Frank Miller now believes that comic books are influencing cinema, with their story lines and style.
“Look at how hungry Hollywood is for comic book ideas right now. Most obviously in Iron Man and Batman and so on.”
He also believes that with the help of the comic books that were published in the 1980s to the present day, comic books are just as socially acceptable and fashionable as literature and film. Narratively the dialogue is just as effective & punchy and the visuals are just striking.
“We are now shoulder to shoulder, as sister art forms with film and with literature.”
The comic book industry has grown to the extent that it now has a huge effect on the film industry, as well as the film industry now starting to have a considerable influence on comic books.
Before the 1990’s, the only films to make a big impact originating from comic books were of the world’s very first superhero, Superman. Between the years of 1978 and 1987, a series of four Superman films were released starring Christopher Reeve. Despite the first two films delivering strong results at the box office, the third and fourth films didn’t perform as well as the quality of the films waned. The films also took a very lighthearted tone excluding a moment when one of the main characters being temporarily killed off for a short period.
The next big comic book adaptation that made it to the big screen and for the time set the standard for the genre was Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989. The film took a much darker and gothic approach to the story of Bruce Wayne & Batman and by some is still considered the best adaptation of the character.
Burton however wasn’t too keen on the film;
“I liked parts of it, but the whole movie is mainly boring to me. It’s OK, but it was more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie.”
After being met with strong positive reviews and being well received at the box office, a sequel followed, with Michael Keaton returning in the role as Bruce Wayne and Batman.
The success of Batman prompted Warner Bros. Animation to create the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series which I used to watch avidly as a kid and as a result beginning the long-running DC animated universe and helped establish the modern day superhero film genre. Series co-creator Bruce Timm stated the television show’s Art Deco design was inspired from the film. Timm commented, “Our show would never have gotten made if it hadn’t been for that first Batman movie.”
Batman Returns was the second and last Batman film that both Burton and Keaton were involved in as both chose not to return for a third. Warner Bros. would then go on to reboot the series retaining only a handful of actors from the previous two films and returning with a new main cast under the direction of Joel Schumacher with Val Kilmer starring as Batman. Batman Forever was met with mixed reviews but performed well with the box office and is actually one of my favourite comic book films and was a huge favourite of mine when I was younger. Batman and Robin followed this up in 1997 and temporarily killed the series off in what is widely regarded as one of the worst comic book adaptations made. Although I loved the film when I was younger, I now can’t help but cringe when Batman & Robin fight over the affections of Poison Ivy, or Arnold Schwarzenegger says one of his cheesy ice related Mr. Freeze jokes, or when Bane, who should be one of the most feared, physically menacing and intelligent characters in the Batman Universe can only growl singular words.
Observers also criticized the film for its toyetic and campy approach, and for the homosexual innuendos added by Schumacher.
The Batman franchise from Warner Bros. stood still for 6 years until 2003 when Christopher Nolan was hired to direct a new series of Batman films. The Dark Knight trilogy as they’re now known had more of a dark, serious and realistic tone and all three films received critical acclaim as well as strong box office results, with the three of them combined earning just under $2.5 billion dollars.
The trilogy also received praise for sticking to a lot of the source material, drawing inspiration from classic comic book storylines such as The Man Who Falls, Batman: Year One, and Nightfall.
This set the standard for comic book films and since the Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy began both Marvel & DC have gone on to establish their own ‘Cinematic Universes’ in which their films take place, each DC film linking to eachother and each Marvel film linking to one and other.
Marvel are currently dominating the UK & US box offices with DC Comics gearing up to rival them over the course of the next decade. Since 2008 Marvel have already released 12 films with another 10 scheduled to come out within the next 5-10 years whilst DC have 11 films on schedule up until 2020 with many other rumoured projects lined up. These cinematic universes, especially Marvel have not only engaged the comic book reading audience, but have also attracted many others and now have widespread appeal to a global audience. These films are amongst some of the most anticipated, with the upcoming Captain America: Civil War receiving a huge amount of attention, not least because it is based on one of the most popular Marvel Comics stories, Civil War. Comic book films feature in the top 50 highest grossing films of all time, with 7 in the top 50 and 3 in the top 10. The upcoming films in the Avengers series and Justice League series are threatening to continue that trend and break into the top 50 with a huge amount of anticipation coming with them.
Comic book storytelling is also managing to make its way into films that aren’t even based on comic books or have anything to do with the industry.
This summer’s hit film Mad Max: Fury Road, was written and laid out purely using storyboards.
“George(Miller), Brendan McCarthy and a couple of other storyboard artists basically wrote the story, in storyboards. It was built from graphic. More like putting together a comic, and how do you tell that story in a visual.” – Colin Gibson: Production Designer
“It was 3500 panels around a room, and I would say a good 80% of those panels are reflected on the images you see on the screen today.” – George Miller: Director
Following the release of Mad Max: Fury Road was a series of comic books that acted as prequels to the film to give backstories to 4 of the main characters in the film.
Dredd, the underrated and underappreciated 2012 film adaptation of the Judge Dredd comic book series also spawned a comic book that acted as a sequel to the film as unfortunately a sequel to the film was never given the green light.
So when Frank Miller says that comic books are at the same level as the film industry and are sister art forms, he is correct as comic books are now being seen as an alternative to continue stories from huge film productions.
The question from the skeptics who see comic book films as a fad at the beginning of the 21st century is, how long will they be able to last?