Monday, December 10, 2012

Comic Books & Film

Decided to dig up an old term paper I wrote for a film class I took WAAAY back during my 2nd semester at school.  It was about how comic books were the next medium that film studios want to adapt.  It probably has a lot of typos and grammatical errors, but I passed the class so I it turned out well.

Pretty lengthy, but I think its good.
During Hollywood's beginning, writers have penned some of the greatest stories of all time. From Citizen Kane to Casablanca, screenwriters were able to convey a story that could touch people in ways only a few things in life could possibly do. Also during these beginnings, books were adapted to the big screen as well, and some have been just as successful. The most famous and most successful one being Gone With the Wind, which was originally published in 1936 and because of its popularity it was turned into a film three years later, and it was just as successful. The film won multiple awards at the Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and seven others. It still remains a huge financial success, making a little over $400 million and with inflation, would make almost $3 billion dollars. This just shows that books are a great source for film material. Now in this day and age, a new medium is used for film. This medium being, comic books and graphic novels.

There has been some criticism in Hollywood when it comes to comic books and film. The origins first started with television and movie serials, and it mostly was geared toward children and not for adults. Most of these serials were shown in the 40's along with comics like Batman, Superman, and Captain America. However during the 1950's comic books came into some controversy as the Senate viewed them as tools “corrupting the youth.” At this point in time, several comic book publishers started putting out gritty and horror themed stories, often depicting intense violence, and moral crusaders often blamed comics as a reason for drug use, a drop in grades for students and committing crimes itself. These comics caused the publishers to create and adopt the Comics Code Authority, which regulated the content they had, and by doing this caused which included:
  • Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.
  • If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
  • Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates a desire for emulation.
  • In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
  • Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
  • No comic magazine shall use the word horror or terror in its title.
  • All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
  • All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
  • Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
  • Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.
  • Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
  • Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.
  • Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
  • Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
  • Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Violent love scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.
  • Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
  • Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.
  • Nudity with meretricious purpose and salacious postures shall not be permitted in the advertising of any product; clothed figures shall never be presented in such a way as to be offensive or contrary to good taste or morals.

These regulations were for the comics of 1954, but several have adjusted as time went on, such as the depiction of violence and homosexual overtones with certain characters. As a result of these types of stories and the new regulations, the comic book industry took a hit and essentially put an end to the comic book film. It would be the end, until Richard Donner was brought in to direct the first motion picture, based on the first superhero that showed astounding superhuman abilities, Superman.
The character Superman was first created in 1932, by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, who then sold the character to Detective Comics, Inc. (DC Comics) in 1938. The character took off with huge popularity and later appeared in radio dramas, movie serials, newspaper stripes and toys. Superman has often created debate on whether he was the one who essential created the superhero genre, but no one can say for sure. Just like the popularity with the other entertainment mediums, the first Superman film was also a huge success.
The film was released in 1978, and holds the number two spot for highest grossing films of that year, just under Grease and more than The Deer Hunter. The film depicted the origin of the hero and how he became the hero he was meant to be. The film first takes place on planet Krypton, where Superman, or Kal-El for his alien name, is born. His father Jor-El, who is the planets Science Adviser, warns the Council that their planet is facing serious seismic activity that will destroy their planet in a manner of days or even less than that. The Council rejects his claims, and says if he continues to spread these claims he will be charged for causing a riot. When they disperse Jor-El returns home and prepares the ship he has built to send his son to Earth. He and his wife discuss why their son should be sent to Earth. Jor-El says that the atmosphere of Earth will change him, giving him abilities far greater than any being on Earth. As he finishes the preparations the planet starts to have a massive earthquake. Jor-El sends his son off the planet as their world is destroyed. As Kal-El's journey ends, his ship crash lands on Earth in a field located in Smallville, Kansas, where he is raised by John and Martha Kent and he grows up to be the man that is, Clark Kent.

The opening of the movie shows us a typical science-fiction movie, where we see a world that is totally different from our own. In the comics the planet Krypton has been depicted as a city of the future, but in the film its seen as if it wore a civilization with a type of crystal technology. The story then takes a turn during the second act in the story by showing Superman as a Christ like figure. This is evident by the dialouge said by Jor-El, he says that he has given up his son to and he describes what his son will become on this new world. Before he becomes Superman, Clark goes on a journey to the Arctic to discover his origins, and to guide him is a crystal his father. This crystal holds a virtual AI that holds a program resembling his father. It tells him that he holds all he knows to make a difference on this world. With his newly acquired knowledge, the third part of the film has Clark Kent in the city of Metropolis where he can use his powers for good. This part is where the comic book elements really shine. Kent's persona changes to an accident prone reporter for the Daily Planet, a local newspaper, and here he meets Lois Lane, a female reporter who is more outgoing than some of the men. She is also the one who titles the new hero when he makes his first appearance in the city. We also meet the villain of the film, Lex Luthor, who actually refers to himself as, “The Greatest Criminal Mastermind of this Time,” and he often monologues his “diabolical” plan. One scene that displays this, is when Luthor hijacks two nuclear missiles which he plans to launch one on the San Andreas Fault to destroy California and make the miles of barren land he bought a new real estate location. The other is launched at He challenges Superman to stop the missiles from hitting. The way he tells him this, pretty much defines him as a comic book villain. He sends out a signal that only those with four legs can hear it, so its like the silent whistle that affects dogs. Clark hears this while in his boss's office and since all of his abilities are enhanced beyond a normal humans, he can hear this hidden message while no one else can. Luthor's goes to explain the situation, his plot, and orders Superman to engage him in his lair. Lex Luthor in this film makes it a true comic book movie, but mixing the elements of an actor, who we can see and relate to, with the attitude of someone who cannot possibly exist.

The character Superman is also one with the most pretense of any other character I've seen in film. Most people often think that Clark Kent's alter ego is Superman, but they are actually mistaken. Superman was given the name Clark when he crashed landed on Earth when he was a child. Superman uses his alter ego to help blend in with normal humanity and he pretends to be weak and mild-mannered so no one can make the connection that both people are one and the same. Also, there is some foreshadowing to the hero as we can see his father Jor-El bearing the iconic Superman “S.” I did some research and the writers of the film wanted to make the “S” a family coat of arms, so Superman seems to wear his family's symbol as a sort of tribute to their memory. More research says that comic book writers have made the symbol into the Kryptonian word for “hope,” adding more foreshadowing to the character, since he is a new hope for the world.
Superman: the Movie, is the film that launched the Superhero Film back in the air, with an origin story of a man that we can almost associate with Christ or a Christ-like figure. There are characters that reflect their comic book counterpart, with a hero with strong ideals and morals and a villain that is both diabolical and campy. The Because of this film, future heroes have gotten the chance to make a big screen debut.
The next film I viewed that is part of the Superhero Film genre, is based on a hero who is much different than Superman. Instead of having super powers, this hero trains vigorously and uses his own skills and talents to fight crime. The hero I'm talking about is Batman, whose origin is similar in someways to Clark Kent's. When billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne was eight years-old, he and his parents were coming out of a theater and took a short cut through an alley. They were then confronted by a thug wielding a gun who demanded for their money and jewelry, but in a panic state the thug shot and killed Bruce's parents leaving him orphaned. When he became older, he used his inheritance to travel the world to train with an assortment of teachers of combat and stealth and use this training to achieve his new goal in life and stop crime. When he returns home after his months of training he now must create a symbol for himself, one that will put fear into criminals because, as he puts it, “Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot.” As he is contemplating, a bat flies in through the window, which inspires Bruce to become this creature of the night, and so he is now, Batman.

The character Batman was created in 1939, by the team of Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Kane took most of the credit for the creation of certain characters in the world of Batman and for creating the mythos behind Batman. Some of the major influences that Kane had while creating the hero came from such other heroes like Zoro, who was also a wealthy man disguising himself to fight criminals, and the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, whose main weapon was his mind. These two inspirations eventually evolved the Batman character, making him a wealthy man with the alter ego of a crime fighting detective.
The film I watched next was Batman Begins, a much newer film than the Superman film coming out in 2005 and it is much different than the Batman film from 1989, which focused on the darker, grittier side of the character. The first film doesn't really give us an origin to the hero and instead gives us the idea that Batman has been doing this for a while, building up some kind of urban legend of himself. Batman Begins gives us the true origin story of this particular hero by dedicating a good portion of the opening to the character development of Bruce Wayne. We witness the murder of his parents, we see him grow up into a young adult stricken with vengeance and during the trial of his parents killer he plans to murder him inside the courthouse. When leaves his home of Gotham City, he meets a man named Ras Al Guhl, leader of a group known as the Society of Shadows, which trains men and women to be capable of taking justice and order into their hands. Bruce eventually trains with him and with their aid he is now a master of combat and stealth. However, when his final task is to execute a thief he cannot come to do this. He says that he wants to fight for justice but does not want to sink the the levels of the criminals themselves. Ras Al Guhl says that if he can't follow orders he will be removed from the order, permanently. Bruce fights his way out, burning down the dojo in the process, and returns to Gotham to use what he has learned on his war in crime.

What set Batman apart from Superman was that he had no powers at all, all the skills he used to stop criminals was all his doing from years of training. This made Batman a more down-to-earth hero in my opinion, as he dealt with crime of the everyman. Superman could do the same but his main focus seemed to be world issues, I guess to reflect on how powerful he is. Batman also used fear as a tactic when he fights, sticking to the shadows and using his bat-like appearance to his advantage. This has been a constant theme when it came to the character and it's still used to even this day. Batman Begins was a critical and commercial success and it's sequel The Dark Knight became a larger, being the most recorded as the most successful comic book film ever. Batman is a interesting and complex character that more films can be made based on him and have the same effect on future audiences.

The last film I watched is the most different compared to the previous two. It's different in the sense where it didn't focus on a single hero but a different individuals altogether and their stories where told in more of an anthology style. The comic I'm talking about is Sin City by Frank Miller who wrote and drew this series. This was an ongoing series coming out in the early to mid 90's, and it had a much more darker, gritter, and violent tone but the artwork was able to stylize it all. The stories in this series were often ones focusing on a particular character but in some cases they would crossover into another character's story, giving us the idea that all these people can and are aware of each other. The comic is heavily influenced on film-noir as it's drawn mostly in black and white. Other colors such as red, yellow, blue, and etc. are used to help the reader focus in on a certain character. The writing of these stories is given a pulp fiction and detective feel, as certain metaphors and similes are used.

With it being a popular series of comics, winning multiple awards, it was clear that it would eventually adapted into a film, and it was in 2005. It was directed by known director Robert Rodriguez, who has a knack for doing such films that feature gritty violence in a noir-like setting. Frank Miller also was brought in to direct, because Rodriguez wanted this film to stay as faithful to the comic as it possibly could, and he was very successful at it.
What Rodriguez did was take the graphic novel and use the panels as the storyboards for the film. On a behind-the-scene feature, Rodriguez is actually seen holding print outs from the graphic novel to help set up the scenes. The entire film was like this as it was a shot-for-shot adaption from comic to film, and it help the overall look of the film. The film also has a huge cast, that included Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, and Elijah Wood. Having a well packed cast helped draw in the audience and make it more commercial for everyone. Other films that came out much later, such as 300, another Frank Miller comic, and The Watchmen, which is a famous work by writer Alan Moore, were also adapted into their respected films and they to were developed to be filmed where the panels of the comic were used as storyboards and help make the film more true to the original source material. The biggest way Rodriguez made this film so close to the film was that he used green screen to help create better backgrounds, looking like they do in the comics. Also camera filters which converted the film to the grainy black and white colors made the film more like the comic, since it too was drawn with mostly black and white.

Sin City is not really a comic that has ideals and morals that people can relate to. This comic probably would add more rules and regulations to the list if it were published during the same time as the Comics Code was established. The comic and this film is more meant to stir action with the audience, rather than teach them a lesson.

Over the years, more and more comics, graphic novels, and superheroes are being adapted into film. They prove that they are a great source material, providing great stories, action, ideals and morals, and characters that are well remembered since their earliest origins. They also can inspire others to stand up for what they believe in, as some of these heroes fight for those who cannot fight. Superheroes play an important part in todays society as do police officers and firefighters. Their films will keep going into the future.

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