The Defense Never Rests: The Best Comic Book Casting

by Jon Quixote

Welcome to The Defense Never Rests, where I speak the truth and you agree with me. Those of you who know me also know there are two things that I love: boozing and lists. So in honor of the preternatural and dangerous casting of recovering addict Robert Downey, Jr. as flamboyant addict Tony Stark, we’re going to be looking at the top 10 best-cast comic book roles. The list was generated via a scientific method based largely around what I think, and is therefore extremely relevant.

Let’s get started.

10 - Patrick Stewart, Professor X
We open with the easy one. In the 10 years or so prior to the release of X-Men, and especially in the 6 years following the death of Telly Savalas, if you asked any reasonably nerdy fellow who should play Professor X in a hypothetical X-Men movie, to a man they would have said Patrick Stewart (Wolverine casting, however, remained sharply divided into Robert De Niro and Mel Gibson factions). The bald, inactive, authoritative commander of the U.S.S. Enterprise was the obvious choice for the bald,inactive, authoritative commander of everybody's favorite gang of angsty mutants.

9 – Michael Keaton, Bruce Wayne/Batman
The emails from this pick will probably tell me how many people read this blog. I’d better remember to clean out my inbox. Affection has waned for the Burton Batman movies in the wake of the Nolan Era (and deservedly so), but, ironically, time has been kind to the choice that seemed to be the lone criticism amidst waves of hype 20 years ago. Keaton’s Wayne is a broken man-child, Batman is his mask, and the former-Beetlejuice delivers a nuanced performance that integrates the two personalities as the movie progresses. Batman has been subjected to a vast number of interpretations in comics and film, and while Keaton’s Batman is not my ideal Batman, it’s an interesting and intelligent take on the Dark Knight.

#8 – Brandon Lee, Eric Draven/The Crow
Would we look back so fondly upon Lee’s performance as the rock ’n' roll avenger from beyond the grave if he hadn’t given his life in the service of eerie symmetry? Would the affection endure if we were currently watching Lee star in direct-to-video calibre versions of The Crow vs. Predator? (Actually, that sounds pretty awesome). Lee was an action star whose few movies prior to The Crow were marked by acrobatic fight scenes, a modicum of charisma, and terrible, terrible acting. But the acting got better and the charisma got ratcheted up for Lee’s swan song, leaving us wondering what would have happened if he’d had the opportunity to capitalize on a well-deserved success.

#7 – Raul Julia, Gomez Addams
Another out-of-left field casting choice, and another attempt to turn my list into the march of the dead. Julia’s career playing Shakespeare, Suave Drug Lords, and Sodomites were apparently excellent practice for playing the creepy, kooky, and lusty Addams patriarch. He was so good that he not only defined Addams for a new generation, but he even superimposed himself over John Astin in the minds of many members of the previous one. Cara mia!

#6 – Jane Fonda, Barbarella
You know you’ve made an impression on a young fella when you make him want to touch himself while watching On Golden Pond. And you did just that, Ms. Fonda. It all goes back to this sexy space romp (or was it a spacey sex romp?) and one of the greatest bombshells of all time. Heck, recent revelations that director Roger Vadim had you playing sex games and participating in threesomes during your Barbarella period even resulted in me renting Monster-In-Law one sad, lonely night.

P.S. – If Rose McGowan winds up playing this role in the rumoured remake, I swear to Christ I will punch Robert Rodriguez in the ballsack.

#5 – Jim Carrey, Stanley Ipkiss/The Mask
Ah, 1994. Mr. Carrey started it as the “white guy” on In Living Color. He ended it as the biggest movie star in the world. Meanwhile, I was watching Barbarella on loop in my parents’ basement. Who really had the better year? But while Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber seemed to be the movies that really caught the public's eye, it was Carrey’s role as a repressed bank teller who winds up possessed by the spirit of Loki that showed he was more than just a rubber face, giving him a chance to flash some dramatic chops that would letter be given center stage in Oscar-worthy dramedies such as The Truman Show and…

… well, The Truman Show was awesome.

#4 – The Cast of Sin City
I was initially just going to put Marv up here (editor’s note – don’t talk about editing in your articles, Jon), but then I remembered how Jessica Alba gave me shortness of breath as Nancy, the hottest stripper to never take her clothes off. And that led me to remembering Bruce Willis’s gritty, Eastwoodian honest cop. And then there’s also Greasy Benecio Del Toro, and Clive Owen announcing himself as a true superstar, and creepy Elijah Wood and those freakin’ bug-eye glasses. And let’s not forget Carla Guigino’s Guiginos!! Oh the Guiginos!

Hmm… maybe I shouldn’t have written this article while my girlfriend was out of town for the week.

#3 – Kevin Conroy, Bruce Wayne/Batman
I stuck to movies for this article, freeing me from having to work the Bill Bixbys and Lynda Carters of the world into my list. Luckily, Mask of the Phantasm got a theatrical release, so I get to gush over Conroy. But in a world where we’ve seen a zillion different Batmans, this is pretty much the definitive one.

#2 – Hugh Jackman, Wolverine
It was going to be Dougray Scott, y’know. Dougray Scott. He was in Ever After. And he was too busy filming the overlong Mission: Impossible 2 to take this role. And so, the even lesser known Hugh Jackman was tapped to play a short, furry Canadian who, let’s be honest, was never gonna be short and furry in a movie. But Jackman made even the most cynical and whiny comic book fan forget that –charming and feral and cool, I think geekdom can say, with certainty and unanimity, that Jackman made an awesome Wolverine.

And now he’s a superstar, he’s getting tens of millions of dollars for an upcoming Wolverine solo-flick, he’s got a lucrative production deal with Fox, and he just filmed a sex thriller with Michelle Williams.

Dougray Scott? He was second-billed on the recent Hitman movie.

#1 Christopher Reeve, Clark Kent/Superman
I rewatched Superman just the other day and realized how irritable and impatient I was, waiting for Jeff East to get the hell out of there so that Reeve could take over. He’s been called a Curt Swan drawing come to life, and he made us believe a man could fly, but most importantly, Reeve just seemed to get Superman in a way that so few people really seem to do – the nobility, the responsibility, and the inherent sadness that drives the character. Reeve got a lot of deserved praise for his comic portrayal of Clark Kent, and I liked that there was no duality to the character in those scenes. There was just acting – Reeve playing a god playing a man. I recall reading an essay that commented on how Kent looked huge – a big clumsy man who barely fit into the world – while Superman actually looked smaller and sleeker than his alter ego. The observation is spot on, and just one of many nuances Reeve brought to the role. It’s a benchmark performance, and the complexity and emotion in Reeve’s Superman set the stage for every great to decent superhero performance to come.

And with that, we’re left with the question as to where Robert Downey, Jr.’s alcoholic playboy superhero will fit into the definitive list? Considering the fact that this dedicated Method actor has spent the last 20 years researching the role with unmitigated fervour, I have very high hopes. We’ll find out if they’re met on May 2nd, when we all flock to theatres near us to see Iron Man.


Brandon said...

I never really liked Keaton as Batman. He just didn't fit the role for me. He wasn't really macho. He seemed uncomfortable in the role, like he was always shifting his feet about something. It's probably just me; most people love him in this role. For my buck, though, I much prefer Christian Bale.

Dan said...

Very well done, Jon. It's hard to argue with anyone on your list. I think it's a ballsy decision to put a voice actor at #3, but that is the best sounding Batman to date.

Doug Smith said...

No love for Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman?

Or Ron Perlman's Hellboy?

Or Keanu Re......nevermind.

Jon Quixote said...

You won't ever see any love for anything BATMAN RETURNS from me. Ever.

But that's another article.

Matt said...

Great list. I always liked Michael Keaton as Batman. Your list missed Max Von Sydow as Ming the Merciless though.

Dan said...

Jon said, "You won't ever see any love for anything BATMAN RETURNS from me. Ever."

I knew there was a reason I liked you!

Doug Smith said...

Oh, don't get me wrong, I despised BATMAN RETURNS too...couldn't even finish watching it.

But I thought Pfeiffer was just about perfect in that role.

The General said...

She actually sort of bugged me. I know a lot of people really liked her in the part, but I just thought she was annoying more than anything else.

I definitely prefered DeVito playing the Penguin and Walkin playing Walkin to her.