While there are many creatives who have gotten completely burned by the Hollywood system, comic book artist Rob Liefeld isn’t one of those people. Sure, the creator of the Marvel comics character Deadpool surely wasn’t happy with the character’s representation in 2010’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but the industry has repaid the debt from that disaster by creating the amazing Deadpool movie that came out earlier this year. In fact, Rob Liefeld loves director Tim Miller’s film so much that he puts it on a very special pedestal alongside both Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie and Jon Favreau’s Iron Man - in that he thinks that all three features enhance their titular hero in a way beyond what any of the comics were able to do before them.
This is obviously a pretty bold statement, but when I had the chance to talk with Rob Liefeld over the phone earlier this month, he made his argument very clear as to why he thinks both Superman: The Movie and Iron Man both managed to surpass their source material:
Superman: The MovieIn discussing his amazement at Richard Donner’s classic Supeman: The Movie, and how it managed to actually find ways to surpass the comics, Rob Liefeld started by acknowledging the incredible representation of the titular character’s home planet: Krypton. In his design of the alien world, Donner and his crew created incredible crystalline sets and a 1920s pulp vibe never before represented in DC publications, and it totally blew Liefeld’s mind when he first watched it:
Krypton never looked like that. In 1978, Superman had already been around 40 years. Krypton never looked like a crystalline structure, and he certainly didn’t rocket to Earth in a crystalline chandelier-type ship. Everyone in Krypton was portrayed to look like they came out of a Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon movie in the comic books and now they look like these regal, silver robes and Marlon Brando. That’s not a Jor-El you’d ever seen prior to 1978’s Superman.
It wasn’t just Superman’s father who impressed young Rob Liefeld – who told me about his experience as a 10-year-old seeing Superman: The Movie for the first time. He also completely fell in love with the big screen version of Lex Luthor – who was portrayed by Gene Hackman in a way that ran completely contrary to the bald-headed, non-literal-mustache-twirler who had been in comics for four decades to that point. Said Liefeld,
Gene Hackman’s portrayal of Luthor was completely opposite the Luther they sold you in comics, toys, and cartoons. Lex Luthor was in a skintight purple and green latex outfit, with a jetpack. He flew around as a kind of cliched villain, that was in actual hand to hand physical combat with Superman. He was a genius, but he used to make weapons to fire at Superman. Then in Superman: The Movie, Gene Hackman is this comedic terrorist who is going to steal a nuclear bomb, and then even with Superman’s powers… he turn back the axis of the Earth! I mean, I’m 10 years old sitting there in the theater watching the best version of Superman I have ever seen and I would assert that that Superman was so popular that it cast a shadow over every Superman since, since 1978.
This was the first time that Rob Liefeld felt a big screen superhero managed to outpace his comic book counterpart, but it wasn’t the last time…