The Fade Out – Underrated or Forgotten Comic Films Worth Another Look – Comic Book Villains

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I’ve heard people call it a fad for years, but if this summer’s box-office is to be believed movies based on comics are here to stay. Most of the biggest big-screen hits in recent memory have been based on or inspired by comics, and that trend is on an upward swing given Marvel and DC releasing dates for their films up to 2020. This cash cow is getting milked for all it’s worth, and movie-goers are loving it! But not all comic based movies have been hits; some were just marketed wrong, while some were actually terrible films. There are just so many of them now, that quite a few can fall between the cracks. Here are a couple that flew under the radar for many people, but are quite worth a viewing or two.

While not based on a comic book, 2002’s Comic Book Villains is based in the world of comics, and plays out like one in many ways. Archie (DJ Qualls), the narrator, is an average guy with a life-long love of comics. He hangs out almost daily at one of the two comic shops in his small town. Raymond (Donal Logue) is a stereotypical comic shop owner, irresponsible, brash, and unkempt, but Archie has formed a bond with him over the years through their mutual love of comics. The trouble begins when another collector, Conan (Danny Masterson), comes into Raymond’s shop with news; a comic fan named David Cresswell has died leaving behind an impressive comic collection. The problem is, Conan has also told Norman and Judy Link (Michael Rapaport and Natasha Lyonne), the owners of the other local comic shop who are only in it for the money. Now, the race is on; who will get to the collection first, if David’s mother will even let it go.

This is definitely an oddity; a film steeped in comics that few comic fans I know are even aware of. A brilliantly dark film, with powerful performances from the entire cast, Comic Book Villains is easily one of my favorite comic films. A dark comedy in the vein of Very Bad Things, CBV is like a runaway train, chugging ever forward not realizing it’s heading toward a cliff and the bridge has been blown up.  It is as funny as it is disturbing; much of the humor is derived from the different ways the shop owners try to kill each other. The action ramps up as greed is taken to its inevitable conclusion, showing just how far these people are willing to go for the “mother load”. And when the scummy Carter (Cary Elwes) gets involved things go completely off the rails. Only Archie is devoid of this bloodlust, finding a true friend in Mrs. Cresswell.

Archie: “We’re not gunmen, we’re comic book collectors.”

All of the performances are solid, every actor clearly bringing their A-Game. Donal Logue gives an especially great performance, full of emotional range, proving once again how underrated an actor he is. Natasha Lyonne is truly scary in her desperation, and you fully believe she would go to any lengths to get these comics. The entire ensemble inhabits their characters so well that it’s easy to forget they’re just acting.

CBV may be dark, but it really does have quite a few laughs as well, and is full of comic book references in a way that isn’t in your face. With an almost perfect balance between humor and drama, CBV is unlike almost any other film. There is a very real reverence for the medium in the script as well as the performances, and as brutal as the film gets, it really is a love letter to comics underneath it all, and that probably comes from its screenwriter, James Robinson. James is most likely a name familiar to you if you’re a regular comic reader; he has written Starman, Justice League, The Golden Age, Leave it to Chance, and many others. James is well known as a collector himself, and he put his extensive knowledge of comics and comic history to the test with the script.

For a first time director, also Robinson, the film is shot amazingly well, and its pacing is frantic, always moving the film forward. The film is messy, in the best possible way, and I admire the chances Robinson took with the story. This was a labor of love for him, and you can tell from the first scene. Is Comic Book Villains a perfect film? Maybe not, but it’s pretty damn close.



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