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
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.