Commanderrr Courrrage!

William Shatner once spoofed himself and his Star Trek fans in a hilarious Saturday Night Live sketch. Playing himself at a convention, the fans' incessant stupid questions about plot flaws finally get to him and he snaps, berating them all, at one point asking a kid, "You there! Have you even ever KISSED a girl?!"


Mark Hamill, as most people know, was Luke Skywalker. Typecast in the role, he didn't have the same bigscreen success that his co-star Harrison Ford went on to. Hamill made a few bad movies, showed up as the supervillain The Trickster on The Flash television series, and ultimately didn't achieve a new fan following for anything non-Star Wars until he took on the role of The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. His voice virtually unrecognizable, he was THE definitive Joker for well over a decade. Batman wasn't his only voiceover work though--he provided the vocals to the Hobgoblin on FOX's Spider-man series in the '90s, and spoofed himself in a Simpsons episode, appearing at the BI-MON-SCI-FI-CON and later in a rendition of Guys and Dolls in which the director has him wearing his costume from A New Hope and brandishing a lightsaber.

What most people including myself may not have known until recently, is that Hamill is himself at heart a comic geek, and even considered pursuing art early in his career. Hamill has taken his love of comics and made what at best could be categorized as a mockumentary in Comic Book: The Movie. Armed with an impressive cast of voice actors whom I'll list at the end of this article, and with notable names like Stan Lee, Bruce Campbell, Kevin Smith, Hugh Hefner, Sid Caesar and Jonathan Winters, he transformed into the role of Don Swan, a comic aficionado, store owner, and fanzine writer asked to consult on a big budget motion picture about his favorite comic character, the patriotic Commander Courage. The conflict? In true Hollywood fashion the character has been altered to the point of being unrecognizable and renamed Codename: Courage. He now dresses in black, carries guns, and his nephew sidekick has been replaced by a blonde bombshell.

I won't go into more detail about the plot, except to say that Hamill shot footage at an actual comicon and shows respect for these fans. No one is accused of never kissing a girl(although I'm betting Dominican Superman has to work for it), and in the role he plays Hamill is clearly shouting, "I'm one of you!" There are cameos from some out-of-costume Star Wars stars, as well as legendary creators such as Peter David, Mike Mignola, and Matt Groening, to name but a few. If you appreciate a film like This is Spinal Tap, and are or were any kind of comic book fan, you'll definitely have an appreciation for this. I myself collected comics for a solid eight years, and loved a lot of things that might have gone over a non-comics fan's head. My friend Jerry recommended I rent the bonus disk from Netflix—the service rents discs individually, even when bonus features are on a separate disk—and while I've never done so for any other movie, I did this time. The extended interviews and panel discussions were well worth it--as a Marvel fan, I always enjoy hearing the thoughts of Stan Lee.

In closing, I'm just going to list some of the voice actors who appeared in this film and the film's bonus features. Most have rarely if ever appeared in front of a camera, and yet we've all heard them for years. Check out their IMDB resumes--I guarantee you've heard them before. As Hamill said, they're the "best actors you've never seen.":

Gary Owens
Jim Cummings
Billy West
Jess Harnell
Roger Rose
Tom Kenny
Maurice Lamarche
Rob Paulsen
Daran Norris
Lori Alan

Here are a few from my childhood with equally impressive resumes, though conspicuously absent from this movie:

Frank Welker
Peter Cullen
Corey Burton
Jack Angel
and the late, great Chris Latta

It takes a certain kind of courage to be able to have a sense of humor, and not care what people think, even if they laugh at you. Hamill has it, these other actors who went from making voices in class to making a living at it have it, and Shatner's demonstrated it time and again, from that aforementioned SNL skit to the movie Free Enterprise to his recent album with Ben Folds. If you don't care what people think, you can be be happy enjoying the things you love.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You want to live like Common People? You want to do whatever Common People do?

10/17/2004 8:34 PM  

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