The Marvel Studios juggernaut is taking a bit of a risk with Friday's release of "Guardians of the Galaxy," an astronomically budgeted adaptation of a comic book most of us had never heard of before we saw those trailers with a newly buff Chris Pratt, a green-skinned Zoe Saldana and a talking, gun-toting raccoon.
"Guardians" has the benefit of being the latest installment in an ambitious series of films that began in 2008 with an unstable, out-of-favor star playing a B-list superhero. Of course, six years later, Robert Downey Jr. is the biggest movie star on the planet and Iron Man is, amazingly, a bigger draw than Superman or Spider-Man.
Not all offbeat, lesser-known comics and graphic novels make for well-done or successful movies. Most of us would like to forget duds like "Cowboys & Aliens," "Jonah Hex" or "Barb Wire," though NBC is giving the Keanu Reeves disappointment "Constantine" another shot as a TV series this fall with Matt Ryan in the titular role.
Sometimes risks pay off, and sometimes you get "Howard the Duck." Here are some risky comic-book flicks worth a look:
"American Splendor" -- This serio-comic adaptation of Ohio oddball Harvey Pekar's examination of everyday life boasts strong performances by Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis as Pekar and his wife, and proves that great comic-book movies don't need flowing capes and alien menaces. Pekar himself also appears in the film, a unique blend of dramatization and documentary from directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (HBO's "Cinema Verite") that gives us a rich character sketch without ink and paint. (Available digitally from iTunes, and on disc from Amazon and Netflix)
"Road to Perdition" -- Filmed in and around Aurora, Geneva, West Dundee and Barrington Hills, "Road to Perdition" is director Sam Mendes' ("Skyfall") 2002 adaptation of a Max Allan Collins graphic novel about a hitman for the Irish mob (Tom Hanks) who takes a dangerous business trip with an unexpected companion -- his young son (Tyler Hoechlin, who can now be seen on MTV's "Teen Wolf"). Playing against type, Hanks is wonderful in a film that also boasts the talents of Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci and Jennifer Jason Leigh -- but the real star of the film is Thomas Newman's gorgeous, Celtic-infused score. The opening shots of Hoechlin riding his bike down a snow-covered West Dundee street are haunting. (Available digitally from Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and YouTube, and on disc from Amazon)
"Mystery Men" -- OK, so this overstuffed, overlong and overcranked adaptation of the "Flaming Carrot" comic series isn't a great movie. Heck, it might not even be a good one. But this 1999 not-so-superhero flop is jampacked with weird, wonderful characters brought to life by a cast of heavy-hitters and quirky favorites that includes Ben Stiller, Geoffrey Rush, William H. Macy, Paul "Pee-wee" Reubens, Janeane Garofalo, Hank Azaria, Eddie Izzard and Tom Waits. Yes, that Tom Waits. (Available digitally from Amazon, iTunes, vudu and YouTube, and on disc from Netflix)
"Ghost World" -- Long before she fought alongside Tony Stark and Captain America, Scarlett Johansson starred in the first of director Terry Zwigoff's two adaptations of comics by Chicago-born writer Daniel Clowes. Johansson and "American Beauty" co-star Thora Birch play disaffected youth who form an unlikely friendship with 40-ish record collector Steve Buscemi in this often uncomfortable but always entertaining slice of Americana released in 2001. Five years later, Zwigoff revisited Clowes' world in "Art School Confidential," featuring a turn by British actress Sophia Myles that should have made her a star but, sadly, did not; according to canistream.it, this second film is not currently commercially available. ("Ghost World" is available digitally from Amazon and iTunes, and on disc from Amazon and Netflix)
• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald copy editor and a tireless consumer of pop culture. He doesn't recommend "Howard the Duck," but he thinks you might enjoy it with the right attitude and/or beverages. You can follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.