From Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures comes “Man of Steel”, starring Henry Cavill, directed by Zach Snyder. The film also stars Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Henry Lennix, Christopher Meloni and Laurence Fishburne. In theaters June 14th.
In the run-up to Man of Steel, the most eagerly-anticipated super-hero film of the year, DC Comics just can’t seem to keep its new Superman initiatives secret for very long. ComicMix has learned that, in the wake of unprecedentedly strong orders for the print version of Batman ’66, DC has started work on Superman Silver. Like the Jeff Parker-Jonathan Case series, Superman Silver will exploit Boomer nostalgia for an earlier incarnation of one of its two biggest super stars. Obviously, “going retro” to appeal to an aging readership has paid off big-time for the publisher, since it’s decided to commission this series even before having metrics on Batman ’66.
Work on the new seven-week series, edited by Bobbie Chase and scheduled to begin in June, is only just beginning, but a few details have been leaked to ComicMix. Each issue will recreate the style, look, and tone of a Mort Weisinger-edited “Superman Family” title of the Silver Age, with several issues offering three 8-page stories.
While DC is still finalizing the lineup, we’ve learned that the series will kick off with Superman Silver: Superman, featuring a book- length Imaginary Story, “The Death of Van-Zee and Sylvia” by Howard Mackie and Alex Saviuk. This will be followed by Superman Silver: Action presenting a Superman lead, “When Superman Became Congorilla!” by Ralph Macchio and Terry Dodson, and a Supergirl back-up story, “Jeff Malverne, Super-Horse – Comet’s Rival for Supergirl’s Heart!” by Ann Nocenti and Patrick Olliffe. Week Three brings Superman Silver: Jimmy Olsen, whose cover story, “The Bedbug Boy of Metropolis,” is by Roger Stern and Javier Salteris.
To date, no creative team has yet been assigned to Superman Silver: Adventure, whose book-length story will feature the Bizarro Legion of Super-Heroes. Artists are still being sought for the remaining titles, Superman Silver: Lois Lane, Superman Silver: Superboy, and Superman Silver: World’s Finest, all of which will be written by Tom DeFalco.
There’s been a lot of pushing the reset button in pop culture recently and I find the results interesting. J.J. Abrams rebooted the Star Trek franchise a few years back and, while some fans complained, I think it was successful. Certainly it was financially successful, which is what the Hollywood moguls really care about.
At the start of Daniel Craig’s run, the James Bond movies were also rebooted, culminating in the recent spectacular Skyfall, which – again this may be heresy to some – was the best Bond film ever. It’s visually stunning and takes Bond himself to greater depths and heights than I’ve seen up until now.
Sherlock Holmes has been reinterpreted into the modern age with two versions, the BBC’s magnificent Sherlock and Elementary on CBS. Both are true to the basics and it’s amazing how well the classic fictional detective gibes with modern times.
Of course, we’ve witnessed DC’s rebirth with the New 52. Again, you can argue as to whether it is artistically successful but I don’t think you can argue that it hasn’t been financially successful thus far. This summer will see a movie rebooting of Superman with Man of Steel. The Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy rebooted that cinematic history as The Amazing Spider-man did with that character’s movie version. X-Men: First Class reimagined Marvel’s mutants and so on. The next Star Wars chapter and the announced Star Wars solo films, while they will undoubtedly respect the previous movies, will probably play hob with what is known as the Extended Universe, the complex continuity that has sprung up around the films via novels, comics, games and more. Depending on how they turn out, that may not be a bad idea.
All my professional comic book writing career, I’ve played with and enjoyed continuity. I respect it but I don’t worship it and I don’t think it is cast in stone. Sometimes, continuity becomes like barnacles on the bottom of a boat and need to be scraped off in order to make the boat (or the franchise) sea/see worthy again.
One of the most successful franchises is the BBC’s Doctor Who and part of its longevity (it celebrates 50 years this year) is its ability to change the actor who is playing the Doctor. It’s built into the series; the Doctor is an alien being who regenerates from time to time into virtually a new character, played by a different actor. The new Doctor doesn’t look, act, dress or sound like any of the other incarnations. The re-invention is a part of the continuity and that’s very clever.
I think this is very healthy; characters and concepts can and should be re-examined and re-imagined for the times in which they appear. They have to speak to and reflect concerns that its current public has if they are going to remain vital and alive.
Can it be overdone or badly done? Absolutely. Some remakes get so far from what the character is about that they might as well be a different character altogether. You want to take a look at the essence of the character, what defines them, and then see how you get back to that, interpreting it for current audiences. Some folks revamp something for the sake of revamping or to put their stamp on the character. I don’t think that usually works very well. Change what needs changing, certainly, but be true to the essentials of the character or concept.
Have I always done that? I don’t think so; when I was given Suicide Squad, I didn’t go back to the few stories that were originally published and work from that. I created a new concept for the title. However, I did reference the old stories and kept them a part of continuity, albeit re-interpreting them. I think we played fair with the old stories.
On The Spectre, Tom Mandrake and I took elements from as many past versions of the character as we could while getting down to what we felt were the essentials. Really, our biggest change was not the Spectre himself but his alter-ego, Jim Corrigan. Originally, he was plainclothes detective in the 30s and our version reflected that. I think that was a key to our success.
Even with my own character GrimJack, after a certain point I drop kicked the character at least 100 years down his own timeline into (shades of the Doctor) a new incarnation. I gave him a new supporting cast and the setting changed as well. It made the book and the character fresh again and made me look at it with new eyes.
The old stories will continue to exist somewhere; they just won’t be part of the new continuity. At some point, that new continuity will be changed as well as the concepts and characters are re-interpreted for a newer audience. That way they’ll remain fresh and alive. Otherwise, they’ll just become fossilized and dead. Who wants that?
Last week my colleague Ms. Thomases and I were sharing a movie experience at a Manhattan multi-mega-complex. Running the gauntlet of promotional material we passed the familiar poster advertising the franchise-saving event, Man of Steel. Once we were settled in the theater and the obnoxiously repulsive commercials started playing – most were for television shows – I mentioned to Martha that the new management of Warner Bros. hasn’t truly green-lit the Justice League movie. “They’re waiting to see how Man of Steel works out.”
Her Oh-Oh Sense flared up. While both of us were hoping for a killer Superman flick, nothing we have seen thus far has promoted any sense of confidence. Do we need another origin story filled with the Els and the Kents? Most of us have cable teevee or DVDs or streaming video or all three, and there’s plenty of filmed presentations of that origin story. My favorite remains the one from the 1950s teevee series where Our Miss Brooks’ Phillip Boynton played Jor-El while wearing Buster Crabbe’s tunic from the Flash Gordon serials… but that’s just me and a few other decrepit baby-boomers. The rest of you probably never heard of Professor Boynton, and some of you haven’t seen the Flash Gordon serials. You should fix that.
I’m certainly willing to give it a shot and I’ll enter the theater with all the optimism I can muster. It has a good cast, and Michael Shannon certainly has the gravitas to be a great General Zod. But there’s one problem that I’m unlikely to get past.
That damn costume.
OK. I’m sure somebody in Hollywood said “That guy wears his underpants outside his leotard! It’s stupid! We’ve must fix that!” Actually, it’s an old joke. But Superman is a genuine American icon, right up there with the flag, apple pie and third-world health care. Whereas we can fix the latter (but won’t in my lifetime) and the second is fattening, you do not change the flag. You do not change the Coca-Cola bottle, even if they’re reduced to printing a silhouette of it on their cans. You do not give Donald Duck Prozac, you do not copy Johnny Carson’s golf swing on your teevee show.
I’m not suggesting things cannot change. But there’s a reason why certain things reach iconic status. It’s like granting historical status to New York’s Grand Central Terminal (100 years old last week) or Chicago’s Rookery (Daniel Burnham rocks!). Society has deemed Superman’s trunks appropriate, dating back to the time Joe Shuster employed the imagery of the 1930s circus strongman for the Man of Steel’s costume. We may not have very many circus sideshows these days, but we do have Superman.
Besides, if there’s one stupid element in the big guy’s costume, it’s that cape. One of Clark Kent’s undisclosed superpowers must be a psionic ability to keep that thing from flapping over his face while in flight, or doing an Isadora Duncan on Lois Lane when they fly out to the Fortress of Solitude for a weekend of melting the crystals.
But I would not drop that cape, just like I wouldn’t gawk at our flag and ask “gee, do we need all that red?”
Because Warner Bros. is the dog and its DC Entertainment is the tail, Supe’s trunkless costume debuted in the ever-changing yet never-evolving New 52. I get this: a lot more money is riding on the movie franchise than on the comic books. However, there’s a reason why Superman has lasted 75 years – Man of Steel comes out pretty damn close to the actual 75th anniversary date – while other characters from that era that were more popular at the time (The Shadow, The Lone Ranger, Buck Rogers) have fallen out of favor. And that reason is wrapped in a red cape and red trunks.
When I see Man of Steel, I’ll have a hard time looking at the Big Guy and not thinking “Jeez, these morons got it wrong!”
Sometimes, fixing a stupid idea… is a stupid idea.
No doubt those of you who troll the Internets or saw The Hobbit were privy to the new trailer for Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel. My Facebook feed was deluged with tons of praise, mirth, and, most scary to me… hope. Maybe it’s being in the company (and five-a-day e-mail chains) of Mike Gold, but color me doubtful. Not that Mike isn’t anything short of a ray of sunshine mind you… but I digress; I’m none-to-impressed with the footage. That is to say, I didn’t see anything that makes me less uneasy about the future of the DCU on film.
Before I get into the nitty gritty, let me first state: the trailer looks good. Great even. There’s a metric ton of things to like about it. Much like it’s Darker-Knightier cousin, the film embraces a realism that the House of Mouse is way to scared (or smart, maybe… more on that later…) to attempt. The cast is absolutely top notch. Kevin Costner’s Pa Kent is one part Field of Dreams and zero part Water World. Amy Adams is both easy on the eyes and known to be more than being easy on the eyes. And supporting cast like Christopher Meloni, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, and Laurence Fishburne? Well, it’s not a surprise that the hype machine is already on overdrive here. And what we do see when the tights are put on? A CG’ed Big Blue that feels weighty, and dare I say… awe-inspiring. Even if the suit looks like it’s been run roughshod through the ‘Texturizer’ filter in Photoshop.
The key though, to me, is the tone and direction of the film. I’m not saying Warner Bros. shouldn’t be trying to replicate the success of the Nolan-verse. What I am saying though is that it takes the one thing about Superman above all else, optimism, and smashes it to oblivion. From the waning palette Snyder and his cinematographer employ, to the numerous long-shots of angst, sadness, and emoting… it certainly feels like this film will take every last second of its running time to get us to a place of joy. And while I trust Nolan as a producer, and Goyer and Nolan to write the film wonderfully, I can’t help but be tepid to declare anything but skepticism until I see it. Not because I want to be an internet troll, hell-bent on hate. But because I’ve been burned before by the Brothers Warner. Fool me once, shame on me.
Imagine my glee when DC decided to launch big-budget-dollars into a GL picture. They snagged a director who handled action before. They landed a star who could fight Chris Evans for funniest-but-could-be-serious-and-is-good-looking-in-spandex with Ryan Reynolds. It was lauded by Geoff Johns as being everything he’d hoped for. And we went to the multiplex, oath memorized. And we left the multiplex, trying forever to forget it. While there will be debate amongst people which of the Marvel-Avengers-Verse was imperfect (perhaps the Hulk movie, or maybe Thor?)… Green Lantern couldn’t even lick the dirt of the bottom of Mickey’s yellow bootie in comparison. And this was supposed to be the first DC film to rival Marvel.
Let’s do the math. Let’s envision the best possible scenario from Man Of Steel. Say it’s everything we wanted and more. The story, in spite of any cues in the trailer, is full of joy, and more important… action. Good looking action. Empowered by a top notch script akin to The Dark Knight; heady, but satisfying. And better yet? It’s a box-office smash!
This is where my real fear lay. Because, I truly want this film to succeed. I love DC in spite all the venom I’ve spit at it lately. If Man Of Steel is a rousing success, there’s no doubt in my mind that WB will dictate that the eventual Justice League movie will now need to match the Nolan-verse. And for those keeping score, a gazillion sites have posted rumors that Joseph Gordon-Leavitt will play Batman in that film. Movie-goers may be able to buy that Spider-Man and The Hulk can be rebooted every 3-4 years. But would they believe JGL as Bruce Wayne when the last time we saw him he was Robin-Cum-Batman? And if his newly-gifted Batsuit makes him the man behind the cowl, WB is essentially resting the weight of the world on Christopher Nolan’s shoulders. And who here could say that a movie with 7 super-heroes could still feel weighty and realistic? It may by the straw that breaks Nolan’s back (and interest). And then, the helm will be passed to someone (anyone) who wants to not make their version of the Justice League… but the Nolan-version so dictated by Brother Eye. You dig?
And what of the tone and realism? In a Batman movie, playing things close to reality isn’t so much a stretch. Batman is, for the most part, as believable as one would get when it comes to super-heroics. But Superman? Well, that’s the polar opposite. No matter how much super-science you throw at it, it’s still a guy defying every law, be it biological, chemical, or physical… in order to preserve the peace. By his very nature, Superman is the anti-thesis to the real world. And look if you will, to the competition. Marvel presented the world with Iron Man, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor. Each of these movies balances the surreal with the real, and when it came time for the big team up?
We got golden gliding mindless aliens to smash for the better part of an hour. And we ate it up to the tune of a billion or so dollars. Marvel aimed and fired into the heart of the 13+ demographic, and hit the bulls-eye a hundred times over. Batman Begins / The Dark Knight / The Dark Knight Rises did brilliantly too, of course, but as I’ve certainly argued… it wasn’t hard to do it. And let us all be honest again. Rises was good, but not great. Man Of Steel in its 150 second trailer, contained more angst in it per frame than every Marvel movie in the last decade combined. Will it be too much for the movie going public to spend 59 minutes in perplexed sorrow for the final action sequence when Kal-El excepts his destiny and power-punches Zod to oblivion? More importantly… how will we react to it, when the dust settles… and no one asks to get a schwarma?
It’s all speculation, I know. But I couldn’t help myself. When the social media boards light up with praise and joy, I second guess it. Man Of Steel has the potential to do the impossible. But I won’t believe the miracle until I see it with my own eyes. Up, up, and away.
For those of you that can’t wait for the weekend to see it in front of The Hobbit, we have the new trailer for next summer’s Superman movie, Man Of Steel, starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Michael Shannon, Christopher Meloni, and Russell Crowe, written by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan, and directed by Zack Snyder.
Call me a silly fool, but did you really think you’d get away with it? Or were you just playing dumb, knowing full-well that we’d blog and post about it. You sly dogs you.
But who are you really kidding? Everyone knows you’re dumb as a box of rocks. Ever since the Harry Potter cash cow stopped giving milk, you knew the Brothers Warner would turn towards its in-house fiction generator to start making with the profits.
And guess what? As soon as they turned their steely gaze towards you, wouldn’t you know it… those rat bastards that used to be across the street scored a near two-billion dollar movie. Sure, you had the last Batman movie, and hey, no one is blaming you for that not banking on higher expectations. The franchise made you a small mint, and almost made all of us forget Green Lantern.
So, here you are, the Mouse already ramping up a second season of super hero flicks, and the only thing that’s been worthwhile from your studio just ended. You’ve got that Superman reboot coming. Luckily, most of us snarky a-holes have only politely ribbed you for letting Snyder make a trailer that looks like Supes is on an extended episode of Deadliest Catch. We’re on pins and needles that it works out for you. Seriously. The million-dollar question? What’s next?
And we’re back to the beginning again. You dress up a few interns in fresh Batman tee-shirts and send them to the local geekatorium with “casual questions” in hand. I can’t help but be honest guys – it’s not the best idea you’ve had. We geeks may not be fit to ask the cheerleaders out to the prom, but we know when someone is trying to sell is some snake oil. Hell, we buy that damn oil from you every week, without the need to be sly! I guess what I’m getting at is pretty simple; if you’re out of answers, it’s OK to ask us to help you.
But it won’t help.
Do you think, even for a moment, that your base will give you the insiders’ scoop on how to make a Justice League movie that will bank big buckaroos? It won’t. Because even if we told you exactly what we wanted, and you made it exactly like we asked, it doesn’t mean instant gratification. Ask Edward Wright. Scott Pilgrim looked great on paper. The trailer was tight. The San Diegons all reported nothing but geek-love. And the actual film was stupendous. But it didn’t blow the doors off the bank vault. The thing of it all is that a film like The Avengers, one that hits the zeitgeist, is a bit of right-place-right-time and the payoff to a 5+ year gamble. You took the same bet in 2001. It paid in spades. Lesson to learn: there’s no quick payoff for what you’re wanting.
And let’s not leave here today without being frank about Frank. Look, Miller is a legend, and we’ll not dispute that. And in context, some of his best work has been given amazing treatments on film. 300 and Sin City hold substantial places in many of our DVD collections. But, the ghost of the Spirit (heh) still leaves a very bitter taste in our mouth. That crime against celluloid has soured us all to the church of Frank Miller. Be warned. And if you still feel like he might be worth our praise, let me be blunt:
“We’re the God-Damned Justice League.”
Since I’m in a festive mood, I’ll leave you with what may be the answers you’re seeking. If you want to make a Justice League movie that topples Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes, the recipe is simple. And like all dishes that have only a few ingredients, this isn’t going to be easy. You need quality product to start from. Your director needs to be someone who is in-tune with us nerds, but can stand on his own. Brad Bird perhaps (Thanks, Uncle Glenn!)?
Perhaps I’m putting the cart before the horse though. What Marvel pulled off wasn’t rocket science; it was an assembling of feeder movies that each stood up on their own. That means if you want to bring together Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and others? Then you need to earn that right. You can’t skip past the preamble if you want the masses to love you. Simply put… the world at large doesn’t know your Justice League from Adam. If you start off well with Man of Steel, you’re on the right track.
Just don’t put the cart before the horse. And man up; if you have a question to ask the geek world at large, just put it on the Internet.
I suppose we could call this a follow-up or at least sister piece to last week’s column, in which I interviewed the fantastic Cleolinda Jones, author of Movies in Fifteen Minutes, about her experiences with comic book movies. Cleo noted that she tends to be more interested in Marvel characters because “Marvel has been so much more pro-active about getting movies made and characters out there;” which is true. Let’s look at some numbers for live action comic book movies, just for kicks.
Marvel Movies: 37 (33 + 4 from other Marvel imprints)
DC Movies: 33 (23 + 10 from other DC imprints)
Marvel Movies since 1998: 31 (28 + 3 from other Marvel imprints)
DC Movies since 1998: 18 (8 + 10 from other DC imprints)
Forthcoming Marvel Movies: 16 (8 announced – Iron Man 3; The Wolverine; Thor: The Dark World; Captain America: The Winter Soldier; The Amazing Spider-Man 2; X-Men: Days of Future Past; Avengers 2: Guardians of the Galaxy; Ant-man. 8 speculative – The Amazing Spider-man 3; Deadpool; Doctor Strange; Nick Fury; Runaways; The Hands of Shang-Chi; The Inhumans; Fantastic Four)
Forthcoming DC Movies: 9 (1 announced – Man of Steel. 8 speculative – Constantine 2; The Flash; Green Lantern 2; Justice League; Batman reboot (again); Wonder Woman (maybe?); Suicide Squad; Lobo)
Sources: Wikipedia’s Marvel and DC movie pages; IMDB; tooling around the Internets for all the announcement mentions I could find.
As we can see from the numbers, Marvel consistently beats DC overall in live action movies and soundly whups DC’s behind in live action movies (released and upcoming) from 1998 forward, which I think of as the current/modern comic book movie era (it started with Blade and gained momentum thanks to X-Men and Spider-Man in 2000 and 2002). In the upcoming movies department, not only does Marvel have almost twice as many movies as DC, but at least eight of them are pretty definitely moving forward; as opposed to the one DC has in the can and ready to go. Although DC has announced or sort-of announced several more, they have been much less forceful in confirming their future line-up, and most are not yet locked in.
The Dark Knight Rises (and Christopher Nolan’s trilogy in general) was a huge success; but The Avengers is currently ranked third overall in box office sales, and Marvel is pushing full steam ahead with a long list of upcoming movies to expand on that success. But is their current success making them go too far? With future movies pulling from somewhat second-string characters like Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, and The Runaways, is Marvel stretching itself too thin and being too ambitious? Are they going to burn out moviegoers with a plethora of new movies about characters people might not know?
Actually, I’d say the answer is no; Marvel is doing exactly what it should to continue producing quality comics movies, and to continue beating the pants off of DC. There are two reasons Marvel’s exuberance in greenlighting all kinds of characters is going to pay off. The first is that Marvel’s attempt to interlock its movies and continue to build off of its shared movie universe, as it has built off of its shared comics universe, has been a resounding success; and if the quality of upcoming movies is consistent, there’s no reason why that should change. In fact, if the future movies are quality, things can only get better for Marvel. Everyone loves a good series, and Marvel’s movies promise to be an ongoing and expanding series like nothing we’ve ever seen in mainstream cinema. They will pull in, if they haven’t already (and dollars to donuts they have) those who don’t read comics but love sci-fi and fantasy series’ like Lord of the Rings, or even those who just like stories that keep on giving. As long as the overall weight of the expanding universe doesn’t drag down the individual movies, love for the whole series will increase exponentially.
The second is that making movies about possibly second-string-ish but still fully developed characters gives Marvel more creative freedom. Despite Ant-Man being a member of The Avengers, he doesn’t have the pull and wide recognition of Iron Man or Captain America. And while Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways was a great series, since it doesn’t often cross paths with a lot of the more enduring characters, even core Marvel readers may not have picked it up before. By greenlighting some less familiar faces, I’d say Marvel has the leeway to be a bit looser with the source material if it will result in a better movie. Similar to what DC has tried to do with the New 52 comics, Marvel can make these characters accessible to the modern audience, but in an easily digested format in which it’s already accepted that stories may be adapted to serve the medium. I see this as a strong benefit, because often being too enmeshed in the sometimes complex source material can drag a movie down. Thanks to the successful movie platform they’ve built, Marvel now has a great opportunity to introduce some less known characters, including to casual or even serious comics readers, for the very first time through the movies, as they continue to build a more and more of a “realistic” and layered movie world that viewers can lose themselves in.
So I predict that Marvel’s method of movie-making (say that three times fast!) is going to keep working for them. And with that in mind, even though Marvel’s got a super-awesome and full line-up in mind already, here are some other (slightly more minor) characters I’d love to see greenlit for movies:
Taskmaster – He’s a villain, he’s a hero, he’s a villain, he’s a…oh, who knows. Probably not him. All I know is that his backstory is already intertwined with S.H.I.E.L.D. (and Deadpool!) so he could be woven into the overall movie universe; and that he’s fun to read about. And that I’d like to see those photographic reflexes at work on the big screen.
BAD Girls, Inc. – A group with ambiguously good/bad members, Diamondback, Asp, and Black Mamba have crossed paths with Captain America, Iron Man, and more. They could eventually be folded into the wider universe, but given that there are three of them with great interplay and distinct personalities, and given their eventual status as reformed criminals, I could first envision a great mostly standalone strong female action/adventure/crime-related movie with solid and engaging character arcs and redemption. Unfortunately, one of the three, Asp, has been revealed to be a mutant, so I’m not sure if there would be rights issues; but then again, Marvel is doing Runaways, and in that group, Molly is a mutant; so maybe FOX only owns the rights to mutants who have been tied to the X-Men.
Hawkeye/Mockingbird/Black Widow – Marvel’s teamed these three S.H.I.E.L.D. agents up in the comics before, and Hawkeye and Black Widow have already been introduced in the movie universe. I definitely want to see a movie featuring those two, but I like the idea of bringing Mockingbird in as well. I’d love to see a movie that casually establishes that she was already a known entity with an established history with Hawkeye in The Avengers but was just not part of that particular fight; it adds to that “layered universe” feel to have characters who have been presumably going about their lives offscreen before being brought in to the event we’re watching. Plus there’d be some great interplay between those three, and I feel like a S.H.I.E.L.D.-focused movie would benefit from a small team of fairly equal major players.
Ms. Marvel – Okay, she’s not actually a minor character. She’s a major character, an Avenger, and a fucking badass powerhouse. Despite the horrifyingly fanservicey costume, she’s a super-strong (literally) female character, and we need to see her on the big screen. Like, yesterday.
Black Panther – He’s got an interesting backstory and eventually does a stint with The Avengers, but is also powerful and important in his own right. There’s a lot to choose from in his history, since he’s been around since 1966. Also, obviously, it’d be great to see a minority character getting first billing.
…And after Marvel does all of these movies, when we’re all eighty-five years old and hobbling to the movies on our walkers…then they can finally wrap it up by thumbing their noses at us with a Nextwave: Agents of HATE movie. And then maybe close out with X-Babies to make us feel better about everything. Because awwwwwwww, X-Babies.
After all this talk of Marvel, one obvious question is: what can DC do to be more successful in the movie arena? One answer is that they can build up an interlocking universe like Marvel; and it looks like that’s what they’re now planning to do. But as they’re developing that, there are a couple of other things I’d recommend for them. One is to put a lot of energy and love into making a Wonder Woman movie a staple part of that interlocking universe, and do it right. There have been several attempts to get a modern Wonder Woman something off the ground, but the proposed TV series never came to pass, and although the modern animated movie was fun, it didn’t reach a wide audience. Wonder Woman is a major and much-loved DC character, and perfect for the current climate of successful strong female character movies. For whatever reason, though, adaptations seem to struggle with what part of her giant backstory to tell. I’d advise DC to simplify things by deciding how Wonder Woman would be living today, and picking up only the threads of her long-running story that will play with modern audiences. Look first at what makes the best contemporary story that embodies who she is, and second at how faithful each individual bit is to the preceding comics.
Another thing DC can do is to stop rebooting Batman. There have been three versions of Batman to date, and now there’s talk that Christopher Nolan will eventually be helming another Batman reboot. Now, it could be that this rumored reboot is actually going to continue the story Nolan left us with at the end of The Dark Knight Rises and connect it to Man of Steel and other DC movies. If so, great. But if it is indeed a fourth iteration of a character that just wrapped a super-successful trilogy…well I don’t even know what to do with that. DC should be focusing on characters it hasn’t featured instead of relying too heavily on continuously reimagining its two staple stars, Batman and Superman. I hope it does.
Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to the movies that are in the works, and continue to cross my fingers and hope that they’ll all be amazing.
Until next week, Servo Lectio!
(And thanks to my friend @wmslawhorn for inspiring this topic while in a WSFAn’s kitchen eating brownies and drinking beer.)
You don’t have to be born with a comic book in your hand to be a fan. As I’ve mentioned, my early exposure to comics was mostly in the form of movies and TV. These days, I read comics too; but I know a lot of fans who’ve primarily discovered comics through the movies, and often stay mostly with that medium.
Recently, there’s been a flurry of talk about who gets to be a geek, and I agree completely with John Scalzi’s assessment that anyone who shares a love of geeky things is just as much of a geek as anyone else, and that we can all come at our love of pop culture and fandoms from very different backgrounds and tastes. Given all that, I thought it might be fun to get the perspective of an awesome female author and blogger who’s so known in pop culture and geek circles that people have actually written articles studying her blogging habits and who clearly fits into comic book fandom but doesn’t come at it from the usual angle of reading comics. Also Cleolinda is just awesome and fun to interview! So here we go!
What kind of exposure have you had to comics generally – as a reader, a viewer, etc.?
Um… there were some tiny comics that came with my She-Ra dolls? I remember walking past racks and racks of comics at the grocery store every weekend and being really intrigued, but I was a very quiet, bookish child, and didn’t even bother asking my mother if I could have one. When I was in my 20s, I started picking up graphic novels based on which movies I had become interested in, and Watchmen on its general reputation.
How did you get into comics movies, and what was the first one you watched (as a child, and/or in the modern resurgence of comics movies)?
I think it says a lot about the genre that I don’t think of them as “comics” movies – I think of them as superhero movies and thrillers and action movies and whatever genre the actual story happens to be. I mean, technically, you could say that The Dark Knight and Wanted and From Hell and 300 are all “comics movies,” but if you say “comics,” I’m generally going to think “superheroes.” And those are such a box-office staple that it’s hard to think of them as something you get into, you know? They’re just there, and everyone goes to see them, and there are so many of them that some of them are awesome and some of them aren’t.
The first superhero movie, certainly, that I remember was Tim Burton’s Batman in the summer of 1989. I was probably ten or eleven at the time, and didn’t actually see it until it was on HBO a year or so later, but I remember that it was a big damn deal at the time. That black and yellow logo was everywhere, as were the dulcet purple strains of “Batdance.” Maybe it’s the Tim Burton sensibility that really got me into Batman movies initially; Batman Returns is pretty much my favorite Christmas movie ever, shut up. I just straight-up refused to see the Schumachers at all. But I’m a Christopher Nolan fangirl, so that got me back in. Which may be the roundabout answer to the question: I get into these movies depending on who’s making them and/or who’s playing the characters. Nothing I read or saw about Green Lantern really attracted me from a filmmaking point of view (well, I love what Martin Campbell did with Casino Royale, there is that), so, in a summer crowded with movies, I didn’t go see it. And, you know, I’ve had Green Lantern fans tell me they really enjoyed it; that’s just the kind of choice you end up making with the time and money you have when you’re more interested in movies as a medium than comics.
What are your thoughts on the accessibility of comics movies, as someone who doesn’t primarily read comics? Are there any you found incomprehensible or confusing because you didn’t know the source material? Which do you think has been most successful as an adaptation for non-comics-reading viewers?
Well, despite my lack of comics-reading background, I usually hit up Wikipedia to get a vague idea of what happened in the original storyline. So the moment I heard that Bane was the TDKR villain, I went and looked it up and immediately wailed, “Noooooo I don’t want to see Bane [SPOILER SPOILER’S SPOILERRRRR]!” Because I keep up with movie news very closely, I knew when Marion Cotillard was cast that she would probably be [SPOILER]. And then, of course, they mixed it up a little anyway.
I guess The Avengers could have been confusing – which was something I lampshaded a little in the Fifteen Minutes I did for it, the umpteen previously on bits. But I felt like they explained it fairly well as they went. I had randomly seen Captain America (“It’s hot. Which movie you wanna see?” “Uh… that one? Sure”), so I knew the Tesseract back story, but I didn’t see Thor until two weeks after I saw The Avengers. But pop cultural osmosis plus the explanations in the movie meant that I understood the Loki business just fine; all seeing Thor did was give me more specific punchlines. (I do think that humor relies on knowing what you’re talking about, so I usually do a little research after I’ve seen something when I’m going to write it up.) Really, though, it’s hard to say. I’m usually aware enough of the movie’s background by the time I see it that I’m not confused. I mean, I’m already aware that Iron Man 3 is using the Extremis storyline, and there’s some kind of nanotech involved, and an Iron Patriot? Something – not enough to be spoiled, per se, but enough to have a frame of reference going in.
Just going by the numbers, it seems that The Dark Knight and The Avengers have been incredibly successful adaptations – and I don’t even mean in terms of money, but in terms of how many people flocked to those movies, saw them, enjoyed them, and were willing to see them again. You don’t make a billion dollars without repeat viewings. And that indicates to me that these movies were rewarding experiences for people, rather than frustrating or confusing (the Joker’s Xanatos gambits aside). And I think familiarity helped in both cases, though through different means. The Joker is obviously the most iconic Batman villain; in fact, The Dark Knight actually skips the slightest whiff of genuine back story there, instead showing the Joker as a sort of elemental chaos, almost a trickster god who comes out of nowhere and then, as far we viewers are concerned, vanishes. There’s no background for non-readers to catch up on; the TDK Joker is completely self-contained. Whereas Marvel’s approach with The Avengers was to get the public familiarized with the characters, very painstakingly, with this series of movies that built up Iron Man as the popular backbone, and then filled in the others around him, either in their own headlining movies or as supporting characters in someone else’s. One movie started out with very recognizable characters, and the other endeavored to make the characters recognizable by the time it came out.
Have you read a comic because you saw a movie about it? Or, have you read a comic because you were going to see a movie about it? How did that change your movie viewing and fan experience?
I got interested in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and read the trade paperback a few weeks before it came out – and then hated the movie. And you know, I think I would have actually enjoyed the silliness of it if I hadn’t “known better,” so to speak, so if it’s not already too late, I try to hold off on reading a book until after I’ve seen the movie. I did read Watchmen first – and did enjoy the movie. I think those are the only ones I’ve read beforehand, though. I did go pick up From Hell and a Sin City set, and I bought the second LXG series in single issues as well; I keep meaning to get V for Vendetta. I’ve never picked up a superhero comic. I just look at the vast history of Marvel and DC and think, where would I even start? (How could I even afford it? Do they have comics in libraries?)I’ve never even read the Sandman series, and that’s supposedly the traditional gateway drug for geek girls.
You write hilarious parodies about all sorts of movies; and the recent The Avengers in 15 Minutes is no exception. Can you talk a little about what it’s like writing the parodies (including how you started and your experience with that generally), and whether it’s any different for comics vs. other movies? Was there anything unique about writing The Avengers one?
Well, the short version is that I came home from Van Helsing (2004) and started writing a script-format bit on a whim; I thought it was just going to be one scene plunked into a Livejournal entry, but it took on a life of its own. I published a book of ten print-only parodies in 2005 with Gollancz; the original Spider-Man (2002) is in there, but there’s also fantasy, sci-fi, overly serious historical epic, etc., spread pretty evenly throughout. Looking back, I think The Avengers is the only other superhero movie I’ve done; 300, V for Vendetta, and Wanted might count generally. It helps for the movie to have some sense of silliness, or at the very least absurdity or over-seriousness. If nothing else, there’s something humorous about movies as a medium – the tropes they run on, the expectations, the necessary coincidences, the mundane things they conveniently skip, the way that this stuff just would not work in real life. And you can point this out and have fun with it without saying, “And that’s why this is a terrible movie.”
The real difference with the Avengers movie – the material it provided – was that it had all of these background movies leading up to it. So you immediately have more opportunities for cross-referencing and in-jokes, in addition to a running “previously on” setup. There were few comics-only jokes (although I did enough research to mention the Wasp and Ant-Man), because the movies themselves were plenty to deal with. Whereas the various Harry Potter in Fifteen Minutes writeups I’ve done played more on the “This Scene Was Cut for Time” idea, referencing the books and the plot holes incurred by leaving things out – what wasn’t there.
If anything, The Avengers was incredibly hard to do not because it was good, but because it was self-aware. I mean, I did Lord of the Rings, a trilogy I love, for the book, but I consider what I do to be “affectionate snark,” and… that’s kind of already built into The Avengers. So, while a gloriously absurd movie like Prometheus took four days and all I really had to do was describe exactly what happens, The Avengers took six weeks.
What’s your favorite comics storyline and/or character?
I seem to be drawn to characters who have just had enough and start wrecking shit. I think I’m so drawn to Batman not because I want to be rescued by him, but because I want to be him. I discussed last week how the Omnipotent Vigilante just can’t work in real life – but it works as a fantasy. Because every time I hear about something horrible on the news, or even just someone on the internet being a complete and utter asshole, I wish I could go be Batman and show up in the dark and scare the fear of God back into people (“Swear To Me!!!! 11!!”). Also, I didn’t really grow up with the more light-hearted TV version(s) of Catwoman; my frame of reference is Michelle Pfeiffer. And that’s a Catwoman whose story arc is almost a “vengeful ghost” story. She has been wronged, and now she’s back, and you are going to pay (maybe for great justice, maybe not). Whereas the Anne Hathaway Catwoman, while a really interesting character, is more about Selina wavering between conscience and self interest, not vengeance. And maybe that’s closer to the “cat burglar” origin of the character – which, again, speaks to how meeting these characters through movies may mean that you have a very different experience from a comics reader.
And then you have someone like Wolverine – I think my favorite scene in the entire series is in the second movie, where he ends up having to defend the school pretty much entirely by himself. You wish you could be that badass, in defense of yourself or someone (everyone) else. This also may be why I saw X-Men: First Class and kind of wanted an entire Magneto Hunts Nazis movie – and maybe why Magneto, even as an antagonist, is so compelling in the Bryan Singer movies. The X-Men universe has some genuinely interesting moral ambiguities, you know? Gandalf has a few legitimate grievances and now he is tired of your shit. *CAR FLIP*
Also, I have a little bit of grey hair at my temple that I wish would grow into a Rogue streak.
Marvel, DC, or neither?
You know, as much as I love Batman, I tend to be more interested in Marvel characters as a whole; not sure what’s up with that. Actually, it may be that Marvel has been so much more pro-active about getting movies made and characters out there; I like about three of the X-Men movies a lot, the first two Spider-Man movies are good (the reboot was good except for the feeling that half the story got chopped out, I thought), and now the Avengers-based movies are turning out really well. There’s just more to chose from on the Marvel side at this point.
Do you have more of a desire to pick up paper (or digital) comics to read after seeing a comics movie? Or do you prefer sticking with the movies?
I seem to be more interested in reading stand-alone stories, which is probably why I picked up Alan Moore books pretty quickly. Even if it’s a somewhat self-contained Marvel/DC storyline, it’s like… do I need to have read twenty years of story before this? Can I just walk in and start reading this, or am I missing volumes and volumes of context? And then, if I get really into this, are they just going to reboot the universe and wipe all of this out? And then you have to figure out what the movie was based on in the first place. I might be interested in reading the comics a particular movie is based on – but then you say, well, The Dark Knight Rises was inspired by ten different comics. If you put all that into a boxed set with a big The Dark Knight Rises Collection plastered across it, I would be more likely to buy that than if you shoved me into a comics store (complete with disdainful clerk) and said, “There Is The Batman Section, Chew Your Own Way Out.” The decades of stories and do-overs and reboots, the sheer flexibility and weight and history, are what appeal to a lot of comics readers, I guess, but they’re exactly what bewilder movie viewers, leaving them no idea where to start.
What comics movie are you most looking forward to in the near future; and is there a comic book story or character you’d like to see a movie about who doesn’t have one yet?
I’m curious to see how Man of Steel turns out, even though Superman has never done that much for me as a character. (That said, I always talk about “going into the Fortress of Solitude” when I try to seriously get some work done.) I once heard that Metropolis and Gotham are, metaphorically, the same city – one by day and the other by night – and I don’t know that there would be enough sunlight in a “gritty” Superman reboot, if that makes any sense. And I was just fascinated by the idea of Darren Aronofsky doing The Wolverine, of all things, but it looks like James Mangold is directing that now. And, you know, in checking on that, I see “based on the 1982 limited series Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller.” I see the words “limited series” and “trade paperback rated Must Have” and I think, okay, maybe this is something I have a chance of catching up on first.
I would really, really like to see a Black Widow movie, at this point. As much as I liked Anne Hathaway’s Selina, I wonder if a character that arch doesn’t work better in small doses. I mean, I’d still like to see them try a spinoff movie, but somehow, I think Black Widow might work out better. Everyone’s remarked on how great a year it’s been for people actually going to see movies with active heroines – Katniss, Merida, Selina, Natasha, even warrior princess Snow White – and I’m hoping that idea sticks. I know that the comics industry in general has a problem both in writing about and marketing to women. Maybe movies can lead the way on that.
Thanks for a fascinating perspective on your comics (and movie) fandom, Cleo!
As with The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man, Glenn and Mike saw The Dark Knight Rises separately to do this Siskel and Ebert style review. We were going to run this last Friday on the movie’s opening day, but as we’re sure you can appreciate the events of Friday morning in Colorado demanded we delay this publication to give our readers more time to see the film.
Again, we offer our standard disclaimer: there are all sorts of spoilers in this review. And this time around, there is an observation that may actively ruin the end of the film if you haven’t seen it and you intend to do so.