From Comics to Cosmic, Part 9: Quit Cramming Concepts Into Comic Movies!

“From Comics to Cosmic” is a new series from noted comic book writer/artist Steve Englehart. Read about the intense and often unbelievable ups and downs of his experience working in the comic industry. Check back daily for more of his exploits! Previous installments of “From Comics to Cosmic” can be found here.

As I mentioned earlier, one day I figured out how to make comics characters work for the general audience, by making them full-grown human beings rather than cartoons. A film producer named Michael Uslan said “I finally see how to make superhero films for adults,” optioned my Batman stories, and started down the road to the first Batman movie, the one with Jack Nicholson as the Joker. I was eventually brought in to rework the scripts generated by actual screenwriters, but when it went before the cameras, the characters I’d created all had their names changed and the story was credited to DC Comics.

Unfortunately, that’s a typical Hollywood story, but except for the name changes, the film was very true to my characters, so I was happy enough in a writerly way. It does, however, explain why I’ve had a conflicted reaction to the floodgate of comics movies it generated. It’s kind of like the Wright Brothers, in a way: before I did it, it had never been done, and now everybody’s doing it.

That said, the best of the movies remain the ones with full-grown human beings (even if they’re teens or even pre-teens). The Batman films grew progressively more juvenile as they moved away from that first one, until the series was rebooted with Batman Begins. With The Dark Knight, they went back to my stories (still with no credit).

The problem appears to be that left to their own devices, filmmakers don’t resonate to comics’ vibes, so after a well-done first film (or first and second), extending the franchise involves grabbing several handfuls of concepts and cramming them together for spectacle rather than developing a story (most recent example, Iron Man 2).

As someone who does resonate to those vibes, and to whole characters, it bothers me that these are the “comics stories” the mass market knows, and not the usually superior storytelling from the original comics. These days, the printed material is just the trailer for the films as far as the companies are concerned. That’s where their income lies, and as Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

This is probably not unique to comics, though the fact that they don’t have to credit their writers certainly helps them head down that road. I like to think that if my Point Man/Long Man series blew up, I’d continue to write the books my way, push as hard as I could to make the films live up to that, and then let them go. But I haven’t gotten those six-figure checks yet, so we shall see…

Steve Englehart is a novelist, comic book, film, television, and video game writer known for his work on high profile titles, including Marvel’s Captain America, The Hulk, The Avengers, Dr. Strange, DC’s Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and many more.


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