Monday, November 3, 2008

Comic Book Fan Entitlement: Doing Justice to the Source Material

In my first blog post, I suggested that in today's superhero-obsessed Hollywood, the worlds of comic books and comic book films are becoming increasingly entwined. Naturally, comic book fans are among the prime demographic to which comic book films are targeted. This also means that such pulp fiction enthusiasts are the hardest to please when it comes to the adaptations of certain superheroes. Spending one minute perusing any message board or reading blogs dedicated to the discussion of comic adaptations is enough to recognize the variety of differing, and often very passionate, opinions on the matter. One begins to notice a sense of entitlement, the impression that these fans feel they deserve quality adaptations. A portion of a recent essay from Michael Peterson entitled "A Question of Accessibility: Studying Pathology and Archaeology" got me wondering, how does a comic book film do justice to the source material in ways that please the core audience? Peterson writes, "A film audience doesn't want a Batman story, they want the Batman story." In my exploration of the blogosphere this week, I decided to search external blogs concerning "important" properties that are dear to the hearts of comic book fans and critics alike and whose film adaptations are currently in the works: Superman (pictured to the left) and Watchmen (pictured below to the right). My goal was to discover what certain aficionados thought it might take to make the Superman story or the Watchmen story, and also to provide my own thoughts. The first post, "What To Do With The Superman Movies," is, as the title clearly states, a suggestion by blogger "dailypop" on how best to handle the next installment of the aforementioned franchise. The second, "A Bit More On The Watchmen Movie," is a critique of the Zack Snyder's upcoming adaptation written by "Ampersand" from Alas, A Blog. My comments can be read below, or in context by following the adjacent links.

"What To Do With The Superman Movies"
First of all, thank you for an inspired post providing your own personal insight to what is going on in the world of superhero movies. For some reason, I have found that most blogs on the topic merely relay comic book film news without much critical analysis involved. By identifying Superman as the "blueprint for the superhuman hero," you acknowledge the fact that great care must be taken in adapting the iconic character the screen correctly. Indeed, "the idea of a man flying" is not enough to inspire awe given today's limitless usage of CGI. I actually thought that one of the strengths of Bryan Singer's Superman Returns was that it addressed the possible irrelevance of the character in contemporary society, illustrated in the film by Lois Lane's article, "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman." However, the underwhelming response to that film proves that a modern Man of Steel movie must go even further to eradicate any public notion that Superman is obsolete and connect with viewers on a higher level. Perhaps the themes of "madcap inventiveness and absurdity played against mundane everyday life" that you mention are a step in the right direction, though I feel it needs to go even further than merely the absurd, perhaps setting the ordinary against the divine. Superman is morally incorruptible and virtually indestructable, essentially a god. I think the next Superman film must remind us why he is the hero that all other superheroes look up to, go grander with its themes yet still retain a more personal human element to which viewers can relate. That said, I was curious as to your thoughts on Mark Millar's recent proposal for an epic Superman reboot, an eight-hour, Lord-of-the-Rings-like trilogy that would chronicle the entire life of the character, starting a thousand years ago on Krypton and ending "with Superman alone on Planet Earth, the last being left on the planet, as the yellow sun turns red and starts to supernova, and he loses his powers.” Do you believe your idea could work within the framework of Millar's concept or is his more in the darker vein that you feel inappropriate for the series?

"A Bit More On The Watchmen Movie"
Thank you for your insightful analysis of the upcoming Watchmen adaptation with regard to its original source material. I agree with your point that the film's slavish reproduction of the graphic novel will not necessarily translate into a quality film. Much of the enthusiasm for the film spawns from its apparent frame-by-frame adherence, rather than the possibility for it to achieve for films what the original Watchmen did for comic books, that is to comment upon and deconstruct the medium from which it comes. You say "it's not going to be as good as the comic." While I agree that the adaptation will probably not be as groundbreaking to the medium of film as the comic was to its medium, I do believe that it has the potential to be innovative in the ever-expanding genre of superhero films. Several things I have seen and heard about the film seems to be deliberately reflecting on superhero films of the past. For instance, the changes made to both costumes of Nite Owl and Ozymandias for the film bring to mind the flambuoyant rubber costumes from Joel Schumacher's Batman films. Indeed, Ozymandias' suit actually sports those infamous nipples... Given the notoriety of Schumacher's series, one can only assume that Zack Snyder is intentionally exploiting this style in a symbolic way and not attempting to replicate it based on any sort of "cool" factor. A big reason I think Watchmen is employing intelligent pastiche instead of empty reflexivity is based on the music used in the trailer. The song is Smashing Pumpkin's "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning," written for the soundtrack to Schumacher's Batman & Robin. Snyder admitted at Comic Con 2008 to choosing the song ironically based on its "lineage." These touches give me hope that the movie "looks like every other superhero movie that’s come out in the last few years" on purpose. Perhaps one reason to admire the film is because it deviates from the aesthetic of the original graphic novel. Rather than subvert the visual style of existing superhero movies, as its comic predecessor did, maybe the film is subverting the source material itself by exploiting those formal techniques to achieve a different end. Either that, or Zack Snyder is simply trying to make a movie that looks cool, which may very well be the case judging by his slick previous effort 300. Still, I would rather give Watchmen the benefit of the doubt until I see it.


Greg Wapnick said...

Cam, thanks for your interesting post. I have never been particularly interested in the comic book world, but after reading this post I can definitely see this is something you are extremely passionate about. It is also very apparent that the subject of comics is something you can offer great expertise on. That being said it is difficult for me to point out anything wrong with the content of your blog. I really enjoyed the subject because it is one of the few things that I know about comic books and their followers. The way that a film interprets the original comic is something that a follower is very sensitive about, and I think that they have the right to be. Throughout your post I think that your use of links is very efficient. I like how in the first line of your post you draw a comparison to your first blog post, and offer a link to take you directly to it. Doing this will allow the reader to get a feel for your ideas and writing prior to reading your latest edition. Your comments on other blogs offer great insight, as well as pose excellent questions for the author of that post to answer. I would be very curious to see some of the responses that you will receive.

I do think that your first picture is placed awkwardly in the first paragraph. I think making it a little larger, and placing it on the upper left-hand corner of the paragraph could add to the visual. I like how you offer a link to take the reader to the trailer for Watchmen. I know that seeing the trailer for a film is always important in the decision of whether to view it in theaters. Like I said before it is difficult for me to find anything to constructively criticize. Your blog is well written and of great interest. I'm not sure how you feel about changing up the first picture, but I think you it should be considered. It is a very cool picture, and enlarging it could only help add to your post. Keep up the good work.

Daily P.O.P. said...

Superb blog and very interesting posts. I also like that you are linking to other bloggers and re-posting your responses. It makes for a very unique layout.

I'm not exactly sure about a Superman trilogy as Millar would lay it out, but it definitely needs to make a big impact. The next Superman movie needs to leave viewers with a strong memory 10 years down the road of 'remember that Superman film? THAT was a super hero movie.'

The only real exception to Millar's idea as written in your response is that it would need to reset at the end to present day, Clark Kent reporter, Lois Lane oblivious to his personality, etc. The reason that I say this is that an essential component to the idea of the Superman comic book is his immortal iconographic status.

I'd be interested in hearing what you think about this and how it fits into the comic book fan entitlement as you see it.

And keep the great posts coming!

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