Friday, June 16, 2006


The other day, my daughter KM and I ventured to our local multiplex and took in the latest installment of the X-Men film series, X-Men: The Last Stand.

Surprise: I didn't hate it.

I had almost expected to find the movie vile beyond tolerance, given that it was directed by Brett Ratner, a filmmaker who had previously not made a single film I enjoyed, and who had in fact made a couple (Rush Hour, one of the worst action comedies of all time, and Red Dragon, a pointless and ugly remake of a pretty decent picture called Manhunter) that I positively loathed.

X-M:TLS, on the other hand, was entertaining, in its own helter-skelter way. It suffers from bombastic overload — Ratner has either never heard the phrase "Less Is More," or, having heard it, immediately forgot — and a veritable tsunami of characters all clamoring for screen time. Consequently, the film is far busier and noisier than it needs to be, which leads to a lack of opportunity for the audience to connect with the personnel. The end result is a movie with all the emotional depth of a potato chip. When you can kill off three major characters and not generate a damp eye or tugged heartstring anywhere in the house, you've gone horribly awry. And yet, the whole enterprise is so much fun — phone-directory cast and all — that I enjoyed myself anyway.

I can understand why some latter-day fans of the X-Men comics would be put off by what Ratner and his screenwriters, Simon Kinberg (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) and Zak Penn (Elektra), did to a couple of their beloved heroes. Speaking as a guy who read his first X-Men story three years before Brett Ratner was born, I had a blast. I'll look forward to the DVD.

But it's Friday, isn't it? Silly me.

Let's look at some comic art, shall we?

One of the characters more prominently featured in X-M:TLS is my favorite of the latter-day X-Men: Kitty Pryde, known variously over her career by the code names Ariel, Sprite, and Shadowcat, but more often simply by her own name. Artist Christopher Rich-McKelvey gives Kitty a sultry touch in the pencil artwork above.

Kitty appeared briefly in the first two X-films — in X-Men, she had a couple of brief onscreen appearances (played by actress Sumela Kay) but no dialogue; in X2, she was the person (now played by Katie Stuart) to whom Professor Xavier referred when he told the President of the United States, "I know a little girl who can walk through walls." In the latest installment, Kitty — this time portrayed by Ellen Page (Hard Candy) — Kitty not only gets to show off her powers, but plays a pivotal role in the plot.

I've always liked Kitty for the same reason I like Mary Marvel and Supergirl. So many superhero characters are hardened, violent young adult men that those who possess distinctly different qualities — such as femininity and innocence — become all the more compelling by contrast. Even though the (mostly) adult males writing her adventures haven't always known exactly how to portray her, Kitty has managed to maintain a fair amount of the girlish charm with which she was first introduced. I thought young Ms. Page did a nice job bringing Kitty to life, and if there's a fourth X-Men film, I hope we get the third Kitty back again.

Prominent again in the third X-film, as she was in the previous two, is Jean Grey, the telekinetic member of Xavier's happy band. Younger fans who only know Jean from the films and the more recent comics may be surprised to learn that she originally battled evil using the code name Marvel Girl, and that she started out as probably the weakest, least interesting X-Man. (Blame those adult male writers again.) Over the years, however, Jean grew and developed — both in personality and in power — until she became the most awe-inspiring member of the team.

In the picture above, artist Geof Isherwood clothes Jean in one of the costumes she wore back in the day when she still called herself Marvel Girl. Joining her is another "Marvel Girl," Mary Marvel.

No Comic Art Friday featuring X-Women would be complete without a shot of Storm, who plays a stronger, more central role in the third film. (This thanks to the producers wisely bending to the will of Academy Award-winner Halle Berry — what Halle wants, Halle gets, and what Halle wants is more face time). Here's a Comic Art Friday classic by the legendary Ernie Chan: Storm meets Thor wannabe Beta Ray Bill.

If you haven't yet seen X-Men: The Last Stand, by all means treat yourself to a ticket. If you don't expect Tennessee Williams, you'll have a terrific time.

Oh, and be sure you don't bolt from the theater until after the credits roll. There's a little surprise (a "credit cookie," as it's known in cinema lingo) at the tail end of the last reel that you won't want to miss.

And that's your Comic Art — and Comic Movie — Friday.


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