Two comics creators offer more of what super hero movies need
It’s been a rough few weeks for comic book lovers with the passing first of Neal Adams and then, just this past weekend, of George Perez. Both were artists whose work for both DC and Marvel Comics ranks among the best the comics industry has offered in the last 50 years and came to define how those characters were seen by the public.
Which makes it surprising that those interpretations have been so lacking in the shows, series and films featuring those characters.
Consider these covers below, some of the most iconic from the two artists.
Warner Bros. keeps thinking Batman needs to be darker and darker, more traumatized and more isolated from the world at large. But the Batman story told by Adams (and of course writer Dennis O’Neill) in many of their comics weren’t grim and bereft of hope or connection. They were big, bold super hero stories that had the Caped Crusader going up against a gleefully pranksterish Joker, getting into sword fights with R’as al Ghul and so on. Batman operated in public and was a hero.
Similar problems plague other heroes, notably Superman and Wonder Woman. On film recently both characters have become known more for wringing their hands over the moral implications of using their powers than actually using their powers. Filmmakers keep wanting to “reinvent” them for modern audiences, which means loading them down with all kinds of constraints, making them feel bad every time they do anything and spending more time debating among themselves than being heroic.
Contrast that with the kinds of stories Adams, Perez and their contemporaries were telling, stories that had them punching aliens threatening the Earth, fighting against mech-suited human villains and more, all while fully embracing their powers. These were bright, colorful comics featuring some of the greatest art in the industry’s history.
But on screen, we keep getting desaturated colors, blotchy digital lighting and 20 minute interludes featuring messianic symbolism.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The push to make Batman increasingly damaged and serious is an extension of DC’s attempt to reclaim the character from the camp portrayal seen in the “Batman” TV series of the 1960s. That makes some sense, but the over-correction since The Dark Knight Returns now makes Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman seem bright and optimistic compared to Zack Snyder’s Batman, who was ready to unquestioningly destroy Superman because of the potential threat he posed. And someone seems to have decided that making Superman and Wonder Woman – a nearly all-powerful alien and Amazon demigod, respectively – more human was the key to making them popular with modern audiences.
Interestingly, while WB’s heroes continue to largely operate in the shadows and fall victim to all-too-human conditions, Marvel’s big screen heroes are more of the big, public pantheon of god-like beings DC’s comic characters have historically been presented as on the page.
Part of this may be a desire to set the DC films apart from Marvel’s stylistically. But it’s gone too far, and the celebrations of the work for Adams and Perez should be a call to WB to go in a new direction.
Make a super hero movie where the characters are proud of their powers and use them to help the less fortunate.
Have Batman fight a Joker who’s not a deranged incel terrorist but one who unleashes a bunch of mutated fish on Gotham City because he’s an insane clown.
Have Wonder Woman fight Giganta as she rampages through the city, inspiring little girls and using a consistent and non-confusing set of powers.
Have Superman go into space to fight a mech-suited Lex Luthor in Mongul’s battle arena, breaking kryptonite chains and embracing his assumed role as humanity’s protector.
In short: Make movies like the comics everyone remembers as among the best ever produced.