For years I've been listening to everyone I know who has seen a comic book movie. From praises to condemnations from the widest spectrum of viewers; from the most fanatical purist to the most passive of movie goers. Hollywood had listened to all sides and had done what every demographic of viewers had demanded but the comic book movies always ended up as train wrecks. My conclusion: Nobody knows what they really want in a comic book movie, so should Hollywood continue to listen to fans?
Fans had always been nitpicking at movies with the mantra of “That’s not how it’s supposed to be”. There are considerations to be made when making a comic book movie, starting from simple cinematic perspective to condensing the story to fit the average movie run time. There will always be liberties taken whether they like it or not.
The typical reader of this newsletter (such as myself) have grown up with these stories. There is an unavoidable attachment that we want them to be treated with reverence. We had laughed and cried and sometimes, got really angry and annoyed at the stories that were written. In a way we want to experience the same feelings when watching a comic book movie, especially if it was one that was adapted from a certain storyline that we have read.
However, there are the casual fans who had only read comics in their youth, so the image of their heroes during their childhood is seared into their minds. There are other fans who experienced another ver-sion of their heroes in cartoons and videogames.
On the other hand, there are a few who consider themselves ‘theologians’ in comic book lore. They know every obscure piece of comic book trivia. For them a 2-hour movie will never be truly satisfying because for them, there will be something always missing, no matter how good the movie. They will have to learn that a movie will never encapsulate the whole experience.
What this all means is that we each try to impose our own versions of the superheroes into the comic book movies. This would be difficult as different eras breed different superheroes, even those which bear the same name. For those who grew up in the 60's for example, their batman was campy and irreverent. For fans who grew up in the 80s-90s, their Batman was a brooding dark antihero.
Put all these types of fans together and it would be impossible to get an agreement on how a comic book movie should be made. There would be no consensus as there are so many different opinions on how a comic book movie should be made according to fans with their different perspectives. Henry Ford (Automobile Pioneer) once said “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster hors-es.” A larger collective will always have conflicting ideas.
Those involved in making comic book movies had experienced a steep learning curve over the years so when studios tried to follow too close to the original characters and stories, they ended up with movies like Punisher War Zone which was a verbatim copy of the source material. When we try to be too inventive and stray off the original vision, you end up with one like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which was significantly different from the story found in the comic books.
A balance needs to be reached. Not all comic book tropes translate well into cinematic tropes and vice versa. Fans might not be happy initially but like always we somehow get past those initial thoughts when we see the final product. It is like how one would doubt a casting director choice, concept art, movie stills and even a trailer. I know I had my doubts when I read about these things prior to a movie release. Heath Ledger anyone?
When Marvel split from the major movie studios to form their own studio, they eliminated the long decision tree involved that leads to any movie being made. This decision cuts the whole process down to a small group led by Kevin Feige. They did not stop hearing what the fans wanted but they also knew to focus on a larger audience.
What I am emphasizing here is mass appeal. Comic books have never been part of the pop culture. It was a very niche market up to the late 90s. One could argue that superheroes have always pop culture but it was mere public awareness on the surface as everybody and their mothers have heard of heroes like Superman & Spider-Man but are unaware of their exploits in comic books. However, as superheroes finally become more mainstream and gain wide acceptance thanks to the movies, more and more people are getting into comics and associated subcultures like fan art and cosplay. Some have turned their involvement into a career or business. There is no longer a stigma associated with being a comic book geek.
Basically the widespread appeal of comic book movies today is based on an age old comic staple, The Retcon. When comic sales are slumping, the comic book pub-lisher would revise, revamp and even overhaul a character or an entire series to make it more appealing and current to readers. This ap-proach works for the movies be-cause as long as the movie retains the core concepts and essence of its source material, revising comic book continuity for movies makes it digestible for a larger audience without alienating them for not knowing the history of the comic book characters told in the comic books.
So when you see another comic book movie that has its characters with modified costumes, race, age or even gender, and their back stories revised from what was shown in the comic books, it’s not disrespecting the comic fan or what has come before. While not every change is good, these revisions represent the only way to stay relevant given our short attention span in recent times.
No other movie genre has enjoyed this kind of longevity and deep saturation into the pop culture psyche on a worldwide scale. There might have been a few bumps on the road but it looks like the genre is finally getting somewhere. There is the worry that they might go stale due to overload of nerddom but personally I'll just sit back and enjoy the ride while it lasts.