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When classic films and DC icons collide – Superman’s Metropolis, Batman: Nosferatu & Wonder Woman: The Blue Amazon

November 3, 2010


Elseworlds books can either be a lot of fun or they can fall like the proverbial lead ballon. It all depends on the viability of the conceits that are being trotted out. Sometimes they’re clever, sometimes they’re not.

These? I’ll put them on the “clever” side of the ledger, even if two of them are a bit obvious in their associations.

Metropolis, Nosferatu and The Blue Amazon are three sequential chapters of a unified story. All are written by Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficier and illustrated by Ted McKeever, with Roy Thomas participating in the scripting for Metropolis. I can’t say that I’m in love with the artwork — it’s a bit too abstract for my liking, but the meshing of comics with German Expressionist cinema is nothing if not intriguing.

Most everyone know’s about Fritz Lang’s Metropolis — it seems like it’s rejuvenated every few years when more frames of once-lost footage are found in old vaults and spliced back into the picture. I recognize its visionary brilliance as a classic in the realm of science fiction, but it has the dubious distinction of being the only film I’ve ever purposefully watched that’s put me to sleep. If you have a couple of hours to kill, or have insomnia, here’s the whole thing (though not the most recently restored version):

Nosferatu is still one of the finest vampire films ever forged, and Max Schreck’s portrayal of Count Orloff was so frighteningly convincing it actually spawned an urban legend that HE WAS AN ACTUAL VAMPIRE. Now that, my friends, is a tour de force performance. It’s a little late for some Halloween scares, but here it is if you want to generate a nightmare or two:

The source material for Blue Amazon is a bit more obscure, and required a minute or two of research for me to realize what it was. The primary inspiration is The Blue Angel, a 1930 film that brought Marlene Dietrich to the global film consciousness. It’s a tale of repression and the destructive power of lust, and while it lacks the supernatural qualities of Metropolis and Nosferatu, it more than makes up for it with its harrowing portrayal of a man’s tragic descent, one spurred by the charms of a beautiful nightclub dancer. If you’re in the market for a stern warning about “thinking with the wrong head,” I recommend checking it out:

The three books build on the broad themes of the movies and on one another, with some predictable twists and some some surprising turns as DC characters weave in and out of the stories. The Super-Man is the champion of his city. Nosferatu is the protector of the poor souls that live in the city’s shadows and the tortured residents of an asylum called, you guessed it, Arkham. Diana is an amnesiac exotic dancer, with all of the subliminal (and not so subliminal) fetishistic Amazon qualities of the Wonder Woman character brought to the fore. Their underlying friendships and rivalries are all there, but now seen through this unique Expressionist prism. Kind of cool.

The plots don’t cling as closely to the films as you might expect, but they move nicely. They’re different from your normal comics fare, and I mean that in a good way. As I said above, the art is challenging and is what will give most people fits. Some may like it, some will loathe it, but perhaps it simply goes with the material.

On the whole, this is a laudably ambitious project, and “ambitious” isn’t a tag you can stick on most comics.

Apparently there was a fourth v0lume of this “imaginary” saga that was never completed. It would have been called The Green Light and would have introduced more DC characters into this bizarre little pocket universe (and I bet you can guess the identity of at least one of those characters). I would have liked to have read that one. I suppose that’s as good an endorsement as these three could get.

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