is going on is also a lot of fun.
Is “Comic Book: The Movie” for everyone? Not really. It’s a niche film, similar to other comic book-related films like “Comic Book Villains” and the superhero parody “The Specials”. The underappreciated “Mystery Men” also required knowledge of comic book lore to fully “get”. This may also be why films like “Mystery” and “Specials” never got the mainstream attention they deserved. Alas, I fear Hamill’s “Comic Book” will fall prey to the same ignorance.
On the bright side, the fact that I purchased a copy of “Comic Book: The Movie” at Fry’s Electronic store — and it was the last copy to boot! — gives me hope that the movie will find a wide audience. This is a movie every comic book fan past and present should see. It’s not just an inside look at what’s been a closed community for so long (until, of course, the explosion of comic book movies), but the fact that Mark Hamill is such a devoted fan makes the movie just that much more special.
Mark Hamill (director) / Mark Hamill (screenplay)
CAST: Tom Kenny
Daran Norris …. Commander Courage/Bruce Easly
Billy West …. Leo Matuzik
Roger Rose …. Taylor Donohue
Mark Hamill …. Don Swan
Lori Alan …. Anita Levine
Jess Harnell …. Ricky