Black Out or Fade Away?: It’s Difficult to Die Hard in ’77

The original Die Hard film set the standard for action movies in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. The concept of one man against many villains set in a remote location became standard for action movies and inspired other high-grossing films such as The Rock and Speed.

Die Hard spawned three less successful sequels and rumor of a fifth film is circulating the Internet. The beauty of the films, especially the first one, is that John McClane is an everyman, a New York City detective who’s simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Little known fact: Die Hard is based on a Roderick Thorp novel titled, Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his 1966 novel The Detective, which was also a film starring Frank Sinatra. It was written with the intention of being adapted into a sequel film. Sinatra turned down the role. The novel was then adapted as a sequel to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1985 film Commando. After he turned down the idea, the story was altered. Enter Bruce Willis.

It would seem, then, that there would be a natural transition from novel to film and then back to paper in the form of graphic novel. In this case, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The case for a graphic novel series of prequels to the Die Hard film franchise is something I struggled with as I read through Volume Two of Howard Chaykin’s and Gabriel Andrade’s Die Hard: Year One series. Collecting issues # 5 through # 8, the story pits newly-promoted Detective John McClane and his partner against a group of bank robbers during New York City’s famous 1977 city-wide black-out. The real life power outage caused massive looting and rioting, over 1,000 fires and 3,776 arrests. Tack on the severe financial crisis at the time and the impending fear of the Son of Sam serial murderer and you’ve got just enough distractions to pull off a high-profile heist. The idea to use these real life incidents as part of the plot is an interesting move on Chaykin’s part, and, in my opinion, one of the comic’s strengths.

Willis’ portrayal of John MClane helped make him a box-office star and set the bar for action hero stars. Chaykin’s dialogue and Andrade’s renderings of a full-haired Willis is spot-on; so much so that I could hear and see him acting out each panel in my head. But the character just doesn’t seem to qualify for a Year One scenario.

The focus of Willis’ new partner is a bit much as well and distracts from the magic of what made the films successful in the first place. McClane’s character doesn’t get to shine nearly as much as he does in the films. There are no intimate moments between John McClane and an explosion, no dramatic shots of our hero silhouetted against a massive fireball or snappy exchanges between him and the enemy, no yippee ki… well, you know. It’s a much more subdued McClane who takes himself a bit too seriously. Besides, the idea of Willis’ McClane as a younger cop working his way up the ranks has the tendency to border on cheesy.

Though the Die Hard sequels were entertaining, they simply weren’t as successful as their predecessor nor did they have the same impact on the action movie genre or on pop culture in general. The character just isn’t quite powerful enough, or legendary enough, to carry a multi-issue prequel such as this.

John McClane is a great character, but he’s no Batman.

RATING 6 / 10
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