How to Make a Comic Book Movie – Part 3

For the last couple of weeks, I have been exploring some general rules that, for the most part, comic book movies follow – especially superhero movies. In part 1, there was a focus on the origin story, which seems to be a constantly recurring element of superhero movies. In part 2, there was more of a focus on the sequels and franchise that comic movies tend to always have in mind. Here are my six general rules:

  1. Start at the Beginning – they always seem to go back to an origin story, and when they don’t (Superman Returns), it doesn’t always go very well.
  2. Pick a good Origin Story – while origin stories are a huge percentage of comics movies, they’re a much smaller subset of the comics themselves. However, they’re often told a few times in different ways – picking a good one is key!
  3. Pick a Writer and Stick With Them – a lot of people have had their hand at writing about these characters, with DC and Marvel spanning back decades. You can’t adapt all of it in a handful of movies – so generally, they pick one writer and go with their interpretation and storylines.
  4. Aim for Sequels (or a Franchise) – comic movies are like potato chips – hard to have just one. For studios, this makes sense – you make these movies to make a lot of them, and thus a lot of money. For fans, this makes sense – there are so many stories to be told, you can just keep going!
  5. Pick Multiple Villains – it rarely fails: if it’s not an origin story, then you’re probably going to see several named villains, often a distraction or a red herring in the bunch.
  6. Be Willing to Make Changes – sometimes good, sometimes bad, but changes are inevitable with these adaptations. Especially, the longer the series, the more that choices have to be made to keep with movie continuity, rather than comics continuity.
One of the 25 covers from Empire 25 for X-Men: Days of Future Past! I used this on http://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/the-hype-machine-x-men-days-of-future-past/

One of the 25 covers from Empire 25 for X-Men: Days of Future Past! I used this on http://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/the-hype-machine-x-men-days-of-future-past/

You don’t necessarily see all of these rules in one movie – can’t, really, as some deal with the very fact that there’s more than one! However, the more you can look at, the more apparent these rules become. Not convinced? Then allow me to explore a case study: the X-Men franchise. Now at 7 movies spanning decades of history, this series has more movies slated and even more in the talks: titles like DeadpoolGambitX-Force, and the sequel X-Men: Apocalypse.

While a rule like “aim for a franchise” might seem obvious here, are the rest? How do they hold up? Read on, and then let me know what you think in the comments below!

The Proof is in the Pudding: The X-Men

But wait, you say, the first X-Men didn’t include an origin story of the X-Men. It wasn’t necessarily based on a specific comic, although maybe the aesthetic of Ultimate X-Men at least is a part… except that comic came after the movie!

However, in large part, these comics all owe a lot to the work of Chris Claremont, and his run of X-Men comics in the 80’s. Because these comics first gave us Kitty Pryde, whose origin story has become a staple of the X-Men.

Cover from Uncanny X-Men #139… 2 issues before Days of Future Past. I used this on http://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/kitty-pryde-in-x-men-days-of-future-past/

Cover from Uncanny X-Men #139… 2 issues before Days of Future Past.
I used this on http://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/kitty-pryde-in-x-men-days-of-future-past/

No, really. They just used this design on a comic released last week: http://marvel.com/comics/issue/48535/all-new_x-men_2012_32

It’s hard to introduce a new character in comics, it is. And to get new fans buying in, to give them their own life. It happened with Kitty Pryde. She joins the team, and then almost immediately after, we are shown a dystopian future: with Kitty Pryde still alive. She’s powerful and skilled enough to survive the genocide of the mutants. Then she comes back in time and saves them. It’s just a little two-comic story called Days of Future Past.

However, this idea – of introducing the young, female mutant to the team, to introduce the character, to bring in a new audience, to re-introduce the X-Men and do a mini-origin story – they’ve done it a number of times, in different media.

Remember the 90’s X-Men animated series? That opened with Jubilee, the new young female mutant, introduced to the X-Men and who they are and what they do. They fight the Sentinels, deal with the mutant rights issue, and you spawn a TV show. Or there’s the amazing video game, X-Men Legends. This game opens with the new mutant Magma, a young girl who is recruited to the X-Men, trains, and joins the team. She’s who you play in-between missions, back at the X-Mansion.

So then, there’s the first X-Men movie. There’s our young Rogue, origin-story in tow, joining the X-Men, getting caught up in the rights issue, coming under Wolverine’s wing. Oh, because that seems to generally be part of it too: they end up as Wolverine’s sidekick. In all of these cases. Continue reading

How to Make a Comic Book Movie – Part 2

Last week I introduced some characteristics that make up a modern superhero or comic book movie. Winning strategies that you can see used again and again. I focused mainly on the idea of the origin story: something they tend to always go back to, every time they start up with another hero.

So they start with an origin story, and tend to pull it from a comic that includes the origin story… and more. Often with the origin in a flashback, or just as a part. Then, they tend to continue with the stories connected to this origin story – generally by sticking with the same comic writer.

Make enough comics movies, and you could make this one! I used this on http://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/rewatching-x-men-the-last-stand/

Make enough comics movies, and you could make this one!
I used this on http://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/rewatching-x-men-the-last-stand/

The reason for sticking with one writer makes a lot of sense: there’s decades of character development and history, based on countless writers and ideas of the characters. How do you adapt a character with that much baggage? By picking one vision of the character, and going with that.

However, once established in an origin story, they move on. Generally, these movies aren’t being made to tell us the origin story. They’re being made to have fun with the characters, as tends to happen in sequels. To include more, to tell more of the stories. To do more. To make a franchise, to bring the larger scope of the characters to life. Or, cynically, to make more money. But hey, all of these things are accomplished, so: here’s three more rules of making a comics movie!

Aim for Sequels – or a Franchise

I think it’s safe to say that just about every comic adaptation movie is shooting to make more than one movie. Part of the reason to tap into a known world, a known franchise, to deal with licensing this instead of something new, is that you can expect to be tapping into an existing fan base. This also aligns very neatly with the fact that so many comic adaptation movies are announced well in advance of release – you can already see them lining up for next year!

Of course, it’s easy to look at the big franchises and see this. And really, the success of The Avengers building off of Marvel Phase 1 can help explain why we’re seeing things like Days of Future Past tying together old-and-new X-Men movies, and then spin-off Spider-Man movies like Sinister Six and Venom. And why DC is working hard on finally actually getting a Justice League movie to the big screen. The franchises are only going to grow, until eventually one falters majorly.

Hopefully that’s not for a while.

But heck, look past the big name titles, and in recent years you still have Kick-Ass 2Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, and more. Ghost Rider got a second movie, Blade got 3 movies, and even a movie like Daredevil got an Electra movie spin-off… Meaning I would not at all be surprised to see a Green Lantern 2, an R.I.P.D. 2, or a Hercules 2.

I find it important to note that many of those titles aren’t even directly based on comics! The movies went beyond the simple graphic novel it spun from, like 300: Rise of an Empire, which sounded terrible… maybe it would have helped to have had some source material to work from. But then you take Red 2, and it was great, even though the comic was really only related to the first film.

In short, expect a sequel at least when it comes to a comic adaptation movie. Usually they try to tie up most of the loose-ends and plot-lines in each movie, but still, there’s generally more to come. If done well, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

Pick Multiple Villains

It happens so much of the time – a comic-book movie has two villains in it, or a villain and a maybe unrelated bad-guy organization. There’s rarely a team up, though of course Batman Forever exists to make that not true. But look at the movies before and after it: Catwoman and the Penguin in Batman Returns not working together, and Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane, not necessarily as a trio in Batman and Robin.

You have Loki and the Frost Giants in Thor, Loki and the Chitauri in The Avengers, and Loki and Malekith (and friends, like Kurse!) in Thor: The Dark World. You have whole rogues galleries the various Batman and Spider-Man movies, you have Magneto and the Brotherhood and other villains in the various X-Men movies – or say, for The Wolverine you have the Silver Samurai and Viper both.

I could go on with more and more examples, but let’s just look at the exceptions. Generally, when there’s only one villain, it’s an origin story. So you get the Fantastic Four with their origin story and them coming to terms with their powers, and then you fight Dr. Doom. You get the second movie, and now we have Doom, plus the Silver Surfer, and then Galactus. While the later Spider-Man movies have multiple villains, the first one (in both recent iterations) has only one villain. Tim Burton’s Batman just had the Joker, but I mentioned all those villains in the later films.

Sure there are a few outliers, but it seems like extra villains are often thrown in to fill the time that in other movies would be filled with the origin story. You sometimes get villains who really just feel like a throw-away, and are dealt with earlier in the movie, or are a gateway to getting to the “real” villain. Think of poor Sandman in Spider-Man 3: why was he really there? Filler, which is kind of a shame, because Venom could have used more time. Continue reading