Liam Burke’s book, ‘The Comic Book Film Adaptation’, is different to others on the subject I’ve read in recent months as he has been able to interview, albeit briefly, and quote from various sources. I think the prize one in the introduction is from Paul Levitz who explains the problem of which version of Batman, let alone story type, you want to base a film version of the Dark Knight on. It did make me ponder on whether this is why the comicbook publishers are doing all kinds of variants now to ensure no director can say they did such and such a version first. It also becomes something of a mish-mash when, say, film version costumes, end up in the comicbooks and both sides feed off each other creatively. I have to admit some of it is for the good. I mean, for the Batman to wear his old skintights he has no protection against violent felons. All of this and I’m only in the introduction.
Burke’s contention that super-hero films came into their own with advances in CGI and then post-9/11 shouldn’t have been an either or but a combination of both. I would also add that we are now in a period where parents and even grand-parents were brought up either reading comicbooks or know what they are, thus widening their appeal across a larger audience. You don’t have to explain them so much or feel ridiculed.
I had to give a wry smile at the comparison of westerns to super-heroes where the hero seeks justice after the death of a parent or loved one and Burke forgets that this was also one of the key motivations of a little known 1977 film called ‘Star Wars’. It’s a very old trope.
Equally, Burke uses bacterial growth model as his graph matrix to show the demise of the western movie rather than recognising the Boolean averages Mexican hat graph. His view of the rise of the super-hero version of the graph is more like a series of jumps in comparison. Something I think he neglects is how long it takes to put one of these movies together with much of the time spent getting the CGI effects completed than the live action performances. It takes a while to ensure films are there annually.
Likewise, the reason why many former comicbook readers don’t go and buy the comics after seeing the film is, apart from the incredibly high prices current individual comics sell for, the current versions of the super-heroes aren’t the same as when we grew up. Even if you bought them in graphic novel volumes, there’s a lot of new back history, little of it relating to the films, to catch up on. I also think we’re used to alternative versions without adding another one not related to the films to the list.
There’s a lot here I agree with. About the only thing I think needs an amendment is Burke’s comments on ‘V For Vendetta’. Although DC Comics wanted it coloured for their reprint, it wasn’t done by American colourists but in the UK and supervised because they wanted subdued not bright colours.
Burke uses Stan Lee and John Buscema’s book, ‘How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way’, as the dynamics that is being applied to comicbook films which I don’t contest. It’s still the best book to understand super-hero dynamics. I did however recently discover DC Comics have their own Guidebook version from publisher Watson-Guptill spread over at least 4 books, a 5th if you include writing, but not looked at yet, despite being released in 2002 and don’t appear to be in regular print. If nothing else, it demonstrates how little impact they’ve had compared to the Marvel book which is in how many prints now.
Probably the biggest problem with this book is the number of footnotes. 28 pages at the back of the book and most containing important information. I know scholarly authors write their books like the way they write their theses but surely, for the mass public to read their books, they either need to incorporate the information into the main text or have the footnotes on the relevant pages. It isn’t as though it will change the page count much.
Apart from that, there is a lot of useful information here that should make you think and just how quickly the super-hero or comicbook film has become its own genre. Considering that there are 3 pages of them listed at the back of the book and money made, I doubt if any studio can ignore their profit-making potential. Whether the bubble will burst is debatable. The failures so far don’t seem to have dented the enthusiasm. Whether there have been enough to pick out the absolutely perfect comicbook film is more debatable. Nevertheless, Liam Burke shows the mechanics of the film and what the directors have done to accommodate the artistic style. I’ve even learnt a new term in ‘Dutch framing’ which is at a camera tilt.
(pub: University Press Of Mississipi. 372 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: £56.95 (UK), $60.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-62846-203-6. NB: Paperback: $30.00 (US), £25.50 (UK))