This week, I decided to focus on something that I have noticed with the newest press regarding upcoming seasons and movies based on comic media; the impossible task of living up to the legacy. With the explosion of the MCU beginning in 2008, comic book movies have become the best thing a studio can do to make money; however, it is not without its risks. While Marvel studios seem to have found the formula to make successful movies, other studios like DC Entertainment and Fox studios are more hit or miss. Don’t get me wrong they have some great hits, Deadpool and Wonder Woman are awesome and huge steps for the superhero genre if not movies as a whole. We got the first widely successful female led movie with Wonder Woman, Logan and Deadpool showed us R rated movies can still make buck, and now Black Panther has rallied the entire world behind the fictional nation of Wakanda. But for all the bluster that these movies and shows can provide… the one thing they can never do, is live up to the legacy of the characters.
Let’s take Batman for instance, how many Batman movies have there been? Including the movie from the 60’s TV show starring the late Adam West, there have been 9 live action Batman films; and all 9 of these films have done different takes on the character without nailing the source material 100%. I commend each actor for taking the role and making it their own, but nobody has been able to fully capture the essence of the character, and nobody ever will.
Batman was first introduced in Detective Comics #27 from March 1939, that’s almost 80 years of stories and character development. Now I’m not saying that anyone trying to take the role should quit, I’m saying the opposite, I think the more people that take the role on we can get a clearer glimpse into the character of Batman. With West, we got the silly, gadget driven Batman, Keaton gave us the dark and Gothic protector, Kilmer gave us the investigative defender, Clooney gave us the campy playboy, Bale gave us the tortured and driven knight, and Affleck gave us the brutal and vicious brawler. Each actor has made the role their own by taking a piece of the vast history of the character and putting their own spin on it. While it can get tiresome as a fan to constantly have a new person taking on the role instead of sticking with one person, it is necessary. In the animated universe, no matter what, Kevin Conroy is the voice of Batman. Jason O’Mara delivers a great spin with the new DCAU films, but nobody can compare to Conroy’s iconic voice. The same thing can be said about the Joker. Anybody who tries to do that in an animated setting will always be compared to Mark Hamill while any live action interpretation will always be compared to the late Heath Ledger.
Just in Batman’s history alone, we have over 5 Robins, only 1 of which has made it to the live action screen, multiple failures on the part of the Bat, his own death and resurrection, and his rehabilitation following his greatest defeat. None of the stories we have received so far in film format have focused on any of these aspects. We may FINALLY be getting the story of Jason Todd’s murder, which is arguably Batman’s greatest failure, but that happened in A Death in the Family from December of 1988. It took 29 years for his death to finally be mentioned in a DC live action film and even then, it was only done in passing. I am of course referring to the Robin suit on display in the Batcave spray painted with the words “Hahaha Joke’s on you Batman”; as well as, the mention of Harley Quinn being an accomplice in the murder of Robin in Suicide Squad. The suit is something that not many people would notice or even get the reference if you were not familiar with the source material. While the mention in Suicide Squad is so quick, if you blink you’ll miss it. While the live action films have been lacking in expanding the Batman mythos and history, the animated films have stepped up.
The modern DCAU (DC Animated Universe) took heavy influence from the New 52 run of DC Comics, while some of the classic stories and films took inspiration from the modern age of DC. We have seen Damian (Batman’s biological son) as Robin, Jason Todd as Robin and Red Hood, Dick as Nightwing, and the introduction of Batwoman and Batwing. For obvious reasons the animated movies can do more than a big budget movie can, and they can do it for much cheaper too. But Batman isn’t the only hero that this has been done with.
Spider-Man is the most popular Marvel hero worldwide and one of my personal favourites. He has been a Marvel mainstay since his first introduction in Amazing Fantasy #15 in August of 1962. Since his introduction into Marvel, he has had 3 live action film adaptations as well as a whole slew of animated television shows and by slew I mean 9 animated shows. All of his shows have done a solid attempt at bringing his history to the forefront. The best one, in my opinion, is the Spider-Man animated series that ran in the early 90’s. It introduced a lot of kids to the great universe Spider-Man had created while doing crossovers with other heroes as well, most notably the X-Men. This is another example where the animated features have done far more to honour the legacy of Spider-Man than the movies ever did.
The first slew of movies were directed by Sam Raimi and starred Tobey McGuire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. The first of Raimi’s Spider-Man films were released in 2002 to a warm reception. Introducing Norman Osborn/Green Goblin with a stellar performance by Willem Dafoe (we’ll just forget the power ranger costume…), then Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius/Doc Ock is Spider-Man 2, and finally the abysmal Spider-Man 3 with New Goblin, scrawny Venom and a great performance by Thomas Haden Church as Flint Marko/Sandman. The first two movies were well received but by the third the studio (Sony) decided to meddle and forced Raimi to include Venom into the plot. With the failure of the third film, Spider-Man was put on ice until 2012 when Sony rebooted the franchise with the Amazing Spider-Man.
Spying the success of the MCU, Sony tried to build an entire universe based off of Spider-Man. The first movie was okay, it was a fresh take and brought Peter back into high school. The second one was terrible, it was too long and destroyed the Green Goblin as a character. The one thing that the second movie did get right was the death of Gwen Stacy. Paying direct homage to Amazing Spider-Man #121, it was a near scene for scene remake of the iconic moment in Spider-Man’s history; right down to the costume choice being a direct recreation of the clothing worn by Gwen in the comic.
Now we have a new Spider-Man with Tom Holland that is included in the MCU. Sony finally admitted they screwed up and struck a deal with Marvel to allow them to use Spider-Man in the MCU. Tom Holland has been extremely well received and looks to be the new breakout star of the entire MCU.
All these shows and movies have barely even scratched the surface on things that have happened in Spider-Man’s comic run. I will admit that I haven’t watched all the shows, but to my knowledge, the only one to properly introduce Venom and Carnage was the 90’s animated series; which included a large portion of the rogues gallery in various episodes. Again, while each show and film took a piece of the mythos and made it their own, it never quite captured the legacy of the character. Spider-Man is one of the most popular heroes in the world, and the inability to capture the essence of the character is a glaring issue. We’ve gotten the closest thing to a comic accurate Peter Parker with Tom Holland in the MCU, but even then, something feels off… oh right, his 40 something attractive aunt flirting with Tony Stark.
As I said before, all these attempts at bringing the characters to the screen are necessary if we are to eventually be able to pay homage to the legacy they have created. Batman and Spider-Man are just two examples of dozens of characters with histories and legacies that span decades. Fantastic Four, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Superman, Martian Manhunter, Iron Man, and Flash all have rich legacies to pay homage to, and it’s just not feasible to do so with 1 or 2 movies or even a season or two of television.
I am a big stickler for accuracy in comic movies and shows, it doesn’t sit well with me when they change things or mesh story lines together, it irks me quite substantially. That being said, I understand that there is no way these interpretations are ever going to be able to measure up to the expectations in my head from reading the stories, and that’s okay. Fresh spins on characters are part of what has helped to ensure the longevity of comics. Each new author and artist takes what was laid down before them as a foundation and builds on the character. Sometimes you get great runs, like Frank Miller with the Dark Knight Returns, and sometimes you get terrible interpretations like Rick Remender with his Axis event. Each of these events and runs have worked to establish an ongoing legacy for each character that film studios want to tap into to appeal to the fans, even if they butcher it in their attempt.
Many fans have sour tastes in their mouths from the likes of Ghost Rider 1 & 2, Man of Steel, Affleck’s Daredevil, Steel (ft. Shaq?! come on!!!), and the Schumacher Batmans; but they keep coming back, in hopes the studios get their shit sorted out and deliver something worthy of the legacy of the character. The main point I’m trying to make is, as a fan, don’t sweat it. When it comes to studios making movies or shows off of comics, there is no way in hell they will be able to jam 50+ years of history into 1-3 movies or a couple seasons of an animated show. Give the studios a break and just be happy they’re making an effort at all. It wasn’t so long ago when if someone suggested a movie or even live action TV show based off a superhero you would be met with mocking laughter.
I am not one to quote Superman (ugh..) but this quote perfectly explains what I’m trying to get at.
“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
Give it time. If we give it time, I have faith that eventually we will be given wonders.