So, last time I was wondering about which actors might be suited to playing comics characters on screen. This week I figured it might be fun to think about which actual comics I’d like to see on screen.
Perhaps the first question we need to ask is “why do we want comics to be on screen anyway?” – there has been a tendency in fandom to regard a big screen treatment of a comic book to be an automatically good thing. But is it?
It is certainly true that an outing in the cinema can help to raise the profile of a character – I present the “Batmania” of the late eighties as exhibit A. For a whole summer you couldn’t move on either side of the Atlantic without running into a bat symbol. They were everywhere. For a while at least it was properly cool to be a fan of the Batman.
At the time I confess that I thought this was an unequivocally good thing. “Surely,” I thought, “This must be the beginning of a revolution! Soon everyone will read comics – world domination begins here!”
Looking back at my eighteen-year-old self from a distance of two decades it’s easy now to ridicule the starry eyed idiot that I was. With hindsight the whole Batmania was, if anything a bad thing for comics as a medium. Because while Tim Burton’s movie did undoubtedly lead to a spike in sales of the comic, that’s all it was.
The increase in sales was brief, and when the fashion shifted, as fashion does, most, if not all of the people who had jumped on the Batwagon jumped off it again. If that were all that had happened, it would I think be a case of “no harm, no foul”. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, it just isn’t as simple as that.
But the high profile success of a movie about Batman – not only a superhero, but also a character who for many sums up the inherent silliness of the genre – cemented in the minds of many the “fact” that superheroes are all that comics are capable of doing. Far from opening the minds of the general populous to the possibilities that comics can offer, blockbuster movies featuring members of the spandex brigade actually cement their ingrained perceptions. Given that they also fail to deliver any discernable increase in readership we might even conclude that such blockbusters are actually harmful to the cause.
And before you say it, yes, there are any number of great movies out there that have nothing to do with the Spandex Brigade. Road to Perdition, Ghost World, hell, even Scott Pilgrim, all great movies, all successful movies, all based on great comics.
But outside of our little bubble of fandom, how many people know what the source material was?
Not many. Not many at all. So while I’d agree that such movies don’t actually hurt the cause, they don’t do it any good either.
Then again, why should they?
After all, the people who make movies really aren’t in the business of selling comics. They’re in the business of selling movie tickets, and they mostly do that rather well. We can hardly blame them for not doing something that they never intended to do in the first place!
Which brings me back to the question: “what can you get from a comics movie?”
Well, really, nothing more than the thrill of seeing something we’re familiar with transfer from the static and silent page to the moving, speaking screen. We can expect to be entertained for an hour or two of course*, just as we can with any movie**, and I guess we can enjoy the frisson of knowing just that little bit more about what’s going on than all the regular people in the room. That’s always fun, in a smug, slightly self satisfied sort of a way.
The question really, then, is “which comics would make good movies?” and the list is quite a long one.
A bit of me would like to see Strangers in Paradise, but most of me wouldn’t, because I can’t think of anyone who could play either Francine or Katchoo, and in any case, the huge epic sweep of the whole saga just wouldn’t translate well to the big screen. Terry Moore’s excellent Echo on the other hand really would work brilliantly. When you get right down to it you’ve got a bit of hi-tech subterfuge and a life and death chase across the desert. Hell, it almost demands the big screen treatment. Ridley Scott would probably do it well; he’s very good at those big desertscapes.
Right at the top of my list though would be 2000AD’s future war epic Rogue Trooper. The basic story – last survivor of an elite combat force, abandoned and betrayed by his own side seeking justice for his fallen comrades – is the very essence of a good war movie, while the under-pinning issues of the morality of hi-tech warfare open all sorts of philosophical avenues. And of course if you paint Ed Harris blue you have the perfect candidate for the role.
Not to give you the idea that I’m only really interested in War Movies – nothing could be further from the truth – I’d also really like to see Garth Ennis’s Battlefields stories featuring the women of the Soviet Air force in the Second World War. The Night Witches and Motherland would make an excellent movie for a couple of reasons. For a start, there’s the chance for some excellent aerial photography. Since much of the free time I have that isn’t dedicated to reading and writing comics*** is spent watching aeroplanes, that really works for me.
And again, you have an excellent plot that would translate well to the big screen because it’s a concept that’s easy for the audience to relate to. The David and Goliath contest between the well equipped and well trained forces of the Luftwaffe and the almost untrained Soviet pilots in almost obsolete machines has real force, as does the theme of stalwart sacrifice in defence not only of your nation, but your very way of life – even when ordered to do so by people you can’t respect. There’s even a valuable history lesson in there.
What most people know about the Second World War they learned watching movies. In the Anglophone world at least, if you watch most of the movies that have been made you wouldn’t even know the Soviets had been involved – let alone the immense sacrifice the Soviet forces made to defeat of the Nazi regime. It would be nice to redress that balance a little. I’d quite like to turn Ennis’ other military aviation opus Battler Britton into a movie for much the same reasons. The flying sequences would make me very happy indeed, and it’d be good to have a movie set in North Africa to remind people that sort of by definition the Second World War wasn’t just about Europe and the Pacific.
Just to prove that it isn’t all about war stories with me, Scalped would also make a smooth transition to the screen, as would some of the Hellblazer story arcs****. But then so would The DMZ, which sort of takes me back to war stories again.
Maybe it’s just that I’m a bit Spandexed out by movies at the moment, I dunno*****. The truth is that there are so many amazing nonspandex clad stories in comics at the moment that most people never get to know about. Getting them into the movies might not bring new readers to the comics, but they would bring a new audience to the stories. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for.
So – which comics do you want to see on the silver screen?
*Or considerably longer if the film is directed by James Cameron, who long ago mastered the art of cramming two action-packed hours into a two hundred minute film. I mean, seriously, Avatar was pretty to look at, I’ll grant you, but it was already twenty minutes longer than it needed to be – what the hell have they added for the special edition?!
**And just as with any movie, we may also expect to be disappointed a lot. It isn’t just comic book movies that are often rubbish, don’t forget…
***Because Harry, if you’re reading this, Sunset is almost complete!
****Yes, I know. But just as I like to think that the Stallone Dredd movie and the Halley Berry Catwoman movie simply don’t exist in my little world, if you ask me what I thought of Constantine I’ll tell you that Keanu Reeves was breathtakingly good in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and The Matrix.
*****Although, just to prove that hypocrisy isn’t quite dead, if anybody offered me a Sunset movie deal I’d probably bite their hand off.