Editorial: My Suggestions on Making a Good Comic Book Movie

Editorial: My Suggestions on Making  a Good Comic Book Movie

Hey guys. These are some suggestions on how to make an effective movie. I am obviously not an expert but I just want to share my ideas. Please share yours!

Adapting a superhero comic book to a the big screen isn't an easy task. It is one that requires a great deal of dedication, patience, and passion. Though both of types of media are forms of storytelling, the criteria in which their effectiveness is based differs greatly. Due to an already established source material and 2 different demographics; it is no wonder directors and executive producers are often bewildered in discerning which elements belong on the silver screen, and which belong to the pages of a comic book while still pleasing a very mixed audience. Based on the superhero movies I've seen, I have arranged a rundown of my personal opinion on what makes a good superhero comic book movie.

1. Make the superhero's alter ego very grounded or very human
I think it is already a given that despite their spectacular powers or their very optically pleasing costumes, superheroes are still accessible to their viewers because of their alter ego. Part of Spider-Man's appeal is that his anyone can easily relate to Peter Parker because he faces real world problems that we, ourselves are very much prone to. I think its so striking to see how such an exceptional and super-powered human struggle with a problem that his super powers will not help be able to him with such as his career, love, and possibly mortality. Through this we see that the hero is in fact a person, like us and not just a faceless and boring individual. It adds depth to the story and is a great way to make the audience easily identify and sympathize with the character.

2.Choose a tone and setting that works for the character.
Part of what made Nolan's movies such a success was the fact that Nolan played on the strengths of Batman's character and world. Much like in many incarnations of the character, Nolan grounded the universe in which Batman lived in. He made Gotham dark and realistic and a place where the the masterminds behind organized crime would prosper. The villains are high ranked underworld criminals, corrupt officials, jaded assassins,and mentally broken yet psychologically testing individuals. This realistic feel brought by Nolan is such an ideal setting for Batman, and while I agree that this closes doors to powered villains like Killer Croc, it stills seems to work as Batman does spend a great deal of time dealing with Mafia Bosses and powerless criminals. That being said, not all movies need a dark tone. Superheroes like Superman, Spider-Man, and Green Lantern can afford to have a more vibrant and comic book-y tone.

3.Do not make death for important characters a cliche
Death is a really powerful element in storytelling. It can add a whole new level of emotion for not only the characters but also the people who watch it or see it happen. In order for it to be meaningful and effective, it should be used sparingly and the victim of demise must be chosen carefully.The more time death occurs, the more normal it becomes. The more normal it becomes, the less shock value out of the death, which is a bad thing. It is also worth noting that Keeping your characters alive for longer allows for more comprehensive character development, which is why villains should be kept alive after they've been defeated. Keeping the villains for later use in a movie sets the stage for a more vengeful and grander return.

4. If possible, do a social commentary.
Novels and other forms of literature find their place in our world because they challenge social conventions and get us thinking about other important issues dealing with our lives. Since comics are forms of visual storytelling, I don't see why writers shouldn't do this more often. Watchmen was critically acclaimed for its story structure and multitude of underlying and meaningful messages. It criticized the idea of how we put our lives at the hands of others, through the Comedian; it criticized the human condition and our moral compass, it criticized America's state of mind in thinking that they are essentially invulnerable, and many others. Because of these themes and addressing of issues, it has caught the eyes of not only avid comic readers, but also the mainstream press; who considered it to be one of, if not, the best comic book ever. This is really important, especially today, where comic book heroes are struggling to find importance in our world. Addressing social issues and making meaningful stories will not only make heroes more relevant in the society we live in, but it might also help silence critics who dismiss comics as "nothing but immature children's books"

5. Make the hero vulnerable to something
What fun is a story if there is no conflict? Conflict is an important asset in making a story interesting. So when we are presented a hero with abilities that no one else has, it is important that he/she is faced with a challenge that will be very trying. One of the most memorable scenes in comic book movie for me would have to be the final fight scene in the first Spider-Man. I watched in horror as Spider-Man was being beaten to a bloody pulp by the Green Goblin, however, felt a sense of prevail after Spider-Man got the upper hand. Very effective fight scene. These challenges, however, go beyond a physical level. The challenge can be mentally trying with villains such as the joker or Lex Luthor. There can also be emotionally trying such as the hero's bitchy girlfriend or even problems in life itself. Basically, making a hero vulnerable to something keeps him/her from being overpowered. Putting them in peril and in dangerous situations bring upon suspense in the climax, but they bring upon triumph and redemption once the hero inevitably overcomes the struggle.

6. Do not retcon
A retcon or Retroactive Continuity is a story device used by writers to change part of a character's past to accommodate a new story-line while still maintaining the progression of a story. Take for example Spider-Man 3, where Uncle Ben's killer was actually revealed to be Sandman instead of the other crook from the first film. Retcons are completely unnecessary because as book movies aren't released as frequently as monthly comics and the movie series usually do not last as long as comic books. This means that the movies are more well planned and that their series are less congested with lackluster stories that deserve to be removed. Furthermore, the viewers may also feel cheated as they had an emotional investment in a strong scene in a previous movie, only to have it re-written later on.

7. Do not stick too close to the comics
I think we can all agree that a faithful adaptation of a comic book character is the way to go when making a movie. Fundamentals such as the characters, themes, personalities, and setting shouldn't be tampered with . However, I think that the storyline is where the freedom of creative license can hang loose. There are many famous comic story arcs that will translate well on the big screen but wouldn't a 100% faithful adaptation be uninteresting and predictable? After all, wouldn't the comic of which the movie is based off, be one whole spoiler alert? The Walking Dead is the prime example of how well the slightly modified storyline formula works. Even though we've read the comics, we can still identify the characters and the plot, yet still anticipate each episode to see how things will play out. I'm not saying that comic story arcs shouldn't be adapted, nor should they be bastardized, but rather that directors should stay away from the mindset that a movie that is a carbon copy of the comic would please the fans. The directors should take some creative liberties and incorporate elements that seem to work from many different comics and combine them to create something fresh, unexpected, and something worthwhile.

Agree or disagree with my suggestions? Think I missed something or misinterpreted something? Please feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading!!!
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Ghostt - 3/25/2012, 8:21 PM
I appreciate reading well written articles, and, better yet, good grammar; both of which you exemplify in this article. Having said that, most of this is pretty obvious stuff.

My favorite, though, and one I may not have thought of, is # 6: 'Do not retcon'. You are absolutely right, and this is a huge mistake made in CBMs, particularly Spider-Man 3. This is an an annoying and unnecessary tactic. Nice job!
Tainted87 - 3/25/2012, 8:36 PM
The Uncle Ben retcon pissed me off more than anything. Raimi claimed to have loved Sandman so much, yet the only way he could make him relevant was to slide him in as the true accidental killer of Pete's uncle.

Retcons aren't always a bad thing though. I'm not sure if it can be counted as one, but Darth Vader revealing himself as Luke's father would be the best example of it working.

I think everything here is subjective, but good article!
RidiculousFanBoyDemands - 3/25/2012, 8:45 PM
Very well written article my man. I would add one more thing. Do not let the viewers figure out the villains plot before the hero does. It takes all the suspense out of the movie, and does nothing but provide needless filler.

For example, in Captain America. We were forced to sit through a 5 plus minute scene where Tommy Lee Jones interrogated the Red Skulls head scientist. The only problem the viewer already knew EVERYTHING the scientist would say. We knew what the Red Skull was planning and where he was planning to do it. I hate it when villains through needless exposition give away their "master" plans. Let it be a shock to the audience when it is a shock to the hero. Make us feel invested in the movie, and let us feel the same level of shock the hero does when the ultimate plan is discovered. It sucks the audience in more instead of making them feel like an outsider looking in.

I think the Dark Knight did that brilliantly. The whole time you figured all the joker wanted was to control Gotham City. It wasn't until the end that you realize everything was ancillary and all he wanted to prove to Batman was even the most incorruptible person could go insane under the right circumstances. You never saw the joker planning or scheming. It gave the movie this great level of tension because you never knew where he was going to pop up.

Another is don't show the viewer EVERYTHING. Leave a little to the imagination, and don't dumb things down.
Spidey91 - 3/25/2012, 9:05 PM
nice work. you make some pretty good points.

"Part of Spider-Man's appeal is that his anyone can easily relate to Peter Parker because he faces real world problems that we, ourselves are very much prone to. I think its so striking to see how such an exceptional and super-powered human struggle with a problem that his super powers will not help be able to him with such as his career, love, and possibly mortality"

and that's why Spidey is my favorite :)

"...not all movies need a dark tone. Superheroes like Superman, Spider-Man, and Green Lantern can afford to have a more vibrant and comic book-y tone"

THANK YOU! some people don't seem to get that.

"If possible, do a social commentary"

but only if the source material allows it.

"Do not retcon"

yeah,SM3 is a prime example.

"Do not stick too close to the comics"

I think this is very important.like in Watchmen,they left the squid-thingy out :P
as long the changes makes sense for the plot is all good.

MrPagBrewster - 3/25/2012, 9:11 PM
Love this editorial, this should be on main.

4. If possible, do a social commentary. I wanna see civil war adapted to the big screen after avengers, no sequel go straight for the big guns. It has that pro vs. anti goverment thing going on for it. that would make cbm history. Hopefully by the time that happens marvel will have acquired most of their big names e.g Fantastic Four.

I think alot of people have a big problem with number 7. some of the opinions I've seen would make you feel ashamed to be a comicbook fan. One opinion is that the joker wasn't true to his cb counterpart in that he didn't use acid spraying flowers or the fact he didn't obtain his look from a vat of chemicals. I don't wanna see guys in spandex. Or hear dialogue verbatim. No striped yellow tights for Wolvie.
MrPagBrewster - 3/25/2012, 9:15 PM
@Spidey91 I think that we've all agreed that a dark/gritty and serious tone doesn't work for every hero on screen. Example being the spiderman reboot when it was first announced. Folks heard gritty spiderman and everyone lost their shit, me included.
Spidey91 - 3/25/2012, 9:51 PM

the thing is that Spiderman can be dark,not Batman dark,but still.when you think in all the things that Spidey has been through in the comics you realize that he has been in some dark places and faced some really sh*tty situations.

one of Spiderman's trademarks are the wisecracks and all that funny stuff,but that's how he deals with all his internal struggles. that's one thing he has in common with Batman,it's all about the sacrifice.

for me,I do think you can make Spiderman serious and "dark" and still stay mostly true to the source material and being funny at the same time.
antonio - 3/25/2012, 10:49 PM
How this isn't on main yet is beyond me. This is one of the most brilliantly writen articles I've read on this site in like forever. I agree with pretty much every point you made, specifically #6 and 7.
MrPagBrewster - 3/26/2012, 5:52 AM
@Antonio, I was figuring the same thing. Politics i guess.
This is front page material.
MiracleMe - 3/26/2012, 7:19 AM
I say-

Be smart, be original and have testicular fortitude!

Stop looking for the formula (this + that = boxoffice!) for a successful CBM. That approach yields your Fantastic Fours, your Daredevils, your Green Lanterns, your Ghost Riders...etc.

This year we get Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers, both of which I expect to amaze. But we've already gotten Chronicle, which amazed. So big budget does not a great CBM make necessarily.

Boldness + vision + talent = great CBM's.
MatchesMalone1989 - 3/26/2012, 8:03 AM
I agree with 6, 7, and the most important to me 3. I love the fact that Joker didn't die. But it sucked that Harvey did. And I know its because of realism. But I think thats an excuse that kinda [frick]s up what comics are all about. They are straight fiction so why do you want to translate it into something realistic for people to understand. Why not make it fantasy so the audience can see something spectacular. Look at lord of the rings half of the things in that film are not realistic. And they are great films. Makes me feel like I'm watching a rpg live. It's like they are saying we as the audience will be to dumb to comprehend fantasy. I feel like its disrespectful. I under stand about some characters having tights. Like Wolverine for example. To change that they should've dressed the X Men like what they really are. A special ops mutant unit that fight against Mutant Terrorist. I think the X Men should have been dressed up very tactical and they could have kept some of the colors they wore from the comics. But thats hollywood saying you can't comprehend that. My opinion anyway......
ThaMessenger07 - 3/26/2012, 8:53 AM
I agree! Great Editorial. My Personal favorite is #4. So many comic fans forget that the social backdrop within comicbook story telling is the most essential part of the characters.

The Creators of these heroes are writers and Artist with opinions. Superman had a social agenda upon creation. He represented the working man and fought the corrupt Cooperate world of the 1930's.

Batman was a detective and was hellbent on bringing justice to those that get away. Criminals not ever being found and tried was common in those days.

Namor was the half blooded Prince of a undersea, Lost world. He first came to land to do battle with the large companies polluting his sea. And while he was in the right to feel resentment for the destruction being caused in his world, he was in the wrong on how he used destruction and violence as a form of Justice. In the end he did battle with a cooperate machine that in turn he assisted in saying lives.

These movies need to have Balls. Yes, Captain Americe Should have fought in WW2 and shut down concentration camps. Daredevil should have caused the death of the men that killed his father and an innocent. Green Lantern should have dealt with the corruption that can arise in any Police/Military like public protection system.
Minghagz - 3/26/2012, 10:12 AM
Great Article! I almost skipped past this but I'm glad I stopped and clicked on it to read it! You sir, get a thumbs up!
MoonDoggyX - 3/26/2012, 10:55 AM
Nice article! Fun read, but i think "good comic book movie" is a little too subjective."Good" is in the eye of the beholder. For example, I didn't care for the structure of Watchmen. I thought it came off as unfocused and convoluted. I personally know no one that actually cared much for the movie. Still, I think you explained what you like about it, as well as other films, very well. I think MiracleMe hit the nail on the head. There is no formula. Its simple, what makes a good CBM, its a good movie, simple as that. Iron Man, Spiderman, TDK, all considered great films though there is rarely a common thread between them... on the other side of the spectrum, bad CBMs are simply bad movies... period.
thedude2936 - 3/26/2012, 11:56 AM
good article man
GoodGuy - 3/26/2012, 12:15 PM
My 2nd article ever and it made main!!! Thanks guys for positive feedback and support. Oh and @Teabag, it's always nice to see that :P
swdiv2 - 3/26/2012, 1:12 PM
You forgot one - don't overload the movie with more villains than necessary - remember the debacle with Mr Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane in Batman and Robin? Sandman and New Goblin in Spider-Man 3? One villain, well developed, is better than 2 or 3 villains with shoddy or non-existent backstories and no real investment in the villains as characters. Green Lantern would have been a much better film, if Parallax 1) didn't look like flying space poo, and 2) was developed to what it should have been, which was terrifying - there would have been time for that, if they weren't screwing around with Hector Hammond too - again, too many villains spoils the movie.
Tainted87 - 3/27/2012, 8:21 AM
Not necessarily. Batman Begins featured Joe Chill, Carmine Falcone, Ra's al Ghul, Scarecrow, and Mr. Zsaaz - and didn't suffer for it.

The problem with Green Lantern was that it wasted all of its potential on really stupid stuff. Let me point you in the direction of one of the most overrated and overexposed writers working in DC comics today - Geoff Johns. He wrote a new origin for Green Lantern quite a few years back as a means of making "Blackest Night" a completely relevant story that would carry back to the beginning. You may know it: "Secret Origin" ?

It is all inclusive, but also a great starting point for new readers. All the essentials are there - Hal's upbringing and relationship with his family and Carol, his induction into the Corps by the dying Abin Sur, his preliminary training by Kilowog, Tomar Re, and Salaak; Sinestro as his ever-irritated teacher, and of course, the larger investigation into Abin Sur's killer - Atrocitus. It even has Hector Hammond in an almost similar fashion, but no connection to Parallax.

No, the problem with Green Lantern wasn't Parallax AND Hector Hammond - it wasn't even really how they were portrayed. The problem was that it didn't make sense. Why is Carol apologizing to Hector about his childhood? Why does Hal have to ask the Guardians permission to do his job when no one is stopping him? How is an ancient being like Parallax ignorant in the mechanics of a sun's gravitational pull? Why are we focusing on Parallax this early on in Hal's career anyway? Why would Sinestro who has had such self control, suddenly feel tempted to use the yellow ring after all is said and done?

Spider-man CAN have the Sinister Six. Like Batman would say, criminals aren't overly complicated characters. Supervillains are just criminals with super-powers or super-powered weaponry. It's as simply as Batman getting the Tumbler. They don't have to spend a half an hour explaining how Max Dillon got his Electro powers, or how Adrian Toomes fashioned his Vulture suit. It could be just like Ocean's Eleven where Doc Ock plans a heist involving other super-powered criminals who can't keep up with Spider-man alone should he try to stop them. You could make it like a super-powered version of "Heat" and it would work.
swdiv2 - 3/27/2012, 8:56 AM
@Tainted - You have a point, within limits. As I read the original question, re what makes a "good" comic book movie, is a movie that non-cbm fans will enjoy and understand as well. Batman Begins did handle multiple characters well, but personally I think Scarecrow and R'as could each have easily carried their own movies, and Two-Face and Joker could as easily have had their own instead of sharing The Dark Knight. Especially when you're dealing with characters who are not as well known to the general public (who DOESN'T know the Joker?) a little explanation as to who they are, and what they can do, goes a long way....if the Rhino had come blasting through a wall in Spiderman 2, my wife would have been like "Who's the big gray guy, and what's his problem?" The X-Men movies had multiple villains and heroes and presented them well, because their was no attempt to go into their origins - it was just "here they are, as a group" and it worked - but personally I think the best ones tell who the hero is, who the villain is, and why they're on a collision course (think Keaton's Batman)-ESPECIALLY if the viewer isn't already familiar with the characters. I'll even stipulate this isn't always true - Heath Ledger's Joker had no origin (or several, if you include his accounts of it) and DK was one of the best CBMs ever...Spiderman 3 suffered because they ret-conned Uncle Ben's death for no reason, bounced back and forth between Venom, Sandman, and New Goblin - my point remains tell one story, and tell it well - not 3 inter-connected stories told poorly. On a related note - don't ret-con or change details, for the sake of changing details (like Uncle Ben's death.) The source material works for a reason. I stipulate that some things don't translate well to "the real world" like Captain America's wings on his headpiece - but imo, the only negative about Superman 2 was all the added powers and tricks the Kryptonians developed during the last fight (multiple images, beams from their fingertips, the big cellophane "S" from Superman's chest - they were all just silly.
sikwon - 3/27/2012, 4:54 PM
very very well done. your article is a great example of some of the things you are talking about. its so well written and clear in its intent that its a pleasure to read. thats what movies (and comics) shoud strive to be. personaly one of my favorite things about tdk was that the joker had no backstory. he was just there. almost like the batmans goodness, his triumphs, created the joker. he was the natural yang to batmans yin, he was just there, a force to oppose batman (im aware that he was teased at the end of begins, but u get my point).

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