As strange as it may seem to those on the elder edge of Generation X, some people have no idea that The X-Men began as a Marvel comic book in the ’60s. Their only reference point is the ’90s Fox animated series. The new live-action X-Men movie, opening Friday, July 14, is only the latest in a long series of increasingly edgier revamps that began in the late ’70s.
Yes, I was once a comic-book geek. I’m better now, thanks.
The X-Men isn’t the only beloved comic-turned-movie that the comic book geeks (CBGs, henceforth) have to contend with this weekend. Heavy Metal 2000, the long-delayed sequel to 1981’s animated midnight-movie/bong-’n’-video-party classic Heavy Metal, finally premieres the very same evening—but only on pay-TV (Starz, midnight, with subsequent plays throughout July). Stock the Jolt Cola, it’s gonna be a long night.
Conceptually lifted from European adult sci-fi/fantasy comic magazine Metal Hurlant (“Screaming Metal”), an Americanized version called Heavy Metal hit stateside newsstands in April 1977. Monthly, HM featured the immaculately detailed graphics (but not necessarily lucid storytelling) of European and American artists whose visions usually centered on the same topics: sex, violence, evil, more sex, additional violence and absolute evil—with extra violent, evil sex on the side. If you were a young male who couldn’t get his hands on a Penthouse, Heavy Metal did the trick. Yes, the artwork was amazing and inspired many a future illustrator, but big-breasted naked women wielding swords and riding winged horses paid the bills.
At the time, Heavy Metal was published by National Lampoon, which had just gotten a foot in Hollywood’s door with the hit Animal House. The Lampoon folks convinced the film studio to produce a Heavy Metal movie, an anthology of animated stories from the pages of the magazine, strung together by a to-be-determined-later theme. This being the late ’70s, everyone was stoned and the film got the green light.
The $7.5 million Heavy Metal movie opened in 1981, with the last-minute “theme” of a green outer-space orb representing “all that is evil in the universe” (current title-holder: Al Gore) barely tying together eight stories. Thanks to a now-legendary soundtrack and an abundance of nekkid cartoon boobies, Heavy Metal raked in $20 million from the CBGs by the end of its domestic run.
Also thanks to that soundtrack, the movie wasn’t released on video until 1996. It took new Heavy Metal magazine owner Kevin Eastman (co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as CBGs know) years to obtain all the music rights and remaster the video. When tape sales spiked out of the box, a Heavy Metal sequel became a no-brainer.
That finally brings us back to that no-brainer sequel, Heavy Metal 2000. Originally titled Heavy Metal: FAKK2 (“Federation Assigned Ketogenic Killzone, Second Level”—don’t worry, there won’t be a test), the movie’s post-Starz run will be limited to late-night art-house and college screenings. Scan those chat rooms for dates, CBGs.
This time, instead of multiple plot lines, there’s only one: Busty warrior babe Julie (voiced by Penthouse Pet and cult icon Julie Strain, who is also Mrs. Eastman) seeks revenge on an evil space pirate who blew up her utopian planet (“Eden,” of course) and snatched her little sister. After chasing Lord Tyler (what kind of evil space pirate name is that?) across the galaxy, Julie is helped out by Dungeons & Dragons reject Odin (Billy Idol!) and Zeek, a talking pile of rocks. Why? Because Julie is “the chosen one” who must stop Tyler from achieving immortality and ruling the universe, by kung-fu kicking his evil ass to death while wearing the skimpiest battle outfit possible (a Heavy Metal tradition).
Strain voices her animated alter-ego with ease, because writer Eastman modeled Julie after her, right down to the last measurement—a 6-foot-1 martial artist, Strain really is a cartoon superheroine in the flesh. (She’s also portrayed a live-action version of cartoon sex symbol Vampirella, another longtime CBG obsession.) Only guessing here, but buff Strain probably bullied her pasty CBG hubby into writing hers as the only female character in HM2K who isn’t tortured, bound, raped or generally treated like space junk. Twenty-three years later, misogyny is still Job One at Heavy Metal.
On a theatrical screen, Heavy Metal 2000 would be impressive—like an R-rated, tighter-budgeted Titan AE with a few classic Heavy Metal strokes. On a TV screen, it just looks like a really cool video game (surprise: a FAKK2 game is set for release this month). Should you pony up the $6.99 for a Starz/Encore package just to see it? I’m only going to say this: True CBGs are adept at pirating cable.