With all the hype surrounding Watchmen, and all the internet chatter about DC Comics’ uncertain cinematic future, I found myself wondering: Why hasn’t DC had as much success at the box office as rival company Marvel?
In an attempt to answer that very question I came up with this comprehensive guide to how DC Comics SHOULD be making movies.
This week, writer/director Joss Whedon (Dollhouse, Firefly) spoke up about why he believes DC Comics has had a hard time making the transition to the big screen. According to Whedon, Batman has been a cinematic cash cow in the last few years primarily because The Caped Crusader is one of the only heroes out of the DC stable who’s whole reason for being a “hero” is an all too human anguish that makes him easily relatable to the average person.
I get what Whedon is saying on that front: I’ve always maintained that Superman Returns flopped in large part because the film was this grand meditation on why Superman is better than the average person–not just because of his god-like powers, but rather the moral strength of his character. In this day and age what moviegoer wants to pay money to see a film where they’re being told that some Superman is better than them? If Superman Unleashed hopes to revitalize the struggling franchise, I hope the filmmakers are out there right now scouring comic shops and compiling the most celebrated Superman stories they can get their hands on.
Marvel on the other hand, has always had the luxury of building their movie franchises on the backs of characters that Stan Lee purposefully created as allegories for the experiences of the common man, so that the common man would better be able to relate to them. Peter Parker is the geek who never gets the girl; X-Men are minorities who face discrimination and prejudice at every turn, etc… etc… We relate to these characters because they’ve been fashioned for us to do so. It’s easier for a fanboy to believe he can be Spider-Man than Superman; therefore it’s easier for the moviegoer who doesn’t read comics to believe the same.
However, I do think Whedon’s comments overlook an important point. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were big $uccesses at the box office (IMHO) because the filmmakers drew their screenplays from some of the most celebrated Batman lore that is currently in print. Batman Begins borrowed heavily from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s now-classic reimagining of The Caped Crusader’s origins, Batman: Year One. The Dark Knight’s intricately woven crime-saga was built off the comic book bones of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s noir-epic, The Long Halloween, while Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as The Joker borrowed from the more dark and modern renderings of The Clown Prince of Crime such as Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke.
And for those who’ve been paying close attention, DC/Warner Bros.’ next big venture, Green Lantern, has generated positive early buzz primarily because the script for the film will reportedly adhere closely to “Emerald Dawn,” one of the most famous GL stories ever told.
Do you see the pattern here?
The powers that be over at DC/Warner Bros. need to start thinking not only of which DC characters deserve a box office run, but also which famous DC Comics stories need to be told. To phrase this another way: DC, let Marvel worry about the character stuff; you worry about the many, many celebrated storylines you have at your disposal.
Watchmen is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. It’s one of the most famous Comic book stories ever told under the DC banner–now it’s poised to be one of the biggest movies of 2009. Watchmen has endured not because of people’s fascination with the particular characters (aside from maybe Rorschach), but rather because of the impact of the story as a whole. Name me one Marvel storyline (storyline, not character) that has had THAT kind of social impact.
So what other famous stories does DC have to tell? Obviously there is Frank Miller’s iconic vision of Batman’s future, The Dark Knight Returns–a subject which resurfaced once again this week, in an interview First Showing conducted with Watchmen director Zack Snyder. (Snyder would still like to tackle the project, but there’s no guarantee yet that he will. Maybe Watchmen will change that if it does well enough at the box office.)
DC/Vertigo’s The Losers is on track to becoming a feature film. The comic had only a small cult following, but many of those that read it have had good things to say about it. We’ll see how the film turns out.
If I ruled Hollywood (and I aim to), I would love to see the early Preacher storylines compiled into a film (I’m talking the “Gone To Texas” and “Until The End of Time” storylines). There’s also Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush, or Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman–arguably one of the best Superman stories I’ve read in the last decade. Another safe bet would be ANY of the stories Grant Morrison told during his run on Justice League, should a JL movie ever crawl its way out of the grave.
Of course I’m just scratching the surface here. There are many, many, great DC Comics storylines that I’m totally blanking on at this moment. But then, that’s why I have you my wonderful, knowledgeable, readers. What DC Comics Storylines do you think DC/Warner should be adapting for the big screen? Hit us back and let us know.