Panel To The Screen by Drew Morton (book review).

July 18, 2017 | By | Reply More

It’s rather weird how in chapter 2 of the book, ‘Panel To The Screen’, author Drew Morton says he wants to make the book accessible to all and promptly swallows a dictionary for his phraseology. Nothing wrong with that in itself, the use of words depends on what you would normally use although it might come over as intimidating to some readers.

I should point out that the sub-title of this book is ‘Style, American Film, And Comic Books During The Blockbuster Era’ which gives away a bit more about the content although not necessarily accurate as Morton starts off with the earliest depictions of super-heroes on the screen. Oddly, although he focuses on Superman and Batman, he does neglect their 1950s cinema episode series which was also included Captain America and The Phantom amongst others. Granted they were by no means perfect on very low budget but it didn’t mean that those of Superman and Batman were the only ones although these weren’t mentioned as well. If you know the medium and history then don’t depend on this book entirely for research.

There are the odd inaccuracies. National Periodicals were only called DC Comics by the comicbook fans and the moniker only stuck in the 1960s not earlier although I can see where he sourced the information from. Dell Comics never actually joined the Comics Code Authority, deeming themselves already far into its requirements and avoided the flak for horror and violence the other comicbook companies took.

With the 1970s-80s four Superman films, although actor Richard Pryor did little to help in the third film, it was the exceedingly reduced budgets that did far more damage. Then again, in those days, and you can compare to the ‘Planet Of The Apes’ film series of the same period, film studios never bothered to keep budgets on par with what made the series successful in the first place only seeing the potential extra return for little investment. It’s hardly like the information isn’t out there. Compared to today where every film gets the right kind of investment and the right return shows how far the Hollywood film industry has changed over the decades.

I do like his analysis of the 1990 ‘Dick Tracy’ film. I do remember a TV feature nothing that Warren Beatty wanted to keep the film very stylised for its 1930s settings and to the limited amount of colour. It’s also one of two comicbook films with 5 Oscars. I know Morton thinks the film is little more than a memory now but think of how many other Oscar-winning films that applies to over the years. It’s also hardly fair to compare it to CGI films because it had barely started in the previous year’s ‘The Abyss’. CGI has made super-hero films super-power depiction closer to comicbook than at any other time in film history and hardly fair to compare to the two.

Then we come to the analysis of Frank Miller’s ‘The Spirit’ 2008 film and how removed it was from Will Eisner’s original material. I wish Morton had drawn some comparison to the 1987 TV movie version. Granted it had a tiny budget but it was a lot closer to Eisner and was at least fun to watch.

Something Morton misses about the 1989 graphic novel of the Michael Keaton starring ‘Batman’ film is that it was being drawn before the creative team saw the final film so am a little puzzled by comparison between the two when artist Jerry Ordway at most had only photographs to rely on for likenesses.

I might not have read Frank Miller’s ‘Sin City’ graphic novels, but from the illustration shown, even I spotted the similarities between his ‘Yellow Bastard’ and the 1898 character, The Yellow Kid’ and he wasn’t accused of having jaundice but, then, only his nightshirt was yellow.

Morton makes a valid but already well-known point that the quality of super-hero films improved because the directors were fans. Even so, the studios also want to make sure such films are accessible to more than just comic fans hence so many films with origins all the time. I think with the likes of ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’, where Quinn’s back story was barely touched on or even ‘Ant-Man’ where Henry Pym’s background was mostly ignored and it didn’t interfere with the viewing figures shows that audiences get comicbooks now without being spoon-fed origins all the time.

Please don’t take my criticisms as there’s not something to be learnt from this book. It’s a complex subject that no one is likely to be happy that all points are covered. I’m less sure about style than adaptation. Someone really needs to explore why some changes are made. Some, like costumes, are caused by practical considerations in a 3D world. The times that the super-heroes are shown shorn of their cowls and masks is more to show the expensively paid actors underneath goes against the reason for the disguise in the first place. The practical differences between illustration and real life means more detail and texture has to be added between the two. A lot of super-hero costumes were designed in the first place to make them easier to draw but even in the 1960s, Jack Kirby threw that on its head with the elaborate costumes of Asgardians. I can understand some of the differences. If you’re wearing a garnish costume then you’re going to be target on the streets but then, that’s the whole point for some of them.

Although I’m not sure if Morton has drawn any useful conclusions, it nothing else, this book will make you think and discuss which is often the main reason to read books.

GF Willmetts

July 2017

(pub: University Press Of Mississipi. 226 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: £61.50 (UK), $64.98 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4968-0978-0)

check out websites: http://www.upress.state.ms.us and www.eurospanbookstore.com

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Category: Books, Comics, Superheroes

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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