Friday, May 31, 2013

The reason why comic book movies will always be better than actual serialized comics

I like comic books just like most other people (well maybe not as much as George R.R. Martin). However, I have to remind myself from time-to-time that comic book movie adaptations should have an open license to do anything with the characters, and I shouldn't complain.
Why would I say this? Well for starters, over time comic book writing is some of the worst that there is. Take Wolverine for example. I'm looking forward to the new movie, so I brushed up on some of the history on this character. After I did so, I came to the decision that I honestly don't care where the movie goes as long as it has a self-contained story that makes sense and has good action scenes. Here's Wolverine's history as it's evolved over time (I'll let you be the judge):

1) Wolverine was originally meant to be an actual wolverine turned into a human by the high evolutionary. His claws were part of his gloves.

2) The claws became implants created by Weapon X, and he was a mutant.

3) Someone decided he was meant to be Sabertooth's son.

4) Someone decided he had bone claws all along and they just got covered over with adamantium. Magneto exposed this by ripping all the adamantium form his body which made his regeneration insane (see number 6).

5) In the present incarnation, he isn't a mutant. He's a Lupine, which is a human-looking species that evolved parallel to humans but from wolves and not apes. There are two tribes of lupines: blond and dark-haired. They hate each other, hence Sabertooth vs. Wolverine being in conflict all the time. Other Lupines include Wolfsbane, Feral, Wild Child, and Thornn. All of them are manipulated by an elder Lupine called Romulus.

6) Originally he could heal faster than most. It evolved into an uber superpower so that at one point, he was left as a skeleton from an explosion and healed completely within seconds. To set limits, every time he dies, Wolverine had to fight the Spirit of Death to return to the living. And then they got rid of that, so he doesn't have to do it anymore. But now if he dies, this time, it's the real deal! *shocked face

And you can do the above analysis with any serialized comic book character. Spiderman, Hulk, Superman, Wonder Woman... Every single one of them from Jean Grey to Dr. Fate is a complete hot mess. And let's not even get into how every single female character now has rape in their background because "rape" makes female characters "edgy." At least that's what writers think. "Let's put a rape in the background and that explains why she's all doom and gloom now."
Comic book writing is just...SO BAD... I really understand why I no longer
buy them. Maybe that explains why I think so much of the YA genre
featuring comic book-ish heroes is bad too. Writers are emulating this crap.
But hey, it sells. So as long as the money train is rolling hop on for a ride.
To anyone that reads and appreciates good writing, comic book movies will always be better than the actual serialized comics. Yes, I said it. I don't care how bad the movie is either. Just look at the complete and utter mess Wolverine is and try to argue with me. You can't. You'll just lose.

Seriously, anyone who pokes fun at George Lucas for tampering with Star Wars over time and yet loves serialized comic books has nowhere to stand. If you're one of these people, you're a complete hypocrite. The plot holes, the continuity problems, the stuff that plain just doesn't make sense at all is the reason why comics for the most part are just examples of the most awful commercial writing available. However, because all superheroes come with six pack abs, sexy bodies and big tits, and action scenes rife with special effects, they will always make billions of dollars. That being said, I'm looking forward to the new Wolverine movie. Here's the latest trailer (it hits theaters July 26th):


  1. I haven't read one in years, so no idea where they are in quality. I guess all the changes and inconsistencies come from multiple writers over many years.

  2. What you're complaining about is retconning where the backstory is changed to keep a character going long after all possible storylines have been explored. This is a business device and pretty much solely employed by DC and Marvel to keep stale franchises going.

    That's why most comic fans focus on runs by particular writers rather than the character as a whole.

    But comic book movies don't have the excuse of being sixty years in and looking for a new angle. They're dreadful from the first movie to the last to the reboot.

    The Moodster
    Comics Defence League

  3. @Moody: What "fans" call "retconning" went by another phrase in my time: "baffling someone with bullshit." Call it what you want. It's still a pile of smelly feces at the end of the day.

  4. My husband is a huge comic book junkie and he gets furious when they switch writers and tamper with the story lines. They are getting so bad, starting a line, stopping it, and starting a new line with same characters. I told him to just stop buying them, but he keeps buying and bitching. Oy vey.

  5. I don't read any comic books (well, occasionally Buffy season 8) and I haven't seen any of the X-Men or Wolverine movies, so I'll have to take your word for it.

  6. Yeah i have to disagree. Because if you're going to compare an individual movie, then you can't compare it to the ENTIRE HISOTRY of the character unless that's what the movie is trying to do. You'd have to compare it to a single comic, or a single run in order for it to make sense. Because movies are made by a single team, so it's not fair to compare that, to different teams and different stories all mashed together. The comparison doesn't work. It needs to be a 1:1. Not 1:150. Of course a movie looks better when you're comparing it to anything ever done by anyone about a character. And some things that weren't done. IE, wolverine never WAS a wolverine, it was just something that the writers had planned but then dropped. I'm sure the movie creators had ideas that were planned and then dropped because they were bad.

  7. @Sarah: I don't think that's valid at all. The movie adaptation is superior because it is one self-contained story. The comic storyline is not superior because you have forty years of history that has no continuity at all. I think by disagreeing with me, you actually prove my point.

  8. I think you might be reading the wrong comics or overlooking the truly terrible comic book movies out there. Daredevil as a comic has had a fantastic run over the last 12 years under Bendis, Brubaker and now Waid. Also Brubaker's run on Captain America, Ellis, and for a short run Rucka, had great runs on Punisher. Over in DC Azzarello is killing it on Wonder Woman and Johns has had a great year on Aquaman. On a macro level 52 is the gold standard for crossovers. This doesn't even get into how good most of the Valiant titles are or the remarkably creative stuff that Image puts out every month. If you're not married to superheros then there has never been a better time to read comics: Manhattan Projects, Skullkickers, GI Joe, Parker, Saga, Fatalle, etc.. The big thing with all these writers is a willingness to not be a slave to the past. The characters need to go in different directions for the book to stay fresh. You can call it retconning, I call it telling stories. In the slave to continuity mentality Arthur Conan Doyle would have had to explain who Holmes said something in one book then said something different in another... I DON'T CARE JUST SOLVE A MYSTERY!

    Look, the movie studios are going to reboot titles at least every 10 years and so will the comics publishers. The difference is the publishers assume you know who Spiderman/Batman/Hulk are and don't need an origin story from the start. When Azzarello took over Wonder Woman he dropped the reader into the action from the first panel. Everyone knows who Wonder Woman is so show her doing bad ass things instead of an origin story. On the other hand, last summer's Spiderman saddled us with yet another hour of Peter Parker is a weak teenager who gets some powers... *YAWN* Also the good books out there now are willing to tell stories that the movies will never ever touch. I don't mean nasty stuff like sexual violence but taking chances like turning Daredevil into a hardboiled detective story or the borderline surrealism of Batman Incorporated. The movie studios won't take any chances on interesting comic stories, with the money on the line I don't blame them, so it will always be this formula: fight-win, fight-loose, soul searching while training, fight-almost-lose but win. The books can take a chance on a storyline that is an actual mystery and not based around big fights. They also won't gamble on an R rated movie so they will never get Punisher, Deadpool or Elektra right.

    I just want a good story and I find a ton of them in comics. I find stinkers along the way but that is a risk of reading a 200 trades/graphic novels a year. I also see a big chunk of comics movies and those range from good to bad. For every Avengers or Batman there is a Fantastic Four or Batman Forever.

  9. Perhaps it's a good thing that I never got into them. Comic books, that is.

  10. Yeah, not a comic book fan, although I did enjoy the graphic novel, Kick-Ass as well as the movie and I've liked all the Wolverine movies (actually, I've pretty much enjoyed most of the comics made into movies).

  11. Well yeah it gets to be a mess but then some like Superman have been around for 75 years and during that time you get different writers and artists with different styles and visions of the character. I mean you like how Batman went from noirish to campy to the World's Greatest Detective to a violent thug and now more of just a smart, grumpy loner.

    Also (and I have experience with this) when you're trying to extend a series it can get difficult to find exciting new things for the hero to do. And I was only doing it with 8 novels; imagine doing that for thousands of comics!

  12. @Brad: I agree that if you take a look at one "slice" from a comic book's history that the writing can be great. But over the course of time, the serialization of the comic book characters is ludicrous. Take for example the whole "Crisis on the Infinite Earths" which was DC's attempt at trying to mitigate storylines that had simply grown out of control. It had fantastic art from the famous George Perez, but overall, I didn't enjoy the story all that much. Superboy punching reality is another ridiculous retcon. My point (which may get lost in all of this) is that movies will be superior (in my opinion) because they have a beginning, a start, and an end. It doesn't matter how poorly executed they happen to be. Wolverine's history is so convoluted and ridiculous (and no I'm not giving the writers or Marvel a pass) that they really need to just trash everything, issue a public apology, and start completely over with "this is how it really is and all that other stuff you have is now outside of canon."

  13. Great post- I think it's no secret that Wolverine is my fav comic book hero. And after seeing that still I posted on my blog during the A-Z challenge (W is for Wolverine) of Hugh Jackman all ripped and ready to go in The Wolverine, I don't really care how the Japanese story line pans out in the movie- I am excited to go see it. Somehow, I don't think I will be disappointed!

  14. @Pat: Right, it's completely a mess. So I'm going to stop complaining when I see something that bothers me in a comic book movie. For example, Mandarin really bothered me in Iron Man 3. I wanted to see 10 magic rings and not some actor paid to pretend to be the Mandarin. I didn't want to see the Mandarin reduced to a figurehead of some boring terrorist organization that happens to have people with powers to make things burn. However, now I see differently that I was in the wrong. I should not be critical of the movie's adaptation of Mandarin because it probably makes just as much sense as anything else in Iron Man's history.

    More examples: Director doesn't want Krypton to blow up and wants to keep it intact? Sure why the hell not. It's not like other crap in Superman's history doesn't make sense.

    Director wants to make Wonder Woman a transgendered man? Sure...why the hell not? Let's f'ing do it.

    Director wants to make Wolverine a space alien from a planet where Wolves mated with humans and somehow became intelligent? Sure. Why the hell not?

    And other people who understand these characters should be as open and understanding as I am that all of these characters bear the onus of all that retconning on their shoulders to the point that it's all completely ridiculous and anything goes.

  15. I think it really depends on where you are in the adaptation process. The first Iron Man movie was an adaptation, and they did a good job with it. They kept the spirit of the origin intact while moving it to a modern setting. Iron Man 3 is no longer an adaptation; it, along with the rest of the Avengers sequence of movies, has its own story line, now, which is why I've done my best to overlook what they did with the Mandarin. It wasn't what I wanted, but, then, it's a separate story, now.

    I suppose the X-Men stuff is the same, now, too. The first X-Men movie was a pretty decent adaptation, and they did an adequate job with the following two movies. I'm unsure how to categorize Wolverine, though, because the origin movie should have been an adaptation, and they just screwed that up all to Hell, and I'm not looking forward to this new one, either. I'll go see it, because I love Jackman as Wolverine, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to hate what they're doing.

  16. The closest experience I have to this topic is Modesty Blaise. Within the last year I've gone nuts over her, yet she was a British comic strip character that ran for only a few decades starting in the 60's and it never ran in Denver newspapers, so I'm only getting to know her as an adult. I read the "graphic novels" which really are just collections of the strips, but I prefer the novels, which have much more depth and more complicated stories and character motivations.

    One reason this series is so strong and consistent is that all of Modesty's stories and novels were written by her creator, Peter O'Donnell, and he was an experienced novelist. Also, because she's something of a female James Bond without any superpowers, there have to be logical explanations for everything. O'Donnell had a knack for being able to balance a fanciful imagination with a real-life grittiness. So for me, Modesty Blaise is the only comic hero I care about.

  17. Mike, I think it is only fair to look at individual story arcs and creative teams on comics. We don't say that Batman movies are terrible because of Batman Forever or Batman and Robin; those films are crap but Nolan and Burton made good ones. Just because Nicieza's Hawkeye was bad doesn't make Fraction's current Hawkeye less amazing. I wold actually go so far as to say that movies are screwing up comic writing. DC and Marvel want the big titles to have stories that are easy to adapt. DC doesn't want another Killing Joke; it won't adapt well. Both major publishers are slowly killing off their adult lines because at the end of the day Sandman, Criminal, 100 Bullets or anything MAX can't make a movie that will gross half a billion. I'll still read the best titles from DC and Marvel (FF, Hawkeye, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Batwoman) and a few of the big names that aren't awful out of habit but the good stuff these days is at Boom, IDW and Imgae. Why deal with continuity issues when you can just run a story for 48 issues and call it a day.

  18. My two favorite comics as a kid were Iron Man and Spiderman and I read them for about 5 years (age 10-15). I laughed when comic fanatics got upset about the Spiderman movie reboot so soon after Spiderman 3. Marvel has told this same story and reinvented this universe 20 times since it was created in the 60s. I guess its fine since it gives every generation their own updated version of these superheroes but it certainly makes cross generational conversations about comics difficult.

    An example is a few years ago I bought my nephew the full DVD set of the classic 1992 Batman cartoon which is one of my favorites and did a lot to reinvent the universe. He looked at me like I was trying to pawn some cheap knockoff on him since he only knew Batman Beyond from 2000, The Batman from 2004, and Batman:Brave and the Bold from 2008. I could have included The New Batman from 1997 on the list but they don't show that on the Cartoon Network either.

  19. comic book storylines get really crazy. It's hard to keep up. Like Spider-man, they recently killed peter parker off after Doc Ock took his body and destroyed him in a mind game...

  20. You sound just like my hubby...that's exactly what he says. I don't read comics, but love the movies based on them:)

  21. I'm looking forward the Wolverine also. I've never read comic books. Not enough story for the price for me.

  22. grew up on comics - on to graphic novels... but yeah, dislike the mucking around just for 'sales'...

  23. Holy frick-fracking cow -- that trailer looks awesome. First time I've seen it. Wolverine AND samurai? I'm there. Regarding the comic plot holes and inconsistencies: now I don't feel so bad about some of my own. Do you think it has more to do with episodic writing? Multiple writers? Lazy slobs?
    In Medias Res

  24. One of the things I like to do now is occasionally look up an old superhero that I used to like back when I read comics as a kid and then young adult, and see the actual history of that character.

    You mention that female characters almost always have a rape in their background, but many many characters have become elemental spirits, or demons, or gods, in their time, too, and that amazes me, as well.

    But it's like PT says (and like I said about sequels): it's okay if you like the evolution, and it's okay if you don't pay much attention. Think of those Wolverines as alternate versions of Wolverine, an "expanded universe" of them. If the writers build on the 'new' origin and make it interesting, I think it's okay. I actually like the one with Wolverine fighting death each time to come back. As for "Lupines"? Ecch.

    (As an aside, once, The Boy and I had a lengthy debate about what would happen if you cut Wolverine exactly in 2. Would the two sides have to join and heal? Or would you create an entirely new Wolverine? If the latter, why is there not a storyline where Wolverine was cut in two by a villain, and half of him stolen, and that half is continually bisected and they're building an army of Wolverines, while the "real" Wolverine must find them and destroy them -- knowing that somewhere out there is his EXACT DUPLICATE, a half that was also him and now has become different because they each lived the same life until the original bifurcation?

    What is the meaning of the real self? Who is the "real" Wolverine? Who should live? Who should die? SHOULD I IMMEDIATELY GO AND REGISTER THIS STORYLINE WITH A COPYRIGHT? I am going to do that. I am going to start a story, right now, where this happens. DIBS.

    Forget all that stuff I said about Wolverine. And wait for my new book to come out. "HEALED," I may call it.

    Man, your posts get me thinking. They really get me thinking. I should actually begin writing that now.

    Also, not all comic book movies are better than the comic books themselves. Iron Man 2 was not great. Not awful, but not great. I didn't care for the first Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, not all that much, but that's me.

  25. I think I've been misunderstood by people reading my post. The only reason I take an outrageous stance on saying comic book movies are better than the comic books themselves is because the movies have a self-contained storyline. I'm basically saying even if the movie is a complete turd it has to be better than the hot mess of sixty years of continuity errors.

    Yes, there are terrible comic book movies. Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3 are both ones I never intend to watch again. Same goes with most of the 90's Batman movies and Spiderman 3 (Sam Raimi version), etc.

    Do you guys see what I'm arguing here?

    I'm also saying that we should never complain about how a comic book movie is not holding true to its source material. As the source material is so messed up, then we should just give them a pass and say "Oh this is just what so and so writer has conceived for this character. The fact that it's bad is irrelevant. It has just as much a right to call itself canon as anyone else writing for this character."

  26. I got that out of what you were saying, which is why I made the statement about whether it's an adaptation or not. It's why I don't like what Jackson did with The Hobbit. He claimed for the year before the movie came out that it was an -adaptation- of the book and a faithful one at that, but it's not an adaptation; it's the Jackson Hobbit. Jackson's interpretation. If you're taking the source material and making your version of it, fine, but don't call that an adaptation, because that implies a certain amount of faithfulness to the source material.

    From that standpoint, if you're adapting a comic, you can choose which source material you are adapting. In the case of Iron Man it was an actual limited series called Extremis. The first and third movie used that series heavily as source material. Or so I've read, because I haven't read that series.

    Anyway... I think I'm topic, now, but, yeah, I agree and don't agree at the same time.

  27. @Briane: Oh, and Briane, I think they did a story line like that in Wolverine. I'm not entirely sure, because that was well after I quit reading comics, but there was some big Weapon X story where they were trying to give Wolverine's healing power to other mutants or something, and they had some piece of Wolvie they were using. Or something.

  28. I think this makes sense. A comic book can be read quickly. There's not a lot of dialogue/depth. A movie can do so much more.

    Funny because I'm writing a story that takes place in a graphic novel part of the time. Someone suggested I turn that part into a graphic novel. But I'm fighting the urge because I don't want to lose what words do to the scenes. Though it would be great to intersperse those parts with pictures, like Brian Selznick's two books. Do you know them?