Where We Are Now
Whether you’ve loved or hated the influx of comic book movies, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. There are some exciting films on the horizon including Thor: Love and Thunder, The Batman, Spider-Verse 2, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. It’s worth noting that the comic properties that have resonated with audiences the most have been bold new ideas with solid execution. However, the quantity of comic book adaptations has outpaced the quality.
Both Marvel and DC have run out of A-list characters and are down to adapting the lesser known characters. Once character name recognition isn’t a factor in audiences deciding what to watch, a B-list Superhero character is in the same arena as an A-list indie character. Now it’s anyone’s guess what the next comic hit will be. We have a new generation of young audience members who’ll be open to new ideas and won’t be sold solely on nostalgia for characters who were created nearly a hundred years ago. Now is the time for characters we’ve never seen adapted to the screen.
Where We Were
There was a brief and overlooked period in the 2000s of indie comics getting adapted into film and getting a wider audience. Films like Kickass, Sin City, 300, Hellboy, and Scott Pilgrim had varying degrees of critical and commercial success upon release. Looking back, these films embraced the “comic book” aspects of storytelling and opted for more stylized visuals and an exaggerated tonality. This was also a period of hard R comic book films that were provocative and envelope-pushing for their time.
Now that we have comic book adaptations like The Boys, Invincible, Joker, Kingsmen, Polar, Umbrella Academy, and Doom Patrol, we could see a return of the more provocative, stylized, and experimental type of comic book adaptations. This could be a creative breath of fresh air in response to the overabundance of irreverent and self-deprecating superheroes.
I’d like to see the incorporation of mixed media within animated and live action comic book adaptations. The stylized indie gems of the 2000s proved that you can resonate with audiences without adhering to realism. Future comic adaptation should respect the source material and communicate a visual presentation and tone that’s reflective of the character’s unique outlook and personality.
Where We Could Go
There are still plenty of characters who could hold their own film and offer a unique take on the superhero genre. There are powerful superheroines like Supergirl, Powergirl, and Zatanna, badass anti-heroes like Red Hood, Deathstroke, and Midnighter, and teen heroes like Nightwing and Static Shock. If any of these characters were paired with a unique tonality and visual presentation we could have a hit.
There are already unique Marvel and DC projects in the works including: Moon Knight, Blade, Batgirl, and Michael B Jordan’s Superman project. These examples have the potential to show a new side to the superhero genre provided that the filmmakers embrace what’s unique about these characters instead of trying to recapture the success of a previous superhero film.
The Future is Indie
We could see a return to the more stylized indie-gems of the mid 2000s with upcoming adaptations. It’s been announced that Grendel, Scott Pilgrim, Bone, and Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles are being adapted into Netflix original series. This is in addition to Netflix’s Mark Millar properties that are in development and could be a game-changer in normalizing indie comics for casual audiences. Other indie comic adaptions that are in development or have rumored adaptations include: Frank Miller’s HardBoiled, The Goon, Oblivion Song, East of West, Tokyo Ghost, Battle Chasers, Spawn, and Danger Girl. The overall slate of proposed adaptations could add some much needed visual and tonal variety.
Contrary to popular perception, comic book characters have always resonated with audiences since their on-screen debuts. While contemporary audiences may look at Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man’s first adaptations and see camp, I guarantee that years will pass and the current slate of comic book adaptations will be products of their time. There have been some steps forwards and backwards over the many decades of comic book adaptations. My hope is that comic book films become like the best comics, products of unique creative imaginations with visuals that capture the spirit of the character.