There are few who appreciate the burgeoning page to screen graphic novel adaptations as much as us lifelong comic readers. I can remember when Blade first hit movie theaters towards the end of the 90s, and although I had never read the comics, I was excited to see a new film based on comic books. Nothing can top my excitement when the first X-men film was released in 2000. I learned to read with graphic novels, and loved everything about them from the comics, to the actions figures, to my favorite Saturday morning cartoons. However, as an adult my love of the films and merchandising is becoming a concern. Its no longer a genre that is seeking to prove itself and contribute something to the film medium, but becoming more and more a money machine for Hollywood.
Why is this a concern? Sure graphic novel films bring in billions year in and year out, and I’m just as entertained by those films with enormous plot holes as the next movie goer looking for a blockbuster. The concern comes from oversaturation of the genre; with oversaturation comes dilution of the product; when the product is diluted, it loses its potency.
Since the advent of the superhero film we’ve seen this. Yes, all things are subjective, but we can all agree that Superman lost it after the first film. Yes, Superman II is a classic, but it was only classic for the first two acts. Then, he began throwing his S at the bad guys and his depower thing ignored him and…I could go on for pages. My point, the quality of the story is ignored. Graphic novels have become the new vehicle of the archetype; the new medium for mythology; the collective unconscious again depicted through colorful images illustrating mankind’s desires and superhuman ambition. The pursuit of capital gain with the guaranteed trilogy, and now the crossover event, is leading to the eventual bubble burst.
The cause of the burst isn’t solely based on the trilogy curse; X-Men 3, Rise of the Silver Surer, and Superman IV couldn’t kill the love of the characters, and desire for more. The reboots that followed breathed new life into the characters, adding a new depth to the films (I know, I may be getting ahead of myself with the new FF movie).
However, like most things in the entertainment business, the people fuel the films and people get tired of things quickly. At some point the graphic novel film will go the way of the blockbuster and Saturday morning cartoons. Each generation wants some new and different, and although graphic novels transcend generations, the overexposure of the genre through film serves to kill the medium.
This may seem unlikely to most, but lets not ignore the fact that the big two (Marvel & DC) are pouring their money into film because of the comic book crash of the late 90’s. After the collector’s bubble burst, the graphic novel companies began looking for help. DC found it in Time Warner; while Marvel filed for bankruptcy, sold the film rights to many of their characters, and eventually found Disney. My fear is what will happen when the films stop drawing the crowds, and the studios bail on the myths that shaped our vision of hero and adventure. Both Marvel and DC are showing signs of this now, pumping out films back to back, accelerating storylines and leaving large gaps where story and character development are key. Dc is trying to gain its ground again after the amazingly successful Nolan films, but we’re faced with another Batman. The reboot of another iconic character.
Reboots can only take us so far, and every actor has a shelf life. These aren’t the immortal sketches on the page of muscle bound archetypes, Robert Downey Jr. can’t play Iron Man forever. We’ve already heard the rumblings of his eventual departure, and there’s the sad news of Hugh Jackman stepping down from his mantle of Wolverine. With each beloved actor or director’s departure, comes the perceived need by studios to reboot. We’ve seen where that can go with the Spider-Man films. Though the reboots weren’t bad, they came so close on the heels of their predecessors that the floundered. No we face another arachnid rebirth. Lets hope the association with the Avengers brings the wall crawler his top spot back.
Everywhere we turn there are superheroes; Netflix, theaters, video games, tattoos. While I love it, it also serves as a reminder to the days I loved as a child. Waking up on Saturdays and watching all those great cartoons that culminated with Spiderman and the X-Men. Saturday morning cartoons are gone now. Just a nagging thought, that soon our graphic novels will be too. Nothing lasts forever, but myths have to live on.