Brendan Allen has probably had more jobs than you would reasonably believe. Dog trainer? He’s done it. Flooring contractor? Yep! EMT? Army NBC specialist? Road dog for a Celtic rock band? Yes, yes, and och aye! Now he reads comics and writes about them. His kids think he's Batman, and he just may be.
The Venom Symbiote made its first appearance in Marvel Heroes Secret Wars #8 (May 1984). Spider-Man accidentally released the parasitic Klyntar following a scuffle on Battleworld. Spidey thought he was simply generating a new suit after his was shredded in the fight.
When Spidey finally realized the slick black and white suit was actually an alien organism, he rejected it. However, during the time the two were bonded, the Symbiote learned Peter Parker’s genetic code. Now Venom has the ability to grant any wearer Spider-Man’s abilities.
Since Peter Parker, there have been many notable wearers of the Black Suit. Eddie Brock is the most notorious. It was Brock’s time in the Symbiote that solidly established Venom as Peter Parker’s worst nightmare.
A Fresh Take On An Old Villain
In Venom #1, writer Mike Costa introduced a new perspective on the sentient alien goo. Taking us inside the Symbiote’s consciousness, Costa raises some interesting questions about a character we all thought we knew.
What if Venom is merely an amplification of the wearer’s Id? What if the Klyntar has less control over its actions than it appears, and the host is subconsciously in control the whole time?
By the time we roll around to Venom #6, it’s evident that the current host is bad news. Lee Price is a horrible person. He is a disabled military veteran with a grudge. His experience as an Army Ranger has made him mentally hard and his disability has made him bitter.
Lee dominates the suit to the point of abuse. For the first time, the suit appears unable to overcome the will of its host.
Now, with the FBI chasing it down, Venom crosses paths with The Amazing Spider-Man. In a bizarre turn of events, the leader of the Bureau’s Anti-Symbiote Task Force is none other than…Eddie Brock.
Vampires have come a long way since John Polidori’s The Vampyre in 1819. Popular culture has since seen creepy vampires, sexy vampires, and even high school teen angst-y vampires (in both buff and sparkly categories). In Redneck #1, Donny Cates takes the standard set of vampire mythos and applies them to a redneck family in East Texas.
The Bowmans run the local BBQ in a small East Texas town called Sulphur Springs. Secretly a clutch of vampires, the family survives on cow’s blood and mostly keeps to themselves. Father Landry and his brood are the only other family in Sulphur Springs that suspects the Bowmans’ true nature.
Bad Blood Tends to Beget Bad Blood
The Landrys and Bowmans have literally been at each other’s throats for generations. It’s been pretty quiet for a spell, but the tension is building. A couple of drunk kids out on the town is about all it would take to start an all out war.
“It’s a story about a family’s quest to turn themselves into more than the monsters they’ve always been. To find a little peace in a world that hates them,” says Cates of his new series in an exclusive interview with TFAW. “It ain’t gonna be easy. And it’s sure as hell gonna be bloody. But it might just be the best time you’ve ever had reading a book about vampires!”
Image Comics is seeing the payoff after going to the well again with Cates. He smashed it with God Country and is riding that success into another promising series. Fans of God Country,Harrow County, vampire lore, and horror comics will definitely want to get in on this series.
Regression #1 introduces Adrian, a pretty ordinary guy–except for one thing. Adrian is plagued by vivid waking nightmares. The visions are so intense they are ruining his life. Finally, his friend Molly coerces Adrian into a past life regression hypnotherapy session with her friend Sid.
During the first session, Adrian catches a glimpse of a bizarre and ghastly scene. Unable to process the scene he just witnessed, Adrian wakes in a daze. Unconvinced that he has just experienced a peek into his past life, Adrian is ready to give up on therapy.
Occult, Conspiracy, Mystery, Reincarnation, and Insanity
Unfortunately for Adrian, the vision was real. Something unspeakable happened in his past life, and it has followed him to his present.
Writer Cullen Bunn drew on experiences from his childhood when penning the script for Regression. “My father was a hypnotist, and I watched him perform a number of past life regressions,” Bunn noted in an exclusive interview with TFAW. “I thought about those regressions quite a bit over the years. Somewhere along the way, the troubling thought dawned on me: what if one of those past lives were evil? Or possessed by evil? And what if the regression gave them a finger hold in someone’s life? What if they could hitch a ride to the present?”
Bunn’s first hand experience with hypnosis, subconscious, and past life regression comes through in the story. There is a very creepy and unsettling realism to the scenario he is describing. The artwork and color choices by Danny Luckert and Marie Enger sell the terror and levity of the script brilliantly.
The main difference between The Punisher and Deadpool is motivation. Both appear to be sociopaths. But Frank Castle is driven by vengeance and Wade Wilson’s main concern is his paycheck. Neither wants to admit how deeply they are actually driven by emotion.
In Deadpool vs. Punisher #1, Fred Van Lente serves up a script that puts these two on opposite sides of an ambiguous moral scenario.
Wilson and Castle are very familiar with each other’s work. Wilson thinks Castle is a “self-righteous, sociopathic, shoot-first-ask-questions-never, humorless, fascist hard-ass.” Castle views Wilson as a “motor-mouthed, muddle-headed, arrested adolescent with delusions of competence.”
See the World. Fill it Full of Bullets
Deadpool vs. Punisher #1 opens with Punisher working undercover at an underground illegal gambling club. “VS.” is a place where degenerates gather to place wagers on superheroes. Some names on the board include Spider-Man (original, probably), Captain American Falcon, and Guy who thinks he’s Hercules.
After Punisher violently shuts down the club, he gets the information he’s been after. That’s when the desperate club manager gives up details on The Bank in order to save his own life. The Bank is Castle’s true target. But he’s also Wade Wilson’s accountant, money launderer, client, and close friend.
Pere Perez’ artwork suits the script perfectly. And there are plenty of background details, but not so many as to distract from well-planned action sequences. In addition, he nails the expressions on the unmasked characters. Perez brilliantly telegraphs nuanced expression through Pool’s mask and body language.
Van Lente sets up an interesting “best of five rounds” scenario. With a clear winner in each of the planned five chapters, Deadpool is playing with a loaded deck. With his regenerative abilities, he can afford to lose four of five battles and still come back for the next installment. Punisher doesn’t have the same luxury.
We caught up with Cullen and picked his brain about Regression, the upcoming reboot of The Damned, and past life regression.
TFAW: Do you remember the first comic book you ever read? How did it end up in your hands?
Cullen Bunn: I remember “reading” an early issue of X-Men when I was very young, just flipping through it, looking at the Kirby art, not really understanding the real awesomeness of what I was seeing. The first comic I remember sort of reading was Avengers 154, where Attuma stages an attack on the Avengers and beats the Hell out of them. The issue scared me because I thought the Avengers had died. Those books, like so many of my comics when I was a kid, were bought at yard sales. Back in those days, you could find stacks of comics on the cheap at 2 out of 5 yard sales it seemed.
TFAW: What series got you hooked on comics?
Bunn: The comic that made me love comics was purchased off a grocery store spinner rack. It was Micronauts 7. That book hooked me with the story, the characters, the art, and the world-building.
TFAW: What comic writers and artists inspire you?
Bunn: Oh, wow! That’s a pretty big list. Morrison and Moore (and their weird wizard rivalry). Ellis, Wrightson, Starlin, Mantlo, Claremont, and so many more.
I wish I had taken to time to enjoy the ride instead of being so stressed out about breaking in.
TFAW: How did you get your big break in comics? At what point did it hit you that you had broken in?
Bunn: I was working at a comic book store years and years ago when I met aspiring artist and fellow comic shop employee Brian Hurtt. We started talking about working on a comic book together, but it took a long, long time for that to happen. A little over ten years ago, Brian and I pitched the idea for our horror/noir series The Damned to Oni Press and they snapped it up. The Damned, by the way, is returning. The trade paperback of the original series just hit the shelves and the first issue of the new ongoing series hits the shelves soon!
Anyhow, that was my big break, I guess, because it helped me wedge my toe in the door. It still took several more years for me to get more work. I put out another book with Brian and Oni titled The Sixth Gun, and that started getting attention from other publishers.It really hit me that I had broken in on the day I was able to quit my day job and become a full-time writer. I had broken in before then, I just never really appreciated and accepted it until that moment. I wish I had taken to time to enjoy the ride instead of being so stressed out about breaking in.
TFAW: What is Regression about?
Bunn: In Regression, we meet Adrian, an average guy who is experiencing vivid, horrible waking nightmares. These visions are so intense that they are ruining his life. His friend Molly convinces him to try past life regression hypnotherapy to help him understand the source of these visions. During the session, Adrian catches a glimpse of something ghastly, but he can’t make heads or tails of it. And that’s when the trouble starts.
The past life Adrian encounters follows him back, nesting in his mind and taking control every now and then, forcing him to do horrible things. Adrian’s life starts spinning out of control, this other presence destroying everything around him. And to make matters worse, he is now at the center of some sort of strange supernatural conspiracy. A shady group of characters are watching him, because they feel that the intruding past life has some apocalyptic secrets to share.
Watching some of the things my dad did with hypnosis has made me a believer.
TFAW: The first historical mention of past life regression was in second century BC. It’s not a new subject, but there are surprisingly few mentions of past life regression in modern horror. What inspired you to write about this subject?
Bunn: Past life regression as a story element has been something I’ve been thinking about for years. My father was a hypnotist, and I watched him perform a number of past life regressions. I thought about those regressions quite a bit over the years. Somewhere along the way, the troubling thought dawned on me: what if one of those past lives were evil or possessed by evil. And what if the regression gave them a finger hold in someone’s life? What if they could hitch a ride to the present?
TFAW: What was the weirdest thing you ever saw during one of your father’s PLR sessions?
Bunn: I know there are a lot of skeptics out there when it comes to hypnosis and past life regression. I get it, because I think there is a lot of phony stuff out there in the world. However, watching some of the things my dad did with hypnosis has made me a believer.
I saw so, so many strange things. With the past life regressions in particular, I witnessed people speaking in previously unknown languages or with perfect accents from faraway places. I saw people describing intricate details of day-to-day life in time periods long, long gone.
Once, while he was doing a show at a park, he had a subject who just refused to wake up. All the other subjects awoke when my dad counted to three, but this one guy remained under hypnosis. He would respond to my father. He would do things my father asked him to do. But he just refused to wake up. It took two or three hours to get him to come out of the hypnotic state.
The most chilling thing, though, the thing that really planted the earliest seeds of Regression was another guy he hypnotized. He was a responsive subject. But when my dad regressed him to a past life, he just sat there in this eerie silence. He simply would not respond in any way to my dad’s voice. My dad told the other people who were watching that this subject must have been a “new soul” but I wondered if maybe there was something unspeakable in his past life.
I had a group of friends in high school who really wanted to convince my dad to hypnotize all of us…
TFAW: Did you ever let your father hypnotize you?
Bunn: No, no, no. Never!
TFAW: Why not? What were your objections or fears?
Bunn: I’m too much of a control freak. I had a group of friends in high school who really wanted to convince my dad to hypnotize all of us and then let someone run us through a Dungeons and Dragons adventure that we would see and experience as real. Terrible idea!
I just remembered that as I was answering this question. Thank goodness we didn’t try that. It sounds like the basis of an 80’s cautionary TV movie.
TFAW: How did you end up partnering with Danny Luckert on Regression?
Bunn: We’ve been working on this book since 2013. Around that time, I had reached out to other comic book writers, asking if they knew of any artists who might be interested in a collaboration. Writer David Precht pointed me in Danny’s direction. I loved his artwork and reached out to him. We discussed a few ideas, but Regression was the one he liked most. He whipped up some character designs and art, and I loved his take on this story. The rest is history!
I still go to the comic shop every week…
TFAW: What titles are on your pull list?
Bunn: I have a standing order for at least the first few issues of all the new Image titles that come out. I usually end up buying them in trades and reading the whole series that way, but I like trying the first few issues in floppies. Southern Bastards is on my pull list still. I want the floppies for that. Doctor Strange, the X-Men titles, The Mighty Thor, Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, Spongebob (for my kid, I swear!) and a bunch of others I forget to mention. My favorite thing to do on Wednesdays (because I still go to the comic shop every week) is to ask the employees “What came out this week that’s awesome?” and they usually start piling books up for me.
TFAW: What’s next?
Bunn: As I mentioned, The Damned is coming out as an ongoing from Oni. I’m also working on a just-announced horror series from Boom! titled The Unsound. I have several other creator-owned books in the works, too, but they haven’t been announced yet. I’m also writing X-Men Blue and Monsters Unleashed for Marvel, as well as some top-secret projects that will be announced soon!
The war between X-Men and Inhumans has ended. What’s next for the X-Men? If you’re looking for answers, X-Men Prime #1 is a good place to start.
X-Men Prime #1 wraps up loose ends from the X-Men/Inhumans struggle and sets up the new X-Men status quo. In addition, Prime brings together three of the writers from upcoming X-series. And it lays groundwork for upcoming events and sets the tone for all the new X-books.
Beloved X-Man Kitty Pryde has returned to Earth following her exploits with the Guardians of the Galaxy. She thinks she will be able to lay low and live a simple, somewhat normal life. However, that illusion is quickly shattered when Storm arrives and attempts to cajole Kitty into rejoining the X-Men.
The X-Men Need a New General, a New Direction, a New Mission
Storm doesn’t only want Kitty to return. She wants the veteran to take over Storm’s duties as leader of the X-Men. In Storm’s own words, “The X-Men cannot continue as we have. The X-Men need to move forward. And I’m the one who’s holding them back.”
The X-Men and X-Mansion are in shambles, recovering from the battle with the Inhumans. Lady Deathstrike is on the move. The original time-displaced X-Men have disappeared on their own.
The writers have delivered a script that is full of potential and interesting beginnings for the upcoming titles. Next month, Marc Guggenheim pens X-Men Gold, Cullen Bunn moves on to X-Men Blue, and Greg Pak writes Weapon X.
X-Men Prime sets up all three individual series beautifully, while keeping continuity between them. Resurrxion is a perfect place for new readers to jump in. However, long time readers will also be fed by references to previous incarnations of the story, and the return of favorite veterans.
You’ve probably been hearing a lot about Donny Cates recently, and with good reason. The author of Buzzkill and Ghost Fleet is killing it with his new series God Country. With two new ongoing series just around the corner, Redneck (April 19) and Babyteeth (June), Cates is in high demand. We caught up with him and picked his brain about Redneck and life in Texas.
TFAW: Do you remember the first comic book you read? How did you end up with it?
Donny Cates: I do! Kind of…My Dad taught me to read using comics when I was a kid. My brother was a big baseball card kid, so I’d always go with him to the mall. The baseball card shop had a bunch of shelves of comics and I was just OBSESSED with them. So, my dad made a deal with me. If I learned to read them, he would buy them for me. So I did!
I learned how to read using an issue of Green Lantern. And for the life of me I can’t remember which issue it was. I like to think I’d know it if I saw it. But who knows?
TFAW: What series got you hooked on comics?
Cates: That’s a tough question because I was hooked from the jump. I started reading young and I’ve never really taken any time off. I will say that when I discovered the Vertigo stuff as a kid I was just blown away. Books like Preacher and Sandman and [Alan] Moore’s Swamp Thing and Hellblazer just exploded my mind and my sense of what comics could be.
There isn’t just one moment where you are in and someone gives you the decoder ring…
TFAW: What comic writers inspire you?
Cates: Mark Waid is the writer who first jumps to mind. He’s had such an incredible career and he wrote Kingdom Come when he was MY age. Just thinking about gives me hives. And he’s only gotten better. Jason Aaron is another one. I look at the work he’s putting out and I’m just floored with every issue. I truly think we are all lucky to be alive while that man is putting books out.
TFAW: How did you get your big break in comics? At what point did it hit you that you had broken in?
Cates: Well, the truth of the matter is that there isn’t just one moment where you are in and someone gives you the decoder ring and now everything is super easy, you know? You actually break in numerous times. I’ve been doing this, in some capacity or another for ten years or so…and I’m JUST NOW feeling like I’m “in.”
TFAW: What is Redneck about?
Cates:Redneck follows The Bowmans, a family of vampires living in East Texas just trying to get by and live in peace. They run a cattle farm and live off the blood of the cows they slaughter for the BBQ shop their familiars run in town. It’s a safe life, but it’s just surviving. Not really “living”. They are very much an isolationist family. They don’t bother the townsfolk and the town doesn’t bother them. Until well, something goes terribly wrong. And our peaceful group of vampires suddenly find themselves on the verge of war.
Stephen King has Maine. I have Texas.
TFAW: We’ve all seen creepy vampires, sexy vampires, and high school teen vampires in books and movies. So far, I think this is the only story about hillbilly vampires. What inspired you to take vampire mythos in this new direction?
Cates: Well, it started out with me looking at the word “redneck” and wondering if anyone had ever done a vampire book with that name…because come on, right? It started as simply as that. But when I started digging into the story I wanted to tell, it kind of came alive. I found myself writing about my own family, my own history. And then the history of Texas and the idea of bad blood and the sins of the past kind of a thing.
It’s such great fodder for stories when you have an immortal family of vampires that have hundreds of years of history in place before the story even begins. It’s all my favorite things wrapped up in a neat little package. Westerns, Vampires, Texas, Horror, family drama! I love it.
TFAW: Texas is also the setting of God Country. Is Texas a hotbed of paranormal activity?
Cates: It certainly is in my books! Even if you look back at Buzzkill and Ghost Fleet, both of those books are set in or around Texas to a certain degree. I don’t know what it is about the state that inspires me so much. I mean, obviously I’m from Texas and I still live here, but there’s just something weird and haunted about it that I can’t help feel inspired by. Stephen King has Maine. I have Texas.
I always say that Lisandro draws ugly things really pretty.
TFAW: What can we look forward to in the upcoming Redneck issues?
Cates: Lots and lots of blood. And horses. And fire. And guns. And beer.
TFAW: How did you end up partnering with Lisandro Estherren on Redneck?
Cates: I pitched Redneck to Skybound without an artist attached. So once it was greenlit, Jon Moisan (series editor) and I just poured over portfolios and traded back and forth the people we liked. It was really fun, actually. I think Lisandro jumped out at Jon and I both for his ability to draw raw emotion and really evocative moods and settings. I always say that Lisandro draws ugly things really pretty. And that kind of blend of hideous and beautiful, mean and emotional. It was just perfect for the book.
Cates:Babyteeth! My other ongoing this year. That one comes out in June. And I have a few other big announcements later this year that I can’t tell anyone about. But suffice to say you aren’t rid of me just yet.
TFAW: Can I get an elevator pitch for Babyteeth?
Cates: Sure! Sadie Ritter is sixteen and pregnant with the antichrist. Once the baby is born, all hell comes with it. It’s very sweet.
Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia was released in 2015 to tell the story of Seth and Mercy Abbott. Set in 1775 colonial America, the series followed the newlyweds through the War of Independence. Seth was a volunteer in the militia who helped birth a nation.
Rebels: These Free and Independent States #1 picks up the story in 1794. Seth and Mercy’s son, John, has come of age. The boy is a savant who knows everything there is to know about ships and seafaring. He can readily identify any ship by silhouette alone, but has difficulty with social situations.
Barbary Pirates, George III, Birth of the US Navy
This is a historical period that saw danger to the fledgling Union from the Barbary Coast, Britain, and political infighting. In the midst of all this uncertainty, the Abbotts must decide what will be best for their odd son.
Writer Brian Wood (Aliens: Defiance, The Massive, Northlanders) transitions easily from the end of the first season into the beginning of season two. However, readers who haven’t read Militia won’t have any trouble jumping in with Independent States.
Wood’s script brings emotion and realism to stories that most people have at least a conceptual knowledge of. It can often be difficult to envision history as actual events with living humans who have feelings and relationships. While Wood makes it clear in his disclaimer that his characters never actually existed, they fit beautifully into historical context and give faces to an important era in American history.
You don’t have to be a history buff in order to enjoy Rebels. While the period details will appeal to history buffs, there is plenty of meat on the bone for action adventure fans.
Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods is based on the idea that where believers exist, their gods also exist. Immigrants to the United States bring versions of their gods with them. As long as believers hold their faith, the gods flourish.
The more believers in one place and the stronger their belief, the bigger and more powerful a deity. When a belief system breaks down, the forgotten gods lose their power and eventually disappear. Old gods are constantly fighting to keep their foothold in a society where new gods are constantly popping up. Ever wonder why the Old Testament God was so adamant about graven images?
American Gods: Shadows #1 introduces Shadow Moon, a convict who is released from prison a few days early to grieve. His wife was killed in an auto accident the week before Shadow’s scheduled release. On his flight home, Shadow has an uncomfortable meeting with Mr. Wednesday.
The grizzled old man offers Shadow a job after demonstrating impossible knowledge of Shadow’s past and present. Taking Wednesday for a grifter, Shadow declines and the two part ways. Unbeknownst to him, this isn’t the last time Shadow will encounter Mr. Wednesday. Shadow likewise has no idea how thin his perception of reality is about to stretch.
A Superstar Lineup. Neil Gaiman! P. Craig Russell! Scott Hampton!
P. Craig Russell is no stranger to adapting Gaiman works. Russell provided art for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, Coraline, and the Graveyard Book. This time he takes the reigns, writing the script with Gaiman available as a consultant.
Neil Gaiman has been involved throughout the adaptation process and is pleased with the comic series. “I’ve been watching P. Craig Russell breaking down the book into comic form, watching Scott Hampton painting the pages, watching Glenn Fabry create the covers, and grinning to myself with delight, because the American Gods comic is going to be an astonishing, faithful, and beautiful adaptation.”
American Gods: Shadowswill appeal to fans of the source novel, action-adventure, fantasy, horror, Americana, and mythology.
Steve Rogers shocked the world back in Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, May 2016. While hurling his friend and ally to his presumed death, he uttered two words that nobody ever believed would come out of Captain America’s mouth. “Hail Hydra.”
It has since been revealed that Red Skull used Kobik to turn Roger’s memory inside out. In his new recollection of events, Cap remembers learning Hydra’s ideals as a child in a special school. He also remembers befriending a young Helmut Zemo.
In his head, Rogers returned to the United States and then became the first Super Soldier. It was perfect cover for Hydra’s ultimate spy.
Baron Zemo Steals The Show
Captain America: Steve Rogers #13 spends most of the chapter developing Baron Zemo’s character. In the buildup to Secret Empire, Nick Spencer delivers a fuller picture of just how highly Cap regards his friendship with Baron Zemo. Rogers will go so far as to stand between Bucky and Zemo in the middle of a firefight to keep them both alive.
The flashback sequence teases a bigger conflict between Barnes and Zemo in the upcoming Secret Empire. A forced decision with mortal consequences between his two best friends could be the trigger that snaps Cap out of the fugue he’s been living in. We can hope, anyway.
While this chapter is heavy on exposition, there are a few dynamic action scenes. The artwork is fantastic throughout. Baron Zemo’s arrogant indifference is telegraphed brilliantly, despite being a masked character.
It’s hard to tell where the pencils of Ro Stein leave off and Ted Brandt’s begin. There is one sequence in particular that has four pages, sixteen panels, and zero dialogue. The artwork tells the entire story, and the reader has no difficulty following along.
The DC Comics Bombshells franchise began as a line of statues that re-imagined popular female characters in historical context. Artist Ant Lucia used period fashion from the World War II era to create a line of retro heroines that were part pinup girl, all badass.
The initial four designs were later expanded to nine, then twelve. The continued popularity of the statues prompted even more designs.The DC Comics Bombshells ongoing series was born when writer Marguerite Bennett was given the green light to build a narrative out of the retro heroine line.
“We were able to retro-engineer this complete environment that lets them showcase their powers that lets them have good relationships and friendships that they wouldn’t have been able to explore in another sphere…Going down to the smallest details that [Ant Lucia] puts into the statues and creating whole backstories for items.”
Except neither woman IS human. One from the stars and one from the soil, they must come to terms with human emotions.
They each must learn to grieve. Grief validates that Stargirl was real and that she mattered. They need to sort it out, and quickly. Wonder Woman is needed in Zambesi. Lex Luthor makes a cameo (in the invisible jet) to inform Wonder Woman her friend Queen Mari is in danger of losing her kingdom.
The script balances action and character development very well. There’s a heel turn and an apparent face turn–all while coming to terms with the loss of a comrade. And this happens in the midst of an epic battle. Despite having three different hands on pencils, the artwork flows seamlessly from first page to last.
Comic book movies are big business. Marvel’s The Avengers made $623 million at the box office. DC’s The Dark Knight made $534 million worldwide. It should come as no surprise that Hollywood execs look to the pages of popular comics for inspiration.
More films than you might think began life as comic books/graphic novels. Some are obvious comic book adaptations, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC’s Extended Universe. Others, you wouldn’t know without having first been exposed to the printed source material.
In 1994, New Line Cinema turned Dark Horse’s The Mask into a film starring Jim Carrey. The premise of the film is simple. A lovable loser name Stanley Ipkiss finds a green mask. When he dons the jade mask, he gains extraordinary powers including shape-shifting, superhuman strength, and near invulnerability.
It’s Party Time! P! A! R! T! Y? Because I Gotta!
Along with the physical changes, Stanley undergoes a shift in personality. The mask takes away his inhibitions and pumps his Id into overdrive. He becomes a benevolent, mischievous sort of superhero. In the film, Ipkiss’ alter ego is referred to as The Mask. The backstory given is that the mask is a depiction of Loki, Norse god and trickster.
In the end of the film, Stanley gets the girl and ditches the mask in the river. The story ends up being a classic happily ever after, because Hollywood.
The comic book source material is much darker. “Big Head,” as The Mask’s main character is known in the early books, is based off black comedy characters like The Joker, The Creeper, and Mr. Hyde of Jekyl and Hyde. The movie is rated PG-13 for “stylized violence.” The comic is rated 14+ for comedic ultra-violence.
Don’t Put It On! Don’t Ever Put It On!!
“It doesn’t matter who you are. Once you put on the mask, you’re a homicidal lunatic with a bad taste for bad jokes and seriously deranged violence. And nothing–but nothing–can kill you!”
The comic book Ipkiss is a weak and neurotic character. He purchases the jade mask as an apology gift for his girlfriend. After the mask begins speaking to him, Ipkiss tries it on and transforms into Big Head. Stanley goes on a brutal killing spree, targeting people he believes have wronged him.
His nocturnal expeditions begin to take a toll on Ipkiss. He becomes verbally abusive to his girlfriend Kathy and she throws him out. Stanley breaks into her apartment and steals the mask, which she has kept. Technically, it belongs to her.
Later in the story, Kathy will shoot Stanley and take the mask, becoming the second Big Head. Later still, Lieutenant Kellaway will don the mask and become the third Big Head. After Kellaway, there are a string of other Big Heads. The mask itself is the character, regardless who is wearing it.
Which is Better?
Jim Carrey was an excellent choice to portray Ipkiss/Big Head/The Mask in the film adaptation. Many of the practical effects were created solely with prosthetics and Carrey’s ability to effortlessly twist his face inside out. The more spectacular effects were done with CGI that was cutting edge at the time the film was released. The CGI effects have aged, but not as badly as some of the other films from the same era.
With that being said, there are no restrictions on comic book effects. There are no budgetary constraints. There are no limits on how many explosions a sequence can have or how gory a sequence can be. There’s no struggle between using hokey practical effects or digital effects that look cool today, but may look awful in ten years. Technological advances in home entertainment are rarely kind to older effects.
The toned down horror elements in the movie allowed a larger audience to be exposed to the story. The movie evolved into a sort of violent comedy rather than a funny horror story. There are several scenes in the comic where Big Head appears to be wearing the skin of his victims as disguises. It’s hard to imagine Jim Carrey pulling off an Otis B. Driftwood (From The Devil’s Reject) on the silver screen.
Mediums are not Equal
Comparing mediums is difficult when talking about a movie adaptation of a comic. Fans who have read the book prior to seeing the film may be disappointed that their favorite scenes were condensed, changed, or simply omitted entirely. People who buy the book after seeing the film may be surprised by the darker tone and the hyped up violence.
It simply boils down to this: Movies aren’t books. It just isn’t possible to translate some material from graphic novel to live action. Conversely some of the material works better on screen than on the page.
So, the book is better. The book is always better. Except when it isn’t. But in the case of The Mask, the book is the winner.