Unbreakable (2000) Written by M. Night Shyamalan Directed by M. Night Shyamalan Runtime 106 min. 5 out of 5
Ordinary David Dunn (Bruce Willis) has a failing marriage, a son who needs him, and a job as a security guard. However, all that changes after a severe train wreck and he is the only survivor. Even more miraculous, he is completely unharmed. When confronted by a man named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who suggests David is invulnerable, David shrugs it off but eventually begins to test himself and discovers that maybe he’s not that ordinary after all and soon learns he can do things no other man can. At Elijah’s insistence, David explores his abilities even more and soon begins a journey that reveals maybe he is indeed unbreakable.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love superhero origin stories and Unbreakable is just that. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan of Sixth Sense fame, Unbreakable is a story deconstructing the superhero, and suggesting a possible real life origin for these amazing people, while keeping your interest from start to finish.
Using the real-life medical condition osteogenesis imperfecta as a springboard, suggesting that if someone with such frail bones can exist, is it not possible someone with unbreakable bones—even body—can exist? And thus is the story as we follow Elijah Price as he searches out this amazing possibility in the person of David Dunn.
This movie also heavily references comic books, Elijah posing the idea that comic books are modern day retellings of stories of times past and of real people who once were able to do things other people couldn’t.
Each moment of this movie is an in-depth look at what makes the superhero tick, everything from the discovery of his power, to his motivation in using it, to the doubt that such a possibility could exist in a person, to finding a possible weakness, to balancing having this special ability with the demands of everyday life, and more.
This movie is a drama and not an action flick. While there is some action, namely toward the end, it’s a life and times superhero story that makes you stop and think about what being a person with an extraordinary ability might actually be like, if it would be easy or hard, or a bit of both. What kind of challenges would you face? What kinds of benefits?
Apparently, M. Night Shyamalan came up with the idea following the standard three-part structure of a superhero story: the origin, the rise to being a hero, then the final confrontation with the villain. The movie has all these elements, but because he found it the most interesting, Shyamalan spends most of the time focusing on the origin. As a result, there is such depth surrounding David Dunn and Elijah Price that as the hero and villain, they rival characters that have been around for decades in terms of richness. Very well done.
This movie is just so, so good and is one of my all-time favorites. It’s one of those flicks to throw on on a rainy day, get under a blanket, and get swept up in the world of the superhero only to be inspired to look for the spectacular in one’s own self.
Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman (2006) Written by James Grant Golding and Steven Smith Directed by Kevin Burns Runtime 115 min. 5 out of 5
Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s SUPERMAN!
Sixty-eight years ago this world turned a corner. In 1938, two young boys created a hero that would inspire an entire planet and someone whom this world would adopt as its own son. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster gave us Superman, the world’s first superpowered hero.
Produced by Bryan Singer (Superman Returns, X-Men), Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman is an in-depth look at the Man of Steel’s history, going way back to before Siegel and Shuster created him, what led up to it, and what happened once they put pen to paper.
This is a remarkable documentary. It covers the comic books, all TV series, the movies, cartoons, even a hokey Superman musical.
Interviews with Stan Lee, Gene Simmons, Mark Hamill, Adam West, Annette O’Toole, Bryan Singer, Brandon Routh, Jack Larson and a host of others are peppered throughout, with the whole documentary narrated by Kevin Spacey.
Kick-Ass (2010) Written by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman Directed by Matthew Vaughn Runtime 117 min. 4.5 out of 5
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), comic book geek and nobody-at-large, always wondered why no one stepped up and became a superhero. People aspire to be doctors and firemen and policemen, so why not also want to be someone else who helped his fellow man?
After ordering a green and yellow wetsuit off the Internet, Dave dons the outfit and hits the streets as Kick-Ass, a superhero without powers, training or even a proper motivation to fight crime other than “what if?” The first few weeks are uneventful, and after his first attempt at stopping a car robbery nearly kills him, Dave returns more determined than ever to rid the streets of crime. Soon, after stopping the beating of a guy from a gang, Kick-Ass is all over the Internet and soon becomes a citywide celebrity.
Little does he realize he’s not alone. Enter Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), a father-daughter team of real-deal vigilantes with a thirst for blood and matching guns to boot. Their mission? Take out the D’Amico crime family, their leader, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), having been personally involved with Big Daddy long ago and robbing him of the one he loved.
Soon Kick-Ass, Big Daddy, Hit Girl and newcomer Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) are locked in a war that, hopefully, only the good guys survive.
It’s guns, action, comic books and bubble gum in this adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s graphic novel.
This movie is crazy. A good crazy. A special kind of crazy. I knew from the previews I was in for a different kind of superhero flick and, man, that was what I got. This was fresh, exciting, fun and new. Most superhero movies stick to a formula (origin of the good guy then the bad guy, a few tussles along the way leading to a big fight in the end, the stuff in between usually dramatic bits starring the hero in his personal life). With Kick-Ass, though there were those basic elements to it, the one thing that was really hammered home over and over again was the idea that, yeah, Kick-Ass was functioning in the real world. One with guns, knives, average fighting skills and no body armor. Some folks might think the violence in this film was overdone. Personally—despite a few exceptions—I didn’t think so. You try doing the superhero thing in real life in a place like New York and see what happens.
I also really liked how they dragged that fantasy of being a superhero into our reality and proved, really, that it wouldn’t work. Kick-Ass went up against real bad guys. Ones without mercy. Without care. They’d kill their own mothers if they had to.
The lack of a costumed supervillain also helped this movie and ensured the focus was kept on the good guys. I particularly liked Big Daddy’s and Hit Girl’s origin. It was simple, yet bittersweet and, if anything, really showed that despite being off his rocker, Big Daddy really loved his little girl and only wanted the best for her.
In terms of the non-costumed scenes, Dave Lizewski’s real life was extremely relatable (especially for this comic book nerd) and his high school years and mine seemed to have a lot in common. Except for the girlfriend part. I wasn’t cool enough to have one of those.
This movie was fantastic start to finish. The writing, the action, the realism—truly cool.
My only thing was the profanity. I don’t live in New York, but that was a lot of swearing and if people really talk like that in NYC, man, I feel sorry for them. (But, hey, I’m just a Maple Syrup-guzzling Canadian, so what do I know?) If they don’t, perhaps the writers can pull back a bit on the wagging tongue for the next one.
Note: This post was originally published on Jeffrey Allen Davis’s blog
The Axiom-man Origin and Why I Write Superhero Fiction
The Axiom-man Saga is an old story. A couple decades, in fact, as it was around then that I started to daydream about a similar hero while walking my paper route each morning. I’d get so lost in this story about a hero caught in a cosmic war between Good and Evil that I’d be done my route before I knew it and would often run house-to-house to double check and make sure I delivered the paper to the right places.
In that fantasy, of course, I played the hero. As the story grew and I got older, I ended up transferring the honor of being that character to someone else, a fictitious someone else who would one day go by the name of Gabriel Garrison.
Axiom-man began to take shape in concept throughout all my years of delivering the paper—and went by a different name, which was featured in my novel, April, written as Peter Fox (for that secret name, you’ll just have to read the book to find out). In 1995, Axiom-man received his new costume, the one he wears today. At the time, Axiom-man—originally called Trinity—and this concept character of mine were two different people. Trinity was more of a supernatural hero ala Spawn and fought demons, whereas my other hero was more down-to-Earth in nature and had very Superman-like powers. Yes, I know: Superman isn’t very down-to-Earth, but he does deal with things on this plane of existence 9 times out of 10. Anyway, as time went on, Trinity became Axiom—who was yet another character at the time—and as even more time went on and after being inspired by the likes of Frank Dirscherl and his Wraith character—who back in 2005 had one novel, a comic and a movie in the works—I decided it was time to put my long-thought-about superhero to paper. I merged my paper route fantasy character with Axiom because I always had an affinity for him, and after doing a quick web search on the Axiom name and finding a company out there with the same name, I went and made it my own by adding “man” to the end of it, hyphenated, of course, because that’s who Axiom-man really is: a self-evident truth embodied in a single person, in his case the self-evident truth of being one to do good rather than evil. From there it was an issue of scaling his powers waaaay back and settling upon three of them: strength, flight and eye beams. And when I say I scaled his powers way back, I mean way, way back. When Axiom-man debuted, he could only lift around 1000 pounds, could fly at about 60 kilometers an hour, and his energy beams only carried so much force. I didn’t want to make him too powerful thus making him always the winner and, because of his great strength, have no choice but to always pit him against ultra powerful foes. My story was to take place in our world under the idea of, “If this happened in our reality tomorrow, how would it most likely play out?” Making him with that kind of power set helped keep him grounded in reality and gave me plenty of options for enemies he could fight to sometimes win and sometimes lose against.
His backstory and mythology were left unaltered and kept the same as the character I thought about growing up, still the product of a nameless messenger having visited him and granting him his abilities without explanation. As the story goes on, Axiom-man finds out why he received his powers and how he is caught in a cosmic war that has raged since time immemorial.
The reason Axiom-man made his debut in books rather than comics was because, at the time I brought him to market, I knew of superhero fiction but didn’t think to do it independently. Frank Dirscherl’s The Wraith and Knight Seeker by Eric Cooper showed me otherwise. Axiom-man was originally a comic book character and I even drew a 21- or 22-page comic with him when he was called Trinity back in high school. I still have it somewhere and might publish it one day as a kind of behind-the-scenes thing. Anyway . . .
By doing superheroes in prose, I was able to work alone, could tell the story exactly how I wanted it, and because I was already self-publishing other fiction at the time, had the system in place to get Axiom-man out there.
You know, even though Axiom-man was my first official superhero release, I look over my fiction and every book I’ve written is a superhero novel in some way. Take A Red Dark Night, for example. It’s about a summer camp under siege by blood creatures. One of the protagonists, Tarek, is superheroic in nature, wears an otherworldly outfit complete with a cape, and shoots blue fire from a gauntlet on his forearm.
My epic fantasy book, some quarter million words long, called The Way of the Fog, is about a group of people who get superpowers in a medieval/fantasy-style setting.
My zombie trilogy, Undead World, deals with the supernatural, time travel, and each character is superheroic in how they act, even archetypical in some cases, with comic book-like good vs evil action.
Zombie Fight Night—aside from an aged Axiom-man making an appearance in there, is full of comic book characters monster-wise, everything from werewolves to vampires; to robots to pirates; to ninjas to samurai; and beyond, all battling the undead.
The Metahumans vs anthology series is, obviously, about Metahumans aka superheroes fighting a themed foe throughout each book.
As mentioned, my love story, April, is about a comic book writer who’s fallen in love, and what does he write? Superhero comics.
I think it’s only fitting that superhero fiction in its truest form—an actual superhero storyline—became a part of my repertoire. It seemed inevitable considering my love for the genre. Ever since I knew what a superhero was—at three years old, I think—I’ve been hooked, and not a day in my life has gone by where I haven’t thought about them, theorized about them, fantasized about them, pretended to be them and more. I even wear Superman and Batman onesies to bed for crying out loud!
Calling me a geek is an understatement, but I don’t care. Geeks make the world go round and fanboys are the ones providing people with entertainment. Superhero fiction just happens to be my main venue for doing so.
And where is Axiom-man going from here? Well, thus far, 7 prose books have been released along with a few comics and short stories. The whole saga is planned to be 50 books long, so I’m coming up on being 20 percent finished. The good part is the story is pretty much all mentally written. I had 9 years or so of delivering papers to get the story right, after all.
What I’m enjoying about the superhero fiction format is I’m able to do things with my characters that comic books don’t allow, at least, current superhero comics don’t allow. I’ve long advocated—and still do—that the comic book is the greatest storytelling medium to ever come down the pike, with books being a close second. Why? Because it’s the one-two punch of pictures combined with narration, whereas prose is a text-only medium. I still believe that, but being that at this stage in my career I’m primarily a writer versus a writer/artist, I’m sticking to books and the book medium is capable of telling superhero stories in a way comics haven’t as yet, namely getting inside a character’s head. Very few comic writers have succeeded in that in the past. Superhero comics are far too picture-heavy these days, with flashy computer coloring jobs, flimsy stories and scant dialogue. I miss the old days where there were almost equal amounts of text and pictures. At least with The Axiom-man Saga as it stands now, I can bring the reader dense characters where every thought and feeling is brought to the fore and, hopefully, pull the reader into the characters’ shoes in a way that superhero comics don’t. That’s my main goal with this: bring the reader in so that they feel they are experiencing my fiction versus just reading it. I’ve yet to read a superhero comic where this has happened. I have, however, read superhero books where this has occurred, Batman: Knightfall by Dennis O’Neil being a major favorite of mine and my first foray into the superhero fiction world.
What also sets The Axiom-man Saga apart from any of the current superhero offerings is that it’s a cross-medium superhero story that encompasses books, comics and short stories, all part of the same continuity. This has never been done before, and putting new spins on old things is one of the things I’ve always striven for in my fiction, especially in this industry where things are pretty copycat and cookie-cutter (we all know of certain authors that seem to turn out the same book over and over again just under a different title, right?).
Whether Axiom-man becomes this wild success or remains under the radar, for me it’s about writing the superhero story I always wanted to read, the one I’ve always thought about, and the one that, when my time on Earth is done, is the one I’ll be remembered by. It’s meant to be a career piece, a giant story with a beginning, middle and end, the story of a superhero, his life, and what that means to the world around us.