Comics have suffered at the hands of films. I say this not as a comic book geek or a film snob of any pedigree, but as someone evaluating the changes comic books have had to endure from being converted to screenplays at the hands of angsty directors with a dramatic education , cinematographers intent on exploring the medium more than the subject and graphic illustrators that treat comic book panels like storyboards to be converted to cinema rather than comic books to be filmed as comics.
What’s the difference? A comic’s narrative flows jerkily. Panel by panel. The illustration is expressionist It’s bound by no realist logic of time and space. Its character’s motivations make sense to the elderly even as they do to the eight year old. A comic is like a satyajit ray comedy. Goofy Weighty dead serious at the same time. Flash Gordon was saving the world but the illustrator took the time to give him accessories that made every high school kid wonder what that metal strap on his arm is meant to do. The possibilities only limited by the imagination. Comics set people free like that. The nearest thing to a comic book is a book cover illustration of a pulp novel, but we’ll go there some other time.
Superhero Family Values
This is about Guillermo del Toro ‘s Hellboy II. A mere comic book epic(Mike Mignola) of a politically incorrect red giant(Ron Perlman) with the devils horns, broken horns, living in a “men in black world” with his girlfriend, the searing white Liz Sherman(An endearing cameo by Selma Blair)who combusts into angry flames at will ; rises to mythical and touching humanity from the emotional frailties of the heroes and some classic computer aided villainy that never crosses into the brooding from plain evilness.
The remarkable thing about the film is its proportions. Del Toro gets it just right. You discover from curious surprise that the graphics are as sophisticated as the scene demands(the tiny creatures in the beginning are almost hand illustrated and the awesome cool golden army marches like a drumming band in a competition and is as sophisticated drawn as the best.) you realize that there is genuine warmth between Perlman and Blair, as if toro was talking about another time when a powerful and different man mated emotionally with a uber cool hippie chick in some alternate inner city. Even the hamfisted comedy between Abe Sapien(in one of Doug Jones’ three roles in the film) and Princes Nuala is just right , like Dad’s story of how he hooked up with mom includes loving details of how all his geeky wingmen found girls that night.
Del Toro and Friend
The Mexican Del Toro is no stranger to comics on one hand(Hellboy is his staple, having created three feature length versions of the comic) and fantasy science fiction Mythology on the other (Blade, Pan’s Labyrinth ) . This time it is cast in monolithic stone. The certain brush stokes of a master story painter show a keen understanding of the power and limitations of comic book mythology. He know that when a page is turned, the inner child must be set free from the demons in the panels of the last page. You get the feeling Toro is making the movie for himself first. The first fan of Hellboy II is its director. How often have filmmakers missed this forest for computer generated trees!
It’s even better than that!
HellBoy II then is a ride into comic book heaven Illustrated with calibrated comic book skill and superhuman colors, in where Ugly superheroes play epic games of mythical skill with 21st century technology and with emotional full stops after each illustrated panel.