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Friday, May 13, 2016 

Did superhero movies themselves dull the comics they drew from?

I found an op-ed on the South China Morning Post, originally from Tribune News Service, lamenting how the movies based on superheroes dulled the original sources. But just under the headline, we get this:
The pressure to turn comics into films has transformed a once gleefully lowbrow and willfully weird art form into middlebrow mundanity, and not everyone’s happy
No, but calling comicdom "lowbrow" is rather ludicrous. Just because the superhero and sci-fi adventures - including those from Marvel - were chock full of surrealism and other oddities doesn't make it lowbrow. Let's go on:
I am not going to complain about superhero movies as movies. I don’t care that once-colourful costumes are forced to be muted and dark and tough-looking on human actors (Batman v Superman, the black leather X-Men). I don’t care that too many superhero movies rely on disaster-porn clichés (Man of Steel, Avengers) or that the Marvel Cinematic Universe/shared universe theory of storytelling turns movies into episodic entertainment rather than something that can stand on its own (even Age of Ultron director Joss Whedon has complained about this).

OK, maybe I care a little. But I’m here to complain about how superhero movies have not made superhero comics better.
Indeed they haven't. But if they're suggesting the movies have a fault to shoulder there, not exactly. It's the fault of the editors and publishers for starters, because they go by a ridiculous assumption that if they don't make the comics resemble what you see in the movies, the moviegoers won't be interested. A throughly idiotic way of looking at everything, naturally. Yet it's nothing new, and may date back as far as Batman during the Silver Age, when the 1966-68 TV show was aired. Alfred Pennyworth was supposedly killed off a short time before in the comics, but when the TV program was launched, they decided to reverse that fate. Even more telling is how DC handled Wonder Woman's publication when the late 70's TV series was broadcast: for several issues, they mandated that WW's solo book be focused on the Golden Age because WW2 was initially the setting on TV. Granted, since they were using the parallel world premise at the time, they had an excuse to use the Golden Age protagonists, by then known as Earth-2 dwellers, in a 1940s setting. But it was still a tremendous overreaction, and did nothing to ensure long term success for the comic; some of the stories produced in that period were very weak too. When the 2nd season was greenlighted (by a different network, no less), they returned to the Earth-1 setting in modern times. But was it really such an emergency to change the setting before? Of course not. If many people knew Superman and Batman began around the time of World War 2, then they should know Wonder Woman began back then as well, and realize that if Beetle Bailey doesn't age in newspaper strips, neither do superheroes.

This article does make an interesting point though, about how Marvel movies are now being turned into a more episodic than stand-alone story. And how the costumes are muted, either because the filmmakers are ashamed of the source material despite seeing dollar signs in adapting, or because they dislike what they stood for, and dulling down the colors is just icing on the cake. Even some of the destruction taking place may be troubling, because there was a time when it was becoming too much back in comicdom.
If anything, since the first Spider-Man movie crossed the US$300 million mark back in 2002, superhero comics have, on the whole, stagnated. One is reluctant to point to a direct causation, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck …
I'm afraid stagnation began long before that, in the early to mid 90s. Crossovers were part of the problem, as was the notion that specific heroes/co-stars just had to be turned into villains and kicked to the curb (as seen with Hal Jordan, and even Jean Loring a decade after). And almost every crossover produced by DC seemed to serve as an excuse to kill off/villify any character they thought was an "annoyance", no matter how non-existent they are, and without considering the writers being at fault. That's a very bankrupt approach to writing and does nothing to ensure new readers will take interest. The key to success lies in both talented writing and marketing, and even formatting can be vital. None of these steps have ever been convincingly taken with mainstream superheroes this century.
Superhero comics are not the kid-aimed, dream-logic wish fulfilment of the 1940s and ’50s. They’re not the attempts to appeal to teens of the ’60s and ’70s, full of angsty heroes and dense plots rocketing ever forward.

They’re not the grimmer and grittier comics of the 1980s, such as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen or Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. They’re not the urban fantasies of the 1990s such as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher.

What once was a form that was gleefully lowbrow and willfully weird is now, as a friend elegantly put it, “just more middlebrow crap”.
I think even that's putting it lightly. What's brought down superhero comics is the insular mentality of undeserving hacks who only want to appeal to a narrow idea of what a superhero audience should be, and a very small one at that. They even shun conservatives by and large, limiting those they do hire to artists, who aren't actually writers in the same sense, and those right-wing writers they do hire are rare, and often just as sell-out minded as their liberal counterparts.
Superhero movies are a global force; the market shows few signs of slowing down. Unfortunately, as Civil War readies to rack up no doubt huge numbers, the average superhero comic reads like an illustrated screenplay, carefully constructed for maximum cross-platform revenue generation.

Part of the reason comics from decades past might seem stilted to the modern reader is that each issue needed to be a potential point of entry – powers and relationships were often explained anew in every one.

As storylines have got longer or become, in comics parlance, “decompressed”, the vast majority of titles have begun to feel more and more like work that is easily adaptable to the big screen. Everything reads the same.
Yep, that's a valid complaint. But it's not just because they supposedly want to publish stories that'll serve as screenplay fodder. It's also because they have this sloppily developed idea of "writing for the trade", even though they could've shifted ONLY to trades long ago, and if they had, chances are it could've all been edited and written far better...except that could scuttle their chances to keep on with the company wide crossovers, so they stick themselves in a situation that only bogs them down more.
It is impossible to imagine this shift without the work of Brian Michael Bendis, who pens slow-moving stories heavily indebted to the chatty style of David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin.

His writing on Ultimate Spider-Man (2000-09) and Avengers (2004-12) set the tone for the Marvel Cinematic Universe; the best elements of his series Alias (2001-04) were turned into the Netflix series Jessica Jones. His pacing became the house style at Marvel, and he remains an influential creator.
Only within their staff; outside, he's no longer selling sky high numbers, and frankly, I'm not sure he ever did. What's really aggravating about Bendis though, is his contempt for the fandom.

The writer (whose name does not appear on the article) goes on to note that he buys a lot more from smaller companies like Image today, and says:
Image has struck gold by trusting creators and their visions – it is easily the most interesting publisher of genre comics around. And I like a number of them, mostly the stranger science-fiction books. But there’s no getting around the fact that even some of the ones I like feel like TV or movie pitches.
That can be problematic, if they spend too much time concerning themselves with how to make it appealing to moviemakers than just being themselves. Then, what does the article writer want now from the superhero genre?
What do I miss the most about superhero comics, what do I want for all genre comics, really? I want what has become middlebrow to become bonkers lowbrow again.

I want more insanity. I want genre comics to be filled with the unfilmable. I want scenarios that could not possibly work on the big screen. I want dense, lunatic stories that span centuries. I want stuff that works on the page better than it works on the screen, all the time.
Agreed, but I'd be just a little more precise by stating that what I want is an unabashedly surreal viewpoint in sci-fi again, depending what kind of topics the story focuses upon. And if realism is important, then what I would want is plausible character drama and the challenge of building it around the various heroes and co-stars of superhero tales. No less important is bringing both DC and Marvel back to specific continuity points, while clearing away storylines that were bad to begin with, like Emerald Twilight, Age of Apocalypse, Identity Crisis, Avengers: Disassembled, Infinite Crisis and House of M, to name but some. Yes, I do believe the best to tidy up a bad situation is to break with certain would-be continuities while maintaining whatever works better, or can be overlooked more easily.

Towards the end, the writer admits that some might like comics reading like movies, but:
...if you find that sort of thing wanting, know that there are all kinds of comics that are 10 times as bonkers as anything you can see on screen, that go places that movies can’t hope to go. Like a recently deceased pop star once said, go crazy.
And there are plenty of superhero and sci-fi comics from past decades that do indeed pull that off, and the beauty of it is that they don't have to spend as much money to realize as moviemakers do. Hence, it's terrible that mainstream comics are sabotaging their creativity for the sake of a poorly defined take on "realism".

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At least the 90s had passion and guts, something severely lacking in today's comics.

If they are going to continue to keep cranking out live-action movies and shows, they could at least try to brighten up the whole thing by a few shades, I'm not asking for visuals similar to early Technicolor films here, just more of a focus on brighter shades and colors instead of keeping it dark and gloomy.

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