In The Printed Screen, I’ll be taking an irreverent look at comic book adaptations of notable films. We’re currently looking at the 1990 comic book adaptation of Sam Raimi’s Darkman. Read the first part of this article right here and the second part here.
When we last encountered Darkman, he was running for his life after stealing a whole lot of Robert Durant’s money. And his face!
And when we last encountered Liam Neeson, he was a beloved actor spending his twilight years making middling action pictures. Oops!
It’s too much to recap at this point, so here’s a photo of a Darkman-themed plushie that was once for sale on Etsy for a mere $30.
We kick things off with what might be the most memorable sequence of the entire Darkman film, and certainly my personal favorite. After returning from the dead, Peyton Westlake and Julie Hastings are trying to rebuild their shattered relationship. What better place to go for a date than the local carnival, with its rides, games and filthy carny-folk?
Let me paint the picture for you: Peyton is playing one of those games where you knock down a stack of bottles with a baseball. After a few frustrating attempts, he clobbers the tower and asks the carnival worker for a pink elephant for his troubles. The carny says Westlake had stepped over the line, so he doesn’t deserve the prize. They argue briefly before the good doc goes absolutely ape-shit, grabbing the man’s fingers and twisting them into a pretzel before hurling him through the air and shoving the stuffed animal into Julie’s hands.
Yeah, the guy has anger issues. Generally I wouldn’t do this, but it’s hard to appreciate the sequence with just a collection of still frames and animated .gifs, so here’s the entire thing. Appreciate how well Raimi’s camerawork captures Westlake’s broken psyche, and don’t forget to appreciate John Lisbon Wood’s performance as the weasley carnival worker. It’s great stuff.
Hold on a second! We’re supposed to be talking about a comic book here. Yeah, I know, but I’m sad to say that this entire section of the movie has been neutered in the comic book form.
First of all, John Lisbon Wood’s character looks like this:
I mean, I get it. In the script, the dirty old carny is simply referred to as “attendant,” and that could easily be interpreted as some sort of turn of the century “buy a magical elixir” confidence man. But much worse is that Peyton’s meltdown, portrayed so viscerally (and violently) in the film, is simplified into him just hurling the guy across the tent. He doesn’t even permanently damage his fingers!
And Westlake’s manic demand to Julie is missing a pretty crucial word.
It’s interesting that Raimi’s trademark visual style has consistently been more experimental than the comic book art on display in this book, and it’s never clearer than in these different approaches to adapting the screenplay.
Recognizing that he’s acting unhinged, and with his face starting to melt, Peyton runs for the hills, while Julie appears rightfully confused. She follows him back to his lab, and the following sequence in the comic diverges greatly from the film version.
In the film, she discovers his set-up and puts two and two together regarding Peyton’s secret; even discovering his recently discarded face. She begs him to show himself, promising she can help him, but he just hides and cries, never revealing himself.
In the comic, Julie similarly enters the lab where, in a nice touch, she finds the stuffed elephant on the floor, torn to bits. However, this time Peyton/Darkman comes out of the shadows, speaking directly to her and bemoaning what he has become. Unlike her solely sympathetic response in the movie, Julie acts pretty pissed off that Peyton thought it was only his face she cared about, even knocking over some equipment in the process. Darkman retreats back to the shadows, and a dejected Julie leaves the lab. Once again, the comic version is a closer reflection of the script.
Julie heads over to Louis Strack’s office and attempts to break off their relationship, and while he’s out of the room she discovers the Bellasarious Memorandum with the incriminating coffee stain on his desk. This is Stack’s big heel turn, and he plays it very low key. He basically admits to his men blowing up Peyton’s lab, and even forgoes threatening Julie since she’s powerless to do anything to stop him. Rich industrialist who surrounds himself with criminals and feels he’s above the law makes for some very relatable villainy.
On an unrelated note, did you know that Sam Raimi made two donations to George W. Bush in 2004?
Strack calls Durant into his office and tells him to finish off Westlake, and both the film and comic versions play out almost identically, outside of the comic book reveal that Durant and his men were also responsible for the death of Strack’s father. I’m starting to think this Louis Strack isn’t such a great guy after all!
Durant’s men follow Julie to the hideout where they immediately kidnap her and start to pepper Darkman with machine gun fire, sending him to the roof where Durant is stationed with a helicopter. In the comic, Durant takes a more hands-off approach, barking into a walkie talkie, while in the film, he’s full-on trying to murder Darkman with a grenade launcher.
Darkman is momentarily thrown off his game, and his response in the movie w(isn’t in the script or comic) is pretty priceless.
But then he remembers that he’s fucking DARKMAN, and that he needs to lean a little heavier on the face-swapping that made him who he is. He lures Smiley and Guzman into his lab, first separating the pair and freaking them out with weird noises and his piles of old faces, before launching himself at Guzman.
You might think that Guzman got pretty white-washed in the comic book, considering he’s one of the few identifiable people of color in the cast. Well, at least the color version is a little less lily-white. So, I guess that’s something.
Apparently Smiley didn’t hear this “AAARRGGGHH!,” so he’s still looking for both Darkman and Guzman, but instead runs into…himself?
Understandably confused, Smiley knocks the imposter to the ground before tearing off his face to reveal a grunting Peyton Westlake! Smiley opens fire on him, before it’s revealed that it was actually a taped up Guzman wearing two masks. That Darkman is a scamp!
Anyway, Darkman then appears again with Smiley’s face on and beats the holy hell out of him. Smiley eventually regains consciousness, only to find himself blown up by the same drinking bird/explosive set-up that created Darkman in the first place. Where did Darkman even find another drinking bird? I guess they were all over the place in 1990. Smiley almost stops the device, but it turns out prankmaster Darkman actually had an alternate hologram drinky-bird set-up as a diversion. BA-KWOOMMM!
Darkman heads up to the helicopter to take on Durant. The pair struggle, with Darkman nearly falling to his doom before catching a rope ladder that was hanging from the copter’s bottom.
Now, in the film, this rope ladder is replaced with a not-as-easy-to-hang-onto rope with a hook.
And the videogame adds an extra layer of difficulty by removing the hook entirely!
This entire sequence in the movie is pretty great, though it does feature some legendarily terrible blue-screen work. Durant does his best to blow up Darkman with his grenade launcher instead of just cutting the rope he’s hanging from, and probably murders dozens of people in the process.
Eventually, Darkman gets close enough to a transport truck to attach the hook/rope ladder/rope to it, which pulls the helicopter into an overpass and kills all the bad guys. Especially Durant, who couldn’t possibly survive such a horrific, violent accident.
In the movie, Darkman just yells at Durant to “burn in hell!” and laughs, but the comic Darkman likes to tread a little closer to spouting supervillain lines.
The movie (and script!) decides to keep the momentum going and goes right to the final scene, while the comic now takes a brief interlude for Darkman to learn Julie’s whereabouts from Durant’s henchman Skip. Weirdly, in the comic he uses the dialogue here that he used with Rick earlier in the film. It’s kind of a waste of time.
OK, let’s end this thing! Strack brings Julie to his construction site where he meets up with a bruised, but surprisingly alive Robert Durant. During the elevator ride to the top of the still-in-progress skyscraper, Strack also reveals that he was responsible for his own wife’s death in a plane accident in order to get control of the deeds she owned. What a jerk!
Of course, Durant is Darkman in disguise, which Strack tricks him into revealing by asking questions about his (non-existent) kids. Guess Darkman didn’t know how close Rick and Durant really were!
The two face off, balancing precariously on girders, with Strack even reinforcing his bad-guy status by giving Darkman the option of joining up with him. Instead, Darkman hurls himself at Strack, and they both fall down a few floors. They fight for a bit, with Strack calling Darkman some really nasty names.
Eventually, Strack gets his hands on a rivet gun and gives Darkman some industrial-strength stigmata, attaching him to a pillar. In the movie, Strack threatens him with the gun first, while in the comic…
That’s gonna leave a mark! Strack briefly has the upper hand, but he makes the rookie mistake of referring to Darkman as a “freak,” and you know what that means. Yep! He goes absolutely bonzo gonzo once again, clobbering Strack and throwing him off the girder, only to be impaled on some (conveniently dangerous) rebar below.
In the film, this is interrupted with Julie nearly falling to her death before being rescued by Darkman, who then finishes off a smirking Strack who bets that Darkman is unable to kill him. He loses that bet! However, Strack is simply dropped to his death and not impaled, which might be the only time where the comic is more gruesome than the film.
Julie once again professes her love to Peyton, but in his attempts to gain revenge on those who scarred him, Peyton recognizes that he’s been permanently changed. As he quite plainly says: “Peyton is dead.” And in the film, he then he puts on a Bruce Campbell mask and vanishes into a crowd, as one does.
It’s very bittersweet. In his violent retribution, Peyton lost the man he was, and no longer feels he deserves Julie’s (or anyone else’s) love.
The comic ends like this.
Apparently, Darkman has moved on to a new mission: terrifying homeless people with his maniacal laughter. Believe it or not, this is the actual ending in the script as well.
It’s really interesting to be able to walk through the adaptation of a script into two separate mediums, with two separate creative teams, and seeing how each interpret the material. Raimi’s wild visual style at the time would often be compared to cartoons and comic books, and he empties his bag of tricks trying to make the most of his first substantial budget. The comic, particularly in B&W form, is more moody and pulpy, but also leans heavier into the wild horror elements. While the film version of Darkman can be both scary and tender, in the comic he is almost purely a terrifying presence.
Which is better? Who is to say?
Well, I will. The movie is much, much better. But it’s still fun to see a slightly different take on the same material.
Darkman would return in comic form. First in a six-issue miniseries for Marvel in 1993, written by the legendary Kurt Busiek and drawn by Javier Saltares.
And then once more in 2006’s four issue Darkman Vs. Army of Darkness series. This time Busiek co-wrote with Roger Stern, with James Fry on art.
I have read neither, but from the talent involved alone I would have to guess they are worth your time.
As a property, Darkman has been lying dormant for a few years now, but modern audiences love a good (or bad) comeback story, so don’t expect him to lurk in the shadows forever. Sam Raimi has spoken in interviews about wanting to bring back Darkman, perhaps as a producer, and it seems due for rumors of a reboot any day now.
Will a rebooted version of Darkman also get a Marvel comic adaptation? Only time will tell. But probably no.