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For the sake of this discussion we’ll have to ignore one key fact - when it comes the visual medium, movies are the only way we can finance the awesome special effects needed for super heroes. After all, it’s possible there’s nothing special about this arrangement, it’s just the way things are currently done.
I came to wonder about this after hearing renewed rumors about a live action movie adaptation of Brian K Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man. When I think about the huge story of Y: The Last Man and all the twists and turns as well as the feeling of hopelessness as Yorick tries to find Beth and figure out why he was the only man to survive, I think a movie would do it a huge disservice. At the very least, I don’t think a movie would best convey the how long Yorick was searching and his sense of despair. I think it would actually work best as a premium channel (HBO, Showtime, etc) TV series that had a set amount of seasons so it could best be plotted rather than having an uneven pace.
Until about two decades ago, TV series were the norm instead of movies. Think about the 1970s Spider-Man or the 1960s Adam West Batman. And I think the serialized nature of TV fits quite well with the serialized nature of comics. I’ve seen the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and ⅔ of the most recent Batman trilogy. I’ve also seen Fantastic Four, some of the X-Men movies, and Avengers. My biggest complaint about the movies is that they have to present the origins of the characters or team and then get them fighting against a villain. Since these movies only come once every few years sometimes they have to pack the movies with too many villains. Other times they essentially compress a decade’s worth of encounters with an enemy into one movie. It can get hectic and it also can, at times, reduce super hero stories into tales of bashing enemies. But what keeps me actually reading cape books is the relationships between the characters. Movies tend to be unable to develop those sufficiently within 3 hours mostly depend upon us to fill in the blanks. I think The Walking Dead is a great example of how the relationships between the characters needed time to grow.
That also ignores the fact that perhaps live action is not always the best way to convert comics. In some cases, like super heroes, the costumes can look a little dumb in real life. In other cases, animation affords the ability to have an unlimited effects budget. That’s why in the 1990s most of the Marvel and DC comics were being adapted into cartoons. When I heard that Chew was being considered for adaptation by one of the premium channels I was very excited, but then I realized that if they didn’t do an animated series it would lose some of what makes it work. A lot of the greatness of Chew is in Guillory’s artwork. Also, I think what’s acceptable as a cartoon or comic might become a bit TOO gruesome when adapted to live action.
While I do enjoy live action movies, especially when they’re imagined as a cohesive trilogy as in the case of Batman, I think more studios should look into the idea of TV shows for their ability to showcase the characters over a longer period of time and with more interactions. They should also consider animation. The Simpsons, Family Guy, and South Park have shown that adults are OK with animation. While it may never be as prevalent as in Japan, it’s not as though everyone still believes cartoons are for children. I think it allows for a greater suspension of disbelief and also gives the studio the ability to not have to worry about the actors aging out of their roles.