Panel Bashing: Heading For The Hills
Is comics love affair with superheroes coming to an end?
While out on the rounds promoting his new book Supergods, baldy Scots magician and full-time Bat-scribe Grant Morrison has been doing what some (none) of us in the trade call ‘giving good quotage’. Nattering about everything from channelling the ghost of John Lennon to the influence of Zorro on Batman, he’s been giving the people what they want. Which of course is a wildly successful, widely celebrated and fairly eccentric comic creator discussing everything and anything that pops into his head.
In an interview with Rolling Stone this week, he made an interesting point regarding comics as a ‘first-stage rocket’ for superheroes. It’s a valid point – you only need to look at this year’s crop of comic-based movies to see that most of our favourite super-humans have made the leap to the silver screen, albeit with varying results. However, Morrison seems to be saying that they’re not simply taking a holiday in Tinsel Town, but rather they’ve gone for good. Now that special effects technology has caught up and studios are coining in the geek dollar, could it really be that superheroes are slowly but surely migrating to a medium that provides a bigger spectacle and, perhaps more importantly, a bigger cash return for the companies that own them now that print sales are in decline?
In the short term, it seems unlikely. Especially as DC gears up for its reboot, which should provide them with a short term sales-shot in the arm (hello, pre-sales for Justice League) and a hefty chunk of mainstream exposure. But in the longer term, well, it’s perfectly feasible. Hollywood increasingly leans on the comics industry to supply it with new franchises, new heroes and shiny new costumes, and all those new Captain America or Green Lantern fans (ok, maybe there’s not too many of them) aren’t necessarily going back to the source material after they’ve had their 90 minutes of superhero fun.
Of course, the problem with Hollywood is that it has a tendency to screw most comic adaptations right up. Not all comic characters make the transition well, and crucially a lot of them were never designed for the big screen. You need only look at Zack Snyder’s take on Watchmen to see the disparity between comic book techniques and big-screen bluster at its clearest. Snyder did his best to replicate a book he obviously loved, but ultimately Watchmen pushed boundaries because it proved that there were some things that could only be achieved in the comic medium, and no amount of slow-mo action sequences can make it work anywhere else.
Of chief importance here is the perception of the comic industry not just by Hollywood but by creators and consumers. To see comics as little more than a well of widely unknown ideas for film makers to filtch and re-tool for the big screen does the entire medium a disservice. As readers, critics and fans we are all well aware that sequential storytelling is an art form all of its own, with its own set of rules, tricks and techniques. It sits apart from literature and film, and while all three forms can bleed into one another, it’s important that we remember that comics are much more than bastardized films or simplified novels.
And as for superheroes, well, maybe Hollywood is a better home for them. Outside of spandex and six-packs, the industry is a vibrant and dazzling place, full of ideas that don’t necessarily need a cape in order to fly. Many of the artists and writers exploring the boundaries at the edges of the medium are doing a beautiful job without resorting to decades-old tropes, keeping things fresh and exciting in ways too numerous to list here. Perhaps you should start weening yourself off muscle-bound moralisers now, before the rot really sets in. Get out there and explore the world away from spandex and six packs – who knows, you might even like it.
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