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SUPERHERO MOVIES CORRUPT THE COMICS

EW April 2016 coverWhy the resurrection of all these second- and third-tier characters? Easy: movies. Riding the surge of Hollywood’s and the public’s apparent fascination with movies about comic book superheroes, Marvel and DC need more superheroes than their rosters of first tier characters provide. How many more Batman movies can be manufactured out of Bruce Wayne’s poignant history as the haunted surviving witness of his parents’ death by murder, which scarred him psychologically. You can do only a few Avengers movies before invention flags and public interest fades. So, you need more characters.

Rather than invent some new ones — who would have no built-in fan base — it’s cannier for eventual marketing to excavate the past for heroes no longer exactly on everyone’s mind, but, at least however vaguely remembered, more familiar than new strangers. Admittedly, neither Black Panther nor Moon Knight are relics of the distant past (like, say, the Shield?), so they have some sort of fan base out there — enough that they can be recruited to join other, more visible characters, in a new movie. Or, even, soloing like Doctor Strange. But bringing them back first via comic books is a wannabe cunning gesture at creating a fresh crop of fans in preparation for the debut of a movie appearance.

Superheroes are on the cover of Entertainment Weekly’s “Summer Movie Preview” issue April 22/29, demonstrating, once again, the rise of skintights from four-color pulp to celluloid status: thus, movies have validated the cultural worth of superheroes. If you’re in the movies, you have arrived, culturally speaking.

In the last 25 years, 138 movies have been made of comic book heroes, more — at the rate of several a year — in recent years. Most of the earliest ones simply perpetuated the existing comic book adventurer mythos. But lately, movies of comic book superheroes are corrupting their four-color source. Cultural success — moving out of the subculture of funnybooks onto the big screen — is changing funnybooks and not necessarily for the better.

In the olden days, movie superheroes had to look like their comic book selves. That’s changed. Comic book characters now must look like their movie versions, so their appearance—even their physiognomy — changes as different actors perform the roles. And the changes don’t end there. In the movies, Lois Lane now knows Clark Kent is Superman. That’s a profound alteration of the Superman myth; and now the comic book version must conform.

Costumes change, too. And this is where the greatest corruption occurs. Back at the dawn of time, the movie version of a superhero wore tights just like the funnybook version. But that was the weakest link in the connecting chain: the success of the celluloid incarnation depended entirely on the physique of the actor playing the part: if he didn’t have a muscular body, his interpretation was lame. (And if he had the requisite body, his performance was likelyk to be lame.) Hollywood’s solution to this dilemma was to re-design the costume to mask the physical shortcomings of the actors.

Superman in the movies wears tights that look like they’re made of a kind of chain-mail; Batman wears some sort of body armor; Captain America is wrapped in the straps of a harness; ditto Wonder Woman.

SuperCostumes

And now the artists who render these superheroes in comic books must imitate the movie costume. Superheroes wearing tights were relatively easy to draw: simple figure-drawing did the job. Nowadays, superheroes are harder to draw because their costumes are complicated.

Figure-drawing is no longer good enough in a medium that was built entirely on figure-drawing. Sigh.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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