11 things Hollywood still hasn’t learned about comics

I’m going to keep this one short, since my last post was over 5,000 words long.

1. Stop spending so much time on origin stories.

Telling part of a hero’s origin story is usually necessary, especially if they’re not a well-known character, or if they have a particularly interesting origin. However, most hero origin stories follow the same plot, and as a result we’ve had some very predictable movies. Do we really need to watch yet another comic book movie where a hero gets their powers, goes through a comedic routine where they get used to their powers, and then finally gets the courage to be the hero they’re destined to be?

Instead, do what Spider-Man 2 did, and go through it all in a few minutes at the beginning of the movie. Yes, they could rely on people having seen the first one for the origin story, but how much of that is really necessary? A kid gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gets spider powers. What more do you need? They don’t retell Spider-Man’s origin every time they start a new storyline in the comics. People aren’t going to stomp out of the theater in disgust and confusion.

And I hate to say it, but the origin stories are usually the most boring part of a hero’s story. An established hero being pushed to the limit is much more interesting than an inexperienced rookie being pushed to their much lower limit.

Also, do you realize how many different times I’ve seen Thomas and Martha Wayne get gunned down in a dark alley? Dozens.

Good Examples: Spider-Man 2, most sequels (by default).

Bad Examples: Deadpool, Amazing Spider-Man, Man of Steel, Smallville, most first movies.

2. Stop rebooting.

3. It’s ok to recast everyone, even the main characters.

We get it: time passes, actors age and/or become expensive, audiences forget, and earlier movies do things that you wish they hadn’t. But that doesn’t mean you need to reboot the franchise.

First of all, it gives you an all-too-seductive excuse to retell the origin story, and as I’ve already said, I’m against that.

Second, look at the comics. Do they reboot every time a writer or artist leaves a series? Hell no. Why? Because the characters and stories live on, separate from the writers and artists — and actors. If an actor becomes too old or doesn’t want to do the movies anymore, just recast them. Yes, it’ll be a little jarring for audiences, but if the replacement actor does a good job and the story is good, they’ll get over it. Just look at James Bond.

And maybe a movie did poorly. Fine, then go forward. Don’t radically alter the character or the origin story and retell it. Get better filmmakers, get better actors, and get a better story for the next one.

Or maybe you wrote yourself into a corner with the previous movie. Find a way around it. Comics do it all the time. Ignore the bad stuff, or retcon it, or alter history, or something.

Yes, comics do reboots. But they only do major reboots every 20 years or so, and usually limit themselves to minor re-jiggering every few years.

Good Examples: X-Men First Class, X-Men Days of Future Past, X-Men Apocalypse, Burton/Schumacher Batman series, The Incredible Hulk, Avengers, Deadpool.

Bad Examples: Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Man of Steel.

4. Movies may not be your best option.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of comic book movies in my life, but here’s the thing: at best, you get to watch a character for 2 hours every 2–3 years, and I don’t think that has ever happened more than 4 times before a long hiatus (with Superman and Batman movies). You know what I’d rather see? 50 minutes each week. If we assume 23 episodes per season, that’s almost 20 hours each year.

Sure, the budgets and production values aren’t anywhere near comparable, but we have many great comic book TV shows that do just fine with limited budgets and little-known actors. What really matters is the story being told, and enjoying these great characters. To me, the more the better. These are characters that were created to be seen frequently in a cheaper format.

Good Examples: Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Constantine.

Bad Examples: All comic book movies, but only because they always leave me wanting more.

5. It’s ok to be cross-media.

Marvel’s movies and television shows share the same universe, while DC’s don’t. That’s fine. Both are valid options. However, what DC is doing wrong is forbidding characters from the movies from appearing in TV shows.

That may sound like a contradiction, but here’s the thing: comic books have a long history of having alternate universes with alternate versions of characters. It’s ok to have one version of Superman in a movie, and another version of Superman on TV. They don’t have to interact or acknowledge each other if you don’t want them to. Audiences aren’t so stupid that they’ll be confused.

And Marvel isn’t exactly doing it 100% correctly either. The biggest flaw with Agents of SHIELD is their interconnectedness with the greater Marvel movie universe. But that’s because Marvel doesn’t allow them to do anything that is going to affect the movies, or use characters that either have appeared or may appear in the movies. Daredevil and Jessica Jones work because they have almost no connection to the movie universe.

Good Examples: Flash, Arrow, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Avengers, Batman vs. Superman, Justice League.

Bad Examples: Smallville, Supergirl, Agents of SHIELD.

6. It’s ok to be cross-company.

Also, you don’t have to guard your franchises so much that the potential success of other franchises scares you. It’s quite possible for one franchise to succeed while another is succeeding. CW and CBS are taking that “risk” with their Flash/Supergirl crossover, as are Sony and Disney with their Spider-Man/Civil War crossover.

And let’s not forget all the Marvel/DC crossovers that happened in the ’90s, or the Batman/Ninja Turtles crossover that’s currently running, or dozens of other great examples.

Good Examples: Flash/Supergirl, Spider-Man/Civil War.

Bad Examples: Pretty much everything else, but especially the 2015 Fantastic Four.

7. You don’t have to be episodic anymore.

This mostly applies to TV shows, since there’s so much time between movie sequels — but I’m not letting those off the hook completely.

Many modern and past TV shows have opted to have mostly self-contained episodes, because they either didn’t expect their viewers to watch every episode, or they feared that viewers would be too confused if a story continued from one episode to the next. Plenty of comic book shows have opted for the “monster of the week” format, or the currently-popular 90% episodic/10% continuing format.

But that’s no longer necessary. People have (or should have) ready access to episodes they would have missed in the past. They can DVR them, stream them, grab whole seasons on Netflix, or just pirate the damn things. So it’s ok to take away the episodic limitation and focus more on the overarching storyline. After all, comics typically come out once a month, and readers don’t have much of a problem with that. When in doubt, use the 30-second recap at the beginning of the episode.

TV execs, let me speak your language: look how successful Game of Thrones is. You want to be like Game of Thrones, don’t you? Nod your head.

Good Examples: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Flash, Arrow, Walking Dead.

Bad Examples: Smallville, Lucifer. Anything before the creation of the internet gets a pass, but just barely.

8. It’s ok to be “comic-booky”.

Let me gush about The Flash for a moment. First, that’s a show about a guy who runs fast, and it’s probably my favorite show right now. Why? Because they’re not afraid to embrace their comic book origins. When I first heard about it, I thought, “they’re never going to have him be as fast as he is in the comics”, but I was wrong. Then I saw the first episode, where they show a gorilla cage with a nametag on it that says “Grodd”, and I thought, “that was just an Easter Egg, because there’s no way they’re going to have the Flash fight a superintelligent psychic gorilla”, and they did. I thought, “they’re never going to put all these goofy characters like Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, and Trickster in the show”, but they did. They even had Flash fight King Shark, a giant mutant shark-man, and it was goddamn incredible. Speed Force? Cosmic Treadmill? Earth-2? Reverse-Flash? Check, check, check, check.

Arrow, on the other hand, seemed like a show that was embarrassed to be based on a comic when it first started. They called the main character “Arrow” instead of “Green Arrow”, and made several other similar alterations to tone down the comic-bookiness. But with the success of The Flash, they realized that they could embrace their comic book roots, and have rolled back most of their alterations.

People love this stuff because it’s comic-booky. Don’t be afraid of it.

Good Examples: Flash, Arrow (now), Legends of Tomorrow, Avengers.

Bad Examples: Arrow (originally), Man of Steel.

9. Have realistic expectations.

Here’s the thing… For every Batman or Spider-Man, there are dozens of characters and franchises that aren’t nearly as popular, and probably won’t be a blockbuster. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a successful movie or TV show around a lesser-known character.

Before it was cancelled, Constantine was one of the top 10 comic book shows on TV, and sometimes one of the top 5. But it was cancelled because NBC expected far higher ratings out of it than it was getting, because NBC is a dinosaur that doesn’t realize that there are more than 5 television channels now. Any cable network would’ve been thrilled to have the ratings they were getting on Constantine.

And it’s probably a bad idea to spend $200 million on a Blue Beetle movie (just to pick a character that most normies aren’t familiar with), but it could be a great idea to spend $58 million on one. Making $150m when you’ve spent $200m is a huge bomb, but if you only spent $58m that’s a pretty respectable hit. And it could be a huge hit, but you don’t know that ahead of time. (FYI: they spent $200m and made $220m on Green Lantern, and spent $58m and made $771m so far on Deadpool.)

Good Examples: Ant Man, Deadpool, Batman Begins.

Bad Examples: Constantine, Green Lantern

10. Stop going younger and younger.

Seriously, did you see that 2015 Fantastic Four cast? Could they even vote? And as much as I love The Flash, Grant Gustin still seems too young for the part.

Plus, some characters are great when they’re experienced veterans. Look at Ben Affleck as Dare…I mean Batman. And the middle-aged Green Arrow from the Justice League animated series is by far the best version of that character.

However, this isn’t actually a lesson that Hollywood can learn from comic books, because the characters keep getting their ages reset back to 27 in the comics.

Squawk squawk, I’m 34, squawk squawk.

Good Examples: Batman vs. Superman, Constantine.

Bad Examples: Teen Fantastic Four, Flash, Amazing Spider-Man.

11. Fuck prequels.

I kinda like Gotham, but I’d absolutely love it if they jumped it forward 15 years so we could see how everyone reacts when they start hearing reports of a new vigilante dressed in a bat costume beating up bad guys.

Good Examples: Most things.

Bad Examples: Sorry Gotham.

I’m certain that everyone who ever reads this will disagree with at least one of these points, and that’s totally ok. Feel free to tell me about it in the comments, but don’t be an asshole.


Originally published at Dubiosity.

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