The Weekend We Died Hard
“It’s gotta be today,” I told my wife.
But it wasn’t. The mailbox was empty. I let out a growl of disappointment and Julie started to laugh.
“It’s probably not even a good movie,” she pointed out.
It’s probably not. Nevertheless, I’m ridiculously excited to see the DVD of Lockout that I purchased mail-order for three dollars.
Why am I so jazzed to see this thing? Because it’s Die Hard… in SPACE.
I love Die Hard. The original, from way back in the 1980s. It’s comfort food for me.
In fact, the whole Die Hard genre is comfort food as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve written about comfort-food entertainment before, and the thing that is its defining quality– the pleasure of the expected. When you kinda know how it’s going to go but you enjoy seeing the band play the hits, so to speak. For some people it’s romance novels, for others it’s James Bond movies, for my wife it’s home-improvement shows on HGTV… but for me, comfort-food entertainment is usually an action movie.
And of those, my favorites are from the Die Hard school of action movie. (Or novel, there are several of those too.) I’ve made a hobby of them over the last decade or so, as they’ve started to multiply, and I have to admit that my inner pop-culture nerd delights in determining whether or not something really fits into the category.
Here’s how you decide. A Die Hard story must have these things–
A lone protagonist, who…
….cut off from all support…
…a group of terrorists or other similarly violent criminals…
…and must improvise a way to fight them using found materials…
…in a sealed environment.
It’s a pretty rigid formula, but you can ring endless variations on it. And Hollywood certainly has, over the last twenty years.
You had Sudden Death–
–which was Die Hard in a hockey arena. (Or “Die Hard on Ice,” as we call it here.)
And Speed– Die Hard on a runaway bus.
In fairness, that one broke the formula a little bit. Weirdly, the sequel was much truer to the Die Hard idea…
…because Speed 2 was totally Die Hard on the Love Boat.
Then there’s Die Hard on an airplane. That was made three times. Passenger 57…
…and, my favorite of the three because of its sheer scenery-chewing insanity, Air Force One.
That one has value-added Harrison Ford as Crime-Fighting Action President. Which is a premise we haven’t seen in quite a while.
You’d think that Air Force One would be the weirdest variation on it… but no. I think that honor has to go to Shannon Tweed in No Contest. That one is Die Hard at a beauty pageant… featuring Ms. Tweed as a beauty queen who just happens to be a kickboxing and martial arts expert. This contestant’s talent is kicking ass, baby. (One thug exclaims in horror, “She’s like Bruce Lee with tits!” Really, it’s awesome. Words fail me. Trailer here. )
I could go on and on. Under Siege, Cliffhanger, The Rock, even Paul Blart Mall Cop. There are dozens of them.
Of course, there are the three official Die Hard sequels themselves, with a fourth apparently in the works… but I think really only the first of them fits the formula. Probably because it wasn’t originally going to be a Die Hard sequel. Die Hard 2: Die Harder actually began as a screen adaptation of Walter Wager’s 58 Minutes.
At some point, Hollywood legend has it, a studio exec reading the screenplay exclaimed, “Wow, this is like Die Hard 2–” and suddenly was inspired to yell for a rewrite to shoehorn John McClane into the story and MAKE it Die Hard 2.
It wasn’t much of a stretch– structurally, 58 Minutes is essentially Die Hard at the airport. The other two sequels, though, Die Hard With a Vengeance and Live Free or Die Hard, both seem to me like John McClane stories, not Die Hard stories. There’s no enclosed environment.
Anyway, thinking about this pattern, the Die Hard story structure, reminded me of the time Die Hard was done in comics.
No, no, not Die Hard Year One.
Though I did like that a lot, and you can pick it up in two collected volumes for not a whole lot of money if you’ve a mind to.
No, the one I’m thinking of dates quite a bit further back. In fact, it predates the actual Die Hard by more than a decade. The Brave and the Bold #113, which hit spinner racks back in March of 1974.
This is just a helluva comic book. In addition to the lead story, it’s also got the Challengers of the Unknown, Viking Prince by Joe Kubert, and the origin of Hawkman– also illustrated by the great Joe Kubert– that climaxes with Hawkman and Hawkgirl punching a Thanagarian dinosaur in the face.
Sigh. Damn but I loved the 100-page era at DC.
But anyway, it’s the lead story, “The 50-Story Killer!” that concerns us here. Because this is Die Hard… with Batman. (And the Metal Men, but they don’t have much to do.)
It was one of the great Bob Haney-Jim Aparo collaborations in an era that had a lot of them. I got this off the stands, back when it came out, and I adored it. The hook that opens the story is that Gotham’s elected a new mayor, and he’s decided to shake things up a bit.
Specifically, he wants to replace Commissioner Gordon– and Batman.
But how, you may ask, can you replace BATMAN?
Automation, says the new mayor.
Batman huffs off in a huff and tries to fight some crime, but gets his ass handed to him and the Metal Men have to bail him out.
“Read your press clippings”? New mayor’s kind of a douche, isn’t he?
But Batman’s day is about to get worse. Obeying the court order, he heads back to the Wayne Foundation building and hangs up the Batsuit…
…just in time for the building to be TAKEN OVER BY TERRORISTS.
These guys are too nasty for mere police.
And Gotham’s new heroes, the Metal Men, don’t do any better.
Clearly, it’s time to go old-school. A chastened mayor calls in Gordon… and Gordon knows EXACTLY what to do.
And with that, the Die Hard Bat-action is really on. There’s lots of skirmishes and cat-and-mouse with Batman and the terrorists… all to find where in the building the bad guys have stashed the gas supply that’s slowly poisoning the hostages.
Unfortunately, Batman has to cut his search short… and the tension keeps mounting…
….anyway, I don’t want to spoil any more of it for you because you really should experience it for yourself. I still think it’s just plain goddamn awesome, even today. Haney and Aparo were at the top of their game and this was right in the middle of what I consider the best of their run. It’s available in the third volume of Showcase Presents The Brave and Bold Batman Team-ups, and I think it’s also in the new color hardcover of Jim Aparo Bat-stories.
In fact, I got so jazzed writing this column I think I might have to go pull my copy out and read it again. It’ll take the edge off that damn empty mailbox.
See you next week.