by Ryan J. Downey
News of Michael Clarke Duncan’s passing sent shockwaves of sadness around Hollywood and the movie fan community earlier on Monday (September 3) that were larger than the extremely talented and warmly charming man’s imposing physical stature. Most news outlets rightly singled out his star-making turn opposite Tom Hanks in the Stephen King adaptation “The Green Mile” as his signature role. But we in the comics community counted him as one of our own.
Michael Clarke Duncan is our Hero of the Week for the way his all-encompassing enthusiasm for his roles would overcome fan skepticism and sometimes even otherwise bad films. Last year’s “Green Lantern” was a bit of a mess, but certainly the late actor’s take on Kilowog was a true standout. And who can forget his turn as the one-eyed mercenary Manute in Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s noir masterpiece, “Sin City“? This was one of those comic books thought by some to be un-filmable. But Rodriguez’s genius idea to enlist Miller as co-director and faithful rendition offered a true showcase for actors like Duncan.
Nearly a decade ago, Michael Clarke Duncan (then 44) made his passion for comics clear in an interview with MTV News. He was promoting “Daredevil,” which saw the actor adding even more beefy / muscled up size to his frame to portray Wilson Fisk, nemesis to both Matt Murdock and Peter Parker. Legend has it that James Cameron wanted the Kingpin to be the villain in his proposed Spidey movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Clarke Duncan was well aware that Kingpin was nearly as big a part of the web-head’s mythos as Daredevil and told us all about his own ideas for a future reprisal of the role.
“That’s the one movie they’ve got to make — ’Daredevil vs. Spider-Man,'” he said, with all of the excitement of a True Believer comic-fan. “The Kingpin manipulates both of them in a certain way to go after each other.”
Some fans complained online when he was cast as Kingpin because of the color of his skin. But when people got a look at him in the film (and the 340 pound body he built for the gig), all doubts were silenced. Black or white, it didn’t matter. He was the Kingpin. Even those who make fun of the movie now have to acknowledge that the movie’s problems had nothing to do with Duncan’s performance. The Director’s Cut (available on DVD) is a far superior film versus the one that was shown in theaters. One of the elements restored in that version is a subplot that emphasized just how far and wide the Kingpin’s crimes could reach.
“The only thing I wanted out of this whole movie was to become Kingpin,” he told us in 2003. “I was always worried about my character, because you have so many people that really watch this – some of them like it’s their job. They watch movies to say, ’Hey, that’s not like the comic book.’ But I want them to get past that and just see the movie for what it is and see me for what I am – an actor.”
Indeed, Michael. Not just an actor a great actor, an awesome guy, and our Hero of the Week. Rest in peace, sir.
Welcome to Hero of the Week, our weekly salute to the heroes keeping the comic book, movie and television scene something to look forward to day in and day out. From actual superheroes to the actors and filmmakers who bring them to life, you can tell us who your heroes are in the comments and on Twitter!