The past decade has been an amazing time period to be alive if you’re a comic book fan.
We’re living at a time in history where comic book heroes broke into the mainstream world and are becoming a household name.
Almost every hero that ever laced up a pair of boots, a cape and some spandex is getting his or her own movie deal… I mean let’s be honest- who ever thought that Deadpool is ever going to get to the big screen? not to mention being such a huge box office success.
And when you think about it for a second it makes a lot of sense. For decades now, comic book writers and artists have been responsible for some of the greatest stories and plot-lines ever introduced. Being almost completely free from any corporate interference and decision making, that usually stifles the artistic nature of an artist and limits the options for any out of the box thinking, gives us stories that explore different dimensions, celestial beings, time travel, detective story lines and best of all- amazing battles between unique characters with distinct personalities turned up to 11.
At a time when Hollywood seems to be simply recycling itself to death with reboots, spin-offs, prequels and sequels, the movie going crowd and movie makers themselves are hungry for new stories and plot-lines, new characters to usher in to main stream pop culture (and the merchandise money that comes with it) and visual stimulation on more advanced levels.
Sure- we had super hero movies in the old days- as this was always a market Hollywood tried to tap into, usually to boost merchandise sales and get hold of the younger crowd usually associated with the genre- we had a very amusing Joker back in the 60’s fighting Adam West’s friendly neighborhood Batman and his sidekick Robin, the all American superman played by Christopher Reeve and the god awful Wolverine origins movie.
But it wasn’t until this genre was taken seriously by one talented movie maker that the world really discovered the true potential of these stories.
In 2005 Christopher Nolan took upon himself to reboot the Batman franchise and take the dark knight’s character as far away as possible from the Bat nipples incident of 1997’s “Batman and Robin”.
Nolan, a well-respected movie maker at the time, was better known for psychologically challenging projects like Memento (2000) and Following (1998) rather than the cartoonish stigma associated with the Batman franchise under Warner Brothers, so quite a few eyebrows were raised when the project was announced.
However Nolan saw something in the character that only a true fan could notice. He identified deep flaws in the personality of the young Bruce Wayne- ones that were necessary in order for him to become the initial version of Batman introduced to us on Batman Begins. Nolan didn’t stop there and kept digging into the psyche of Batman, Bruce Wayne and the web of relationships these two characters have with the people around them- the father- son like relationship with Alfred, the lonely boy desperate for the love of Rachel Dawes, and most importantly how those flaws were mirrored by the villains standing on the opposite side. Nolan understood the art of long term storytelling and laid out a trilogy- each movie focusing on the different personality aspects of these characters. This process showed us the journey of a scared child, recently orphaned from his parents channeling his frustration with the world that took them from him into being a legendary icon of pure justice, but without skipping the mental, physical, moral and psychological struggles he faced along the way.
This type of storytelling is very typical when discussing a comic book series- usually spread across several books, however it was groundbreaking in terms of cinema, and placed DC comics at the forefront of the comic book movie industry, placing all three movies at the top of IMDB’s best movies chart and even got the late Heath Ledger an academy award.
Nolan’s trilogy, however was set aside for yet another reboot of the Batman character by DC comics- this time in an effort of competing with the growing popularity of the Marvel cinematic universe introduced by rivals Marvel Comics. Since the trilogy itself was self-contained and showed a clear beginning and an end to the character this was probably required by the studio, however the approach to the character and the personal development of other characters, whether good or evil, was set aside as well- basically turning the DC cinematic universe back to the early days of black and white- good vs. bad, short-term storytelling.
Marvel comics on the other hand were wise enough to see the bigger picture. Although facing very big limitations in terms of the characters they could use in their movies due to copy rights being sold to Sony and Fox Studios back in the 80’s to keep the company from going bankrupt, Marvel used the assets they still had and understood their greatest asset- their writers.
After naming Kevin Feige as the project’s captain and leader, Marvel laid out an elaborate story, made out of small and self-contained sub plots that were meant to either introduce characters or show the development of characters already introduced in previous movies- all leading towards a mega event which will bring this series of stories to its conclusion.
The characters introduced by Marvel were anything but perfect, they are flawed, the have issues they need to solve and they are as far away from the ideal superhero character that usually can’t go wrong.
While we always like the idea of heroes, we like them a lot better when they’re relatable. Tony Stark is struggling with his self-destruction issues, Bruce Banner is afraid of the reason that makes everyone else afraid of him, and even the always-perfect Captain America, Steve Rogers, feels disconnected from the world he’s protecting and is hanging on to the faces he still recognizes- no matter if they’re good or bad.
Marvel went on and gave up (to some extent) on the need to make up imaginary places and minimized the use of CGI- and instead made their films in real locations- just like Nolan did in the Dark Knight trilogy. Fighting in New York, Washington, Germany and Eastern Europe as well as in a Galaxy far-far away.
So we now have real, flawed, developing characters facing issues we all know on some level and are trying to fight enemies that are bringing these issues to the surface- all of this is happening in locations we know and recognize and is building up to the conclusion event that’s been in the making for almost 10 years.
DC on the other hand placed their universe at the hands of Zack Snyder- a well know CGI enthusiast and a very big name in the action movie- explosion packed genre world.
Showing up very late to the party, DC have been playing a game of catch up- while not really applying the formula that was first applied under its own bat wings. During the development of the DCCU we were presented with very poorly developed characters that seem to have been already pre-cooked and have already established who they are long before we got to know them. The interactions between the characters feel forced and very poorly thought out, as if someone is running towards a conclusion before we even understand what exactly we need to conclude.
Under the DCCU we were again introduced with big monsters who the hero has to fight because we were told they were bad and because they look like monsters- no character development was given to them- so again the conflict is not really there and the hero’s development is thus also missing.
Take all of the above and throw it into a world where even the office chair is CGI and you have the perfect recipe for not connecting with your audience, who by now is used to a very high level of product and was shown that it can be done differently.
We’re at a point in time where the stimulation bar for audiences is at a ridiculous level, we’re getting a movie blockbuster level product on our TV’s on an almost weekly basis thanks to shows like Game of thrones, The walking dead and even Jessica Jones. We’re more judgmental about the content we’re given thanks to endless blogs, analysis videos and chats, that we can no longer accept a B- product. Marvel understood this and gave us the cinematic equivalent to a long spread quality TV show in one of the most ambitious projects in recent years. While we all keep crossing our fingers and hoping that DC will somehow catch up, since they do still have some of the best characters and pop culture icons in the business, we (and they) need to remember that the answer to their problems can actually come from inside the house- it was already there in the first place, all they need to do is give us real people that happen to have extraordinary powers and abilities- they need to become Batman.
Author: Josh Hayett
Josh is a retired comic book artist who never made it to the big leagues (to be fair- he never really tried) so now he’s here writing stuff about what other people are doing with their talents.
Always with an opinion about TV shows, Movies and especially why Marvel is the best ever,