The future of comic book movies

While I haven’t seen it, the consensus is that Green Lantern is hot garbage, the type of overproduced and poorly written adaptation that has long plagued the comic book film genre. Is the problem an essential one, as raised by the Washington Post?

No matter how many times he’s been reimagined, Green Lantern retains a crucial flaw: He’s a DC Comics character, without the weaknesses and neuroses that make Marvel Comics heroes interesting (sometimes even on screen).

I tend to agree with this sentiment. For the most part, the only DC comics I’ve enjoyed (outside of those on the Vertigo imprint) are Batman and specific Superman ones, like All-Star Superman: comics that are grounded in true human experience, no matter how super-powered.*

A recent post over at Nerve proposed five superheroes who should’ve gotten movies before the Green Lantern. I don’t think they make a compelling case for any entries on their list, with Wonder Woman and the Flash sharing the same DC weaknesses as Green Lantern.

The suggestion of Grant Morrison’s transgressive The Invisibles is a nod to the rich world of independent comics, even if the author of the Nerve piece admits there’s no chance of it ever being a film. Its inclusion raises another issue: the viability of less mainstream comics or graphic novels as films. Along those lines, there are a whole host of properties that beg for adaptations. Each of the following has been kicked around in development, and practically beg for cinematic versions: Garth Ennis’ Preacher and The Boys; Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Runaways; Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan.

The question remains: just because something can be adapted, should it be? The works of Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) have been adapted – without Moore’s involvement – with varying degrees of faithfulness and quality. The same could be expected to the works of Ennis, Vaughn, and Ellis. Too much would be left out of the script, due to length or graphic content. The success of Game of Thrones could portend more small screen adaptations of nerd lore, but for now, premium TV adaptations are pie-in-the-sky.

Over the next year and a half, the landscape is littered with big budget comic book films: Captain America: The First Avenger will lead into the mega-crossover The Avengers, both Superman (The Man of Steel) and Spider-Man (The Amazing Spider-Man) will be rebooted, and Christopher Nolan will end his Batman trilogy, arguably the raison d’être for this glut of superhero films. While X-Men: First Class was an imperfect success, will the next batch fare as well?

After these A-listers, what’s next? Are there five superheroes who would’ve been better on film than Green Lantern? With few exceptions, I think Hollywood would be scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point. One exception, coincidentally, is another Ryan Reynolds vehicle: Deadpool, which has a writer and director attached but has been in development hell for nearly a decade. The “Merc with a Mouth” is no Jesse Custer or Spider Jerusalem, but at least he’s not in the Justice League.

* Watchmen, while published by DC, doesn’t fit in the same universe as the majority of DC books. In fact, it’s a response to that type of superhero mythology.

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6 responses to “The future of comic book movies

  1. Federico Arce

    I know it would be really weird and never get made…but what about Maus? Hollywood loves a good WWII movie!

  2. I’m actually surprised no one’s picked up Maus yet. It’d be good animated like Persopolis was.

  3. I know a few of my Twitter followers were pretty livid about the whole “DC characters don’t have neuroses” thing, but I agree with that sentiment. The DCU is filled with demigods, and one human badass who, through his crazy wealth, finds himself on their level. The Marvel U has always felt more “real”, and any of us could be caught up in it – whether we’re splashed by a chemical truck or we’re bitten by a spider. Those characters have real problems, and a lot of what they deal with tends to be circumstances of their own making. Most of Tony Stark’s villains are the result of some problem he caused in some manner or another.

    I just feel like the beauty of some comics is that they *can’t* be captured on screen. Take anything drawn by Steranko. He had a wacky 60s psychedelic thing that just couldn’t be captured on film, but looks great in print. It’s not just a Big 2 problem, either. There have been several indie comic adaptations that also failed to find an audience, like Whiteout (Oni Press), Scott Pilgrim vs The World (Oni Press), and 30 Days of Night (IDW Publishing). Ghost World did well for the hipster crowd, but it didn’t break any box office numbers.

    Part of the problem is that Hollywood is looking at these larger than life characters, instead of the more accessible stories. In doing so, they require larger than life budget and effects. After a point, there’s no way they’re going to make that money back unless they sell a shitload of lunchboxes. After marketing, emergency effects, and whatnot, Green Lantern had a rumored budget of $300M. On a movie about a 2nd tier hero! Would you spend that on a Daredevil movie? People just need to temper their expectations, studio execs included. For this reason, there doesn’t need to be this Luke Cage movie everyone’s clamoring for. Who’s the audience for that? At best, it’s true to the 70s version, so it becomes Black Dynamite parody. At worst, it becomes a John Singleton movie. Just leave some comic stuff IN comics.

    • I was sure I would get some pushback on the DC thing; glad you agree.

      True – I wasn’t even thinking about adapting visual style. Obviously, not everything is going to be done like Sin City.

      As for accessible stories, I think Preacher and (to an extent) Ex Machina could work without too much sacrifice, because of their relative lack of big budget, action-based setpieces. But Preacher is still too long…

      Also, an earlier draft of this countered the Nerve author’s point about toning down the blaxploitation of Luke Cage – it needs to be turned up! Still, “leave some comic stuff IN comics” is basically where I’m at.

  4. I agree with Will West in regards to there is a je ne sais quoi about certain books that can’t be fully adapted beyond the medium. Also in regards to expectations, while there should there be temperance, something should be said for the medium. Not all comics have great stories and a lot can be gleaned over with vivid panel, so when it comes to adaptation, twenty percent of nothing is…nothing.

    Persepolis was an excellent example. As an animated feature, I thought it lacked emotional depth. Maybe a run as a mini serious on premium cable would have helped, but it owes success to nuance, subtly and engagement. It reminds me of recent ad from, something along the lines of “You surf the web, but you simmer in a magazine”.

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