the latest

« Books

The Q&A Hole: Superhero Movie Redux

I knew that ol' Lazarus pit would come in handy one of these days …
Wayne Alan Brenner, 11:50am, Mon. Feb. 18, 2013
Next week: The series continues!

A few weeks ago, the question was: Why Do We Need Anymore Superhero Movies?

That question, you may recall, was answered at length and with much consideration by more people than usual in this ongoing Q&A Hole series. The response was, yeah, definitely what my grandfather would've called an elegant sufficiency.

However.

However, what was left mostly (and stupidly) untapped by your instigator here was: The resource closest at hand: The good and geeky people of the Austin Chronicle.

Well – two of those people, specifically.

Because our Arts Editor Robert Faires has offered a fine and thoughtful response to the question, a response that should not be left unprinted. Thus do we enjoy it here – accompanied by an emphatic put-paid-to-it coda from the Chronicle's Art Director Jason Stout:

Robert Faires: "Reason not the need," says Lear when his cranky daughters try to pry loose from ex-king Daddy those hundred rowdy knights that he insists on dragging into their households. So I won't even bother to try and justify more superhero movies out of any sense of necessity. I'll just tell you why I think we could use a good deal more superhero movies.

As many as Hollywood has ground out in the past quarter-century, most have hewed way too closely to the same formula: hero discovers powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, big baddie plots catastrophic bid for power, hero averts apocalypse. Not that some of these movies haven't been satisfying, but in even the best of them, the story beats have been all the same, with the only change being the color of the Spandex worn by our heroes.

Now, it's true that the caped crusader genre is built on the whole mythic good-vs.-evil conflict, but the great thing about superhero comics – and the thing that's kept some folks like me still reading them for five decades – is that the serial form demanded that the writers find different ways to retell that same old story of the never-ending battle for truth, justice, et cetera, et cetera. And because they were a pretty imaginative bunch, these comics creators regularly found ways to work around the strictures of the medium, sometimes to tell stories in which the ending of the threat didn't involve a fistfight, or maybe if it did, it came at a dramatically heavy cost. It would be great to see some of those stories on film: the original Lee/Kirby Galactus saga in Fantastic Four, Kirby's early issues of The New Gods, Frank Miller's "Born Again" story for Daredevil, or the first face-off between Ra's al-Ghul and Batman by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams.

I could name 100 other great superhero comic stories that we haven't yet seen on the big screen that are worthy of adaptation.

Moreover, beyond the origin story and big battles, the tropes of the superhero comics haven't been fully explored on the silver screen. Hollywood has worked so hard to make these characters "fit" in a realistic medium that they've largely ignored the color and fantasy and pure pop-culture fun that fuel so many superhero comics. I've enjoyed the realism, but why not play around with the form some more? We've taken so much light out of the Dark Knight he's virtually a black hole. What about a version closer in spirit to the Sixties Batman – not the campy TV version, but the mystery-solving, deathtrap-escaping Gotham Gangbuster? Superhero movies have barely scratched the surface on the dramatic possibilities of the secret identity. Let's see what happens when more of these characters are as interesting out of costume as in it. (Thank you, Robert Downey, Jr.) How about some movies in which the superheroes are women or have skin that isn't just white or green? If we stop making superhero movies now, we won't have any chance of seeing an Otto Binder & C.C. Beck Captain Marvel or a Jack Cole Plastic Man or a Lee & Ditko Dr. Strange or Neal Adams' Deadman or Grant Morrison's Animal Man or any kind of Wonder Woman. We may not see any of those anyway, but we could sure use them. We could use more superhero movies because we've basically seen just one, remade a hundred times.


Jason Stout: Do we need more westerns? Do we need more spaghetti westerns? More grindhouse spaghetti westerns? Do we need more ronin-saves-the-village movies? More ultra-violent-ex-gangster-Korean movies? More post-apocalyptic wasteland movies? Do we need more space opera? Do we need more road comedies? Do we need more rom-coms? More zom-rom-coms? Do we need more indie walk-and-talks? Are we fast and furious enough yet? Do we need more meteor/volcano/tsunami disaster movies? Do we need more beautiful movies? Do we need to go through it all again with von Trier? Is it a good day to die hard? Do we still need Diva and Betty Blue like they were food? Do we need more Jeunet? Have we figured out Inland Empire yet? Did someone make the perfect movie? Are we really already done here?

Next in Books: Aliens in America »