Thursday, 13 June 2013
Superhero Movies - Killing Or Saving Comicbooks?
Given the rampant success of the Avengers and with Man of Steel right around the corner, it's safe to say comicbook films are here to stay. While they've had their ups and downs, disappearing during the late 90s and early 2000s thanks to some gross failures of films, they've never been stronger. More people than ever recognise previously unknown names like Green Lantern, Tony Stark, Hawkeye and the idea of vastly interconnected universes has been proven ultimately effective.
The question though is this: Are such films truly beneficial to the medium?
On the one hand it can be argued that they have done more to promote the industry than any other adaptation in recent memory, but so have many other efforts. On the other hand it can also be argued that the films are not so much promoting the comic universe as the comics are desperately trying to latch onto any popularity of the films.
Something we have seen time and time again is one series or another altering its plotlines to latch onto any potential new customers attracted by the films. Take Spider-Man at about the time Sam Rami's third flick was hitting the big screen. All of a sudden he was using his black costume again, an identity he had previously forsaken and the stories changed to become much darker. Trying to anticipate the darker tones of the films with Peter becoming more ruthless and volatile; especially towards his enemies. Was this done for major story significance or considerable planning? Not so much that as an effort to simply give any potential new readers drawn via the film something familiar to latch onto. An opening to try and profit from for at least a short while.
The same goes with the X-Men when Chuck Austin's much reviled run suddenly included religious overtones and a plot by Catholic radicals involving Nightcrawler. Why? Because X2 was heavily based off of God Loves, Man Kills (in which Stryker is a far more religious figure) and the film had Nightcrawler being used as a pawn. Even Cyclops' suddenly abrasive and aggressive personality could be seen to match the mind control he was under during that film.
Just to pick on DC for a while, after the outstanding successes of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy the New 52 reboot suddenly included a multitude of Batman titles. Far more than a figurehead character like he would have otherwise had and with the comic even veering into The Court of Owls. A fantastic plot in its own right, no argument, but one which just happened to have a few similarities with Bane's attempted takeover of Gotham in Dark Knight Rises.
Each time it seems that the films are not attempting to show into a universe as be stories of themselves, with the comics desperately attempting to captalise upon their popularity. While there's nothing wrong with attempting to utilise a popular spin-off media to improve sales, the films are coming out so frequently that some have questioned if it's even going to be its own medium within a few years.
Many of the films made effectively strip out and work through famous comic runs to build their plot-lines. Seeking out elements from over the decades of history behind a character and then adapting them into a "new" story to construct the film around. The aforementioned God Loves, Man Kills, No Man's Land for Dark Knight Rises and Extremis in the first and third Iron Man films.
Each of the series seems to be working off of the absolute best plots produced after years of work and using them as almost fodder for Hollywood profit, often at the expense of the original series themselves. It's almost like the comic industry has become a test bed for future blockbusters to be exploited, even as the industry (at least superhero publishers) as a whole diminish as a result.
The main reason i'm bringing this up is there's been at least one or two writers fond of the medium who have expressed concern over this. Grant Morrison for one spoke of this in part during an interview a few years back in Rolling Stone magazine. During it he expressed the idea that the the superhero genre was evolving and discarding the older comic medium in favour of something bigger. While what he describes might seem somewhat natural, the way in which the industry so willingly bends to the films and almost apes them hardly helps things. Just look at the current Marvel NOW! titles and how many have "Avengers" listed as part of them. Not because they directly feature the major characters of the Avengers or even as some extension, but largely because of the hit Marvel studios had with their team-up finale to the first phase.
For every bit superhero films seem to promote current comics from Marvel and DC they seem to harm them just as much. Both in direct and initially unseen ways, making the comic universe become an apparent extension of them despite which one came first. Only a handful seemed to have truly escaped this fate and that was usually due to the liberties taken by the director. Putting a personal spin on the characters and universe without the comics following, desperate to draw in fresh profit from the film. The Hellboy duology being the most outstanding example in recent years.
Speaking personally for a moment, this is a subject i've gone back and fourth on several times now trying to weight out the obvious pros and the cons listed above. However, it's not entirely clear if film adaptations are truly helping the genre and medium or, as Morrison suggested, the decline is a result of evolution to something bigger.
What are your thoughts on this matter? Do you feel that the boom in superhero flicks are a boon to a struggling industry or are only hastening its demise? Please feel free to leave your own thoughts listed below.