Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mark Hamill and Donald Swan for lunch. Most of you know Hamill as Luke Skywalker, of course, or as the voice of The Joker on BATMAN. But I doubt many of you know Donald Swan. He’s basically one of us... a lifelong geek who publishes a fan newsletter, ONCE UPON A DIME, about his favorite comic series, and who co-owns a comic book shop. Recently, Miramax Films bought the rights to distribute COMIC BOOK: THE MOVIE, a documentary that was made by Hamill about Donald Swan for Creative Lights Entertainment. I’m still working on my review for the film overall, but I can say this... parts of it really got to me. I felt for Donald Swan.
See, I’m not familiar with CODENAME: COURAGE, the comic book that Swan is so deliriously in love with, but that’s okay. There’s a lot of comic books I’m not familiar with. I love the medium, but I was a real particular reader as a kid. I liked Marvel, and that was it. Those characters at the particular time I was reading them pretty much did it for me, and older comics from the ‘40’s and ‘50’s just didn’t speak to me at all. Swan’s a little older than me, so these books are his childhood. He has a strong memory of growing up with these images, and when he heard about Timely Studios trying to make a CODENAME: COURAGE film, he decided to get involved, to offer some feedback to the filmmakers. Hamill, who had read Swan’s newsletter, decided to make a film in which he followed Swan’s efforts to reach or to influence the Hollywood company that was producing the film.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Donald Swan in the form of a script review. You see, he got hold of the latest draft of the screenplay for CODENAME: COURAGE (I swear... I didn’t have anything to do with him getting his hands on it), and he’s decided to try and explain just why it’s shaken him up so badly.
And be prepared if you’re a fan of the original comic... you’re not going to like what you’re about to hear:
CODENAME: CARNAGE by Donald Swan
When it was announced that Commander Courage would be the latest comic book superhero to get the mega-budget Hollywood blockbuster treatment, this lifelong fan had one key question. Which version in the 60-year history of the character would the film portray? Though his supernatural powers have remained basically unchanged, the character has had a remarkable number of incarnations since his first appearance in All-Amazing Comics #9 (Feb. 1942) as the “Axis-Kicking Avenger” battling Nazis at the height of World War II. After a year of grim and somewhat dark, solo adventures, he jumped on the teen-sidekick bandwagon with the addition of Liberty Lad. Known as “that daring pair extraordinaire” in their long-running comic book title, most fans feel it was the imaginative writing that made series so enduring. Though it never strayed far from its’ action-adventure roots, the stories ambitiously embraced nearly every genre: mystery, science fiction, fantasy, horror, western and (however briefly) romance. In addition, the terrific twosome were the only superheroes whose secret-identities were that of high school teacher and student, an environment that readers could easily relate to. Fandom speculation has run high as to which approach the screenwriter would take.
Having just finished reading a leaked copy of the screenplay, I can confirm that the film will be based instead on a recent radical revamp, a cynical “adult” graphic novel entitled Codename: Courage. For fans of the original the prognosis isn’t just negative, it is an unmitigated atrocity! Ignoring the source material almost entirely, this effects-driven revenge saga is a relentlessly mindless, pathologically bloodthirsty assemblage of the worst clichÃ©s in the history of testosterone cinema.
Normally, this is where a Spoiler Warning would appear but it’s beyond me how this miserable piece of filmic feculence could ever be thought of as anything but spoiled.
It is not simply that escapist fantasy fare is awkwardly and irresponsibly placed in a real world, “rah-rah” war on terrorism scenario, but why must long cherished icons of the Golden Age be decimated in the process?
The plot involves a renegade, ultra-clandestine paramilitary elite project called the Covert Operations Unit: Reconnaissance And Guerilla Enforcement. Courage here is in the abstract, as a mere acronym, not as an attribute of human nobility. Likewise the cavalier gender switch as Liberty Lad becomes a delectable Lass not to alter and explore the dynamics of a partnership, but to augment the brutality with generous helpings of hot steamy sex. This is filmmaking as Nintendo game: an assemblage of increasingly elaborate action set pieces leading to the inevitable 3rd Act cataclysmic mother of all battles (in this instance involving an admittedly nifty giant spider, but never mind) provided the player, excuse me, viewer successfully passes prior levels. Rather than a human being as protagonist we have a weapon. More specifically, a genetically altered super-soldier wrapped in the most advanced high-tech fighting uniform our scientists and CGI have to offer or, a suit. A dazzling, state-of-the-art, jacked-up, sci-fi, invulnerable, computer-helmeted, stealth flight suit, to be sure, but a suit nonetheless. This then, is the Codename of the title, a face that’s never seen, a man with no name, much less anything as romantic as a duel identity. Indeed, he has no identity at all.
Why belabor this any further? The details are too depressing and incomprehensible to detail here and as I said I would have no dog in this hunt were it not for the false conceit that it is in any way related to the earlier, superior feature. The fact that if successful, Codename would obliterate any chance of a classic Commander coming to the screen makes my blood boil, needless to say and in that context I conclude: I loathed this script. Loathed, loathed, loathed, loathed, loathed this script. Loathed it. Loathed every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Loathed the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Loathed the implied insult to a potential audience by its’ belief that anyone would be entertained by it.
I may be a hopeless optimist and call me old-fashioned, but it’s not too late for American fans to rise up and be heard. If the powers that be embrace the magic of the original stories…Why, the Commander n’ Bert will be in the Nimbus dimension fighting Desultor and his Banshee Battalion faster than you can say…courage.
I’m going to be writing a review of COMIC BOOK: THE MOVIE in the coming week or so, and before the film comes out, I’m going to try to sit down with Hamill and Swan to talk to them more about the film, what’s happening now with CODENAME: COURAGE, and more. Until then, my thanks to both of them for their time.