Impact investigates Hollywood’s growing fascination with comic books and graphic novels.
Most would agree that Stan Lee, the man behind the Marvel comic franchise, is a literary legend. So marvel-lous (I couldn’t resist) was the world that Lee created that filmmakers have continually failed to replicate it. It has been excruciating to watch Marvel endorse and churn out adaptations of what could have been great films, in an effort to eke profits out of an acclaimed franchise (see Punisher, Daredevil, Ghost Rider). The most recent Hulk film even had the audacity to improve upon its predecessor, only 5 years after the first attempt. Unfortunately, I still got bored and spent most of it picturing Liv Tyler naked, only a slight departure from the semi-clad figure on screen.

The distinction between comics and graphic novels has now become somewhat blurred. The previous decade has proven that the latter, which are often self-contained and don’t necessarily feature superheroes, can be adapted more successfully. With blockbusters like Sin City and V for Vendetta making graphic novels ‘cool’, the medium is now finally being recognised by mainstream audiences as a serious art form. As a result, directors are taking on more interesting and alternative projects, with graphic novels that depart from traditional themes and styles getting more attention from big names. D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) is soon to direct Brian Vaughan’s Y: The Last man, an outstanding 10 volume series about the only man to survive the mysterious simultaneous death of every male mammal on Earth (not as good as it sounds boys).

Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) is set to direct Mark Millar’s hilarious Kick-Ass. Following a nerdy and unnoticed high school student who decides to don a ridiculous outfit and become a superhero, it brilliantly (and violently) satirises comic-book and superhero conventions. It should certainly make for fresh and exciting viewing.

Christopher Nolan’s reinvention of the caped crusader has taught us that, in the right hands, traditional comic-book heroes can work incredibly well on-screen. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are diamonds in the rough. However, both comic and film enthusiasts are beginning to lose faith in traditional, iconic superheroes as appropriate material for film. They saturated the box office last summer and so attention now turns to the more independent and unconventional graphic novels for the triumphant union of the two mediums that we have all been waiting for.

Comic-book superheroes may have started the transition to the big screen, but they got terribly lost somewhere along the way. We have already seen that graphic novel anti-heroes have incredible potential for continuing the tradition, and trust me: it’s only going to get better.

Laurence Eliott

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