Batman, Superman, Spiderman and Iron Man are the gold standard for comic book characters on the big screen. Between them, they have grossed a heroic amount of money, literally adding billions of dollars to box office tallies. They are the bigwigs, the VIPs of the superhero world, but there are dozens of other, lesser known, comic book characters that have made the leap from the page to the stage.
Hit Girl, the ruthless eleven-year-old vigilante played by Chloë Grace Moretz in this weekend’s Kick-Ass, might not be a match for Batman’s bat-shaped shurikens or his box office pull, but Jeff Moss, the proprietor of Montreal’s coolest comic book shop, The 4th Wall, says her story has all the makings of a great movie adaptation.
“For a comic to make a good movie it must have, first and foremost, good characters,” he says. “Also, if the story’s not there, it’s not going to make a good movie. Next up, it’s got to have good visuals and decent ‘Whoa’ moments.”
The 1999 superhero comedy Mystery Men—based on Flaming Carrot Comics by Bob Burden—works because of the mix of story and offbeat characters. Paul Reubens, for instance, plays The Spleen, a crime fighter who uses turbo flatulence to level his enemies and Leader of the Disco Boys, as played by Eddie Izzard, neutralizes his adversaries with a can of highly flammable hairspray. It doesn’t have the all-American heroics of Superman, but Mystery Men has become a cult classic.
Bulletproof Monk, loosely based on Michael Avon Oeming’s comic book, delivers on Moss’s “whoa” moments. Chow Yun-Fat, hot off of the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, starred as a Tibetan monk who trains a street kid to protect a sacred scroll. Its combination of martial arts and humor didn’t score at the box office, but it makes for a good rental.
While it may seem that every comic ever written has been turned into movies—an IMDB search for based-on-comic-book returned 607 titles—not all necessarily lend themselves to the Hollywood treatment.
“Some of my favorite comics that have yet to be made into movies include Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Nextwave, and Bone,” says Moss. “All of these books have rich characters, and amazing storylines, but the sheer size of them (Bone clocks in at 1300 pages, and Preacher runs nine volumes) would require either a series of movies, or a supreme dumbing down of the stories.”