- Posted by Carl Lyon
- On February 8, 2016
- 0 Comments
- captain america, deadpool, Dr. Strange, Steel
Film adaptations of popular comics have become big business, with advances in CG-based special effects and multimillion-dollar budgets allowing for page-accurate representations of our favorite heroes and villains. Larger-than-life locations like Thor’s Asgard can be recreated with digital magic, and the medium’s most implausible characters can be brought to the silver screen for fans old and new to enjoy.
Things haven’t always been so rosy for comic adaptations, however. The history of bad comics is long and painful, starting with the notoriously awful Batman serials in the 1940s and continuing through more current Razzie Award “winners” like Catwoman. Let’s take a look back at some of the more dubious adaptations of famous comic characters through the years.
Doctor Strange (Marvel Comics)
One of the most psychedelic creations of Steve Ditko, Dr. Stephen Strange is a brilliant, but arrogant surgeon who loses the use of his hands in an accident. Desperate to regain his hands and his practice, he seeks out The Ancient One in the Himalayas, where he takes up the mantle of Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme and defends our reality from supernatural and mystical threats.
What We Got: Dr. Strange (1978)
When you’re trying to recreate one of the most visually stunning and conceptually massive properties in comic history, you probably shouldn’t try to do it in the notoriously low-budget landscape of late-70’s television. Doctor Stephen Strange was now a psychiatrist played by Peter Hooten (Orca) battling against the immortal sorceress Morgan La Fey, played by Jessica Walters (Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development). The threadbare budget meant that the more mystical elements had to be scaled back to almost nil, and Hooten’s Doctor Strange looked like a LARPing John Holmes. Presented as a pilot, Dr. Strange was, unsurprisingly, not picked up by CBS for a full series run.
Steel (DC Comics)
The character: Dr. John Henry Irons was a brilliant scientist working for the sinister AmerTech Corporation designing weapons when he found out that his “Toastmaster” designs were being used on innocent civilians. He went on the run, working in construction until he was saved by Superman from a deadly fall. When Superman was killed in The Death of Superman, Irons tried to fill the vacuum left in Superman’s absence by becoming Steel, an armored hero trying to clean up the streets of the Toastmaster weapons that Metropolis gangs had armed themselves with.
What We Got: Steel (1997)
Somehow moving forward without any connection to Superman, Steel cast Shaquille O’Neal as Irons, facing off against the villainous Nathaniel Burke, played by Judd Nelson. Yeah, Big Diesel had to lock horns with John Bender from The Breakfast Club. That’s a battle for the ages, all right.
Adding to the problems was O’Neal’s notoriously poor acting, which had about as much strength as his free throw, and a costume that looked like a cross between the Mark I Iron Man armor and TV’s M.A.N.T.I.S. Not even Quincy Jones as a producer could save this rusty dud.
Captain America (Marvel Comics)
Does the Star-Spangled Avenger really need an introduction? OK, fine. Weakling Steve Rogers undergoes an experimental process involving a “Super-Soldier Serum” that turns him into a red-white-and-blue ‘roider, helping turn the tides of battle during World War II by punching the hell out of Nazis and horribly racist caricatures of the Japanese. He has survived to the present day, becoming a key member of the Avengers and a stalwart icon of patriotism.
What We Got: Captain America (1979); Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979); Captain America (1990)
I know that there are three movies up there, but they all deserve special recognition for their terrible takes on the character.
Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon were a patriotic pair of 1979 TV movies starring Reb Brown (Space Mutiny) as Steve Rogers, an ex-Marine turned artist who reluctantly takes up the mantle of Captain America after he is in a near-fatal accident and is cured by a super-steroid called FLAG. He fights crime from his totally sweet van and high-tech motorcycle, bashing people with a clear plastic shield and wearing the stupidest helmet ever. Seriously, just look at this goddamn thing.
The pain continued in Captain America II: Death Too Soon, which featured a more comics-accurate but somehow more ridiculous costume (it’s the helmet), as well as the late Sir Christopher Lee as the villain. Who was he? The Red Skull? Baron Zemo? Nope, he was “Miguel,” because we don’t want to see comic-book villains in our comic-book movies. We want Sarumann slummin’ it as a Spaniard.
Finally, we’ve got 1990’s Captain America, which finally gave us a fairly true-to-comics origin, costume, and the Red Skull! Hell, it even had some lukewarm star power with Ned Beatty (Deliverance) and Darren McGavin (Kolchak: The Night Stalker), so it should have been decent, right?
Well, the Red Skull was now an Italian fascist (huh?) who got plastic surgery in his later years to look like a greasy Dick Tracy villain and had the evil scheme of…giving the President a brain transplant. Also, Cap was portrayed by Matt Salinger, the son of Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger (dad must have been so proud) in a powdery latex costume that looked like a prop from a 4th of July-themed bondage porno.
Deadpool (Marvel Comics)
One of two decent characters created by 90’s art-stain Rob Liefeld (the other being Cable), Deadpool was one Wade Wilson, a man suffering from terminal cancer until he undergoes a treatment that imbues him with Wolverine’s healing factor. Unfortunately, the healing factor and the cancer didn’t play nice, leaving Deadpool horrifically scarred and more than a little insane. He became known as the Merc with a Mouth, a gun-for-hire notorious for breaking the fourth wall and just being…Deadpool.
What We Got: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
The first part of the maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine only makes the last part sting all the more. We get to see Ryan Reynolds playing Deadpool as we know and love him, slicing bullets with katanas and cracking jokes as part of a black ops team with Wolverine, Sabretooth, and Will.i.am (huh?). It’s beautiful! Just give him the costume and let’s go!
Instead, General Stryker decides to infuse him with a whole slew of different mutant abilities (what?), give him retractable katana blades that pop out of his arms (what??), and sew his mouth shut (WHAT???) for a final showdown with Wolverine and Sabretooth at 3-Mile Island. The letdown is beyond devastating; it’s like finding the girl of your dreams on the morning she leaves for a convent.