The face of comic book characters has changed over the years and Dylan O’Neill analyses their drive from comics to successful film franchises.
From the star-spangled shield of Captain America to the menacing grin of the Joker, many superhero (and villain) identities can be instantly recognized, by die-hard comic fans and your average movie-goer alike. Be it for their brilliantly written storylines, relatable character development or just plain shock factor, comic books and graphic novels have not only survived through the generations of readers, but flourished into multi-million dollar franchises.
One of the most notable characters throughout comic book history is Batman, who was first introduced by Detective Comics (DC) in 1939. He provided a more human, morally grey, anti-hero that readers could identify with, as he lacked the superhuman abilities of Superman, who was created a year prior. Over his long run, Batman has dealt with the death of his family, tortured at the hands of his enemies, and faced with the task of saving Gotham several times over, all without the help of special powers granted to other superheroes.
In 1988, DC Comics published Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, a graphic novel which featured a glimpse of the Joker’s origin, as well as Batgirl’s shooting and paralysis. Although the 2016 feature length adaptation was met with large criticism, the novel won the Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album, and Moore won Best Writer in 1989. It contributed to the success of the entire Batman franchise, which spawned 13 films, from 1943’s Batman, to the Oscar-winning Dark Knight trilogy, to this year’s Justice League film, not to mention the television series, video-games, and merchandising.
“In 1988, DC Comics published Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, a graphic novel which featured a glimpse of the Joker’s origin, as well as Batgirl’s shooting and paralysis.”
Moving over to Batman’s Marvel Comics counterpart, X-Men Vol. 1 was published in 1963, the first of decades of comics that have not shied away from social commentary. Despite their superhuman abilities, the characters were a persecuted minority group, surviving in a world of people who did not love or understand them. Naturally, this drew parallels to the civil rights movement and fight for LGBT+ rights in North America. Over 50 years on, the series has stayed relevant, tackling topics such as war in a post-9/11 world.
Following the success of the 1980’s Uncanny X-Men, sales of the comics remained high in the 1990s. During this time, X-Men animated series debuted and quickly became Fox Network’s top-rated television series. However, fans began to complain about the on-going series crossovers, known as X-overs, which were seen as publicity stunts with the sole purpose of increasing sales. In 2001, Marvel Comics released the New X-Men, in which writer Grant Morrison brought the series into the modern-era. This revamp of the series changed crucial aspects of the comics, such as making certain characters, like Emma Frost, more prominent in the comics, and introducing a genocide event on the mutant haven known as Genosha. This was a clear departure from the brightly-coloured X-Men comics of the 80s and 90s, and presented readers with a grittier world view.
The comics and television series remained so popular that in 1994, 20th Century Fox obtained the film rights for the characters. To date, ten X-Men films have been released, with the New Mutants and Deadpool sequel set to reach cinemas in 2018. The films have been heavily based on the comic book franchise, most notably X-Men: Days of Future Past. The movies are currently ranked the seventh-highest grossing film series at the World Box Office, according to The-Numbers.com.
“The comics and television series managed to remain popular, so in 1994, 20th Century Fox obtained the film rights for the characters.”
Despite their age, and numerous evolutions, comic book and their adaptations hold a firm place in pop culture history. Their powers may only exist in fiction, yet superheroes also have the ability to connect with generations of real people in the world beyond their pages. Their transference into film allows them to reach a wider audience and gross more income.