Sunday, November 20, 2011

World War II and Superman

There is no doubt that major events in the world shape fiction. Even classic comic book characters, in both their creation and development over time, show the influence of events as far back as World War II all the way to the present. As always it is difficult to say with any certainty what really went into the creation of any piece of fiction, but I believe there are some very clear parallels between these stories and the emotions of the times.

Superman was one of the earliest super heroes and grew to become the very symbol of comic book super heroes. He was a Kansas born farm boy, raised on Middle American values. As an infallible hero, he was able to protect people anywhere from anything at a moment’s notice. He was at his core a character that embodied all of the things that made America great. He stood for truth, justice and the American way. Hell, he even wore red and blue.

A character created in the years following World War I, and developed throughout World War II and the early days of the Cold War reflected the era that was characterized by the presence of a clear threat in a singularly nationally unifying enemy, first with the Nazis and then the Soviets.

In a time when the safety of the very world was in question it only makes sense that a larger than life character, which stands for the core values of America, was an attractive idea. This was especially true in the years of the cold war when nuclear annihilation seemed possible, and Superman was just the kind of hero who could keep the world safe. Fiction has always been an escape from real life and comics were no different.

This is only the beginning though, the later days of the cold war and beyond brought a great deal of change to the world. Next week I will cover Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns and the way that Batman changed to reflect the times.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

From Comic to Film

For my first blog post I decided to discuss the issue of movie adaptations of comic books and comic book characters. Regardless of your opinions of the quality and purpose of said movies, it is obvious that they serve an important purpose in the comic book industry. The fact is that economy is not all that great and it is getting harder and harder for businesses to stay afloat even in the entertainment industry so now more than ever it is important to bring in new readers. And moreover there has always been a certain societal stigma to comics and comic book stops in particular. 

Comic book movies can help overcome this as comic book icons become, and in many cases have already become, part of popular culture. But this is all rather obvious, hence the extensive number of comic book movies over the past decade. The real question is what does it take to make a good adaptation?

There are a few different schools of thought regarding this with the major two being staying true to the source material at all cost vs. taking the basic premise and building a movie up from that point, independent of the way things were done in the original. Both certainly have their merits as there have been clear successes on both sides with movies like Sin City championing the former and movies like The Dark Knight that focus more on staying true to the core of the story and creating a new story around it. I'm certain arguments could be made for Dark Knight being somewhat of an amalgamation of various other stories but considering at least one entirely new character (Rachel) and different takes on a fair number of the characters I feel that it belongs firmly in the second camp. All of that aside there are a few things these movies get right where others fail. 

First of all it is important to know your audience, particularly the audience that the comic was aimed at in the first place. Really what this comes down to is a matter of tone, and while for some longer running comics, like Batman that has been widely varied throughout its history, many others were created with a more specific tone in mind and breaking this can often be rather disastrous. One of the biggest examples of this, in my opinion, would be the movie The Spirit. The primary problem of this movie being that it seemed far too concerned with establishing a dark tone that when the more absurd aspects appeared (Samuel Jackson in a nazi uniform for example) it all just felt wrong. 

To a lesser extent I felt like this was a problem that the Hellboy movies had. While I do think that they were rather well made and even fun to watch they just didn't feel like Hellboy. In fact it all felt a little too generic super hero for me. The fact is the light super hero romp is something that had already been done before and done better because there are just better comics suited to that type of movie. Hellboy is a very dark world from the visuals to the subject matter and its movie could have been a lot more. I'm not saying it would have been a guaranteed success but at least it could have been an attempt at something new. All I'm asking is that people take a few more chances. Till next time.