Hero Whipped 4: A Question of Form

The Walking Dead (Image Comics/Robert Kirkman)

It’s been a while since I posted one of these and much of the reason is because I usually touch upon a number of properties and I am left to ponder a while as I amass enough new-formed opinion to justify a new entry. However, three very specific things have occurred to me since I last discussed comics and the movies.

First, being a question of form in which the adaptation is made. In my return to reading comics, now more avidly than ever, there is nothing I have read more of than The Walking Dead. It really does play out like a post-apocalyptic soap opera with murder and zombies in the mix. So much so that reading Compendium One or the trades is preferable to monthly for that particular series. Having said that I admit having only seen the pilot of the show but two things I do know are it was meant to be a television show and I applaud Robert Kirkman for giving the show a different direction than the comic based on what I know. It’d be next to impossible to make a motion picture of The Walking Dead as satisfying as the book. The task would be rather herculean especially considering that the comic is still ongoing. Similarly, I have not read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice books, which is an itch I may soon need to scratch, however, one only needs to watch the first season of Game of Thrones to see it was meant for television, more specifically a drama on a cable network where the story will not be censored or interrupted by commercials. In certain ways, the serial treatment makes it more immersible once you get into the extras on the Blu-Ray it has you.

Maisie Williams and Sean Bean in Game of Thrones (HBO)

The moral of the examples above is that again the supremacy of the motion picture as the most desirable vehicle for adaptation is quickly being shown to be a fallacy. Some stories are more conducive to other storytelling modes and fans should take note and think about how, if at all, they want to see their favorite works reinterpreted.

And this kind of leads directly to my next point: one of the most anticipated films of the year is The Avengers. Part of the reason why is that Marvel has had a string of hit films which have featured a member of the superteam and thus though The Avengers may be in theory a new property there is a built-in fanbase. Conversely, not that this is an original notion, but DC is also planning a Justice League film. The main difference being there may be casting incongruities and all the major members of the League haven’t had their own film, or a hit, etc. So how can the Justice League film possibly come close to the The Avengers?

Marvel 1985 (Marvel)

Well, they can’t turn back time and make a Flash movie starring [Insert guaranteed box-office draw] here that makes infinitely more money than The Green Lantern but what they can do is akin to industrial espionage. Allow me to explain, when I was in Orlando recently as I was in Universal Studio’s Comictown I stopped in the Marvel store and found a trade paperback of Marvel 1985, a mini-series that came out just before I returned to comics. I really enjoyed it as a whole but what I really liked about it, and what I noted, was it could serve as a great introduction to the Marvel Universe to someone who knows zero about it based on the story it tells. Now clearly, the story of 1985 makes it such that it can be an introduction but it made me realize that if there is a character, or other device in The Justice League film that acts as a liaison between the film and the neophyte audience member it might just work better than expected.

The Justice League (DC Comics)

In conclusion, the method of adaptation usually can be said to tap in to the spirit of the work being adapted, or it should ideally. For example, after seeing Tintin I felt that motion capture would be a great treatment for other animated properties, especially those given lackluster live action treatments like Asterix, which I was glad to discover has been most recently adapted in a hand-drawn feature called Asterix and the Vikings.

Asterix and the Vikings (M6 Films)

Hero Whipped: Comics and the Studio System (Part 3)

The previous two entries in this series offered one connected stream of consciousness. You can read them here and here. In this installment I break from that narrative and take a look at how comics could benefit from emulating the better parts of the imperfect and once standard studio system that films employed for many decades.

The Studio/Indie Parallel

Disney and Marvel logos. They merged in 2009.

One way in which you can definitely draw a parallel between comics and movies is that there is a definite distinction between the studio system/The Big Two and indies.

Seeing as how that industrial dynamic is similar between the two of them there are ideas that can be borrowed from the studio era and altered to accommodate comics. Not that in a perfect world I wouldn’t like to see movie studios re-adopt things but comics might be more apt to experiment with ideas such as these to get new readers.

Serials

Buster Crabbe in Flash Gordon (Universal)

I’ve written here on a few occasions about my love of serials. Now part of the cliffhangers design was to get kids into movie theatres on a weekly basis, even if they had no interest in the feature they’d show up to see the continuation of their favorite chapter play. How this could apply to comics is in the form of the five-page story (perhaps perfected by Harvey as their staple). The five-page tale would serve as a means to display another character in a given book and should be advertised. It could be an intermediate step before giving a character a book. All-Star Western, part of DC’s new 52, featured a B-story (maybe it still does I dropped it out of my pull list) and if it’s known about it could be a draw. Every reader of comics has a favorite character who is currently not headlining an ongoing series I think most would agree something is better than nothing and it could provide a boost.

Stars

Avengers Academy #23 (Marvel)

Speaking of headliners the star system is the next thing that can be exploited just a bit more than it is now. It is nice to be surprised by an unexpected appearance, however, if it is not crucial to the plot that the secret be kept guest appearances should be promoted. You may have people try a new title but it could also serve as an introductory issue for new readers.

Loans

Image Comics

In the studio system actors pertained to one studio or another but they would and could be loaned to a rival studio for a given project in exchange for a favor.

This does not mean I think it likely that the aisle would be crossed and Marvel and DC characters would co-exist in a story. However, each does still have imprints of its own and can send its big boys to those tales and vice versa, if necessary and applicable to boost readership and cross-pollinate fanbases. Preferably in standalone narratives that do not adversely affect continuity.

Trailers

Batman: Noël (DC Comics)

Now previews do exist and they can serve their function. However, just as trailers will inundate us there are months when you can’t get away from the same five pages.

A bit more variety might expand fan-bases for more books.

Self-Containment

Batman & Robin (DC Comics)

All above suggestions would imply and perhaps even demand a greater amount self-containment in each series.

One thing I’ve noticed in the New 52 is that, at least in some cases, there is less co-dependence. I started reading Batman and Batman & Robin in their new incarnations and there is little to no leaning on the other series thus far one needn’t read both if they choose not to.

That lack of co-dependence is a lot of what the above is about also. If you have a guest character in a new arc it can easily be its own entity and not need to play into a hierarchy.

Marvel Short Film Rumors

Nathaniel Moreau, Margot Finley, Bradley Machry and Jacelyn Holmes in Power Pack (Marvel/New World)

Pictured above is the cast from a pilot for a Power Pack series that was never picked up but along with Dr. Strange would be an ideal candidate for a short film treatment. There were rumors a while back that Marvel would produce shorts to play prior to its tentpole films. That seems to have died down but it shouldn’t a short film would be a great boon to a lesser character and not the investment or risk that a major summer release for a borderline top tier character would be (top tier in film terms).

Both Marvel and DC have established cinematic properties such that they can try and get lesser properties some limelight too. They are both studios and they should act like it with greater frequency.

Movie Tie-Ins

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Little, Brown)

In keeping with that any all comic-based feature films need their tie-ins and branded to get their product out there. I purchased The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn recently with the all too rare “Soon to be a Major Motion Picture” sticker on it but a week or so removed from having seen the film.

However, novelist and comics writer Joe Hill had a great idea on Twitter this summer just before one of the huge superhero movies came out: Why not have comics at the movies when those projects come around? When else would an impulse buy be as strong? “I just saw this movie and liked it, yes I’ll buy a comic; it’s half the price of a soda.”

Conclusion

The studio system was imperfect but so is the current one. The idea of changing a system isn’t replacing everything about it but just what didn’t work. Some of these ideas form a parallel industry can help comics.