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Friday, February 06, 2009

An Interview With Tom McLean

Tom McLean is an X-Men fan. No, I mean a BIG X-Men fan. His new book, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy From Comics To Screen, covers a lot of ground where Marvel's merry mutants are concerned, and it's terrain that could only be traversed by someone intimately familiar with the source material. I'm happy he had some time for an interview, and hope fellow fans enjoy it.


: When did you first discover the X-Men, and, for you, what made them stand out from other comic book characters?

Tom: I discovered them in the mid-1980s. I had given up reading comics for several years and came back them just in time to discover the X-Men in the Chris Claremont-Arthur Adams story set in Asgard, from The New Mutants Special Edition #1 and X-Men Annual #9. That great story lead into another in The Uncanny X-Men #200 and a few months later came the great Barry Windsor-Smith story in The Uncanny X-Men #205. I was hooked, and began frantically buying all the back issues I could find (and afford) to learn more about the X-Men. It was the intensity of the X-Men that really made it stand out. The underlying theme of mutant persecution gave the book a dark edge and a link to reality that nothing else could match. Plus, the characters had a depth to them, making it an irresistible read and a great bargain at the prices comics went for in those days.

Mark: There’s a lot in this book - a history of the characters, how they were adapted for the movies, scene-by-scene examinations of all three films, as well as a look back on animated adaptions of the past, and more. How long had this idea been floating around in your mind, and how long did it take to see print, once begun?

Tom: The idea came from my first meeting with Julian Darius and Mike Phillips of Sequart at the first New York Comic-Con in 2006. Julian had written a book analyzing Batman Begins. I thought it was a great idea and asked him if they planned to do similar books for other movies, like Superman Returns and the X-Men trilogy. He said they'd love to do both those projects, but — especially with X-Men — they needed someone with the expertise to write it. I jumped at the chance, explained my qualifications and the basic agreement to do a book was worked out on the spot. The writing was mostly done in the summer of 2006, with a couple of passes for revisions since then to both fine tune the book and update it a bit.

Mark: Did you know from square one what you wanted in the book, or was this one of those projects that just took on a life of it’s own?

Tom: I worked from an outline that came together pretty easily right at the start and followed it through to the end. Like all worthwhile projects, it did take on a life of its own as repeated viewings of the films and re-readings of the comics made it more and more apparent that this was a book worth writing.

Mark: This seems like more than just a reference. Was there something specific you were trying to accomplish with this book, and do you feel you were successful?

Tom: If there's a lesson or point to this book, it's that it pays for filmmakers to be faithful to the material they're adapting. The X-Men films really were a turning point in comic book movies for proving that you could take a complicated and even convoluted property like this and turn it into an entertaining movie without having to make radical changes in the characters or situations. I hope that comes through pretty clearly — I'm sure the readers will tell me how well I succeeded.

Mark: As a Hollywood insider, what can you tell fans about the level of interest that remains in “Tinsel Town” for this property, and other comic book properties? Has it peaked, yet? Is it beginning to wane? What’s the current “temperature” of comic book movies?

Tom: Comic books have become fully integrated into the Hollywood machinery, and will remain so as long as they continue to spawn successful movies. Given the success last year of The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Wanted and Hellboy II; the high anticipation for Watchmen and Wolverine this year; and Marvel's build-up to the Avengers in 2011, I think it's safe to say there's no sign of interest having peaked.

Mark: Is there anything that you feel the production companies improved upon where the properties are concerned, or did they hold any ideas back that should have been utilized?

Tom: In a general sense, I think the movies made the X-Men accessible to a new audience in a way the comics often have not. They also had good taste when it came to selecting what stories, characters and elements to adapt — and which to exclude. An example of the latter is a plot in the first X-Men film involving Wolverine searching for a woman who was to be Silver Fox that I think was better left out of the film. It's hard to say which elements they should have used, though I will say that the truncated adaptation of the Dark Phoenix saga in The Last Stand would only have benefited from being more faithful to the comic and being the focus of its own film.

Mark: As a fan yourself, what X-Men storylines or concepts would you like to see explored on the big screen?

Tom: There's so many! To pick three, I'll go with the Hellfire Club, the Savage Land and the Sentinels. That'd make one heck of a good trilogy.

Mark: As the first Wolverine movie is about to be released, with the possibility of a trilogy, are you considering a similar book, focusing on everyone’s favorite Canuck?

Tom: There are no specific plans to do a similar treatment for Wolverine. However, the idea has come up in conversations with Sequart that Mutant Cinema could be updated at some point to include Wolverine and any other future X-Men films. I think it will depend on how well the book does, so I hope the response is strong because I would love to tackle an update.

This Week's Suspended Animation - Two Archie Comics Reviews

Betty & Veronica #234/23 pgs. & $2.25/Jeff Shultz, artist; George Gladir and Kathleen Webb, writers/sold in lots of places and at

Well, the girls are at it again. In this issue, Betty and Veronica bicker about boys and fashion, make up, and resume bickering about boys and fashion. Their’s has to be the longest running love/hate relationship in comic books. But it’s all done in well-drawn and well-written light-hearted fun, and these two girls are destined to remain friends long after the Human Torch and The Thing hug each other, Lois Lane and Superman tie the knot (for real and for ever), and Blondie divorces Dagwood and runs away with his boss.

The yin and yang of Betty & Veronica is recommended for young girls.

Michael Vance

Jughead #186/23 pgs. & $2.25 from Archie Comics/pencils: Rex Lindsey, words: Craig Boldman/ sold in the same places as Betty & Veronica.

I never imagined that the last comic book I’d ever review would be Jughead, but it somehow seems appropriate. After all, old Juggie never grew up, and neither have I.

Jug is a lazy, hungry, directionless, geeky little kid in a teenaged body. In this issue, only pizza can get that body out of bed during a snow-day break from school, he goes to the beach during the winter to get away from crowds, and loses out on a prize because of his aversion to cold.

Jug is also incurably likable. This juxtaposition of poor human qualities with human virtue is what makes all of the Archie cast believable because there is something of Jug in each of us. As is true with all of the Archie titles, stories are simple and whimsical, and dialog is believable. Each story is well-drawn, visually easy to follow, and focused on simple, clean lines and backgrounds.

Michael Vance

Check out Dark Corridor #1 for two Michael Vance short stories at