My cable provider offered up Showtime free for six months as a way to say thank you for my loyalty. The gesture would have been better were Showtime airing any movies or shows worth a damn, but aside from Season 5 of Californication and Season 1 of House of Lies, pickins were slim. The extra array of channels did provide previously unheard of films, including this obscure project from 2002.
Raymond McGillicudy (Donal Logue), owns a quaint little comic book shop that’s held together by duct tape and prayers. He loves comics and knows everything about them unlike rival store owners, Norman (Michael Rapaport) and Judy (Natasha Lyonne) Link, who are in the collecting business strictly for the money. Conan (Danny Masterson), a shop regular, tells Raymond of a recently deceased local collector whose mother is sitting on a Golden-and-Silver-Age gold mine. Unfortunately, Conan’s also a regular at Norman’s whom he also tells. Raymond and the Links approach Mrs. Cresswell (Eileen Brennan), but she has no interest in selling. Even the kindly Archie (DJ Qualls), who’s Raymond’s buddy and the story’s narrator, can’t convince her to part with her son’s books. With few options left to them, Raymond and Norman and Judy start playing dirty.
As a fan of comics myself, when I discovered this little-known ode to the medium and that it featured the likes of Donal Logue, Cary Elwes, Michael Rapaport and DJ Qualls, I had to watch it. Am I glad I watched it? Yes, if for no other reason than now I never have to watch it again. I’m getting ahead of myself though; let me back up.
Written and directed by Eisner-Award-winning comic book writer James Robinson, Comic Book Villains begins pleasantly enough. Archie, provides the necessary backstory between Raymond, the Links and their customers before relating how the quest for the Creswell collection devolved into an egregious affair. As part of his narration, Archie speaks at length about how his own fascination with comics wanes in favor of experiencing life outside the sleepy little town.
It is that sentiment with which Archie strikes a chord with Mrs. Creswell. The two become fast friends with Mrs. Creswell encouraging Archie to take life by the horns and not remain holed up with funny books like her son. Their familiarity contrasts vividly with the hollow efforts of Raymond and the Links. These three repeatedly sabotage each other as they unsuccessfully vie to curry favor with Mrs. Creswell. From there, Comic Book Villains flies off the rails of whimsy and predictability, twisting into something weird and crazy.
The highlight of Comic Book Villains is Eileen Brennan whose comedic portrayal seems effortless. I usually enjoy the acting of Elwes, Logue, Qualls and Rapaport, and they do a bang up job given the film’s erratic shifts in tone. However, this is not Natasha Lyonne’s best work as she is often smiling from the corners of her mouth in otherwise serious scenes. I was pretty stoked to see stuntman Kane Hodder in one fleeting scene, even if he did have to get beat up.
Comic Book Villains is littered with continuity issues like Raymond’s cast, which switches from the right arm to the left. Like the Hulk, Comic Book Villains has promising, albeit mild-mannered, beginnings, but transforms into an unhinged beast of death and destruction. The distinction being, audiences can still feel sorry for the Hulk, but watching Comic Book Villains only makes you feel sorry for subjecting yourself to it.