Comic Book: The Movie
ago, Mark Hamill decided to capture the madness and the majesty
of comic fandom. Okay, maybe majesty stretches the point,
but let us have our dreams. At any rate, for his first time
out as a film director, Hamill wanted to do what anybody wandering
ComicCon wants to do: find something linear, a way through
all the chaos even as he gloried in it.
many of his friends from the world of animation voice-over,
Hamill hatched a plot (literally) that would celebrate what
it means to be a comic book fan without simply confirming
the stereotypes that non-fans hold. Part documentary "unencumbered
by facts," part sweetly wicked Hollywood satire and all showcase
for good comic actors that you normally don't get to see,
Creative Light Entertainment's Comic Book: The Movie
succeeds in its goals. If anything, a little too well, as
it's almost overstuffed enough to warrant two films.
four days of the 2002 San Diego ComicCon, Hamill and his crew
roamed the floor with videocameras. Sometimes they played
out improvised scenarios. Other times they just captured what
was going on. And when possible, Hamill, as comic book superfan
Swan, paid homage to those of his influences who happened
to be there.
risk of geeking out here, it's a quick touching moment for
fans to see Hamill chatting with Ray Harryhausen (producer
of the good Sinbad films). The older gentleman seems
a little unsure of what's going on, but he's humbly grateful
to be thanked.
is dotted with little cameos like that, each with just enough
explanation to keep it from being too much of an inside joke.
Does the average viewer really need to understand what Kevin
Smith means to fandom? Probably not, and the references to
his rejected Commander Courage script are funny enough
even if you don't know they're painfully true about his attempt
to write Superman Lives for Warner.
and Tom Kenny, in character, hosting a panel for Stan
the plot, it couldn't be more timely. In the midst of the
Hollywood feeding frenzy for comic book based properties,
Timely Studios (yes, homage to Marvel's original identity)
believes it has the rights to the character Commander Courage
free and clear. Post-9/11, the character has been re-imagined
as something darker. The studio hopes to make a killing on
a great violent cathartic film as Courage avenges himself
and unknown to Hamill at the time, the 2002 ComicCon did have
a booth for Civilian Justice, an independent comic
and video with pretty much the same idea. It was horribly
racist. Mercifully, it sank without a trace, though both it
and Comic Book: The Movie have actor Dave Prowse in
any residual fan outrage, the studio hires Donald Swan to
be technical adviser on the film. With his childhood friend
Derek Sprang (a magnificently dorky Tom
Kenny), Swan has periodically published a fanzine, Once
Upon A Dime, and he's considered the premiere expert
on all things Commander Courage.
executives, led by the weasely Taylor Donohue (Roger Rose)
and Anita Levine (Lori Alan), hope to keep Swan on the edge
and in the dark. But they didn't count on his taking his job
so seriously, nor that he would find the only living heir
to the rights to Commander Courage - naļve sheet metal worker
Leo Matuzik (Billy West).
Norris in the Commander Courage suit.
his journey, Swan gathers many unexpected allies, including
Ricky (Jess Harnell), the cameraman assigned to document him
for a DVD extra. With no time for rock and roll, Ricky makes
do with the sex and drugs, and a visit to the Playboy Mansion
with Swan is a dream come true. Except, strangely, the bunnies
have all left for the day.
the bunnies get represented later Donna D'errico shows up
as a model hired to be the revamped Courage's sidekick, Liberty
Lass. D'errico shows some good comic chops on the convention
floor, particularly when playing with action figures. (Some
readers just got dizzy at the thought - hot and plays
with action figures?)
the film takes detours into the history of Commander Courage,
showcasing famous covers and interviewing comics professionals
about the character's influence. They play it well for the
most part, with Stan Lee doing one of his most convincing
portrayals of himself ever. Though you, faithful fanboy, will
treasure these scenes, they are the ones most likely to cause
significant others to leave the room to wash dishes or something.
them back, because the film is genuinely funny, even
in a couple of moments crowbarred in to allow these comic
actors a record of their best bits. Harnell's explanation
of how to do each individual Beatle is clever. Out of nowhere,
Jim Cummings, the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh, shows up at a
party riffing on absinthe and devolving from intellectual
to obnoxious non-Pooh-like drunk. And though the film probably
could survive without a scene between Sid Caesar and Jonathan
Winters, we're the richer for it.
this rarely gets mean about fandom. The closest it comes is
with Kenny as Sprang. You will believe that Swan can function
in normal society, though he's intense about his interests.
But Sprang is the guy we're all torn between being afraid
and proud that we might be. When his young son refuses to
open a DC Direct Shazam! boxed set of action figures because
it's collectible, you may be able to see a tear of respect
in Sprang's eye - or is that your reflection?
fan gets in
on the action, too.
Book: The Movie has a couple of obvious fanbases built
in. Comic book fans, you will see yourself somewhere here,
even if you aren't actually in it. (You might be, though.
Were you there?) Those who follow animation need to see it
to match faces to the voices they've come to know and love.
In addition to the voice-over actors mentioned earlier, Nickelodeon
stars Daran Norris (The Fairly Odd Parents) and Debi
Derryberry (Jimmy Neutron) have sizable roles.
of this article's meanderings and side trips made sense to
you, then you owe it to yourself to get this movie. For the
rest of you, dip a toe in to comics fandom from the convenience
of your own DVD player.
of the DVD extras...
all the photographs in this article are our own from ComicCon
2002, though all of the people involved do show up in the