There are three possible reactions to the title of this article.
The first reaction and the most common one, of course, is TL; DR – this is the filth of the internet, the ones with attention spans short enough to give ADD victims a new hope, and a unique lack of taste. Their opinions really don’t matter as they aren’t the target audience. If you are one of them, I am truly sorry, but this must be an accidental click for you – an unfortunate interjection between Honey Singh’s new rap, and the trailer of whatever Salman Khan is coming out with, this Eid.
The second and the least common one, is intrigue – this is the reaction of a person who takes a simultaneous interest in both comic-books and superhero cinema. And despite what the internet would have you believe, this is a decidedly rare breed. I love these people. They have the dual super-power of ‘having an opinion’ and ‘having an open mind’. Not easy, these twin demons.
The third reaction is that of an anticipatory groan – this would be the reaction of both the sides of a rather interesting debate – the ones who believe that ‘COMIC BOOK OR SUPERHERO MOVIE?’ is a necessary choice imposed on every adult, and one remains forever branded based on the warring faction he chooses. There is a history behind this mutual exclusivity, and given that you are the target audience, I would love to give you guys my take, before I am buried in flak.
It would be really stupid to think that the great separation between comic-books and movies was not envisioned. There had been attempts to create a ‘filmverse’ (without specifically using that term) since Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989. And they had a near complete range of success – from Christopher Reeve as Superman to George Clooney as Batman. But it wasn’t until Sam Raimi’s 2002 rendition of Spiderman, that this barrier was effectively breached. Spiderman was already a household name, but who would have thought that Green Goblin would become one as well? And then Doc-Ock? By the time Raimi washed his hands off the Spiderman franchise in 2007, his movies had jumped the shark, but a lot of figurative cogs were already turning in the minds of people at Warner Bros., et al.
The second movie in the X-Men franchise received a distinctly different recognition in 2003. Soon, there were live-action versions of difficult-to-portray heroes like Hulk and Hellboy. In 2005, DC comics merged superhero movies with serious cinema, by coming out with a live-action version of the Alan Moore classic, V for Vendetta, and with the first movie of the most polarizing superhero franchise to ever exist – Batman Begins.
Indeed, by the time Raimi’s Spiderman 3 hit theatres, we were almost living with the norm of at least one superhero movie each summer. In 2008, was the first planned movie of Marvel’s cinematic universe – Iron Man. This was possibly the first time that people were looking at creating a long-term strategy out of movies. A strategy that has lasted six movies (with more to come) and cleared the billion dollar mark in worldwide gross twice over; a strategy that inspired unbelievable spin-offs and retcons in comic books, and a strategy, which along with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, re-shaped entirely, the way in which the world perceived superheroes.
What was happening with comic books in the meantime? Nothing great, really. The best years of comic-books seem to have sped past us without us noticing. People have been dealing with consistently shorter attention-spans and an increasingly complex web of existing comic-book interconnections which were getting completely out-of-hand, especially in the DC Universe. Comic books also struggled to keep up with movie storylines, and failed miserably. One of the worst example of the kind was Peter Parker emerging from a large dead-spider that he had turned into, complete with all his memories, and the ability to web-sling without needing his web-shooters. This was a retcon to explain the lack of Spiderman’s web-shooters in the movie franchise.
And it wasn’t limited to all this. While the technology to create visually better comic books grew consistently, the department which truly suffered was that of the story. There was no political flavour or timed madness like in Alan Moore’s Watchmen or The Killing Joke. For the first time, Marvel created a series of Comic Books in Deadpool, where the USP wasn’t the story, or the superpowers, or even the villains. The USP was the fact that the story was co-written by a comedian. The one-liners from Spiderman which had impressed everybody as a welcome addition, were now the MAIN reason why people were expected to pick-up a comic book. Then there were the so-called revamps – The New 52 and Marvel Now. There just seemed to be a drastic change in the way the average comic was written – it was more force fitted to the masses than ever before, a response to the shortening attention span and growing complexity of the comic books.
And yet, despite all these loopholes, the readership in comic books, was increasing. There was a simple reason to explain this paradox – the movies. Newly made fans of Nolan’s franchise and the Marvel movies wanted it all – the collectibles, the character histories, and more action from their favourite characters without having to wait for it. ‘Nerdgasm’ became an actual word. And in the most unfortunate of all happenings, these newly made comic-book fans pitted themselves against the old-timers on internet forums with their newly acquired half-knowledge of comic history. And here was where the great rift between the movie-fans and the comic-book-fans began.
The comic book fans were initially a happy crowd – their heroes were now on the big-screen, better than ever. But as the new fans poured in with their idiotic, thoughtless suggestions, proclamations and, as is always the case with the internet, hypocrisy, they distanced themselves from the movies, carving their own niche which was protected by their fiery intolerance. I have been reading comic books since I was twelve. Unfortunately for me, I do not consider it a crime to appreciate good art in both formats. And I have received the ugliest, most intolerant flak for that on social media. ‘Do you think that Christian Bale was a better Batman than Kevin Conroy’s voice? Well, fuck you, you Nolanite,’ is an approximate reaction. I didn’t enter any more debates. It was pointless.
Fast forward all of this to today, and we have a most interesting conundrum – the casting of the ‘Batman v/s Superman’ movie. Here in India, we still struggle to not include the word ‘couch’ as a necessary suffix to ‘casting’. And yet, I see outrage, and outrage against the outrage everywhere on social media as each casting decision tumbles out. People weren’t too happy with Ben Affleck as Batman. Fanboys are unhappier still at Gal Gadot for Wonder Woman. The non-fanboys are citing examples as far back as Michael Keaton to prove that non-traditional casting wins out, and that the fanboys should be giving Zack Snyder a chance. Of course, the fanboys retaliate saying that they already gave Zack a chance with Man of Steel. And would they still be wrong if tomorrow Jonah Hill was cast as Batman? Welcome to the unending debates of the future.
What no one seems to have realized, is that this is a losing battle for both the sides. In the end, good or bad, both the sides will pay the money and go watch the movie, and they wouldn’t be able to explain why. In the end, it’s neither of these two sides, but the studio which is winning. The debate between the superhero movie and the superhero comic is not completely singular. This has happened to novels and movies (Hunger Games) and novels and series (Game of Thrones). Without exception, the studio wins. Every single time. So before you defend (or attack) the next casting decision, ask yourself this – did you make this debate? At the very heart of this debate lies intolerance, and the failure to understand that we are not looking at a logical extension of comic books, when we see the movies. We are looking at two different things.
All this time, we have fuelled the gains of those to whom this debate is profitable. Perhaps we should all ask ourselves if the next superhero movie deserves a chance without ridiculous hype. Maybe it’s time we look back to our favourite superhero movie (or comic book) and realize that it was not made to our expectations – it just had its fundamentals right. And perhaps, if we stop the clamour, and the writers stop force-fitting their art to our clamour, we would get that movie we always wanted.