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MIB A-OK: Savoring a comic many have missed

(This  Stripped column originally appeared in the July 3-9, 1997 Long Island Voice. Click on the artwork for a larger image.  Click for the review of the Men in Black movie.)

by Beth Hannan Rimmels

'NUFF SAID:

"And how do you look at things?"

— Agent Jay

"Through a gun sight."

— Agent Kay in The Men in Black #2 (original miniseries)

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a bit of a purist. I see no point in adapting something from another medium unless (A) you can do something interesting with it and (B) you’re basically faithful to the material. As such, a few people I’ve spoken to are surprised I liked both the movie version of Men in Black and the comic book on which it’s based.

As an aside, if you didn’t know it was a comic book first, don’t feel bad. It was produced during the black-and-white independent comic boom by Aircel, a subdivision of Malibu, a small, independent company that was eventually bought by Marvel. Today, MIB are the only Malibu characters that have survived, and that’s purely due to the movie deal, which was cut long ago. I had comic book stores on the East and West Coasts (love that Internet) searching for me since January when someone finally came through in the nick of time (thank you, Mike Banks at All About Comics).

Anyway, MIB the movie and the comic book are very different — yet they’re not. The movie is a comedy, albeit one played straight, which has become the hallmark of director and Long Island resident Barry Sonnenfeld. It also focuses purely on the alien connection and it’s much lighter in tone than the comic.

Lowell Cunningham, creator of MIB, expanded the Men in Black’s jurisdiction to include any sort of weird stuff. If you heard of something implausible or that sounded like a hoax, it was because the MIB set it up that way (or, as put in the comic, "The men in black are a myth. Disinformation to keep people guessing about UFOs, ETs and everything else. Ain’t a cushy job, but you gotta love the perks."). The comic book characters were much more ruthless and cold-blooded in their methods. Agent Jay in the comic book has been referred to as "the devil in sunglasses," unlike Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent J, who has a malfunctioning sense of humor.

But the comic book does have its funny moments. For instance, it explains that The Day the Earth Stood Still was a documentary, but we didn’t a get a full treaty with our intergalactic brethren until we kicked their butts in the video war. Remember "Space Invaders"? It was really a computer-simulated interstellar war. And you thought video games were a waste of time. The encounter with the bug aliens on the farm is also very different, though surprisingly, the movie is able to lift actual lines of dialogue from it.

Both versions work even though the tones are very different because for all intents and purposes they’re telling the same story. The movie version is just a few shades lighter than the comic. In both cases, the MIB can be ruthless and they have ultimate authority. Both Kay and K are relentless, determined agents you don’t want to be on the bad side of, but K is just totally devoted to duty whereas Kay gets off on the power trip. If anything, the differences between the movie and the comic book is akin to different people seeing the same accident: The same event is seen by all but no one will describe exactly the same thing as someone else.

Marvel was smart and not only revived Men in Black to coincide with the film but they brought back Lowell Cunningham to write it. His prequel, Men in Black: Far Cry, is very good and is in stores now. It really doesn’t matter if you read the prequel before or after the film. They both work independently yet add something to the other. If anything, MIB:FC serves as a bridge between the movie and the original comic by being darker than the former and lighter than the latter.

The Men in Black comic book adaptation of the movie is due in stores July 14 to be followed in August by Men in Black: Retribution. At this point, Marvel hasn’t announced whether they’ll commission more MIB miniseries or a regular series, but I hope they do, particularly in Cunningham has a part in it. His black humor and bent view of the world work perfectly. If you like it, too, tell Marvel via regular mail at Marvel Entertainment, 387 Park Ave, New York, NY 10016 or via e-mail at mailmarvel@aol.com.

 

 

Column 1997 Long Island Voice. Artwork for MIB: Far Cry and Men in Black movie adaptation 1997 Marvel Comics.