The Printed Screen: DARKMAN (1990) (Part 2 of 3)

In The Printed Screen, I’ll be taking an irreverent look at comic book adaptations of notable films. We’re currently looking at the 1990 comic book adaptation of Sam Raimi’s Darkman. Read the first part of this article right here.


When we last saw Darkman he was vengefully screaming his name into the sky, vowing to get payback against the goons who killed his buddy, blew up his lab, ruined his relationship, and turned his face into raw hamburger. He’s been having a day. In case you’re new to the Darkman mythos, here’s how the 1991 NES video game summarized the plot:

But how to begin? Darkman is a smart guy, but not exactly a detective. Thankfully, who needs clues when you have hastily discarded prescription containers containing the name and address of one of Durant’s men?

This next sequence is going to play out a whole heck of a lot different than the movie version. You may remember that in the film Rick is captured by Darkman after returning from Strack Industries’ City of the Future ball where there’s a fairly strong suggestion that Robert J. Durant is grooming him for some sort of sexual relationship. I’m not kidding, folks. It’s all right there.

In the movie, Darkman proceeds to get information from Rick in that classic Darkman way: by waterboarding him in a sewer, before sticking his head out of a manhole in front of oncoming traffic, culminating in Rick’s head getting squashed (offscreen).

I should note that a clip from this sequence was used in the 1990 Horror Hall of Fame awards ceremony hosted by Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund! Darkman was nominated for best horror film, along with Nightbreed, Arachnophobia, Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Tremors. The early 90s were a weird time. Arachnophobia won, by the way.

Rick is played in the film by Ted Raimi, the brother of director Sam Raimi. Perhaps Sam thought his little brother needed a bit of a showier (and more violent) send-off than was in the original script, which features Darkman literally hiding under Rick’s bed while he sleeps.

No, I don’t know why he’s named “Dar Man” there.

Once again, since Ralph Macchio was presumably working from the same – or similar – script for his adaptation, we get the monster-under-your-bed version here in the comic. I kind of love it.

After Rick slips on his own shoe like a doofus and slams his head into a door, Darkman threatens him and presumably extracts the required information before, I guess, giving him a good scare. It’s a tad more pulpy to leave to the audiences’ imagination just what Darkman could have done to poor Rick, but it just doesn’t have the “oomph” of having a car run over his skull.

Not yet tired of creeping around bedrooms, Darkman follows up this murder by sneaking into Julie’s room while she’s sleeping and stroking her hair like a total weirdo. It’s at this point I should remind you that Darkman is ostensibly the good guy in this comic.

This is also the point in the comic where Westlake/Darkman finally sets up his new lab. Miraculously, considering the power of the explosion, he was able to salvage a great deal of his equipment, and bring the whole kit and caboodle to some sort of abandoned plant that, for some reason, is still paying their electricity bills. It’s here where Darkman starts believing that he can regain his past life and rebuild his face, even while he plots revenge against the rest of Durant’s crew.

Yes, that is a hilarious image. Feel free to laugh at it.

Darkman has decided that instead of stalking Durant’s men one-by-one and placing their heads in front of incoming traffic, he’s going to infiltrate the gang and make them suffer on a deeper level. He starts with Pauly, the lumbering, bald crony played by Nicholas Worth in the film. Despite having had a lengthy, diverse career in television and films (he passed away in 2007), Worth’s IMDb picture is of Darkman conspiring to steal his face.

But WHY is Darkman going to steal his face? Well, thanks to information from Rick, Darkman has discovered that Pauly is going to receive a big suitcase full of money that he will then deliver – to Strack, I guess? Anyway, Darkman wants to instead make it look like Pauly was going to abscond with the dough. And he does this by using some extra-extra-extra strength chloroform on Pauly, filling a briefcase full of clothes, and tossing two plane tickets (one for Pauly, and one for Rick) on the pile.

How did Darkman order two plane tickets? I have my theories, and all of them involve wacky hijinks. But, sadly, we never get to find out.

Then Darkman-as-Pauly goes to a restaurant where he meets Skip and Rudy, who are confused by his silence and weird behavior, but still give him the cash.

A very confused Pauly wakes up to Durant and his goons demanding he tell them where the money is, and they immediately discover what appears to be his attempt to skip town with Durant’s potential beau. This makes Durant particularly angry, which then leads to:

I know Pauly was a murderous thug, but I have to admit I feel a bit bad for him here. I mean, imagine waking up after a lengthy snooze, still dazed, and having all of these confusing accusations being thrown at you before you’re then tossed out a window. Unpleasant.

In the film, Pauly lands on a car, which leads to a great moment where a witness notices the identical looking Darkman sitting nearby and starts screaming at him as his face starts to melt and he runs off. In the comic, Pauly splats on solid concrete, and while Darkman’s face does start to melt (and he runs off down an alleyway), we also get to see a traumatized – and surprisingly alive – Rick, who has been driven insane by his encounter with (the) Darkman!

In the comic, we’re then treated to a lengthy sequence where Julie and Louis Strack, Jr. return home after a date and have a heart-to-heart, where Strack mentions wanting to hire Julie as a permanent member of his staff. And by staff, he doesn’t mean his penis, though he probably wants her to meet that as well. If you’re hoping that Darkman is peeping at them during their whole conversation, I have some great news for you.

This entire bit is replaced in the film with a single shot of Darkman hanging out with gargoyles in front of a wonky bluescreen. It was a fine choice.

Now, you may be thinking it’s been a while since we had a scene of Darkman thoroughly losing his shit. Well, just hold tight.

We cut to Darkman working on his research, still trying to break the 99-minute barrier on his fake skin, which he sees as keeping him from potentially regaining his old life. After encountering another failed test, he faces his frustration with a good-natured smile.

Just kidding. He goes absolutely nuts, destroying half the lab in the process while ranting about being a freak.

This might be my absolute favorite part of the film, with Neeson dancing around like a lunatic singing “See the dancing freak! Pay five bucks!”. Hard to live up to that in comic form, though Bob Hall deserves credit for toning down the camp and really focusing on making Darkman look grotesque.

WRENCH!

He eventually calms himself down, just as his facial reconstruction (which did a CTRL-C/CTRL-V on the damaged parts of his face) is completed. Now he can cosplay as Peyton Westlake once again!  Does he call up Julie and try to explain things? Maybe send her a lengthy letter? Nope! Dude just shows up at the cemetery while she’s crying over his grave.

Julie is rightfully freaked the hell out, but Westlake comes up with a great cover story where he’s been in a coma since being blowed up, despite having no visual scarring despite his entire lab being reduced to burning rubble. He says he’ll tell her everything in time, before running off when his face starts to melt. This leaves Julie awfully confused. Bad time management, Darkman!

Some advanced level gaslighting going on here. In the movie they get a chance to sit and chat for a bit, but in the comic he only gets a few sentences out before running off.

Now, we’ve probably figured out at this point that Robert Durant is a weird dude, which is definitely reinforced in the next sequence in the movie where he’s practicing some simple taxidermy on the collection of fingers he’s amassed during his criminal ventures while chatting with one of his henchmen.

Weird and gross, right? Well, I’ll tell you what’s weirder and grosser. If instead of having a single wooden box with a modest collection of a dozen fingers or so, Durant had DOZENS of individually numbered boxes of fingers that he kept on a shelf in his office.

This is just a poor use of space. And is less “intimidating mobster” and more “finger fetishist”.

Using SCIENCE, Darkman has tapped into Durant’s phone line in order to do some covert recording (and ape his voice). In the movie, we see some equipment stacked up by Durant’s gate to help the audience understand what’s up, but that’s achieved in the comic by just showing Darkman holding a walkman. It gets the idea across.

The comic then moves into a sequence where Westlake and Julie have a chat over lunch that Raimi smartly tacked on to the earlier graveyard bit. But that’s just a precursor to OPERATION MAKE DURANT’S LIFE A LIVING HELL, which kicks into high gear with Darkman dressing as him (including rubber face) and robbing a convenience store while saying his name right into the store’s camera. He pulled some pretty clear audio off of those phone lines.

I have to admit I prefer the shit-eating grin he gives the camera in the comic version.

This leads to a very confused Durant being arrested, allowing Darkman (as Durant) to take his place in trying to wring some owed money out of a Chinatown criminal named Hung Fat. In the film, he has some difficulty getting into character before showing how tough he is by giving himself third degree burns. This intimidating display makes Hung Fat pay up.

In the comic he just makes some vague threats with his cigar cutter, which – honestly – would probably be enough in a world where Durant has 74 boxes of fingers cluttering up his living room.

This leads to another example of Darkman’s poor time management, as the real Durant has managed to get bailed out and has headed to Chinatown to meet his gang. He arrives at Hung Fat’s just as Darkman-as-Durant is leaving, which leads to a pretty outstanding sequence in a revolving door where both Durants are screaming that they are the real deal.

The two Durants have a brief scuffle, with Darkman getting the upper hand before his face starts to melt and he’s forced to run off with the cash. The goons give chase (shooting randomly into a crowd of people in the film version), but Darkman escapes into his sanctuary: a filthy alleyway, leaving only a melting mask of Durant’s face behind.

And that brings issue #2 to a messy end, with Durant and his men vowing their own revenge against the (dark)man who set them up.

Join me for the next (and final) issue where Darkman goes to the CARNIVAL, defeats the baddies, confronts Louis Strack, Jr. (remember him?) and things come to a thrilling conclusion. Not counting the two sequels. See you soon!

Doug Tilley

Writer, podcaster and beloved figure in the online film community (of assholes). Check him out on the Eric Roberts is the Fucking Man and No-Budget Nightmares podcasts. His life is dope and he does dope shit.
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