With The Avengers (Or The Avengers Assemble if you’re from the UK) released this summer on the big screen, 2012 will be year noted for its comic book sensibilities in cinema. It has taken a long time to bring some of the comic industries most beloved characters to the big screen in a critically and financially successful format.
Whilst comic book adaptations are nothing new, the level of quality control has certainly had its peaks and dips throughout the years. Good examples of adaptations include 1978’s Superman and 1980’s Superman II, which really paved the way in proving that the comic book genre wasn’t just for children. Although subsequent sequels suffered a serious decline in both quality and box office, it showed that comics were a valuable source of storytelling.
Other successful comic book adaptations over the following two decades included Batman in 1989. Again, praise was heaped upon this and its sequel in 1992, but another decline in quality over further sequels was soon to follow.
The 1986 George Lucas-produced adaptation of Marvel’s Howard the Duck is widely considered one of the worst films ever made, comic or not.
Independent comic books seemed to fair little better with the odd exception. The Crow was a success, as was Marvel’s Blade. But releases such as The Phantom, The Punisher, Judge Dredd, The Shadow, Steel and The Rocketeer kept the quality towards the negative side of the spectrum.
The successful films however were all starting to show they had something in common. They seemed to take a decidedly darker direction in design, story and character development. Blade in particular is noted as being the first real successful adaptation of a Marvel comic character.
Building on this, Hollywood soon began to realise a few key words were common in creating a successful comic book adaptation; ‘‘Dark’ and ‘grittier’ were such examples.
The last decade has given us some of the most successful comic book films yet.
Hellboy and Sin City continue the trend of popular independent comic adaptations, whilst Marvel and DC are going from strength to strength.
The Dark Knight is not only in the top 20 highest grossest films of all time, but it also gained universal acclaim critically. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker is the only comic book based role to win an Academy award.
However, 2005’s Fantastic Four and its sequel tried to bring back the family friendly tone of yesteryear. Although financially lucrative, they met with a critical mauling. But there are always going to be failures, even if they follow in a similar vein to the successful ones. Ghost Rider and it’s remake/reboot , along with The Punisher: War Zone are clear examples, gaining negative reviews and mediocre box office.
Overall, the quality of comic book adaptations has seen a tremendous rise. Spiderman, Kick Ass, X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America were all met with approval by both critics and the audience alike. It certainly shows no sign of abating, with upcoming releases of the aforementioned Avengers, Batman sequel The Dark Knight Rises and reboot The Amazing Spider-Man.
It might have taken a while, but Hollywood seems to be getting the knack of it now.
Halit Bozdogan is a copywriter for Appliances Online and blogger. His favourite comic book character is Deadpool. He hopes a great film with Deadpool might one day become a reality.