A&E » Film

Avenging an endangered artform



Whether your mother likes it or not, comic books are an honourable and longstanding art form — a unique blend of literature and imagery that allows for storytelling techniques no other art form can duplicate. Go find Rebecca Dart's comic RabbitHead for an easy example — no movie or written story could tell that tale as cohesively.

Comic book geeks have been around for so long (over half a century) that the joys of reading comic books in bed late at night when you are supposed to be asleep have been passed the same way other evolutionary traits are. Over the past two decades, however, new CGI technology has allowed these popular comic book stories to be told without the pesky requirement that you enjoy reading, and a new breed of geek has emerged: the comic book movie geek.

For most of the '80s the best comic book movie ever made was Howard the Duck (sorry, Superman). Then Tim Burton made Batman and things started to change. Some of the subsequent, non-Burton Batman flicks ought to have been a warning that in the wrong hands these sacred characters could be misused, abused even, but once Sam Raimi's Spider-Man hit big the floodgates opened.

Today's CGI special effects wizardry and a constant audience hunger for action films means every bush-league character in the Marvel and DC universe is getting their own flick (including effing Ant-Man).

Because of this, there are millions of people out there that have never smelled the four-colour goodness of a freshly cracked comic book but who will all flock to see the opening of Avengers: Age of Ultron this weekend. These are the comic book movie geeks and I'm sure many of them are nice people.

But the argument can be made that comic book movies will eventually kill off actual comic books. The films are more profitable, require less commitment (no waiting for the next issue each month) and because the fan base is largely uninformed about the history of each character, it gives companies like Marvel and DC new opportunities to revise and recycle old stories (without paying the original creators). The possibility exists that these movies will drive more kids to read comic books, but in all probability it will be the exact opposite.

Stop into your local comic book store (Whistler used to have one in the '90s!) and there are nearly as many movie-franchise-branded action figures, lunch kits and toys as there are comic books. The films are replacing the source material and in the process damaging a historical and unique art form.

Of course, all this is just old man lamenting that's neither here nor there because summer blockbuster season officially starts this weekend with Avengers: Age of Ultron opening in both 3D and Normal-D (and Double-D if you're a fan of Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow) at the Whistler Village 8. Director Joss Whedon's first Avengers made over half a billion dollars so he is back at the helm for this one (but don't call it Avengers 2 because market research shows people are fatigued with sequels).

Unlike everyone else, I found the first Avengers confusing and lacking substance and this one is even worse. Which isn't to say it isn't entertaining (Explosions! Spectacle! Tight leather!) but it's hardly memorable and I can almost see the studio's notes on screen: "Make it darker, but still funny. And of course action-packed."

One of the pitfalls with putting a baker's half-dozen superheroes in the same film is how to make them all seem like real characters with the limited time you have in between action set-pieces. Do I care that the Hulk can't have children? No. Should I? Is that considered character depth now? He's the Hulk, he transforms into a savage bulk of testosterone and destruction when you piss him off. How long would his kids last, really?

Avengers 2 is better than the Transformers sequels but not as good as the first Avengers, (which I still don't think was all that good). Go see it though because nothing else is opening this week. Or stay home and encourage peace and harmony between traditional comic book geeks and comic book movie geeks via these downloads of the week: Ghost World, A History of Violence, Road to Perdition, Oldboy (the Korean one), American Splendor and of course, the best comic book movie yet, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. That is the perfect middle ground.

Once you're done all those, go buy a comic book, read it, and give it to a kid. Excelsior!