From ‘Superman’ (1978) to ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008): Comic Books Come to Life and (finally) Come of Age – over 30 years

It took 30 years, but Superman, director Richard Donner’s seminal 1978 superhero saga – and my favorite film of that year – has been toppled from the top of the standings of the genre it founded. By Christopher Nolan’s sweeping morality play/action-adventure masterpiece (a term I don’t use lightly) The Dark Knight.

Coming up with my favorite comic book adaptations is a bit tricky, given the presence of films like American Splendor and Road To Perdition which are, let’s face it, real movies (most of the others, with the exception of my Top 4, can’t comfortably claim that). So I’ll leave the non-fantastical out and label them honorable mentions (alongside the surprisingly endearing combo of Hellboy/Hellboy 2).

10. Batman Returns (*** ½; B+)
A huge favorite of mine when I was a kid, my taste in it waned a bit as I fell more and more in love with the comic book incarnation and recognized layers of depth Tim Burton couldn’t be bothered unearthing (with his focus on garish sets and fetishistic nipple-bearing costumes, Joel Schumacher couldn’t be bothered with anything at all).

9. X-Men II: X-Men United (*** ½; B+)
Much better than its solid predecessor (and much better in hindsight after seeing Brett Ratner’s atrocious third entry), this exciting and intelligent film was still missing a spark, a secret ingredient of some sort…oh to hell with it – it was missing its X-factor. There, I said it.

8. Batman (****; B+)
I suddenly feel conflicted naming this one ahead of Returns. Maybe my memory’s a bit fuzzy and I’m mixing up my love for both (the more I think about it, the more likely it becomes). I would’ve gone back to watch them to make sure, but Christopher Nolan’s kinda burned those bridges now. After his Batman movies, “there’s no going back”; he’s “changed things forever…” Ok, I’ll stop now.

7. Sin City (****; A-)
Rodriguez’s stylish noir jaunt is the auteur’s best film since his debut: hard-boiled, hard-fisted, and wonderfully shot and cast. Its three-story structure is a bit of a flaw, but at least it opens with a bang with the audaciously over-the-top and awesomely cool Marv, proving that Tarantino isn’t the only one gifted at single-handedly resurrecting film careers from the grave. Act II is its weakest by far, before Bruce Willis taps into one of his more affecting performances in a lifetime (plus Jessica Alba doesn’t suck! How shocking is that!)

6. Blade II (**** ½; A-)
Is that shock I register on your face? Well pick up your jaw and revisit this bloody vampiric action tale and you’ll realize it does more than pass muster. Wesley Snipes is perfectly cast (as he was in the first one), but the introduction of Guillermo Del Toro at the helm raises the style and furious pace to borderline unbearable highs. Add a wickedly cool yet tragically sympathetic villain, a decidedly badass (and pre-Hellboy) Ron Perlman, some excellent plotting and slick fisticuffs, plus a near-heartbreaking finale, and you’ve got the perfect template for the legendary vampire hunter. Before David Goyer emasculated him and handed the third film over to two pretty white people. The horror.

I’ll finish with my Top 5 after Christmas, but will leave you with some excerpts from Roger Ebert’s review of Blade II – not to bolster my case, but merely because this man’s a writing genius, and for him to exert those energies on a film like this pleases and tickles me senseless:

Blade II” is a really rather brilliant vomitorium of viscera, a comic book with dreams of becoming a textbook for mad surgeons. – Roger Ebert

"Pure action, bloody well done" - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

"Pure action, bloody well done" - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

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