The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Thanks to 'Blade,'
Marvel finally makes
Hollywood cut

September 3, 1998
By Franklin Harris

The long, twilight struggle finally may be over for Marvel Comics in its decades-old quest to successfully translate its comic book characters into big-screen movie heroes. But who would have thought Marvel's breakthrough would come in the guise of Blade, The Vampire Killer?

"Blade," a Wesley Snipes vehicle, surprised the analysis -- but not me -- by remaining the top-grossing film in America over last weekend, taking in almost $11 million, to bring its total take so far to over $34.7 million.

And why shouldn't the film do well? It has a popular action star in the lead role and, unlike most other films based upon comic book characters, doesn't devolve into lame camp.

The film is the first box-office hit for Marvel, which is surprising, given that Marvel is the publishing house that gave the world Spider-Man, the Hulk, Captain America and the X-Men -- bankable characters all.

But Marvel properties have a long-standing, and richly deserved, reputation for appearing in awful movies.

"Some things that look interesting in a comic book are boring on a movie screen," Steve Gerber once said. He should know. Gerber is the creator of Howard the Duck, a Marvel character whose name has become synonymous with cinematic shlock.

"Howard the Duck," released in 1986, is the "Ishtar" of fantasy/adventure films. It's the film that proved its executive producer, George Lucas, was human after all. Put bluntly, it was bad.

Gerber should just be happy he had nothing to do with that disaster. It's amazing enough that the careers of Howard's co-stars, Lea Thompson and Tim Robbins, managed to survive their association with the dreaded duck.

The comic upon which the film was based, incidentally, was very good, and thanks to the movie's crash and burn, you can probably find them cheap. Just make sure you get the early issues written by Gerber and not the newer stuff.

Actually, other Marvel characters have fared even worse than has poor Howard.

Both the Punisher and Captain America have, in the last decade, been subjected to B movie, straight-to-video treatment. While "The Punisher," starring Dolph Lundgren, comes off as merely a typical drive-in action flick -- which is really all the Punisher deserves, anyway -- "Captain America" plumbs new depths of awfulness.

A film version of "The Fantastic Four" was so bad that Marvel refused to allow its release in any form.

Those, however, who have seen fuzzy, fifth-generation bootlegs of the movie do confirm that it is probably the most criminal waste of videotape in history. It's bad even by the cheesy standards set by its executive producer, exploitation master supreme Roger Corman.

Then, of course, there is the latest travesty: this year's "Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.," which premiered as yet another bad Fox TV movie.

The less said about "Nick Fury," which starred, of all people, David Hasselhoff as the one-eyed, cigar chomping super spy, the better. Children might be reading this.

True, other comic book companies have had their stinkers as well: every Superman movie after Christopher Reeve's second, every Batman movie since Tim Burton gave up on Bruce Wayne's alter ego and every movie in which Pamela Anderson tries to pass herself off as an actress.

Fortunately, Anderson has only tried once. The result was "Barb Wire," which, based on the Dark Horse Comics character of the same name, proves there are only two reasons to go to a Pamela Anderson movie.

Maybe the success of "Blade" means that Marvel's luck finally has changed.

Marvel's only problem is that the rights to make a film starring the company's best-known hero, Spider-Man, are still in legal limbo.

If the courts see things Marvel's way, however, Marvel could become a major Hollywood player. James "Titanic" Cameron himself wants to direct the wall crawler's big-screen debut.

How about that, true believers?

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