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Wikimedia Commons/Bryan Dugan

11 Movies You Might Not Know Were Based On Comic Books

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Wikimedia Commons/Bryan Dugan

Sure, everyone knows Iron Man and Superman were comic-book heroes well before they made the jump to the big screen, but there's no shortage of movies out there with secret origins in the world of comics. Whether those movies are cult classics or Oscar nominees, they all share one thing in common: they wouldn't exist without the comics that inspired them. Here are 11 films you might not know were based on comics.

1. A History of Violence

Even director David Cronenberg didn't know his 2005 film about a family man whose secret past comes back to terrorize him was an adaptation of a graphic novel until the filmmaker was already discussing the second draft of the script. Screenwriter Josh Olson received an Oscar nomination for his adaptation of John Wagner and Vince Locke's original comic, which was published in 1997 by Paradox Press. While certain scenes were lifted directly from the graphic novel, much of the movie differs significantly from the source material, with Olson's screenplay putting a greater focus on how the main character's violent past affects his family.

2. Alien Vs. Predator

While the two movie monsters pitted against each other in this 2004 film were already Hollywood horror stars in their own rights, it was a 1989 comic that spawned the idea of bringing them together for a showdown. Originally published in the Dark Horse Presents anthology series, the brawl between the chest-bursting xenomorphs of the Alien films and the creatures from the Predator movies came about due to Dark Horse Comics' deal with 20th Century Fox for the license to both franchises. The popularity of the comics then helped the crossover make the leap to the screen with a brief scene in Predator 2 that featured one of the aliens' skulls in a Predator's trophy room.

3. From Hell

The gory, surreal story of a London police inspector on the trail of Jack the Ripper that was the centerpiece of this 2001 film originated as a serialized comic that concluded in 1996. Authored by celebrated Watchmen and V For Vendetta writer Alan Moore with art by Eddie Campbell, From Hell won several major awards during its seven-year run, including the prestigious Eisner Award for “Best Serialized Story.” The big-screen adaptation of the comic that starred Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, however, wasn't nearly as celebrated.

4. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Widely regarded as the film that was so bad it made Sean Connery retire from acting, this 2003 movie was also a loose (as in, very loose) adaptation of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's multi-volume series that first hit shelves in 1999. Where the original comic offered a cerebral, edgy adventure that wove together some of history's greatest literary figures into a single narrative timeline, the movie was, well ... not quite the film that Moore and most of the comic's fans (and movie critics) hoped it would be. In fact, Moore disliked the adaptation so much that he included a character resembling Connery's version of James Bond in subsequent volumes of the series, and portrayed him in extremely negative fashion.

5. The Mask

Not only did this blockbuster 1994 comedy help make stars out of Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz, but it also played a big role in securing the future of Dark Horse Entertainment, the movie-production arm of Dark Horse Comics. The Mask was the first original comic from Dark Horse to make it big in theaters (and their second movie project after Dr. Giggles), and the ongoing comics and spin-off stories featured a long list of different characters donning the magical mask that imbued its wearer with all sorts of wild powers. The original series, which was based on a concept by Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson, was written by John Arcudi and illustrated by Doug Mahnke, and features a few scenes that were directly adapted for the movie.

6. Men In Black

Independent Canadian comic publisher Aircel Comics first brought The Men In Black to shelves in 1990 with a short series by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers. By the time the comic found its way to the screen, Aircel had been bought out by multiple publishers, with the series finally landing at Marvel Comics in 1994. That was a lot of travel—and attention—for a series that only amounted to a pair of three-issue stories at the time, though Marvel was quick to release several additional spin-offs and a prequel comic when it was clear the movie had blockbuster potential. The original Men In Black concept also received a bit of a makeover on its way to the screen, with the studio toning down the violence of the source material and eliminating paranormal elements from the story. 

7. Red

Both the 2010 action film and the 2003 comic that inspired it were well-received by their respective audiences, but that's where most of the similarities between these projects end. Where the original comic by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner was a gritty, bloody thriller that unfolded over just three issues and featured a solo protagonist, the movie based on the book featured quite a bit of humor and expanded the cast to showcase an impressive ensemble of A-list actors. Ellis himself has acknowledged the vast differences between the two projects, and insisted that there just wasn't enough material in his original comic for a true page-to-screen translation anyway.

8. Road to Perdition

Max Allan Collins wrote both the original comic that inspired this 2002 film about a mafia assassin on the run from his former employers and the novelization of the film itself, which differs slightly from the source material but carries over many of the 1998 series' themes. While the movie toned down quite a bit of the violence in the comic (especially where it concerned Tom Hanks' character), Collins praised some of the biggest changes made by the studio—namely, the addition of Jude Law's character in the film. The success of the series prompted Collins to write several more books in the Road To Perdition series, each focusing on a different character caught up in the criminal underworld.

9. Timecop

A short story that appeared in three issues of the Dark Horse Presents comics anthology provided the source material for this 1994 film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as a time-jumping action hero, and eventually led to both a television series and a video game based on the comic's concept. Writer Mark Verheiden penned the comic and co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Dark Horse founder and publisher Mike Richardson, and the movie remains one of Van Damme's most successful films to date. Sadly, the comic-book side of Timecop didn't amount to more than an adaptation of the film and the original, three-part series titled Time Cop: A Man Out Of Time.

10. Virus

Jamie Lee Curtis has made no secret of her distaste for this 1999 sci-fi horror film in which she played the leader of a salvage crew that discovers a terrifying creature aboard an abandoned Russian research ship, so it's no surprise that the comic that inspired the movie has kept a relatively low profile. Chuck Pfarrer originally penned the story as a movie script, but he sold the project to Dark Horse Comics after deciding that special-effects technology at the time couldn't facilitate a jump from page to screen. Dark Horse published the first issue of the Virus comic in December 1992.

11. Wanted

This 2008 film made heroes out of supervillains and was a surprise hit at the box office, but it never quite matched the subversive, graphic excesses of the hit comic that inspired it. Kick-Ass writer Mark Millar penned the original six-issue series that first hit shelves in 2003 and explored a world where the bad guys won and villains rule the world in secret. While the movie has little in common with its source material beyond some general themes and characters (and one or two early scenes lifted from the comic), the most noticeable difference could be the film's main character, whose look in the comic was clearly—and admittedly—based on rapper Eminem. Similarly, Angelina Jolie's character in the movie, Fox, shared few visual similarities with her comics counterpart, as artist J.G. Jones based the character's look on actress Halle Berry.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]