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Hero Nation: John Carpenter, JJ Abrams Join Hollywood’s Push Into Comics

Geoff Boucher

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John Carpenter is taking his Hollywood horror sensibilities to Gotham City, with DC Comics’ recent announcement that the director of The Thing, Halloween, and The Fog is co-writing a special 40-page Joker comic book.

Carpenter isn’t the only Hollywood notable dabbling in the comic book world — far from it, in fact, he’s actually part of a crush of celebrity tourists who are putting their names on comics. The allure for some is  the IP creation opportunities, while others hope to tap into the evolving medium’s new indie-spirited cachet. For some it’s a purer pursuit, a low-cost way to produce a pet project or a nostalgic lark that reconnects them with comics traditions and characters they loved in their own youth.

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With Hollywood poised to make its annual southbound pilgrimage to San Diego’s Comic-Con International this week, here’s a look at two dozen notable show-biz names who have turned to comic books as a career sidekick to their day jobs that made lead to heroic upsides.

John Carpenter: The horror legend made his first foray into comics with a Big Trouble in Little China sequel story for Boom! Studios that he co-wrote with Anthony Burch. Burch, whose credits include the Borderlands 2 video game, will also co-write The Joker: Year of the Villain #1, which hits stores October 2.

JJ Abrams: The filmmaker who has added new chapters to the Star Trek and Mission: Impossible legacy is taking on a third signature creation of the 1960s: Marvel’s Spider-Man. Abrams and his 20-year-old son, Henry Abrams, will introduce a character named Cadaverous in their five-issue monthly mini-series beginning in September.

Nicholas Cage: The Oscar-winning actor is an avid comic book fan and in 2008 he published one of his own: Voodoo Child, a limited series set in post-Katrina Louisiana and co-written by the actor’s son, Weston Coppola Cage. The supernatural tale sounds like a Jimi Hendrix song but tells a supernatural tale that tracks back to a plantation slaying in 1860.

Richard Donner: The director of Superman (1978) returned to Metropolis last year by co-writing the 1000th issue of Action Comics, which marked the 80th anniversary of the Man of Steel’s first appearance. Adding to the sentimental aura: Donner’s collaborator was Geoff Johns, the DC superstar and TV producer who once worked as the filmmaker’s assistant.

Steve Aoki: The esteemed DJ and music producer is a fan of sci-fi but there’s a rebuttal spirit at work within his comic book series Neon Future (the inaugural title from new publisher Impact Theory). Instead of the standard dystopian vision of the future, Aoki’s sci-fi tale is built around the core belief that humanity’s best future will come with a deeper merger between humans and technology. The central character (who bears a striking resemblance to the bearded musician) is named Kita Sovee — an anagram for Aoki’s name.

Samuel L. Jackson: The actor who has portrayed Nick Fury in 11 feature films is a longtime fan of comic books. In 2010, Jackson and collaborator Eric Calderon were looking for a follow-up to their Emmy-nominated animated adventure Afro-Samurai and they found it with Boom! Comics and Cold Space, an sci-fi Western about an interplanetary outlaw modeled on Jackson’s likeness.

Lena Dunham: The star and creator of the HBO series Girls grew up adoring Archie Comics so she was giddy in 2014 to announce on Jimmy Kimmel Live that she would be writing a four-issue “feminist update” that centered on a reality show arriving at Riverdale High. The project was nixed, however, apparently by the same editorial-strategy revamp that led to the frothy Fox hit Riverdale.

Guy Ritchie: The Sherlock Holmes director was so smitten by the film version of Frank Miller’ Sin City that he wanted to experiment himself in the noir epic’s native medium. He got his chance in 2007 when Richard Branson’s Virgin Comics published the international revenge thriller Guy Ritchie’s Gamekeeper.

William Shatner: The Star Trek icon was putting his name on comic books long before anyone in Hollywood considered it a trendy career move. In 1992, DC Comics published William Shatner’s TekWar, an adaptation of the prose sci-fi novel, and three years later Marvel matched with a comics version of his Starfleet novel, Star Trek: The Ashes of Eden. Shatner’s name would become a persistent presence in comics over the next three decades but often primarily as a branding presence.

Wesley Snipes & Antoine Fuqua: Snipes was the star of the Blade franchise (one of the first successful Marvel adaptations) and Fuqua is best known as the director of Training Day. The pair teamed for a 2010 graphic novella called After Dark, a near-future sci-fi tale about an Earth plunged into unending darkness.

Sam Worthington: The Avatar actor and two buddies from back home launched the Full Clip imprint for Radical Comics in 2010. Their series Damaged was well-reviewed and a film adaptation was in development with Worthington set to produce and star. Radical shut down a few years later, however, reducing Full Clip to an empty-chamber status.

John Woo: The Hong Kong action-film auteur described comic books as “the ultimate storyboard” when he took on Seven Brothers, a modern-day epic rooted in Chinese folklore. But comics star Garth Ennis (Preacher) scripted the six-issue Virgin Comics series and conceded that Woo’s input was limited: “I got a two-paragraph outline of the original Chinese legend and the broad strokes of the characters, and after that it was up to me.”

Patton Oswalt: The actor and comedian showed serious chops when he began moonlighting in the comics world. Oswalt’s 2003 debut writing DC Comics’ Justice League: Welcome to the Working Week, in which he introduced offbeat characters like Murder Parade, Glimpse and Wishgun. Oswalt’s subsequent credits in comics include The Goon: Noir, Serenity: Float Out and Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror.

Joss Whedon: Has any Hollywood import navigated the comics world as deftly as Whedon? The lifelong comics fan came back to the medium as a writer when Dark Horse Comics (and, later, IDW Publishing) gave Whedon a publishing platform to expand and extend the mythology of his Fox shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Whedon wowed Marvel readers, too, with his terrific Astonishing X-Men run, which spanned 24 issues over four years (2004-2008).

Michael Chiklis: The star of FX’s The Shield grew up loving Marvel Comics and, after co-starring in two Fantastic Four films for Fox, was eager to get a foothold in comics (especially if it might yield a movie adaptation with him as the lead). The result: IDW Publishing’s Pantheon, which pits the Greek gods (including Zeus, clearly modeled on Chiklis) against the Titans in modern day Miami as the apocalypse looms. No film materialized.

Tom Morello: The incendiary music of Rage Against the Machine is political by nature and, on a different level, so is the futuristic fantasy epic Orchid, the Dark Horse Comics series written by the Rage guitarist. Climate change has widened the gap (both figuratively and literally) between the lower class and the higher ground in the musician’s dystopian tale about a sex worker who becomes an agent of change (or, as Morello describes her, the “Spartacus of whores”).

Kevin Smith: The Clerks director had been immersed in comics culture since his youth but he became a creator (and a tight-lipped character) in 1998 when Oni Press started publishing the stoner adventures of Jay and Silent Bob (the tandem who will be returning soon). Smith went on to write high-profile stories for venerable DC and Marvel properties, among them Green Arrow, Batman, Daredevil, and Spider-Man.

Gerard Way:  It may be a stretch to call the lead singer of My Chemical Romance a show-biz tourist in comics (he worked in the New York offices of DC Comics before launching his music career), but Way now ranks as an absolute rock star with his comics writing. Way won an Eisner Award for his Dark Horse Comics series The Umbrella Academy, the eccentric epic that’s now a popular Netflix series.

Dave Stewart: The songwriter, record producer and male half of the Eurythmics had a off-kilter aspiration in mind when Virgin Comics published his quirky 2008 graphic novel: a Broadway show. Film, TV, and video games are the usual ambitions for comics properties but Stewart (who has written a Barbarella musical and co-wrote Ghost: The Musical) was eager to see Zombie Broadway come to life as a meta-minded stage comedy, but he’s still waiting for someone to bite.

Joseph Kosinski: In 2011, Radical Comics announced plans to publish Oblivion, the Tron: Legacy director’s first graphic novel. Instead the project’s title proved to be a prophetic one. Kosinski didn’t take it too hard. He directed the 2013 namesake film from Universal Pictures that was “based on a graphic novel” in the credits even though the source material remains unfinished and unpublished.

Rob Zombie: The rock star, filmmaker, voice actor, theme-park ride designer, and comic book impresario must be history’s first Renaissance man named Zombie, right? Robert Cummings (his real name) launched a flurry of horror-themed comics (with publishers like CrossGen and Image Comics) beginning in 2003 (including El Superbeasto, Zombie Hooker and The Nail) and follows in the horror/metal branding footsteps of Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne.

Damon Lindleof: The executive producer of HBO’s upcoming Watchmen series had a bumpy time during his first dip into comics. In 2005, Marvel announced that Lindleof would write a six-issue, bimonthly series called Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk, but that plan turned into a pratfall the following year when the Lost co-creator (citing his Hollywood workload) missed multiple deadlines. Marvel pulled the plug after the third issue’s release date was revised almost a dozen times but a reprieve arrived at Comic-Con in 2008 when a contrite Lindleof handed the finished script to Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada onstage as fans whooped. The series finally concluded in 2009, a mere three years late.

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