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Unsatisfactory Comic-Book Movie Sequels (Part 1)

Kick-Ass 2 movie poster

It used to be that, as a rule of thumb, sequels weren’t as good as the first film. The exceptions to this were so small that you could easily list them (The Godfather Part II, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Aliens) and stay confident in the generalisation. However, there was a slow turnaround in the fortunes of sequels so that it was no longer a small list, and the rule of thumb was no longer a rule. In comic-book movies, this trend had significant outliers – Blade II was better than Blade, X-Men 2 was better than X-Men, and Captain America: Winter Soldier was exponentially better than Captain America: The First Avenger – but, unfortunately, there were still examples that seem determined to adhere to the original maxim. I wanted to use to talk about three of them.

I love comic books and I love films, so I love the combination of both (see my ‘comic book movie’ tag for evidence); I tend to see them mostly in the cinema and then blog about them. However, there have been comic-book films that I haven’t had the desire to watch on the big screen, and, when I’ve watched them at home, I didn’t have any desire to talk about them on the blog. Three comic-book movies that fit in this category all happen to be sequels, so it seemed sensible to jump on a theme and collectively bash them instead of doing ‘proper’ reviews (I use the sneer quotes to denote that what I do aren’t proper reviews).

Kick-Ass 2
I recently watched Kick-Ass 2 and Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For on Netflix, and I’m glad I didn’t see them in the cinema or pay money specifically to see them. Both films suffer from seeming like parodies of their originators, almost as if they are knock-offs instead of direct follow-ons (and I enjoyed Kick-Ass). In Kick-Ass 2, blame can be laid at the feet of writer/director Jeff Wadlow – instead of recapturing the specific tone of the first film, which mixed ultra-violence with style and a tongue firmly in its cheek, Wadlow thinks that lots of violence and Hit-Girl spouting clichés when she dispatches gangsters in action scenes scored to bizarre musical choices are all that is needed to repeat the success of Kick-Ass.

Jim Carrey, who actually gives a good performance, notably came out against the violence of the film before it came out, but it’s possible he’d seen an early cut and was using any excuse. The sequel also uses the casting decision of the first film of using British actors as Americans (Iain Glen pops up as a mafia boss, Steven Mackintosh and Monica Dolan as bereaved parents, Andy Nyman as a psychotic gangster, Daniel Kaluuya as an MMA fighter turned villain, and Benedict Wong as a Chinatown boss), and I still can’t work out why John Leguizamo decided to be in this.

The film suffers from the contradiction of pretending that it’s a film about superheroes in the real world but still having comic-book action that defies the laws of physics (the bit at the end where Hit-Girl gets an adrenalin shot and practically becomes Jesse Quick) and a plot that doesn’t make any sense. The only good decision made in the film is that it doesn’t opt for the horrific rape scene of the Mark Millar–John Romita Jr comic book, and the only bit I genuinely enjoyed was Hit-Girl using a shock baton to cause a bullying teenage girl to (digitally) vomit and shit her guts out. I may have a strange sense of humour …

Even though Matthew Vaughan was a producer, he seems to have taken a hands-off approach, and the film feels like a sequel for the sake of money, instead of being an adaptation of a comic book. This is something that connects the three films – come back tomorrow for the next Unsatisfying Comic-Book Movie Sequel.

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Comic Book Artist: Leinil Francis Yu

I haven’t done one of these posts – a collection of images and overviews of comic book artists I enjoy – for a long time now, but they seem to the source of many visits to this blog according to Google Analytics (although it’s mostly to download the images of comic book art; I guess I make it easy to find them with Google Image search, particularly the Chris Bachalo post I did). However, that is not the reason for me returning to this theme – with these posts, I’m still trying to find a way to talk about the comic book art I like from the perspective of someone who connects with stories and writers.

I first saw the art of Filipino comic book artist on the Wolverine story Not Dead Yet (Wolverine #119 – 122), written by Warren Ellis, back in 1998. He’d been working on Wolverine for six months before this, and it seems to be his first major work. What’s amazing is how good he is from the start: he’s a great storyteller with a style that is perfect for the modern age of comics – his art is slick but with a nice rough edge, it has some realism but with a comic book edge, it’s dynamic and, resorting to fanboy status, it’s just plain cool.

After a respectable run on Wolverine, Yu moved on to The X-Men – talk about a promotion (I haven’t seen any of the work; I’m going out on a limb and assuming that it was good). He worked on one of the top books in the industry for two years, and he’s barely started his career. Which makes it strange that he moves over to DC to work on a creator-owned series with Scott Lobdell set in World War II, High Roads. The story is unusual, but Yu’s art is still awesome – he draws all the craziness and sexiness involved with aplomb.

The next DC project is bigger; in fact, it’s the biggest yet – the new origin sequence for Superman, Superman: Birthright, written by Mark Waid. This 12-issue series is not only really good, it’s got fantastic art from Yu. He draws a noble Clark, a heroic Superman and a smart and sexy Lois Lane, and he’s one of those good artists who can handle the normal stuff as well as the exciting superhero stuff that is all the less talented artists care about.

Having pencilled DC’s greatest superhero in a definitive story, Yu seemingly decided he didn’t want to be pigeon-holed because his work afterwards jumps around on a couple of different books for different publishers before drawing Andy Diggle’s Silent Dragons, a creator-owned six-issue mini-series set in Tokyo in 2063, with futuristic violence and samurai cool. Yu is nothing if not eclectic.

In 2006, Yu signed an exclusive contract with Marvel, which he admits his more his spiritual home than DC. He starts drawing Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk, written by Lost’s Damon Lindelof, which unfortunately goes way off schedule due to the author’s work schedule (comics will always get relegated when TV or movies come a-calling), although they do finish it eventually (over three years later, in the middle of 2009). Yu is a hot artist, in demand and evolving his style to one with more detail and intensity but still with his vibrant and slightly exotic edge. Since he was on contract, Marvel sensibly decided to use his time on something big: he was eventually put on New Avengers, where he fitted right in, providing some great art (and great covers – I love the Ronin being attacked cover).

If working on one of Marvel’s biggest books wasn’t enough, Yu then pencilled one of the big crossovers: Secret Invasion was an eight-issue mini-series that was a continuation of the Skrull storyline that had been part of the New Avengers for a while, and he excelled again at the big stuff (double-page spreads of heroes versus heroes and heroes versus Skrulls) as well as the intimate stuff that is part of the package of a Bendis book. There’s no stopping Yu now – he’s drawn Ultimate Comics: Avengers with Mark Millar, which led to Yu drawing Millar’s creator-owned Superior (which will be turned into a movie eventually) and he’ll be drawing Millar’s Supercrooks, which is also being turned into a movie. This means that we’re going to get a lot more of his beautiful artwork, which will continue to evolve and get better; you can check out his website on deviantart if you don’t believe me.

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