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There are Superheroes, and Then There are Superheroes


by Jerome Weeks 5 Aug 2008

Over on the feature side, in case you hadn’t noticed, there’s my story about both the anthology Who Can Save Us Now? and this summer’s absolute tsunami of superheroes on the movie screen. (Why oh why haven’t you noticed? What are you doing in your life that’s so important? Oh. . . . Well, if […]

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Over on the feature side, in case you hadn’t noticed, there’s my story about both the anthology Who Can Save Us Now? and this summer’s absolute tsunami of superheroes on the movie screen. (Why oh why haven’t you noticed? What are you doing in your life that’s so important? Oh. . . . Well, if you’re going to be all like that, earning money ‘n stuff.)

Plus, we have Dallas writer David Haynes’ short story, “The Lives of Ordinary Superheroes” from Who Can Save Us Now? — it’s Art&Seek’s first short story. But doubtless, not our first piece of fiction. (In case you’re wondering, that would be my post about It’s Friday! I lied about that exclamation point.)

Anyway, in case you’re interested, here’s the New York Post‘s review of Who Can Save Us Now? , and here’s The Oregonian’s.

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  • Jerome:

    I sneaked out of work yesterday and went to see Hell Boy 2. I enjoyed the first 45 minutes, and then I started getting really tired. I think I ate too many peanut M&Ms or I just got tired of the genre. It’s the latter. Way too many superheros this year, you begin to lose perspective on what your trying to escape from (work in this case) when retreating into a dark theatre to see the same themes played out over and over again. The eye candy isn’t enough.

  • Oh, I agree. There was no time in my radio piece to go into the inevitable downside: Hollywood simply grabbing on to comic books to grind out formulaic stuff. But that’s nothing new. Studios tried for decades to adapt superheroes and failed, failed, failed. They kept trying because there was that huge adolescent (and worldwide) fan base to tap into and because it seemed a natural, even inevitable fusion: Action films and comic books have very similar (and often simplistic) vocabularies: obvious good vs. obvious evil, chase scenes, fight scenes, weaponry, explosions, etc. So no surprise: USA Today has reported that there are now FORTY-TWO comic book movies in some state of production. You think you’re bored now?

    You’re lucky you weren’t sitting through either of the Fantastic Four films — which were particular bummers because the Fantastic Four were once Marvel Comics’ greatest franchise. There was also the last Spiderman film, the Batman film with George Clooney, the Daredevil with Ben Affleck (although people say the director’s cut on DVD isn’t bad), the first Hulk film (I haven’t seen the new one with Ed Norton, so I can’t speak to its quality), the Punisher and Captain America films that were so bad, they went straight to video, the Catwoman with Hallie Berry — the dud list goes on and on.

    And oh, who could forget — try as we might — the dreadful Ghost Rider with Nicholas Cage?

    Actually, I take some solace in all the bad superhero movies: They’re proof that a really good comic-book film adaptation ISN’T easy, ISN”T just some paint-by-numbers gimmick that’ll appease dumb kids.

    As for Hellboy, I will say this: I find the general Hellboy world interesting because of its relative rarity onscreen. That is, for the most part, all of these recent adaptations are descendants of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s “revolution” in the ’60s — giving superheroes regular-guy problems or symbolic sociopolitical dilemmas (the X-Men’s mutant status being used to illustrate racism).

    But there was another “revolution” that Kirby brought to comics: cosmic ambition and scope. After all, Batman, Spider-Man, Blade and most of these folks are still mostly just fighting bankrobbers, vampires or maybe a mad scientist. But Kirby had his characters operating on a galactic, even god-like plane (one of his later DC comics was even called “The New Gods”). Hellboy is a Satanic creature of some sort and he mixes with things borrowed more from Lord of the Rings (trolls, night demons, woodland beasties, ancient curses) than from any police blotter. Professor Shaun Treat puts it like this: Most of the comic-book superhero movies are really forms of mild sci-fi (our world augmented); Hellboy (and this particular Kirby tradition) lean much more into fantasy (our world entering another world entirely).

    This is interesting because the adaptation that has superhero fans salivating is coming next summer, and it’s the hugely ambitious graphic novel that even author Alan Moore has said was directly influenced by Jack Kirby: The Watchmen.

    Thanks for writing.

  • Shaun Treat

    Cool story, book/daddy J, thanks for the good press! I do think that “superhero fatigue” is a real threat, not unlike the hey-day of the cowboy western genre, and there will always be far more poorly done flicks than gold standards. THE DARK KNIGHT has proven to be a new box-office benchmark, so hopeful imitators will be coming out of the woodwork.

    The good news is, IMHO, more fans who are talented directors or writers are being tapped to make superhero movies because of their respect for the material. The success of the genre may also mean more diverse comic properties (let’s not forget AMERICAN SPLENDOR) could find their way out of development purgatory. That may prove to be good for both comics and cinema!