Saturday, May 9, 2009

Reflecting Poorly: The Bad of Comic Movies

Let me preface this blog with a quote from a review of Fox's most recent Super-Hero flick X-men Origins: Wolverine by Philip French of the Observer: 
It's dull, bone-crushing, special-effects stuff, of interest only to hardcore fans who've probably read it all in Marvel comics.
Let me begin by saying that I don't believe that Mr. French speaks for everyone, but that I believe what he expresses in the above quote says a great deal about the laymen perception of graphic literature. I say graphic literature as a whole, and not simply American comics, or super-hero comics because I believe that the uninitiated see little distinction between these genres. This quote, and what it entails suggests to me that the comic book movie's success (as a genre, not specifically Wolverine) is doing little to help graphic literature in the long run. 

When you refer to comic books in America, there is a natural association with the super-hero genre, and rightly so. Super-heros entered into the American culture about seventy years ago, and the major companies that produce super-hero comics dominate the American Market with something along the lines of 70-85% of the pie. But that in itself isn't the issue, the issue is that for whatever reason the general movie goer seems to take these adaptation as the gospel truth of the comics, unless of course they carry the heft of The Dark Knight- in which case fully credit is given to the film's writer and director. The result is that these film's failures are chalked up to bad source writing, and the successes are attributed to the film makers. In effect, these films do nothing to help Graphic Literature. 

Look at the reviews for The Dark Knight if you doubt this. I believe that Chris Nolan did put his own spin on Batman and the Joker in crafting the Dark Knight, but one of the things that seems to constantly be ignored when the film is discussed is how the likes of The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, or dozens of other well-written Batman stories effected the final piece. I won't deny that The Dark Knight brought about an increase in the number of Batman trades purchased, but those numbers as nothing compared to the box office the film brought in, and when the film is discussed it is still discussed as Nolan's Batman. What bothers me about this isn't that Nolan can't "have" a Batman, certainly people refer to Batman in the same way when talking about major creators like Denny O'Neil or Frank Miller-- what bothers me is that when people discuss Nolan's Batman is seems as though they're talking about a new identity rather than a cumulatively built one. 

In the case of Wolverine, it feels as though because the film is floundering critically (although a fiscal enough success to garner two additional sequels and fast track two others) the blame is being put toward the comics or fanboys. As though there was a die-hard Wolverine fan who pissed their pants in excitement when Gambit, Emma Frost, Blob, and Cyclops were revealed to be in the film. Worse yet, there are people who will take the film as comic book cannon and continue to be dismissive of the literature, knee-deep genre though it may be. I remember years ago, sometime in 2003, I went to see the first Hulk movie directed by Ang Lee and as I  left the theater disgusted and disappointed, (to those who site it as being a good film, but bad adaptation: you're wrong. It's a horrible, horrible film. I can never get more than fifteen minutes in) I overheard someone say to their date that evening something to the effect of, "Did you know about all of that stuff with his father? I had no idea." -- for whatever reason comic adaptations are believed to be faithful, though everyone seems to know that Hollywood bastardizes novels with nearly every other adaption

How are Comics ever really going to get a fair shake? With an audience that assumes only super-hero films have material related to comics, with film being a more recognized art form, with poorly written films being taken in for cannon, and with the best of the bunch in comics being sweeping epic stories nearly impossible to tell in 2-3 hours-- what hope does graphic literature really have of gaining recognition from comic movies? I don't believe there's much.

I'm consistently amazed as how little the uninitiated know about comic books. Honestly, when I hear people talk about comic movies, and they're not comic readers themselves It's almost painful. Comic books, graphic novels, manga, graphic literature, however you slice it and label it, aren't just kids books, or the format for mediocre writers. They're not just fight scenes and explosions, They're not just about colorful tights, mechanized robots, and big boobs. There's no denying that those things proliferate graphic literature, they sell, but so do awful comic book adaptations that are built around special effects, and formulaic romantic comedies, and Adam Sandler movies but we don't hold any of those things against film as an art form, do we? No. So why are comic book stories not given their due? I may be off base, but I don't think I am.

1 comment:

Kiriska said...

Lots of messed up homophones in this post, but maybe it's just 'cause you sound upset. :P

I do find it woefully ironic that any good that comes from comic movies are attributed to the director whereas any bad that comes is attributed to the source, but that comes from the general populace's preconceived notions regarding comics and a lack of want or need to change that perception. Still, I do think that that perception is limited to those who would never pick up a comic book to begin with -- namely, adults who hold on to little of their youth and stereotypical women. Those that just never felt compelled to pick up a comic may still be compelled, and I think that's good enough.

Theoretically, if the youth population that holds comics in high regard continues to grow, then eventually, there will be a sizable population of adults that can at least appreciate that comics, in whatever form, aren't just for children. Theoretically.

The Vertigo editor that showed up for Editors' Day remarked at some point that every five years, there seems to be a comic or graphic novel that gains literary recognition amongst the populace -- Watchmen, Maus, and that ilk -- but people systematically forget and are wowed again when the next deeply renowned title comes up, stubbornly unwilling to admit that a fair share of the medium may also actually be worth looking at.