Has anyone sat down and really looked at the lineup for upcoming comic book-based film properties? It’s pretty intense, and stretches out (at least for announced titles) to the year 2020. Now, I’m pretty sure that most production companies and the Hollywood Film Machine have always planned films this far in advance but, in my 30-odd years on this planet, this is the first time I’ve ever seen such plans publicly announced with such fanfare and hype.
I’m a massive fan of comic book films – I love them. Their current ubiquity and acceptance have made sure that I’ve never been happier to be a media consuming scumbag as I am right now. As a fat, white nerd, I feel completely represented (for once); and aside from some inclusion issues that are constantly fought throughout Hollywood, I feel like I should be really satisfied with the current slate of films from Marvel/Disney, and DC/Warner Brothers… And I am. But at the same time, I’m kind of not. I think I may be suffering from a case of Superhero Fatigue.
Around the time of the first Iron Man film, I ate up any information about any superhero franchise that leaked out of the dark Hollywood abyss… But now, I’m terrified of it. Every time I see the words “New set photos of Suicide Squad,” appear in print, I cringe. I’m not joking, I seriously cringe.
I don’t want to see how the director destroyed the image of the Joker, or watch still images of the death of WIll Smith’s once illustrious career draped in the visage of a misguided Deadshot…
Even films I should be super psyched for don’t really do it for me. Captain America: Civil War? Mehhhhh. Avengers: Infinity War? MEHHHHHHHH… How about Black Panther? Slightly less Meh, but that’s mostly due to the fact that the film is going to be strongly bent toward the African and African American communities, which is sorely needed. But the superhero aspect is still a little Meh… Why am I feeling this way? I chide myself for not being happier about this ever growing group of films that is, supposedly, marketed directly at me. But, I think I’m getting burned out. I can’t get excited like I used to. And, honestly, it reminds me why I took a break from superhero comic books over a decade ago.
Roll back like, 15 years – we were just coming out of the 90’s, moving into the new millennium. I was a middling teenager and a pretty avid collector of all things X-Men, Spider-Man, and Spawn… But something around this time caused me to just…stop. I couldn’t do it anymore, I found no joy in reading about characters I used to absolutely adore. I believe that it was a compounding of issues: in part due to the Rob Liefield’s of the world, and their profoundly shitty art, which was (and still is, to an extent) marketed as having some level of quality; part of it was due to the Comic Code of Authority, which was already tired at this point and needed to simply be done with. I was so over that stuff, the hyper melodramatic stories, the lack of substance, the absurd amount of whiteness, all of it. I was just done.
Around this time, I started picking up back issues of Bone, Sandman, and other titles which are considered “not exactly mainstream.” It was eye opening, as a burgeoning artist and creator, and as a comic fan. There was so much more out there than the tired, incomprehensibly muddled superhero stories that I was used to. I enjoyed my time away from the characters I grew up with, and when I came back into the superhero fold, I was pleased to see many of the changes that had occurred whilst I was away. I have since dived back in with extreme gusto, and have firmly put down roots in the world of superheros… And I think, in a way, I’m right back where I started. I’m pretty damn happy with what comics are doing right now, there’s room for improvement, but we are leaps and bounds away from where we were 15 years ago. While I do rattle on about items here or there that comics need to continue to work on, my main complaint at this point is with film.
The films, especially in comparison to their current comic book source material, seem a little dated. Now dribbling, white cretins who live on the internet will go on and on about the necessity of making sure many of these characters maintain their roots in a much whiter and male-r era, which is pretty much bullshit, considering how liberally most film creators borrow from the overarching storylines throughout the entire run of a comic book’s history. Spider-Man, for example, had a symbiote within three films. The symbiote storyline didn’t show up until 1984 in the comics, twenty two years after the first appearance of the character. Let’s not even get into the Wolverine franchise, or The Avengers, or pretty much any comic book hero you can think of. The similarities between the comic book universes, and the cinematic universes, are just that, similarities…
Filmmakers are granted tons of artistic licenses by studios, comic creators, and fans, which makes me wonder why they can’t pull their heads out of their collective asses about gender and race representation in their films.
It’s exhausting, really. If superhero based franchises can’t pull it together, and start creating more interesting narratives within their universes, we may be travelling headlong into an era of film that is the movie equivalent to the Rob Liefield generation of comics, which (if you’re familiar with Liefield’s work), is a complete fucking travesty. Goodbye feet, waists, relatively sane body images. Hello campy stories, ponytail mullets, and fundamental misunderstanding of who and what women are. Simply terrifying.
It made me think – perhaps we need an intermission. I’m not suggesting that we stop producing work based off of comic books, far from it. I’m suggesting that we set our sights on a different set of properties for a while. Instead of trying to continuously keep the hype going for properties that are getting more and more tired and put-upon, we should point the spotlight on other comic book franchises, outside of the superhero norm that would make splendid additions to the rich tapestry of cinematic history.
I’m also not saying that we should stop creating films based off of superhero franchises completely; I’m suggesting we let them rest for a bit. Give ‘em some time to recuperate, and a little bit of space for us to decompress, before thrusting us into the Next Big Thing, and expecting us to be excited, instead of utterly exhausted. Seriously. I’m taking my dad to see Ant Man this weekend, and I’m already tired. The only thing I’m truly excited about is Michael Peña, because every time that guy decides to be funny, it’s brilliant.
Maybe it’s just me, and I’m just easily jaded and sour, but I just feel like there’s so much out there that’s being missed. Obviously both DC and Marvel are wholly owned subsidiaries of film companies, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing, and it certainly doesn’t mean that what I stated above is in any way incorrect. Image Comics has a hideously underused catalogue of publications, Dark Horse has an amazing history, Titan, Boom, 2000AD, and the number of self-published comics that have come out over the years is mind boggling. Some of us have been burned by films based off of those publications, but one or two flops doesn’t ruin an entire catalogue, surely.
Frankly, this entire piece is not written out of some kind of contempt for the way that these guys are doing business, but rather, from a place of concern for these beloved properties. Eventually, the film business is going to reach terminal velocity with these franchises, and they are going to splatter on the cynical windshield of the movie going populace like fat June bugs on a hot summer’s day. That’s terrifying to a fan of nerd media. I’m so afraid that we’ll keep these films coming, fast and furious, and the quality will start to peter out in favor of their commercial viability (which, no doubt, many will claim is already happening), and these superhero franchises will lose the favor of the movie going majority (which outnumber hardcore fans of the comics, likely exponentially), and our beloved properties will be relegated to some b-side hell never to be seen again (or not seen for several decades when nostalgia or interest should peak again).
I’d rather see fewer films, with more intricacy and depth to their shared universes, with breaks for other geek properties, perhaps not so deeply rooted in an episodic format, to shine, and get their due as well. But most of all, I want to be thoughtful, and I don’t want to lose the opportunity for these amazing properties to stay at the forefront of entertainment for decades to come. I certainly don’t want them to slip off into obscurity, and go back to the shit my dad was forced to watch.
Stuff. Of. Nightmares.