Your Semi-Annual Article About the Death of the Comic Book Movie


Is everybody ready? It's almost that time again. In the distance, I can hear Chicken Little doing vocal warm-up exercises.

Because I have an app on my phone that counts down to events I'm excited about, I am dimly aware most days that the summer movie season will be here before we know it. Specifically, I know Iron Man 2 is only sixty-seven days away. (My next kid is 163 days away. The other night, I confused these two events while talking to my wife. My mistake has been brought up, oh, a time or two since then.) Even though I know the summer movies are coming, however, and even though I know this means the comic book movies are coming, I must confess it still took me by surprise this year when I saw my first "Is this the end of comic book movies?!" article over the weekend. I thought one of the movies would at least have a chance to come out first.

Even as superheroes and comic book culture continue to encroach upon the mainstream, even as Comic Con annually gets more news coverage than a political convention, each new wave of recognition brings out the worried doomsayers. I don't know what it is about comic book people that makes them think it's all too good to last; it's as if they think by accepting the movies, pop culture is accepting them, and they can't believe such a thing would ever happen. The genre has survived the Elektras and Ghost Riders and Catwomen. Every time a new one comes out, the source material gets so much positive press that making fun of the "Biff! Pow! Comics Aren't Just For Kids Anymore" headline has itself become a hacky cliche. The Joker got an Academy Award last year, you understand. Yet the comic book geek cannot dare to let his guard down and accept the possibility that the thing he likes is just popular now. It's like we've seen Carrie one too many times. Oh, sure, everybody loves The Big Bang Theory right now, but any minute now this party's going to end and I'm going to be tiara-deep in pig's blood. We just keep waiting for the other bat-boot to drop.

I saw the first ill portents this weekend. While browsing the excellent sci-fi site io9, I saw three unrelated articles in rapid succession:


The Kick-Ass piece is rather thoughtful. Still, just reading all this speculation and hearsay in article after article made me want to breathe into a paper bag, yet at the end of it all the only fact I actually knew for sure was that something spooked the hell out of io9 this week. They have no crystal ball. They haven't talked to any of the people involved. They haven't talked to any of the people who've talked to any of the people involved. They just have a funny feeling, and it's not a good one.

We seem to go through this coverage cycle a little more vehemently with each passing summer. "Are Comics Gaining Mainstream Acceptance? [Do They Like Us?]" > "Comics Are Everywhere! [I Think They Like Us!]" > "Oversaturation: Is This The End Of Comic Book Movies? [Oh God, They Don't Like Us Anymore! Please, God, No! I Can't Go Back To Eating Lunch At The Mathletes' Table!]"

The thing is, though the articles churn through this cycle, the actual culture doesn't seem to. These fallow periods where everyone is sick of comic book movies never seem to happen. If you look at Wikipedia's list of comic book movies (and it is an extremely flawed list for this discussion, I grant you, full of TV movies, TV pilots, and direct-to-video cartoons) you will see about 197 listings; 100 of them have been made since 2000. One of the very first things I did when I got here was participate in a conversation about comic book movie overkill. How many have come out just since then? A dozen? Twenty? That's the good news about "oversaturation": when the only game in town is Batman & Robin, and Batman & Robin sucks, you're not gonna see Batman around these parts for another eight years or so. When a dozen of these things come out per year, though, the good ones balance out the bad ones, and the hits balance out the duds. For every 30 Days of Night, there's a 300.

Of course, I'm leafing through the calendar, and I don't see nearly as many special edition podcasts on the horizon as I do in the rearview mirror. This year, besides Kick-Ass, we've got Iron Man 2, Scott Pilgrim, and… what else? Jonah Hex? Maybe it is sort of a fallow year, relatively. But it's still a golden age, my friend.

You have to remember: if you're my age, a child of the eighties, there's a very good chance that besides Superman II, the first comic book movie you saw was quite possibly Howard the Duck. These things came out maybe once every five years. Maybe you'd strike gold and see both Batman and Dolph Lundgren's Punisher in the same year, you lucky soul. For the bulk of my childhood, "comic book movies" weren't even an idea any of us had. That wasn't even a thing. Even in college, after the speculator's boom and Death of Superman when publishers might as well have been printing their own money, maybe every so often there'd be a Spawn. Maybe you'd get a Steel. How happy we were, lapping up any cinematic scraps that fell from the table back then. And "scraps" is a generous description. Most "comic book movies" that came out before X-Men looked like they cost about forty-five dollars.

Now? Your mom knows what Hellboys are. You live in a world where a Watchmen movie exists. Not a script, mind you. Not a directorial wish list. It's there. I have literally been hearing about this movie and how impossible it would be to film since I was in the eighth grade, and they made it. There are eleven separate versions of it at Best Buy. One or two of them probably come in a Collector's Edition model pirate ship, because they made a version of it with the pirate bullshit left in. I'm not sure I can even let that sink in. They're working on a Green Lantern movie right now. Did I mention The Joker won an Oscar? If ten-year-old me thinks about this for too long, I start to feel my brain working its way through my skull. This is an insanely great time to be into this stuff! Stop fretting and smile, goddammit!

For the sake of argument, let's indulge the worst case scenario and say the comic book movie is falling into disfavor. Once it dies out, it is replaced by… what? Westerns? Inspirational lacrosse documentaries? Conventional Hollywood wisdom is that all movie tickets are bought by thirteen year olds; what appeals to them (and, yes, me) more than this stuff? I picture a bunch of suits around a conference table, saying, "I don't know, Harvey. Our market research shows that what boys really want this year are adaptations of Bronte novels and/or early nineties Sega Genesis cartridges. The only unanswered questions are how hedgehogs react to blue makeup and whether Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights should be CGI or a real cat."

Besides, if anything, Kick-Ass will kill the comic book movie with its content. Oh, it's funny now, when it's just us watching the red band trailer; "the little girl says 'c***' and chops off a dude's mandible with a machete! This is going to be a delight!" I'm telling you right now: once the culture warriors get wind of this little gem in a couple months, Bill O'Reilly will be going through the industry's trash and I will be explaining to my mom that I do not, in fact, review illustrated pornography for a living while Quesada and Didio scramble to re-form the Comics Code

Maybe it's just my Midwestern dad-brain going, "That's an actual little girl play-murdering and 'c*nt'-ing around. That script should be used as a sting operation; any parents who volunteer to let you use their kid to make that movie should automatically have the kid taken away." Maybe I'm overreacting. I don't have a crystal ball. I just have a funny feeling. Let's just hope I'm as bad at forecasting as everyone else.

 

 


Jim Mroczkowski is a Hollywood insider, in the sense that he knows a guy who was an extra in that Rocky and Bullwinkle movie a few years ago. He also follows many filmmakers on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Doesn’t DC still submit comics to the CCA? 

  2. I’m agree that Kick-Ass is going to alienate some fans and piss off the ultraconservative elements of the country.  I’m also concerned that it will be a generally awful movie (Nick Cage is in it, so that is a relatively solid bet).  I will also be shocked if it makes enough money to cover its budget.

    However, I’m also confident that Iron-Man 2 will do extremely well financially (regardless of the quality of the movie), so the comic movie won’t go away.  I think what will happen is that mainstream characters will continue to get the kind of attention they have been getting, but fringe books will get even less attention than before.  There goes the "Magnus The Robot Fighter" movie I was hoping for. 

    What a c*nt-tastic article (sorry, I felt like I had to use the word "c*nt" in some fashion). 

  3. Great article, as always.  Iron Man 2 will make money, Kick-Ass will be a hot button topic on Fox News, the world will keep turning. Comic book movies will still be made, regardless of what happens.

    The subtle Heathcliff joke killed me, by the way.

  4. Correct me if I’m way here but wasn’t Kick-Ass already green-lit for the silver screen around the same time the first issue came out?

    If that’s the case, isn’t it a whole new animal? 

    With the other examples the characters and storylines existed in comic book for several years to gain a fanbase and acclaim in the medium?

    Comic book movies have certainly come a long way from the trolling for quick box office bucks that we’ve seen in other media mines (60s, 70s tv shows immediately come to mind) but that doesn’t mean it will stop.

    If Kick-Ass is successful though it makes me wonder what could happen next? How will big name creators develop content when the ink is already dry on the movie deal?

  5. I think when folks talk about the death of comic book movies they only include the superhero genre.  Remember that "comic book" movies have been coming out for awhile. Even if the superhero comic genre’s popularity falls, as long as there is sequential storytelling then the "comic book" movie will exist.

  6. I doubt 99.9% of the population will know that Kick-Ass was ever a Comic Book.  So outside of it having superheoroes I’m not sure people will consider it a ‘Comic Book movie’.

  7. @Hawkboy: They will know. It will be a part of all the marketing.

  8. I think Comic Book Films are still at an early stage right now. Cause other then Batman and Iron Man; what other comic films have had huge publicity? Plus right now the comic films that are coming out (sans Iron Man 2) are all from lesser known or indie sources. I hope more films like that continue to be produced so then film companies can get used to not doing the ‘big, action blockbuster.’

    So while Kick Ass maybe be a horrible film (oh and it will be) it will still guide screenwriters, directors, and other people in the industry to make a better comic book film. We also have to remember that we haven’t had a full blown ‘team’ film yet. So when the Avengers is finally made and distributed hat’s when, I think, we’ll see a surge or downfall of a comic book genre.

  9. You will all see my movie!!  And I expect no less than half of you whining while the other half praise!

  10. Kick Ass has already started controversy today in the UK. It was in the Daily Mail. Which is a bad thing. 

  11. IESB is reporting some interesting things about Nolan’s involvement in the future of DCU films, such as his brother may be directing the next Superman movie and that Chris Nolan himself may be directing JLA. Of course, this could all be rumors. Although I don’t mind fantasizing over a JLA film directed by Chris Nolan.

  12. Good point on mentioning those all important questions that people do tend to ask. It slmost points out the undertone of an "us versus them" mindset that comic book fans have.

    Art in all its forms matures with the time (that can be a good thing or a bad thing), but it is great to note that the maturation levels these days when talking about comics and movies is that you will hear a bit more about that indie comic that was optioned, which later turns a movie into a small, but very fierce following. With that said, I will be a bit more interested in how Scott Pilgrim turns out than Iron Man 2 or Kick-Ass (doesn’t mean I won’t watch all three).

  13. Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    I know where you’re coming from with this article, Jim. Growing up, I would have killed to get more comic movies. The SUPERMAN films were watched quite often when I was growing up. And the first two TMNT films? Don’t even get me started. They blew my freakin’ mind. Heck, my brother and I had that Dolph Lundgren PUNISHER poster hanging up in our basement years before we even saw the thing.

    As the years went by, I’ve made bought the occasional older comic book film. The serial of Captain Marvel from the ’40s? Good stuff.

    So yeah, comic book films been here for a while and they’re really not going anywhere. They keep making money so they’ll keep being cranked out. Hollywood constantly needs new stories. I imagine that it’s easier to go with a story that’s already fleshed out and has a fan base instead of taking a chance on a totally new screenplay.

  14. Don’t forget that before Kick-Ass was a comic, it was based upon a true story.  So before you get our mid-western panties in a wad, remember  … It Can Happen!

  15. We will only be doomed when we see a Dr. Doom movie. 

  16. I think it’s over when Howard the duck happens again.

  17. As Jim pointed out, io9 goes through this shit painfully regularly. Quite frankly I’m fucking sick of it. I think the articles io9 puts out do a lot of damage. It isn’t so pronounced with movies but TV gets hit with this treatment way too often. I’ve lost count of the number of articles I’ve read on io9 that talk about a show being in trouble based on nothing more than rumour and heresay.

    Dollhouse is the biggest example of this. People were nervous when Joss went back to FOX after the horror story of Firefly. But despite constant assurances from FOX and Whedon himself you couldn’t logon to the internet without seeing an article about how Dollhouse is dead before it even starts. How many people read this and then don’t even bother watching the show?

    It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We expect something to be bad so we come into it with a bad attitude. Most of the time it just annoys me but sometimes it makes me fucking sick. 

  18. I honestly don’t see why there will be a fuss about Kick-Ass, so the girl says c*nt, so what? The film is rated R for a reason. And what’s worse the jag-offs who are going to bitch the most won’t even see it. All they will do is harp on the little saying c*nt, these people make me sick. What happened to if you don’t like it, then don’t watch it? Personally I would rather watch houseflys f*ck than watch one of these vampire movies that are the rage now. But I wouldn’t go to the extent to say they shouldn’t be made.

  19. I have zero interest in the Kick-Ass movie I can’t wait for the Losers movie

  20. I can’t wait for Jim’s follow article inext year that says "The genre has survived the Elektras and Ghost Riders, Catwomen and Kickasses."

  21. @jim: doesn’t the “the losers” flick come out this year, too? Another comic book movie, that is ridiculous over the top action. And i mean that in a good way. 🙂