We are now full swing into the summer blockbuster season for Hollywood, and let’s take a tally of movies that are currently out or soon to arrive that originate from the pages of comic books. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The Amazing Spider-Man 2. X-Men: Days of Future Past. Hercules. Guardians of the Galaxy. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Kingsman: The Secret Service. Big Hero 6.
All of this, without mentioning the big hitters coming soon, such as the second Avengers movie, or the one that finally brings Wonder Woman to the screen while pitting Batman v. Superman. All of this, a range of titles for the young to the mature. And these are only Hollywood films. Consider all of the movies made from comic books around the world, and the numbers are staggering. The top ten comic book adaptation movies have grossed around $4.05 billion dollars in just over a decade, proving their dominance at the box office in the United States and around the world.
Christopher Olson considers just how much adaption theories, and the need for fidelity, matter when you are adapting material from one culture to another in Considering Adaptation Theories in the Globalized 21st Century.
Back in 2007, I attended Comic-Con. At the time, I presented a paper on comics adaptations into films and the roles of “true believers” at the Comics Arts Conference. However, it was while I was at that venerable convention, surrounded by the fans and true believers Hollywood was hoping to capture (their energy, their money, their time) by making these adaptations, that I really pondered the ideas I was espousing in the presentation.
What follows are my thoughts on these ideas from then. I write them down as I am transcribing from my notebook to a source of more, in all honesty, security and longevity. And because I want to get myself into the habit of writing my thoughts on the research process down as they come to me. So to get into the habit for the future, I turn to remembering what I’ve done in the past.
And so, it began…
Think about all of the movies being made lately adapting a comic book or graphic novel. The superhero movie has become it’s own genre, with every major Hollywood studio trying to create tentpole franchises on well known, and not well known, superheroes. The studios are even “re-imagining” superheroes who have been in franchises, or attempt at franchises, that have failed or petered our. X-Men, SpiderMan, Superman, the Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider are some examples of current superheros that are undergoing attempts to remake their images.
But why should they have to remake their image?
Apparently, in their first go around, the producers failed to produce a media product the audience wanted. In the cases of X-Men and SpiderMan, this failing occurred in the third film. With Superman, an initial attempt at a re-imagining fell flat. With Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider, the first real adaptations did not sell well enough.
But what makes for a good superhero movie?
In my paper, Comics Adaptations and True Believers, I argue one thing producers should consider are the expectations the fans of these original comic books and graphic novels have when they attempt to adapt such media products to another medium. These expectations could be formed on several aspects of the canon: the visual representation, the implied aural representation, characterization and plot elements. For a shorter version of this theorization, I gave a presentation at the Comic Arts Conference of Comic-Con 2007:
Now, I would not argue this should be the only consideration for producers of any adaptations. Of course they should attempt to make the best movie possible at that time, even if that means straying from canon. Naturally, their concern is to appeal to a larger audience who may not have even heard of some of the superheroes being adapted from comic panels to film strips. And the ability to be faithful to canon is impossible for many superheroes whose histories have often been rewritten to adapt them as time went on: a process known as retconning.
However, I would argue that no producer should completely disregard the canon from which the adaption comes: especially for iconic elements in the visual, aural, characteristic or plot aspects of the superhero’s representation. The more iconic the aspect, the more the fans will expect it. Failure to adhere to these icons could be interpreted as disrespecting the material and the history of the superhero.
More important than being completely faithful to the canon, producers should not disrespect the canon through their manipulation of the material or how they engage with the fans before, during and after production. Above everything else, disrespecting the material is disrespecting the fans. And in this day and age, when fans are interconnected via the Internet, share spoilers and criticisms with the speed of electrons, and are the financial force behind ancillary marketing profits, no producers can feel save if they do not respect the fans and the fans’ love for the canon.
To disrespect the fans it to hamper the adaptation, and most likely insuring a re-imagining down the way.