5 Awesome Comic Plots That Can't Be Made Into Movies
We currently live in the Golden Age of seeing our favorite comic book stories be adapted into movies. Gone are the days when Tim Burton heard secondhand rumors about some Batman thing and decided to take a crack at it. In its place, we get films that weave beloved, classic comic book plots into new narratives, hoping to please hardcore fans and casual "What the hell is a Hawk Eyes?" moviegoers in equal measure.
However, there are still some comic book territory which remains unexplored. And it should probably remain that way, for these shores are treacherous, the inhabitants dangerous, and these plots would probably be pretty damn stupid if you tried to put them onscreen.
Marvel vs. DC
Pitting superheroes against each other in hypothetical combat, like kickball, awkward crushes, and the failure of the standardized testing system, is a staple of your grade school experience. My friend Brandon, a kid who wept openly in class when he learned that Dale Earnhardt died, once asked me "Superman or Goku?" and sent me into a lifelong spiral of asking similar questions to my own friends. "Batman or Wolverine?" I'd whisper tenderly into their ears. "Daniel, please. She left me, and I feel utterly broken," they'd say.
"OK, OK. I'm sorry ... How about Green Lantern vs. Thor?"
And Marvel and DC have tried to come together for giant comic rumbles before, and they've always kind of been, for lack of a better phrase, the worst things ever. They're big dumb cash-grabs that reek of no one really wanting to do them in the first place, because why would you? You're a writer who has spent years developing your craft and building up your resume, and finally you get to live your dream of working for Marvel. And then someone demands that you take a break from experiencing joy to cram the Flash into a new story that you'll have to forget about in a few months anyway.
I'm sure a Marvel vs. DC film would make so much money that Disney could finally fulfill its destiny of purchasing all of Florida and the lower half of California, while DC could lock Christopher Nolan into an unbreakable contract that forces him to make Batman movies until he's too old to breathe. But the biggest problem wouldn't be the fact that the movie would eventually be passed through the hands of about 45 screenwriters and script doctors, or that it would take a decade to negotiate all of the contracts. It would be that there's no way to make it satisfying. Because to satisfy at least half of the people, one side would have to gain a definite victory. And this would leave the other side shrieking "NUH-UH" into the night sky.
In 2001, when World Championship Wrestling folded and was absorbed by the World Wrestling Federation, people expected a clash for the ages. It was finally happening. All of the fantasy match-ups that we'd debated for years were going to come to fruition. They just had to. Goldberg vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Sting vs. the Undertaker. That Guy Who Dances vs. That Other Guy Who Dances. Instead we got a parade of match interferences and barely any solid victories in which one top star beat another. The same thing would happen in Marvel vs. DC: The Movie. Sure, you'd delight in watching Captain America squash the Penguin, but the minute it got to Iron Man vs. Batman, you'd end up with a "But if we work TOGETHER, maybe we can beat GALACTUS" finish.
Superheroes joining together to stop a greater evil sounds neat, but only after I've watched Deadpool kick the bird shit out of Nightwing. I'd want at least one movie dedicated to that latter scenario, and that's the movie that we'd never get.
Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash
A few weeks ago, I ended a column by saying that everyone should go see Freddy vs. Jason, which to some probably sounded akin to me asking, "Hey, want a shot of tequila that I've spit in?" And I'm sure that there were even a few of you who figured that I was pulling some kind of ironic thing. There's no way that anyone could sincerely devote a portion of their heart to 2003's greatest "versus" movie. But I do. Shohei Immamura's haunting Vengeance Is Mine, Peter Yates' gritty The Friends Of Eddie Coyle, and Ronny Yu's, ummm, Ronny Yu-ish Freddy vs. Jason -- those are the best three movies of all time. I will fight nearly all of you over this.
I also like Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series, so when the comic book Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash was released, I went straight to my comic shop, plowing through customers and racks and collectible figurines to get to it. And it was decent. But in the same way that a shark reacts when it senses blood, I developed an appetite. I was hungry for a movie. We'd already had Freddy vs. Jason. And for the second time in my life, I found myself thinking, "Why not add a third guy to it?" Bruce Campbell, who played Ash in the Evil Dead series, would probably be down for it. I feel like I could invite that dude to an impromptu barbecue in the Arctic Circle, and the only concern he'd have is that "icy deathscape" doesn't show up on Google Maps.
However, soon after this, Robert Englund, who had played Freddy Krueger for years, retired from the role. In the same way that Heath Ledger IS the Joker and Terry from the deli section of the grocery store IS my real dad, Robert Englund IS Freddy Krueger. It's not just his blend of humor and madness, but the way he talks and moves. And one of the best parts of Freddy vs. Jason is that when it came time for Freddy and Jason to fight, the movie was asking us to believe that it was Robert Englund who had suddenly acquired the powers of nine Jackie Chans and a Rey Mysterio.
Would I want to see a Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash that featured Bruce Campbell fighting whatever stuntman they shoved into a hockey mask fighting some guy who was trying his best to sound like Robert Englund's Freddy? No. The fun of Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash comes from the fact that all of these classic slasher characters we've watched and enjoyed for decades are finally dueling with each other. It just isn't the same if a third of the movie is simply doing an impression.
All-Star Superman is the best Superman story ever told. It does not attempt to reinvent the character. It does not attempt to make him relevant to a demographic of people who consider goodness old hat. And it doesn't attempt to constrict his character and personality until it fits whatever metaphor the author is trying to shove into our brain space. Instead it bathes in all of the fantastic, science fiction-y things about Superman like a pig in shit. It's a tribute to Superman and the people who read Superman, and it proves that we don't always have to be coming from a place of cynicism if we want to tell a good Superman story.
I've talked to friends who bring up adapting All-Star Superman into some kind of live-action film, and I don't think it's a bad idea. We got an animated version which was nice but about an hour too short. And we have the special effects and the talented screenwriters and directors to make a live-action All-Star Superman happen. Sadly, the character as we know him is kind of stuck in cinematic traffic.
The people behind every Superman movie for the past few decades have done nothing but honk their horns hopelessly. "Beep beep! Come on! Make him popular. Like this dude! Come on!" Sometimes they decide that they don't want to wait in line, so they pull into another lane. The "Maybe this Superman will be introspective" lane, or the "Maybe this Superman will be filled with rage" lane. And it gets them ahead for a second, only for them to become deadlocked in traffic again. It doesn't work, because they never once think about embracing Superman as a character; they were only interested in getting you to embrace Superman.
For All-Star Superman to be made, we'd need someone with a lot of money who doesn't treat Superman like a new cellphone that needs to be updated every few years or the other middle school kids will make fun of it. It needs a Hollywood climate that is unafraid to say "You know what? Our foundation is gonna be that Superman already kicks ass, and we're just gonna go crazy from there." Sadly, we're still stuck between Batman's Goliath 18-wheeler and Wonder Woman's Hyundai Elantra, slamming our palms on the steering wheel and screaming out the window "What the fuck is taking this so long? You should like him now, so do it!"
The Killing Joke
Batman probably has more entries in the annals of the Greatest Comic Book Stories Ever Told than any other hero. A great Batman story usually doesn't just provide hours of entertainment and discussion; it also changes the way we see the character. Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns and The Long Halloween and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth are pieces of Batman's skeleton. And if you pull one away, the way we see a modern Batman crumbles. And then there's The Killing Joke, which was a neat Batman story until they created other Batman stories that kind of rendered it useless.
For those who have never read it, The Killing Joke was written by Alan Moore, a stone golem that emerges from a cave every once in a while to drop pages of comic script on us like lightning bolts from Olympus, before grumbling about how they messed up his League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie and wandering off. It deals with the Joker's origin, and elaborates on the now-popular idea of Joker and Batman being uncomfortably similar. It's also one of the worst things that Moore has ever written. If his other works are smooth, intricate jazz, The Killing Joke is someone incoherently shouting Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" right before the karaoke bar closes.
The Killing Joke shows up on a few "great Batman comics that should be films" lists, and eventually it did get its own clunky animated adaptation. But as a live-action feature, The Killing Joke would only really be worthwhile if they made it about 20 years ago. In the time since the original comic was published, we've gotten a bunch of superior stuff that The Killing Joke influenced, like The Dark Knight and the Arkham games. And it's weird to say that a video game in which you punch your way through a mental hospital filled with steroid-injected inmates tells a more nuanced story about the relationship between a clown and the Caped Crusader than a comic by one of the most acclaimed writers in the history of comics, but it's true.
The Killing Joke is an important Batman story, and it definitely helped to steer us from discussions like "Why does Robin wear no pants?" to discussions like "Batman keeps recruiting elementary-schoolers to fight crime with him, and they all either die or resent him for it. That's a little fucked up." But a film about it would just be derivative of better films that were already inspired by The Killing Joke. However, we do need to keep tracking down clues for that "no pants" thing. Does Bruce Wayne know what shorts are? I know he's a little out of touch, but he's got to be aware that there are more choices than tight pants, speedo, and nothing.
The Fantastic Four
We've seen numerous attempts to turn the Fantastic Four into something that moviegoers would like, and they've all been terrible. Roger Corman's unreleased Fantastic Four movie is at least the wonderful kind of terrible, joining Batman And Robin in the pantheon of Movies That Were Seemingly Designed To Be Drinking Games. The two Fantastic Four films that were made in the mid-2000s reek of a time period when we weren't so much interested in making good superhero films as much as we were just interested in getting them released. "We did Spider-Man, Hulk, and Daredevil. What's left? Fantastic Four? Fuck, OK. Let's do it, y'all."
The latest attempt came out in 2015, and kind of had a cool body horror thing going before it remembered that it actually had to pull itself together to form some sort of plot. On film, the Fantastic Four just don't seem to work, and despite four straight inarguable failures, we're still considering it. But the idea doesn't work not because of how we're developing the characters, but because of when we're choosing to develop these characters. Unless you're setting it in the '60s, the decade when the Fantastic Four were first created, they will remain almost obnoxiously unadaptable.
Spider-Man is about learning to grow up and shoulder your responsibilities, no matter how much you wish you didn't have to. X-Men is about acknowledging our differences and accepting them, because they're great. The Fantastic Four are about how much science can fuck your shit up in the best way. Coming hot off the release of films like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and THEM, which all told us that if something gets hit by science, it will devour mankind, Fantastic Four went the opposite route. "Science ain't so bad," the book said. "It lets you conjure flame, stretch your limbs, turn invisible, or turn you into a rock. OK, that last one is a hard sell, but at least you'll be charming."
Modern audiences, for the most part, don't fear science. Science is great. It helps us live longer and it advances our society. We know that science rules. So someone telling us "No, no. Science IS good" has less of an impact now than it did in 1962, when pop culture science was mostly associated with monster-creating bombs. Set it in the '60s, and you have an interesting atmosphere to play off of. Set it in 2017, and the reaction is "That's real neat, but a billionaire in a robot suit has been solving all of our problems for about a decade. We'll call you, though, when we ... need to reach a really high shelf or something."
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