Written by: Joey Esposito, Special to CC2K
In this classic article, CC2K's comics editor looks back at the last decade of comic-book movies.
So tonight at midnight, it begins. Perhaps the most hyped comic book film of all time hits theaters. The Dark Knight, judging by early reviews, is primed to blow everyone's minds and give Heath Ledger an Oscar nomination. Carried by an unmatched viral marketing campaign laced with world wide treasure hunts, free giveaways. hidden videos and a plethora of well built and realistically designed websites for political campaigns, Gotham news channels, the Gotham PD and much more, and – not to be morbid here, but someone has to say it – the death of star Heath Ledger, the world just might explode when this movie hits theaters. Midnight showings across the country have sold out, forcing theaters to add 3 AM and even 6 AM showings just to keep up with demand. Honestly, I can't remember any movie in a very long time having the kind of hype The Dark Knight has. Can anything, no matter how masterful it may be, possibly live up to expectations of this magnitude?Well, no. There will always be someone there to rain on your Batman parade, and there's really no stopping them.
But that isn't the point. Now, let's say this movie takes in something like 150 million dollars in it's opening week. At an average movie ticket of $10.50, that makes just over 14 million movie goers, minus the million and change that go see it twice, the hundreds of thousand super-nerds that go see every showing opening day, and a smaller amount of incorrectly attributed box office money. That leaves at least a good 10 million people. Are each of these 10 million flooding comic book stores every Wednesday (or Thursday when America likes to screw us with a federal holiday) fiending for the next installment of Grant Morrison's stellar Batman run, or flipping through boxes of back issues to find a copy of The Killing Joke in its original one-shot form?
So where the hell are all these people? When I go into my comic book store every week I still see all the same people that are always there. Chances are, this Wednesday, I still won't see any new faces. Some may argue that it's "too hard" for new readers to dive in to almost a centuries' worth of backstory. While I'm all for keeping things accessible to new readers, there is a certain point that these readers need to suck it up and read Wikipedia for 15 minutes.
The thing I don't understand is that somehow, these same people that are going to be sitting behind me at the midnight showing tonight yelling "oh SHIT" and "shit yeah", are the same people that somehow find these same characters less interesting in print. It's interesting to note how wildly successful these film adaptations of comic books are, yet a vast majority of the people that see them clearly are not comic book fans. Someone actually told me once that they "didn't like comic books but liked the characters".
The mere fact that this scenario, if true, is even possible presents a whole new issue entirely; comic books are so important to popular culture that somehow the characters have become a part of society's collective unconscious while most of the populous has never even been inside a comic shop. Perhaps, or perhaps due to various television programs and the like, these people have fallen in love with this characters so much so that they could not ever imagine delving into decades' worth of stories.
I'm not saying everyone that goes to see a film based on a comic book has to become a weekly comic book hound – I'm simply suggesting that even after nearly a decade straight of (mostly) fair quality comic book films, starting with X-Men in 1999 (or even Blade if you're feeling dirty) to tonight's The Dark Knight, that are regularly scheduled as tent poles in both the summer and Christmas seasons, comics as an industry isn't seeing a ridiculous boom. Yes, it's picked up. That's good – comics have never been better than they are at this very moment. Which makes this all the more troubling; this is the time new readers should be sucked in. Alas, no. But with literally dozens of comic based properties being pumped out every year, you'd think it'd be as much of a rage to run into a comic shop as it is film studios to buy up any unbought properties.
And that, ultimately, is going to be the mistake, and thus downfall, of the comic film boom. With Marvel gearing up for movies based on not-so-mainstream properties like Ant Man, Wasp, Luke Cage, and Sub-Mariner, I think people are going to stop short. While it's kind of neat how Marvel has been setting up a whole movie-Marvel-Universe with their recent releases – including announcing an actual Avengers movie – I think the general public, not ingrained in comic mythos, are going to be in for a rude awakening when they realize that half of the Avengers team aren't really people they've heard of before. Then again, the filmmakers could always just go a whole other route and change the source material, but then they'd be alienating the fanboys.
So what results? A collapse from trying to do too much. Perhaps I'm just being cynical, but it's clear that Marvel – and it looks like maybe even DC, pending the fate of the Superman franchise – is getting greedy already. With the release and subsequent relative success of The Incredible Hulk, Hollywood proved that if something underperforms (and by underperforms they mean doesn't make 350 million dollars FAST), they can simply call a do over. Yes, I love Ang Lee's Hulk, and yes, I'm pissed that they did what they did. It's not even that The Incredible Hulk was so overly terrible that I couldn't handle it, it's just what it stood for.
Hollywood has always looked to other mediums for adaptive purposes; that much hasn't changed. The issue, really, is the goal of these films. In the end, yes, even the comics industry is a business relying on a profit. And sure, companies get a profit from licensing their properties. But think for a minute the kind of profit they could turn by non comic reader movie goer attending a film like The Dark Knight and coming out reborn as a weekly comic addict for life. It's like cigarettes, basically. Except they cost more (yes, even still) and they are more beneficial to life and society.
What may seem as a long and hateful rant towards Hollywood and the average movie goer is really anything but. More so, it's a plea for these two parties to work together and agree that currently, comic books are the biggest money making (for Hollywood) and entertainment providing (for average movie goers) source available in the world. So, Hollywood, why not fund advertising or distribution for comic companies (even the indie guys) to get their books into more mainstream book stores -floppies too, not just in trade form – where these people flocking out of theaters from your movies can go and easily purchase books for their perusal. This way, the next time you have a property coming out that is maybe perhaps not as ingrained in pop culture as Batman, you can generate just as much hype.
Sure, this might mean a slight decline in the independent comic book shop, but I am willing to make a bit of a subculture sacrifice if it means more exposure for the medium I love most, and hardcore fanboys should feel the same. In the end though, what do please like this have in a world that, despite the past ten years of summer blockbusters, still look upon comics as funny books?