So we have Drama, Comedy, Action, Sci-Fi, Horror, Musical, Family (or kids and family), Animation (Hollywood), Anime (Japanese) or at least that’s how media stores would have us categorize movies. However, there are other classifications that cross these categories: Epic, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Mythology and so on. Then there are the cases that blur the lines between categories: Horror-Comedy, Dramedy, Sci-Fi-Horror, etc.
I bring this up to have a quick look at what’s happened in the last decade. Comic-Book movies. Some say that this is just another money-grabbing ploy aimed squarely at the 14-25 fanboy (or girl) demographic. Cynics would say that these movies are just as empty-headed as other blockbusters to come before them (Hello, ID4). And to some degree, they’d be right.
Let’s have a look at the past. Comic books were a form of illustrated literature aimed squarely at kids. They were an offshoot of the pulp-novels that came before. But as certain characters took hold, we began to see that the readers grew up, but did not want to abandon those characters. The sad part for these people is that the comics did not grow up with them. So, instead, these characters and certain defining stories live on through nostalgia. This has been held so dearly, that television shows and movie serials were created from the comic source material. Again, these were aimed squarely at kids in the theater matinees.
And people still did not want to let go of their favorite characters. However, the powers-that-be relegated them to “funny books” and thus came the era of campy shows like the 1960’s Batman and even some others like The Green Hornet (no, Bruce Lee cannot save that one). I remember liking these types of shows as a kid. But my excuse is that I was a kid. I have the 1960’s Batman movie on DVD. And, while I do satisfy my nostalgia watching it, it’s hard to understand why that portrayal of the heroes had such popularity among some adults. Apparently, celebrities of the era were clamouring to be on Batman. Even Sinatra, as I understand it. But this could not last and it eventually faded from its high popularity to be reduced to after-school re-runs.
So superheroes were relegated to bland action shows and even more bland cartoons. (Except Johnny Quest. See earlier blog posts and podcasts for much love for that show from the ’60s.) Then things began to take a turn in the late seventies with Superman. But even that was campy. Follow that up with the Tim Burton Batman movies. More successful, but still campy (I’m going to purposefully ignore the nipple-suits here). Marvel had made some bad choices here and some pretty terrible film and TV projects came out of it (I’m aiming at you, Reb Brown Captain America). Then, after another decade, something amazing happened: Blade opened in 1998. And it didn’t suck. Then there was Blade II and Blade III. We won’t go there.
But it seems that the seed had been planted. In 2000, we got the exciting adaptation of X-Men. In 2002, we got the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man. Some spectacular visuals and some decent characters helped a fairly vanilla story. In 2005, we got Batman Begins and Sin City. One a serious take on the hero and his legend, the other a faithful and direct adaptation of the source comic material. Good, these were good starts. Perceptions are beginning to change. Then, in 2008, we got Iron Man. Ka-Pow! Marvel and Paramount knocked that out of the park. It had to be a risky venture using John Favreau, then known for Elf and Zathura; and Robert Downey Jr, then known (to me, anyway) as a lush and a bit of a walking joke. But it worked. They wisely also decided on a tone that was action-oriented but including comedic moments without venturing into camp. However, that movie had something else: Character Development and a plan that would become the foundation for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And that’s the key here. You had Christopher Nolan’s spectacular, but serious take on the Batman legend, and you had the beginnings of the MCU. Marvel did well also taking a more serious tone with their stories, but giving us characters that could change and we could care for. So now the comics are now evolving into our modern mythos. A new perspective on the archetypes from ancient mythology and drama as told for a modern age. Instead of The Man in the Iron Mask, we have the Man in the Iron Suit. Instead of Zeus, the horny thunderer, we have Thor the handsome thunder god. Steve Rogers has become our every-hero and moral compass. This is our modern Shakespeare.
And so long as these characters are treated with care and the stories don’t insult us, we should be in for even more of a thrill ride that will last through our generation and live on for future generations. Gone (hopefully) are the silly school-yard conversations of who could beat up whom. While they have given way to Big Bang-esque conversations, they seem more guided by their love of the source material versus wild speculation, the downfall of so many stories.
So I’ll sign off with this: As long as there is a plan for the MCU, I’ll keep going to see these movies and I’ll probably continue to love them for years to come.
One thought on “Evolution of the Comic Book in Other Media”
What do you think of the upcoming Ant-Man movie? I’ve seen the trailers at work and they don’t look bad. I just question the choice of such an obscure character. Most folks who only casually follow Marvel Comics probably don’t know who the character is. Hopefully, it will work out, but to me they’re taking a risk on this one.
I’m glad they went with the more modern take on the character and not how he originally was. Trying to make a hero out of alcoholic, wife-abusing Henry Pym would have been problematic at best.