And now: a motion picture from the comics.


This made some money, so you're going to be hearing more about it after the weekend's through.

I liked it good enough. Then again, I've never really hated the 2003-05 Mark Millar/J.G. Jones comics series as much as some people have; sure, it was wildly inconsistent and more than slightly irritating, very much one of those faux-edgy works where in-your-face slurs are always dutifully counterbalanced with strong characters of the slurred type, and there's just enough clever bits of business that you feel a longing for the work to cohere in a way which it, naturally, doesn't.

A lot of people did get upset over the now-infamous final two pages, wherein the story's lead character, having risen to prominence in the supervillain cabal that secretly rules the world, gloats to the reader over how shitty his or her ineffectual life must surely be. Certainly enough that Brian K. Vaughan felt the need to address the topic (in terms of book-burning!!) in his introduction to the collected edition.

Personally, I suspect a lot of the problem stemmed from the patchwork, anything-to-please tone Millar adopted for most of the story, starting it out as a giggling assault on liberal sensibilities -- in which the sensitive, animal-loving pacifist lead character, granted entrance into the no-laws world of total evil that is his birthright, quickly discovers the inherent joy to murder, rape, racism and miscellaneous rudeness -- and then quickly folding the plot up in a schema of tiered badness, Our Hero on the kindly end, before dumping a sticky bucket of father-son sentimentality over the whole thing then spinning it around to declare "ho ho, looks like someone forgot the primary character is a horrible bastard!"

Shit, there's even a fake ending in which the non-hero recites what most readers probably want him to do -- learn a lesson from his adventure and work on rebuilding a moral life -- then throws up some devil horns right in said reader's face. It's kind of funny as a prank, I guess. It worked. And Millar was a bit ahead of the curve in casting his villains (er, the bad-bad villains) as nostalgists bent on shifting their comic book world back to an older, 'better' time, an aspect later adopted by DC's 2005-06 Event series Infinite Crisis.

I don't think much of it was insightful, though, or even terribly entertaining. It's tough to pull much out of Millar's attempts at subverting the superhero-friendly hero's journey arc when he spends so many pages on rote intrigues, typical guns-blazin' anti-hero action and silly/darker/at-least-drawn-differently analogues to All Your Marvel/DC Faves. Having the kindly mentor character mention that he likes fucking little girls doesn't amount to much beyond confirming that inserting immoral characters into a familiar plot structure results in a less moral species of familiarity. Whew!

And as for the grand message, that the wicked and cruel have killed the superheroes and built this shitty world we live in, one in which the worst always triumph best, and we don't even see what they look like while fucking us in the ass unless we're reading the right comic books and even then we'll do nothing because we're but sheep, True Believers - well, it strikes me fitting enough for an in-story world, beholden to certain story structures, in which the hero returns with an elixer that's actually poison, but it's too futile to act as much of a call to action.

I know I'm supposed to stand up and shout "no, Mark Millar, I will be the superhero you implicitly demand via your puckish ass-fucking motif," but I'd actually rather he turn off the waterworks about how invincible the nasties are, because that's about as juvenile as any super-stuff pre-1986.

Still some laughs though. Look at that shitty banner - like he's won a spelling bee! Gets me every time.

Anyway, now that we're 10,000 words in, I'll confirm that the story written by Wanted the movie is a different one. That's notable, since another major aspect of the comic was its near-overwhelming desire to get itself picked up by Hollywood. It may yet arise as quintessential among such comics, all celebrity likenesses and blockbuster-style action; Tom Spurgeon related his (abridged) reading experience as "like walking in on a singer focusing all her attention on a record executive in the front row."

Well, it did get picked up, and it looks like the film might be a blockbuster, but all those rough edges have been smoothed right down. Gone is the rape and racism, plus most of the gratuitous murder. Obviously the superhero genre commentary is chucked out the window, along with all the specific superhero tropes. They didn't keep any of the involuntary celebrity cast - and really, casting Halle Barry as the Catwoman character was in retrospect the best joke of the comic, if an unintentional one.

What remains is a fairly lean plot about an ancient league of assassins who pass down their awesome killing traits via genes, killing people through the ages at the behest of Fate, played by the lotto ball assignment machine from Minority Report in mythic weaving drag. James McAvoy is saved from his shit life by Angelina Jolie, and he totally ought to track down Thomas Kretschmann, the man who probably killed his father unless there's a plot twist, but first he must train hard and carry out missions so as to accomplish action scenes. Morgan Freeman is the frowning man in charge of the assassins, and music sensation Common plays some guy.

The success of the film, frankly, is in its deviation from the source material. All of the superhero analogues are gone and the rote intrigue is kept to a minimum, leaving director Timur Bekmambetov (of the Russian horror-fantasy films Night Watch and Day Watch) to focus with all the passion of fetish on guns-blazin' anti-hero action. There's a great, childlike spirit behind a lot of it -- if you just swing your gun in the right way of course the bullet will curve -- and while some bits overdo it with the shaking camera and yelling (a long highway chase gets grating in that way) it's surprisingly oozy and effective, even after a million shots of cgi bullets knocking each other out of the air. Funny too - when Our Hero's gun gets stuck in a man's eye socket he just keeps on marching, using the fellow as a human shield while blasting through the back of his head.

Er, it's sort of mandatory that you like goofy, over the top action and gory fights. I doubt the plot will hold your attention otherwise, although I found it to be more focused and effective than that of the comic (from which several lines are quotes, and various scenarios are taken). It actually tones down the father-son sap, which was nice, and it bears none of the stretch marks of flailing at subversive social/generic comment. The turns in the story (as it is) are fairly well navigated, if never mind-blowing. Brains do get blown out, but you know what I mean.

Yet there's still a lingering hint of the source's angry spirit, somewhere in the stripped down chaos of double-crosses. If you're simply itching to read a political message into it, I believe the executive summary is: 'leaders who cite providence in starting profitable conflicts on faulty grounds = bad, zealots who're willing to put it on the line for mass-casualty suicide attacks in the name of faith = also bad, but kind of respectable if you think about it, you know?'

And yeah - there's a variation on that special ending. And blessed be - it's just what I'd have liked to see in the comic, an exhortation that relies not on sputtering declarations of impossible odds, but cold, nasty leading-by-example action (with a little help from an ally named "J.G. Millar" - oh the flattery!). Sure, Wanted-the-Movie may not have so extensive a world domination fabric to work from, but it knows its kicks and it gets 'em with little fuss. In addition to the money, which puts it one up on Wanted-the-Comic.