Not Every Comic Has To Be A Movie

by L.A. Mood Comics and Games

By Dan Brown

Funny thing about the ongoing writers’ strike in Hollywood: It got me wondering what, exactly, movie writers do in our age of superhero cinema.

If most of the top-grossing motion pictures are comic-book adaptations, or based on video games, or derived from other existing pop-culture properties like toys, books, and plays, what exactly does being a screenwriter in 2023 mean?

At the moment your favourite superhero or villain makes the leap to the big screen, there’s already a reservoir of years or even decades of source material to draw from.

In the case of the latest example, Blue Beetle, the DC comic do-gooder had been around since the end of the Great Depression.

No Tinseltown scribe had to struggle to figure out an origin story for Blue Beetle. The same goes for Superman, Batman, Captain America and the rest. The villains who oppose these heroes are likewise well-established at this point, along with the supporting players and settings.

So where exactly does the writer figure into the process?

Or, to cite an example I used in a previous column: No one at Marvel Studios had to invent Thanos or the Infinity Stones because artist/writer Jim Starlin saved everyone the trouble by establishing all of these plot devices back in the 1970s. The hard part was done decades ago.

So here’s a wacky thought: If it’s not the WGA members who are doing the creating in the first place, why not just cut them out of the process entirely?

Since the major story elements of most franchises have been in place forever, let’s save the strikers any more agony by going the extra step: Let’s call for a temporary moratorium on making comic movies.

That’s right. Why not just leave the remaining franchises unadapted?

Crazy proposal, I know. Call me a heretic.

But bear with me.

I’m well aware film versions of comics and graphic novels are a tradition by now. Some fans even enjoy the movies that result.

I’m also aware of how comic enthusiasts love to speculate about upcoming adaptations. Dream-casting is an industry unto itself, and the debating didn’t start with the internet.

I remember reading an Uncanny X-Men letter column during the John Byrne/Chris Claremont years in which then-famous names were bandied about in the hopes a studio would produce a movie relating the adventures of our favourite mutants. If I recall correctly, one correspondent suggested Charlton Heston had the requisite gravitas/menace to play Magneto.

That adaptation never happened, and maybe it’s a good thing it didn’t.

That’s right: I’m saying not every comic has to be a movie. Even the popular and well-regarded comics.

I realize it’s a financial imperative for Disney to exploit Marvel until every last cent of value has been squeezed out of its vast library of characters, but humour me for a moment.

I think you and I can agree these are days of diminishing returns. Some adaptations, maybe even the majority, should never have been greenlit.

God knows I worship Jack Kirby, but Eternals did not leave much of an impression on the collective imagination. Same goes for She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel. How many Suicide Squad films have there been? Do you know anyone who's clamoring for a series about Wonder Man, the obscure Avenger?

I fear the truth is that comic fans will value comic-book characters and stories only if they become fodder for a motion picture, thus earning Hollywood’s seal of approval.

But sometimes it’s all right for the comic to be the end of the line.

Sometimes the comic itself can be the final statement.

I'm here to tell you: Your favourite comic series is a valid art form whether or not it eventually gets cannibalized for use on the silver (or small) screen.

Maybe I’m giving the folks at Marvel Studios too much credit, but in the Disney+ Hawkeye miniseries the producers included a scene in which Clint Barton attends a Broadway musical based on the life of Captain America called Rogers: The Musical. A TV show that imagines a stage production about a hero from the movies who was based on a comic character in the first place? I thought it was a sly comment on adaptations run amok.

So my plea to my fellow pop-culture fans and everyone else in the comic world is this: Let’s allow the original, comic version of some stories to be the final word.

A comic or graphic novel doesn’t have to be turned into a movie or a show or a game for it to be an artistic masterpiece all on its own.

Sorry, writers of Hollywood.

Once the strike is resolved, perhaps you could go back to plundering cheap paperback novels to find ideas for your scripts. That’s worked out all right in the past.

Dan Brown has covered pop culture for 30 years as a journalist and also moderates L.A. Mood’s monthly graphic-novel group.

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