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Pulp Culture
Mark Hamill's 'Comic Book' doesn't make grade

February 26, 2004
By Franklin Harris

Mark Hamill is an unapologetic fanboy. He attended his first comic-book convention in the early 1970s, before George Lucas cast him in the role that would make him an attraction at such events rather than a spectator. He owns an enviable collection of Golden Age comics and has written comics for Dark Horse and other publishers. As a voice actor, he brings to life villains like the Joker and Solomon Grundy on Cartoon Network's superhero series "Justice League." So, that said, there is no doubt that Hamill's heart is in the right place.

Mark Hamill, left, and Stan Lee at the world premiere of ''The Hulk'' in 2003.
Photo by Lester Cohen. Image © copyright WireImage.com
Mark Hamill, left, and Stan Lee at the world premiere of ''The Hulk'' in 2003.
Which is why Hamill's latest project, "Comic Book: The Movie," is disappointing. It's clearly a labor of love, warts and all. But its flaws keep it from having much appeal beyond its base of comic-book aficionados.

"Comic Book: The Movie" is a mockumentary in the tradition of "This Is Spinal Tap," only not as funny. Most of it was filmed, without a script to speak of, at the 2002 San Diego Comic-Con, America's largest comic-book convention.

Hamill, who also directs and serves as one of six producers, stars as schoolteacher and comic shop owner Donald Swan, who is hired to be a creative consultant on the film "Codename: Courage," based on a 1940s comic called "Commander Courage." Everyone has an agenda. The film's producers want Swan to produce a documentary for use as an extra on the inevitable "Codename: Courage" DVD. Swan, meanwhile, wants to perusade the producers to stay true to the wholesome spirit of the original Commander Courage rather than make the character dark and violent like modern superheroes.

Along the way, Swan interviews several real-life celebrities, including filmmaker and infrequent comic-book writer Kevin Smith ("Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back"), actor Bruce Campbell ("Evil Dead," "Spider-Man") and Stan Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Swan also interviews Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, who, it turns out, is a comics fan, too. (Alas, no bunnies were at the Playboy mansion that day.) If you look closely, you'll also see some of Hamill's "Star Wars" co-stars: David Prowse (Darth Vader), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett).

Second billing goes to former "Baywatch" babe Donna D'Errico, who plays a model hired to wear a Liberty Lass costume, which she wears well.

For the rest of his cast, Hamill gives some talented cartoon voice actors a rare opportunity to appear in front of a camera. They include Tom Kenny ("SpongeBob Squarepants") as Swan's geeky pal Derek Sprang, Jess Harnell ("Animaniacs") as cameraman Ricky, Billy West ("Fututama") as the clueless grandson of Commander Courage's creator and Roger Rose ("Rugrats in Paris") as slimy movie producer Taylor.

(Trivia Alert: The characters Swan and Sprang are named for 1960s "Superman" artist Curt Swan and 1950s "Batman" artist Dick Sprang.)

The whole production is silly and has some amusing moments, especially when Harnell's Ricky launches into some of his celebrity impressions. But for a cameraman, Ricky spends a lot of time in front of the camera, and in some scenes it isn't at all clear who is supposed to be doing the filming. This destroys the illusion of being a real documentary that is essential for any successful mockumentary.

"Comic Book: The Movie" also desperately needs someone to fill the straight-man role that Rob Reiner filled in "Spinal Tap." Ideally, that should have been Hamill's job, but his character is as off-kilter as anyone's.

Miramax Home Entertainment has released "Comic Book: The Movie" as a two-disc, special edition DVD set. Extras include an audio commentary with Hamill and other cast members, extended interviews with Smith, Hefner, Lee and Campbell, deleted scenes, bloopers and a panel discussion with famous voice actors including Gary Owens ("Laugh In"). The set retails for $29.99.

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