Superhero Death Match

THE AVENGERS, or AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, or whatever it’s called, may signal the death knell of what I call “double voodoo,” the principle that you can’t have more than one aberrant, reality-defying concept per movie. Or not without ending up with an unacceptable fruit salad. Thus, HOUSE OF DRACULA combines lycanthropy and vampirism, which are both sort of supernatural blood diseases, which could work, but then throws in mad science electro-galvanism, which “makes the whole thing unbelievable,” as Bob Hope says to the bibbed vultures in SON OF PALEFACE.

But in AVENGERS we have aliens and mutants and cyborgs, which I guess are all SF concepts, and also Norse gods. That’s quite a stretch. The only overarching idea that can umbrella all those disparate elements is the superhero genre, which does exactly that in comic books. The Frankenstein Monster, a crime-fighting millionaire, the last son of an alien civilization, a vegetable nature god, and demon-conjuring magicians are all part of the DC Comics universe, and Marvel Comics have just as big a menagerie.

Until now, the movies have been cautious of this everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach. SUPERMAN featured only one superbeing. SUPERMAN II added three supervillains, but they all had the same origins and powers as Supes. The entire BATMAN saga got by with no superpowers at all, ever. Only X-MEN introduced the gimmick which makes most superhero comics amusing — the idea of an array of characters with different powers. They’re like chess pieces, each with their own strengths and limitations. When Magneto’s magnetism cancelled out Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton, I suddenly recognized what the earlier movies had been missing.

The X-MEN characters are all mutants, an implausible enough excuse for their multiple magic powers, but at least a consistent one. AVENGERS seems to throw the door open to a much crazier clashing of different fantasy concepts. Here are some suggestions.

SANTA CLAUS VS LOKI

Both are immortal nordic demi-gods, so you could say this was a grudge match waiting to happen. Loki commands an extraterrestrial army in AVENGERS, and Santa has experience fighting Martians. He also had his own movie, from the Salkinds, who produced the Chris Reeve SUPERMAN. But it was seeing Loki in his flying chariot that made me realize how perfectly suited they are as opponents. Tom Hiddleston versus David Huddleston.

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS BIG BOY

In the De Niro-Pacino rematch fans have been waiting for, the HEAT stars reprise their roles from MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN and DICK TRACY respectively. Kenneth (THOR) Branagh directs, and also cameos as Laurence Olivier (SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW).

THE GIRL WHO KICKED OVER THE GREEN HORNET’S NEST

Lisbeth Salander is a superheroine, let’s face it. A bisexual, maths genius, computer hacking, bike riding, autistic, kick-boxing emo girl? Come on. Anyhow, after David Fincher’s highly watchable revenge-fantasy fairy-tale underperformed, and the comedy GREEN HORNET positively UNperformed, both series need a reboot. And Seth Rogen is surely just the kind of crass male Salander would enjoy butt-fucking and tattoo-graffitizing.

He might like it too.

TARZAN VS MECHAGODZILLA (hat-tip to Godard). HOWARD THE DUCK MEETS CONDORMAN. FANTOMAS CONTRE FU MANCHU. TEAM AMERICA: SLAVES OF THE PUPPET MASTER. METEOR MAN MEETS CANDYMAN. CONDORMAN MEETS CANDYMAN.

Roland Joffe exec produced SUPER MARIO BROTHERS. And made a film about the Manhattan Project. You’d think I’d be able to make something of that, wouldn’t you?

Obviously, the comments section is merely an open invitation to you guys to join in…

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31 Responses to “Superhero Death Match”

  1. The ultimate example of this cross-over(the raison d’etre of Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, incidentally) is WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT where Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny shared a scene, proving once and for all, as if there were any doubt, that the rabbit, was and is, cooler than the rodent, the Daffy Duck and Donald Duck had a piano fight and everything. Such cross-overs despite their good nature tend to reveal the richness and variety of one tradition over the other (just like Lugosi/Karloff pairings proved that Karloff was the better actor), and in that case it was the Termite Terrace over Walt.

    But okay, I’d like a film that focused only on supervillains, at an Arkham Asylum where the residents include Norman Bates, various serial killers from movies, alongwith Joker and other supervillains and the director of the asylum is Dr. Hannibal Lecter, oh and there are secret cameras everywhere installed by Dr. Mabuse, cinema’s greatest supervillain.

  2. No, Caligari as director, Lector as head of human resources.

  3. “Mr, Lecter is among our most pioneering therapists and he reports only empty beds.”

    “Mr. Caligari doesn’t seem especially interested in curing his patients, but he likes his job and that’s rare enough.”

  4. Mr Bates is quiet and co-operative but we have had to place him in a different therapy group from his mother to avoid clashes.

  5. I like to assume that ALL unexplained events in ALL movies were caused by Dr. Mabuse.

    If you thought AVENGERS was a heavily built-up megamovie, wait till you see how I explain the entire history of cinematic villainy in my upcoming MABUSE screenplay. 90,500 pages and counting!

    Who caused the massive train crash in SUPER 8, the killer virus in CONTAGION, the comet in MELANCHOLIA and whatever was over that hill in THE TURIN HORSE? Who runs the capitol in HUNGER GAMES? Who injured Sacha Cohen’s leg in HUGO, sold off Hawaii’s land to resort developers in DESCENDANTS and told that kid to hit the other kid with a stick in CARNAGE?

    MABUSE!

  6. He’s everywhere!

  7. FANTOMAS CONTRE FU MANCHU sounds like bliss. I envision it ending with the deaths of everyone on earth. It also sounds like something Alan Moore might have devised for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, though I’m thankful he didn’t, since the later books show Moore’s increasing condescension and distaste for the Victorian/Edwardian characters he re-purposed. Such devils must be given better due.

  8. Dr. Mabuse after manipulating Germany’s economy, funding the rise of the Nazi party while in prison, quickly anticipated the limitations of Nazism and arranged to die and become a spirit. No longer corporeal, Dr. Mabuse saw fit to extend the reach of evil well into the future and did so through the spread of his ideas in the age of mass-media and surveillance, in the present, Mr. Mabuse subliminally told Rooney Mara’s Erica that her boyfriend Mark was an asshole and thereby created Facebook, Mabuse’s masterpiece. However, the arch-enemy of the great Lord of information is Julian Assange, who is the sole threat to Mabuse’s reign, the one man the Good Doctor deems a worthy opponent.

  9. In one of the comics, he details other countries starting similar leagues, he notes that the French started Les Hommes Mysterieux, headed by Fantomas and that the Germans started a similar league all starring Rudolf Klein-Rogge(as Rotwang, Mabuse, Haghi) with the robot Maria being the token woman.The real cinematic joke is making Harry Lime into M and James Bond being a rapist and traitor to England. The comics aren’t blindly celebratory of culture and literature, he takes it very seriously and it won’t please everyone. Especially its vision of Mr. Hyde(which I personally think is the more honest and truthful to the story’s subtext than most adaptations, save Renoir’s, dare to confront).

  10. Moore’s Mr Hyde is a heterosexual character in love with Mina Harker, who uses homosexual rape to assert himself over the Invisible Man, much like many a prison inmate. Whereas a strong case can be made for Stevenson’s Hyde as the repressed gay side of Henry Jekyll. The book is almost totally devoid of female characters, and Jekyll’s suppressed desires are as suggestively nebulous as Dorian Gray’s.

  11. I don’t doubt Moore’s seriousness, but just as blindly celebrating the characters would be monotonous, so can blind condemnation. The latter is evident for example in his treatment of Bond–Moore said he was portraying Fleming’s character rather than the movie version, but Book Bond was so far from being a traitor or rapist (he treats women much better than his movie counterpart) that I felt Moore was just giving the shiv to a character he despised. It also didn’t help to have Bulldog Drummond attack Bond for relying on gadgets, since the literary 007 rarely did so (the Russians have the better gizmos in the books). As you can see, I’m something of a Fleming bore, but I think Moore missed an opportunity to do something more interesting with his materials.

  12. Well there are plenty of heroic Bond stories, one story showing another view won’t hurt anyone. The entire issue in which that happens rails against espionage fiction for making a profession dealing with lying and trading information into something glamorous and fun and attacking Bond, who is the ultimate example, is inevitable in that context.

  13. This brings up the interesting question of the extent of Moore’s influence. I suspect that Moore is now read more than many of the authors whose characters he borrows, which suggests his versions of those characters might supplant the originals for many readers, or influence their conception of them. There’s an online guide to the Gentlemen series that says Moore’s version of Bond is quite accurate–that sort of thing is annoying. Moore’s attack on spy fiction seems more like an attack on Bond movies, since spy fiction had a somber side long before LeCarre (Maugham’s Ashenden, Graham Greene, and Eric Ambler), and since the Bond books are far more downbeat and gritty than the films.

    Switching topics, David E.’s clip reminds me that Peter Cook wrote a script for a never-produced film called Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde. Completed in 1977, the foreword says “though predominantly a comedy, [it] is also a love story, a study in narcissism and an exposé, in funny terms, of the hypocritical Victorian attitude towards women. Dr Jekyll, though outwardly respectable, is an adventurer. His alter-ego, Mrs Hyde, the only woman he can really love, represents everything a Victorian lady should not be…Mrs Hyde’s outrageous modes of dress and behaviour cause understandable shock to her contemporaries. To many of them she seems as horrifying as the Mr Hyde in the original Stevenson story”.
    Some kind soul has put the whole thing online at:

    http://smarterthantheaverage.tumblr.com/post/71416415/dr-jekyll-and-mrs-hyde-an-unproduced-peter-cook

  14. Skywatcher Says:

    IA: I quite agree. It’s pretty obvious that Fleming’s old fashioned, patriotic hero sticks in Moore’s throat, so he decided to show his contempt. The rapist idea is ridiculous to anyone who has read the books. He is going to marry the heroine in the first book, CASINO ROYALE, and actually goes through it in OHMSS. All the other charges can be countered with specific bits from the stories.

    By the way, have you ever read a comic novel called W G GRACE’S LAST CASE by William Rushton? The great Victorian cricketer teams up with various real and fictional contemporaries such as Sitting Bull, A J Raffles, Dr Watson, Dr Jekyll, Mrs Beeton, and various post-impressionist painters, in order to defeat a monstrous conspiracy involving Professor Moriarty and the H G Wells Martians.

    It’s a very funny book in its own right, and it’s interesting to note that it was published in 1984…fifteen years before the Moore comic series.

  15. “Flaming Carrot” ? Here’s

  16. What’s interesting is that Moore says he was an early Bond fan, that the character was his entry point into popular fiction. But he’s obviously come to suspect the appeal of the character (quoting the Leonard Cohen poem “When I am with you/I want to be/The perfect man who kills.” to sum up the essence of Bond’s attraction). So in a way the negative portrayal of Bond is a self-critique, and maybe Bond’s nastiness is connected to the progressively more incessant use of sexual violence as a plot device in Moore’s work, both as a symptom of it and as a comment on it. Bond = Moore?

    I’m reading the Cook now — some great stuff already!

    I haven’t read the Rushton, but I liked him a lot as a comic.

    Moore’s work owes a great debt to Philip Jose Farmer, who imagined all of popular fiction inhabiting the same universe, and threw in modern sex and violence the original authors ommitted. His work predates Rushton and Moore both. (He wasn’t a very good writer though.)

    Moore was named in a lawsuit brought by Larry Cohen, who alleged that the studio ripped off a script he wrote called Cast of Characters, which united various Victorian fantasy characters. The dreadful Connery film actually moved Moore’s comic closer to the Cohen project by adding Dorian Gray. It’s quite strange. The whole ordeal made Moore even more determined to cut all ties with the movies.

  17. I hadn’t heard of the Rushton book but it sounds terrific and I will put it on my reading list–thanks Skywatcher.
    Like Sherlock, Raffles and Bunny could easily carry a modern-day TV series of their own. The characters are flexible, could easily be transplanted to a modern-day setting, and unlike Holmes and Watson a sexual attraction between them can be suggested without strain.

    The Connery film of Gentlemen is a definite disgrace, especially since it’s Connery’s last movie. Someone should really corral him into playing King Lear before he dies.

  18. “How sharper than a sherpent’sh tooth it ish to have a thanklesh child”?

    Connery bears some responsibility for Gentlemen, since he produced it. Apparently he hated the director (as did much of the crew), but hey, he hired the guy.

    I’m sure the TV execs have never heard of Raffles, which is why that idea won’t fly. But maybe I should pitch Frankenstein. If you imagine it as a series instead of a one-off, everything changes, as Hammer discovered…

  19. Don’t forget Chris and Don’s version!

  20. How could I? I have vivid memories of its BBC debut. Apart from the BBC2 horror movie double bills, one was rather starved of TV horror at that time.

  21. Raffles would probably get you as many blank looks as Arsene Lupin.

  22. True, though Arsene is apparently still well-known in France. I believe he was subjected to a recent movie, which is said to be quite bad. The Saint suffered a similarly awful resurrection back in the 90s with Val Kilmer.

  23. kevin mummery Says:

    Just popped in to say how much I’d love to see a “Dracula vs. Jesus” film, mostly because they’re both apparently able to rise from the dead but also because I can easily envision Hammer’s treatment of such a film if Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee starred in it. Maybe Hazel Court could be tempted to play either Mary Magdalene or Mina Harker.

  24. There’s already Jesus Christ, Vampire slayer, with it’s catchy tag-line “The power of Christ impales you!”

    A student of mine once pitched “Jesus Christ, Prince of Darkness,” but as a good Catholic he didn’t want to actually make it and go to hell.

    Come to think of it, “Filmed on location in Hell,” would look pretty good in a credit sequence.

    Lupin III is big in Japan.

  25. What’s needed is a movie version of Gore Vidal’s “Live From Golgotha.”

  26. mndean Says:

    I’m not surprised Lupin is still known in France, and I’m also not surprised he’s the protagonist of bad films. I’d be more surprised if a good film was made.

  27. Yeah, Lupin is the kind of subject that sadly attracts Luc Besson wannabes.

    Live from Golgotha would make a great TV show. I feel that’s the natural home for it. But who would have the nerve to make it?

  28. Hilary Barta Says:

    David, I want to see all your “meet” and “vs” films. BIG BOY MEETS BIGFOOT might be a nice sequel. And now that he’s public domain, perhaps we might pit POPEYE against POSEIDON in DOWN TO THE SEA IN DRIPS.

  29. Wow, Popeye goes public! I’m just reading the last of the EC Segar strips. Now *I* could make my own Popeye film, and nobody can stopme! Bwahahaha!

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