How to Make a Comic Book Movie – Part 1

Comics. I love ’em, and they’re turning into movies left and right. There are continually ups and downs, good ones and bad ones. Movies and comics both, I suppose! There seems to be a formula to adapting a comic to a movie, as well. Not that they are all alike, or formulaic – but the adaptation happens in pretty similar ways.

I have been doing a series on Comparative Geeks called LitFlix – where we read the source material first, and then see the movie. My wife (@CompGeeksHolly) has been covering the books, and I have been covering the comics. So I guess in a way, these are some of my observations from doing that.

I suppose in particular I’m going to focus on the superhero films. I’ll try not to pick on any particular films or franchises, because I know there are people who like all of these different characters, and the different films as well. There are also critical eyes which would find problems with all of them, and fans who might find no problems with them at all. And what I have to describe aren’t necessarily problems – but patterns. So I hope you like comics, because it’s comics time!

Start at the Beginning

Yes, ha ha, start at the beginning. One of those basic storytelling ideas (and the definition of “beginning”…). However, it means something different when it comes to comics movies: start with the origin story.

Let’s look at a couple of reboots. Say, The Amazing Spider-Man. One common complaint was that we were going back to a character we know, pretty well and pretty recently, from other movies. And not continuing the continuity, but instead a new one. Which, it seems obviously, had to start back at the origin story. We couldn’t just have a Spider-Man movie where he’s going around being Spider-Man. For whatever reason, we have to tell the origin story first.

Or how about the Dark Knight movies? As much or more than Spider-Man, Batman is a known character with a known life, story, and origin. And a series of movies – different creative teams though they might have been – had ended not that long before Batman Begins. But again, back to the origin story.

It might be that it shows you are a different story. Clearly, when you repeat, re-do, and change a known event (like the origin), you are showing that you are telling a different story. And sometimes, you want and need to create that distance – I can understand them wanting to distance themselves from the previous Fantastic Four films, so I’m sure the new one will be an origin film.

So many more examples I could give! The origin stories keep coming up. But maybe the example to turn to is one that shows that going back to the origin stories is a really good idea. Superman Returns. They tried the idea of making a movie, years later, still in the same continuity as the previous films – like a Bond film might (except even Bond has dipped into origin-story territory of late!). For a variety of reasons, this film was not considered all that good, and ended up being the end of that continuity.

And so they made Man of Steel: new continuity, new tone and look and feel. Going back to the origin shows us it is new and different, and we accept its difference as the audience.

Pick a Good Origin Story

So while origin stories are an incredibly large percentage of superhero movies, not so with the comics themselves. A lot of big anniversaries have been hitting lately: 50 years of X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four… 75 years of Batman… and largely, these comics are still working in the same universe continuity as when they started.

Sure, there was an origin story at the beginning, but since then, they have to tell a different story. Often, you end up with short-stories or alternate realities, where they can re-tell or re-explore these things – sometimes going back to the origin in these. Like one short story I just read, Batman: Year One, which steps back to the very beginning of Batman. Or the one I read before Man of Steel, called Superman: Birthright.

However, I think the best example is Iron Man. This film, though I didn’t know it at the time, was at least in part based on the comic Iron Man: Extremis. In this comic, Tony Stark is remembering back to his beginning, remembering designing his first suit, in a cave, and just really a lot like the first Iron Man film. But then, this shows my second point about picking the right origin story: pick one that is a gift that keeps giving.

Because Extremis was not just the idea behind the first Iron Man: it was also the baseline plot to Iron Man 3. Far more obviously. But still, part of those comics, as I found and was amazed, was what they tapped as the origin story. However, you can’t really start with Extremis as a plot, so they ran the origin – and then returned to it later.

I’ve noticed this effect in some of my other LitFlix reading as well, such as for Thor: The Dark World. This is based in part on the comics introducing Malekith as a villain. Except, the mythical object that Malekith was involved with wasn’t the Aether from the movie: it was the Cask of Ancient Winters, from the first Thor.

Pick a good origin story comic, and milk it. Which leads into my next point. Continue reading

Advertisements

Weekend Music: “Black Eyed Man”

One of my favorite Cowboy Junkies tunes.

It’s been a long, hard couple of weeks for me. I’m skipping the open thread today, but feel free to treat this one as open if you have questions about WordPress, need to catch up with me, etc.

I’m planning to have a coffee post this weekend.

TGIF.

And did I mention I have two guest posts about Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns going at Comparative Geeks this weekend, one of which was published today?

Batman Turns 75

Happy new book day, everyone! Today marks the official 75th anniversary of Batman’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27 back in 1939. That was one of the primary reasons I chose to start my blogging hobby with a Batman column, and I have stuck to it for seven months now.

I have tackled lots of angles on the character, his history, his potential heirs, and even some of his antagonists (after all, the Joker is in all of us, just waiting to get out). I have also shown you all part of my Batman collection, voiced my need for aid in finding an old comic from the 90s, and even drawn sometimes loose connections between Batman and real life historical figures. It’s been a wild ride so far.

Though I am not exclusive with my superhero fandom, Batman has held a special place in my heart since childhood. The Tim Burton/Michael Keaton films and Batman: The Animated Series cemented differing versions of the character in my mind at a very early age, and the idea of the multiple narratives, universes, and timelines of this mythical character attracted me almost from the beginning. In fact, I still imagine Kevin Conroy‘s voice whenever I read a comic featuring Batman.

And that version of the character may be for me what many would call the Batman of my heart. It has grown over the years, shaped by the stories and other media I’ve been exposed to in the years since, but some things remain part of the character’s core.

Batman isn’t entirely good or kind–no one that damaged would be–but he has enough of both present within him to recognize the darkness his experiences have placed within him, and (again, as Frank Miller has said) he makes that darkness work for the betterment of the world around him. He is generous and charitable with his immense wealth, since it holds little allure for him beyond funding his war against crime and maintaining the illusion of Bruce Wayne’s apathetic playboy lifestyle. Because I also believe Bruce Wayne is the false identity and Batman is the real character; Bruce only exists to keep suspicion off of him in his real life.

And I believe that life is long and filled with adventure. One day, decades hence, Bruce will finally be forced to retire and pass on the mantle to one of many possible heirs. Because there must always be a Batman.

Final page from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Art by Frank Miller. Image found at http://www.therealbatmanchronologyproject.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/BatmanTDKR4-199-The-Dark-Knight-Falls.jpg

Final page from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Art by Frank Miller. Image found at http://www.therealbatmanchronologyproject.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/BatmanTDKR4-199-The-Dark-Knight-Falls.jpg

That’s my thought for this auspicious day. Any of you who might be capable should leave flowers on the graves of Bill Finger and Bob Kane today. Little did they know what their attempt to simply pay the bills would become over the next century.

That said, who is the Batman of your heart? Which take from which writer, artist, or medium is the core, definitive Batman for you? Let me know in the comments below.

I would also like to take this opportunity to announce that I will be expanding the scope of this blog in the coming weeks. Batman shall always form its core, but I need to stretch my legs a bit. Please keep coming back to see what I’ve come up with.

My comic picks for this week:

Batman #33

Batman Eternal #16

Batman Beyond Universe #12

Superman #33

Injustice: Year Two #8

Daredevil #6

Storm #1

Velvet #6

Villains Make the Best Heroes: Batman vs Lex Luthor

Happy new book day, everyone! I hope you are all doing well this week. I am quickly closing in on the six month mark on this column, and for this entry I decided to look forward instead of backward. The first true big event of DC’s New 52, Forever Evil by Geoff Johns and David Finch, recently wrapped up, and I believe it has been out long enough to talk a bit about it here. Be forewarned, though, that this post contains spoilers if you haven’t read Forever Evil #7.

Forever Evil has been quite a treat for me to read. Its tagline, “Evil is Relative,” plays well with my growing belief that villains make the best heroes, and that small evil actions can be committed for the sake of larger good ones. Criminality and disposition aside, you cannot argue with the effectiveness of the methodologies of such characters as Lex Luthor and Sinestro, two of the characters featured as defenders of the earth in Forever Evil.

Why, then, is Batman featured as the sole active hero in this team of villains? Though he is initially hesitant to work with Lex Luthor’s team, it can be argued that Batman functions better with them than he does with the Justice League. I can write entire posts (and have, and will again) about the things that differentiate Batman from his fellow heroes, from his lack of superpowers to his personality.

I have previously raised the question of whether or not Batman may even be in the right fictional universe, and I now pose a new question: is Batman a villain who decided to fight for justice rather than personal gain? As I’ve pointed out before, Frank Miller wrote Batman from the perspective that the darkness in Batman is greater than the light, but he makes this darkness work for the benefit of everyone around him. I believe this thought is worth meditating upon for awhile.

Continue reading