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Comic Book Villains
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   James Robinson (writer / director)
Genre:   Comic book-bashing crime drama
Review Date:   May 28, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated R
RevSF Rating:   2/10 (What Is This?)

So I’m doing what everyone does in their spare time — Google-searching for Cary Elwes. He played the “as you wish” guy in The Princess Bride. And according to Google, he’s in Comic Book Villains. It was called a comedy, and the plot sounded interesting: Two comic book shops feud over a stash of rare comics.

So right there, I’m thinking it’s a geek-centric comedy, with lots of in-jokey references that only we will get. I’m thinking it might be like Free Enterprise, or Evan Dorkin’s Eltingville Club, or any of Kevin Smith’s movies except Jersey Girl.

The cast has some good comedy actors in it. Donal Logue is funny on Grounded for Life. Danny Masterson is funny as Hyde on That 70s Show. And of course, there’s Cary Elwes.

But then I actually watched the thing.

Turns out this movie is not a wacky comedy, but a crime drama with a message: Comic books are bad for you.

The intent of the movie — set in the world of comic book shops and fandom — apparently is to show that such pursuits are fruitless, you’re wasting your time, and it might make you go crazy.

Has any movie that focused on a pastime ever done that before? The point of Hoosiers wasn’t that you should quit screwing around with that basketball stuff. I can’t think of any movies where the hobby that provides the movie’s details is condemned. Except for hobbies like murder.

Here, quickly, is the movie. Consider this a spoiler warning if you plan, despite my best advice, to rent this.

Two comic shop owners discover that a man has died and left behind an extensive collection of rare comics. Both stores want them. The man’s mother won’t sell. While trying to convince the lady, the hero of the movie befriends her, and she tells him all about art and travel, and how disappointed she was that all her son ever did was collect comics.

Both owners decide to steal the comics. The psycho comic store owner (Logue) enlists a thief and leg-breaker (Elwes). Non-hilarity ensues, and the old lady is murdered. The rare comics are destroyed. Then nearly everybody else except the good kid kill each other or are shot by the police.

At first I thought that the movie’s creators had selected comics and added the references and the trappings so they could do a crime drama in a setting no one had thought of before. That’s creditable. If that had been true, then the movie could have just as easily been about stamp collectors.

But the writer and director is James Robinson, a prolific comic book writer. I loved his DC Comics miniseries about the Justice Society, “The Golden Age.” And I own all 70-something issues of his series Starman. Both of those are full of detailed characters and entertaining stories. They embrace the trappings of comic-books — colorful tights, super-powers. So what’s the deal with Comic Book Villains?

I don’t believe I’m being over-sensitive just because this movie is about my particular brand of geek. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind my favorite pastime being made fun of. I do it myself. I fully understand there’s gold to be mined there.

The ham-fisted way the movie lays its moral upon the viewer is my problem. It preaches non-geekism. It starts out as an amusing caper comedy set in this corner of the geek world, but suddenly turns into a condemnation of it.

For example: The only characters who are not hardcore comic book geeks are 1) a henpecked comic store owner whose greedy wife demands that he steal the old lady’s comics. 2) The good kid who befriends the old lady. 3) Cary Elwes' character, who gave up comics and now has a rewarding career as a thug.

There are two enjoyable bits in this movie. A truck carrying the stolen comics wrecks and the rare comics sink in a pond in slow motion. A real, rare comic from the 1940s sits on the top of the water, and the camera stays with it as it sinks out of sight. It’ll make comic fans everywhere go “NOOOOO!” That was funny.

Also, at one point Elwes and Logue argue at gunpoint over difficult comic book trivia, to prove which is the bigger comic book fan. That was funny, too.

Comic Book Villains has a happy ending. At the end of the movie, the old lady left the good kid the comics, and he cashed them in. Now he travels. As the movie ends, he’s in Spain with a spicy Spaniard girly. He says, “They have comics in Spain, too. But I don’t understand them.” He's saved!

Taken as a crime caper flick, it's interchangeable. Replace “comic books” with “heroin” and it’s the same movie. Two heroin dealers hear about a rare stash of heroin, the owner of the stash won’t sell, they kill her, but she leaves a kid the stash. . . . see? If only that had been the idea.

Saying “take everything in moderation” would have been boring, I suppose. The non-geeks who watch this will go “Yeah! Those people ARE freaks!” So it’s nice that they have movie documentation to back up their argument now.

We can put this in the annals of movies that demonized the hobby it's based on, like White Men Shouldn't Jump Because It's A Waste of Time and Field of Stupid Dreams.

The lesson this movie tells us is that we comic book fans have to grow the hell up, or we’ll go crazy and never get girls. Take that, us!

Humor editor Joe Crowe was also hoodwinked by the movie Napoleon Dynamite, which contained neither.

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