It's no secret to people who know me well that I enjoy super hero comics, at least certain ones. Mostly from the bronze age. It's also no secret to people who know me that I generally don't like super hero films. Keep in mind, not every super hero film is bad nor is every bronze age comic good. Big Hero Six was fantastic. Avengers #200 was awful and there are other examples. I'm speaking in general terms. So, with that in mind,what is it that causes the films to fall so short while comics by people like Chris Claremont or Gail Simone consistently shine?

Well, the first issue is with characterization. To be fair, the reason that the films frequently have lousy characterization is pretty obvious. Mainly, comic heroes have inconsistent characterization to begin with. Take Marvel's Daredevil as an example. For quite a while he was written as a swashbuckling hero who made quips, enjoyed adventure and was generally delightful. Then Frank Miller wrote him as an annoying angsty dumbass who monologues constantly and has no redeeming qualities. Since then, his characterization has been one, the other or somewhere in between depending on the writer. However, most characters do have a best version. For the X-men or New Mutants, Chris Claremont wrote them at their best. For the Titans, it's the Wolfman & Pérez run. Even putting that aside, most of the films don't bother taking the characterization from any of the comics. Instead they elect to give us Hollywood hero stereotypes that we've seen twenty billion times before. Because why would we want to see the characters with unique identities and distinctive personalities when we can have the same trite clichés that have been boring for decades? While we're at it, why not give almost every solo hero the same love interest archetype? Oh, and those iconic costumes are too brightly colored and interesting. Make all those costumes drab, less memorable and boring to look at.

The costumes are one symptom of another very severe problem with super hero films. Part of what made the bronze age so good was that the writers could have dramatic, serious stories and also have more light-hearted fun elements. The X-men could dramatically face aliens who wanted to implant them with embryos and change them into queens for their species and have a more cutesy issue after that adventure where Kitty told a bedtime story to little Illyana. The films, on the other hand, are bad at incorporating anything light-hearted. Most of them gravitate towards grim and gritty and anything trying to be light-hearted comes across as out of place or stupid. “Know what happens to a toad when it's struck by lightning?” It has a moment to reflect on how atrocious that dialogue was.

There's another thing. The films really lack creativity. One of the beautiful things about well-written comics is that they can take familiar characters and put them in new, exciting scenarios. Or they can just have a character building issue where Kori & Raven talk about relationships. However, comic films play it safe. They follow a few very basic, predictable and sterile formulas. If you watch a couple of the stupid to more middling ones, you might as well never watch another because it'll be the same thing with a different main character and villain. They won't be significantly different in how they act, but their powers and names won't be the same.

Now, let's address one of the big things. Let's talk about wasting characters. How many super hero films have famous characters cameo and do nothing of value? X-men Origins: Hugh Jackman was a big offender of this with characters showing up for a good thirty seconds to tell Hugh Jackman where to go before being banished from the plot, but a lot of others do that as well. But what's even worse is how many of them kill off major characters from the comics as a source of cheap drama. Because why would we want to have Quicksilver around for more than ten minutes? I have to confess, this is one of my big issues with modern super hero comics as well. Every time there's a major crossover event, they have to completely waste a couple characters for cheap angst and to show that the villain is for serious. Or the other heroes since modern Marvel just loves to have its heroes fight each other for flimsy and stupid reasons. The difference is that the films neglect to give you any reason to care about the characters since they don't have long, proud histories and were never written well in the film universe.

When it comes right down to it, the big issue I have with most super hero films is that they're dumb action films that follow a stale, over-used formula. They aren't trying to represent the characters at their best. They aren't even trying to represent them at their worst. They're giving you a Hollywood archetype with the powers and name of something familiar. There's no creativity, no love for the source material. All they care about is cashing in on familiarity. Therein lies the final problem. There's seemingly no passion behind the writing, directing or acting of these things. They're just hitting the notes that their formula of choice dictates because that's what the audience expects. So, it only follows that what we get out of them is someone's D material.  

Published by Mischa A