Wanted: Graphic novel vs. movie

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I want to clarify a little something I wrote in my review of the new Angelina Jolie shoot-em-up, Wanted, which is based on a graphic novel series by Mark Millar, J.G. Jones and Paul Mounts. I remarked that the film's hyper-stylish portrayal of magical hitmen "proves that graphic novels don't have to be about superheroes to provide material for silly movies."

I read the Wanted graphic novel over the weekend, after I'd seen and reviewed the film, and must acknowledge that my last line, though technically correct, deserves elaboration. While the Wanted film depicts a thousand year-old group of assassins called The Fraternity, the graphic novel is about comic book-style supervillains, not hitmen (or superheroes).

The trajectory of the story is much the same: a put-upon, cuckolded office drudge named Wesley Gibson discovers that his long-lost, recently murdered father had a superhuman talent at killing people. His father's old colleagues, including the alluring Fox, forcibly recruit the hapless yuppie and teach him that he has much the same abilities, which include the ability to shoot the wings off flies in fast succession. Wesley discovers the joys of a "macho" lifestyle, which includes plenty of sex and violence.

The graphic novel, however, envisions a world ruled in the shadows by supervillains, who have killed off or lobotomized all superheroes. The book offers raunchy parody versions of DC Comics bad guys like Mr. Mxyzptlk, Bizarro and the Parasite. "Clayface," a shape-shifting villain of Batman, is reimagined as "Shithead: The collected feces of the 666 most evil beings ever to walk the Earth!" Wesley becomes a sociopathic murderer with fleeting pangs of conscience. He's unmistakably an antihero meant to subvert comic book conventions.

Ironically, the most "comic booky" details in the Wanted movie are not in the original comic book, like the way the Fraternity receives their assignments from the Almighty via "The Loom of Fate." The film fatally overlooks the book's sense of irony, taking Wesley's high-testosterone lifestyle at face value and fudging the notion of whether it's cool to be a mass murderer. The graphic novel's satiric intentions are hard to miss, but the film somehow does exactly that, while leaving the middle-finger attitude intact.

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