Considering the popularity of comic book characters, superheroes in particular, in film and television these days, I find myself asking why we never see any of the more interesting ones than the conventional Supermen, Spidermen, Batmen, and the like.
The answer of course is money, and possibly nervous or unimaginative producers. I can understand the logic of producing a tried and tested formula, pandering to what is perceived to be public taste. But has anyone ever challenged the notion that film viewers are fundamentally happy to be served the same old stuff time and time again? I’ve banged on elsewhere about the virus known as the reboot (see my post on Adventures in Scifi Publishing).
Here’s something worth considering…film audiences, upon discovering something completely new will flock to it, if it’s even halfway good. Sleeper hits I can name just off the top of my head include The Sixth Sense, Mad Max – yes, the original Ozploitation movie that stormed to huge success), the low budget indie Blair Witch Project, not forgetting Hallowe’en, also a low budget indie.
Which brings me back to my question. If superhero and science fiction films based on comic books are indeed hugely popular, with audiences craving ever more of them, why won’t producers consider more of the great works that are, arguably, more interesting and captivating in various ways than the core franchises of Marvel and DC?
What about, for example, John Sable, a character who is a cross between James Bond and Mike Hammer? Or Mike Barron’s, The Badger (aka Norbert Sykes, a Vietnam war veteran suffering from multiple personality disorder, one of his personalities being an urban vigilante who could talk to animals). There is also an excellent space opera called Dreadstar, which in my view could give Guardians of the Galaxy a run for its money (there are suggestions it’s currently being developed as a TV series, though). Then there was the futuristic anti-hero Grimjack, one of my favorites, second only to the sensational, controversial future cop series, American Flagg. With the exception of Marvel/Epic comics offering, Dreadstar, the others I’ve mention are all from the now-defunct First Comics stable.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no fundamental issue with the big two comic book companies, and certainly several of the movies have been excellent, it’s just that I am growing weary of seeing the same old material reworked, retrodden, rebooted and rehashed when perhaps it would be better re-tired. Alternatively, if film companies don’t have the courage to try something new, at least re-invent. You only have to look at what Neil Gaiman did with the original b-lister The Sandman, and Alan Moore with Swamp Thing (though please don’t mention The Swamp Thing movie in my hearing!).
We’re still waiting for Sandman, by the way…and if it ever is produced as movies or, better yet, an HBO series, let’s hope it’s handled with the care and complexity Gaiman lavished on the stories*. Failing that, I urge film producers to seek out those great indie titles, current and past, and bring them to the cinemagoing public, a public which is much more intelligent that it is sometimes given credit for.
*An update on a prospective Sandman movie can be found on Screen Rant.