Alan Moore, the man who created Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Killing Joke, and a truly superb run of Swamp Thing did a recent interview with Deadline where he took the steamiest dump on comics and comic book movies.
I am a huge comic fan, but even I have to admit this bloody genius made some pretty interesting arguments and ones worth diving into!
“They have blighted cinema, and also blighted culture to a degree”
Moore opens with addressing how he hasn’t seen a single comic book movie since the release of the first Tim Burton Batman film back in 1989. He mentions how comicbooks themselves are no longer independent of their film interpretations and they’ve completely ruined the industry.
Alright, I don’t disagree totally about the state of film in general. There’s no doubt that comic book movies seem to have completely taken over the medium- when it comes to movie theaters.
With raising ticket prices, the addition of streaming, and easy access to media on the internet, the thought of investing in a theater ticket has become less popular as time has gone by. Who wants to pay full price (when over twenty dollars) to see a film that you really wouldn’t mind waiting for when it comes out digitally? A wait which, by the way, has gotten much shorter since I was a kid back in the 90s.
Comic book movies do have that hype around them and that elevated energy that makes you want to enjoy the spectacle in theaters; even at the cost of that expensive stub! I don’t think its so much the fault of comic book films but rather the shift in theater culture/streaming that has changed what we’re willing to go see in theaters.
We also have to acknowledge that visual mediums are evolving. Television used to be the rat-faced ugly sibling of the silver screen, but in recent years has catapulted into the new star of storytelling. With bulk releases online creators have no formats to play with; they can release a five episode miniseries which essentially serves as a five-part film- they even have the budget these days to compete!
Therefore, film/television is fine even with the hero genre taking over; what has changed is where we want to engage those diverse and original stories.
“Several years ago I said I thought it was a really worrying sign, that hundreds of thousands of adults were queuing up to see characters that were created 50 years ago to entertain 12-year-old boys. that seemed to speak to some kind of longing to escape from the complexities of the modern world, and go back to a nostalgic, remembered childhood. That seemed dangerous, it was infantilizing the population.”
Oh boy. This is the part that did have me reflecting. I can’t help but agree with Mr. Moore to some degree.
Specifially, I’m referring to the appeal of comic films in modern culture and how they are an expression of a longing to escape the complexities of the world; I agree with him! I think that’s certainly it! However, today’s complexities are no more complicated than those of the decades before us. Adulthood by nature is challenging and grownups, each in their own way, try and find a means to escape those pressures and return to times when things were simpler; adults still clinging to sports fandom, some adults’ reasoning for having children in the first place is to bring back that energy into life, and yes, diving deeper into comic book fandom and films.
This becomes a conversation much like, “which came first- the chicken or the egg?” Was it comic book films that infantalized the the population or was the population already infantalized giving way for the rise of comic book films?
“I have no interest in superheroes, they were a thing that was invented in the late 1930s for children, and they are perfectly good as children’s entertainment. But if you try to make them for the adult world then I think it becomes kind of grotesque.”
Yes, comic superheroes were invented for children and a means to introduce a moral compass/moral awareness in them. Your protagonists/heroes are fairly two dimensional characters who have no qualms or gray area with right or wrong thus making them easy markers to follow as examples for doing the right thing.
However, not all comic book characters are born of the same ilk. I of course have to refer to my favorite propery, The X-Men. The roster of heroes are far from two dimensional and serve as great allegory for bigotry, racism, homophobia, transphobia, antisemitism, and all things that fall under the umbrella of “other.”
The counter argument would be that if and adult wants to enage material on these subjects then they should certainly be able to find material that faces them head on without the colorful costumes and super villains; sure?
Yet what are stories, for any age, other than allegories to communicate something more profound of the human experience?
The issue here is not superheroes or their place in pop culture, but rather a lack of balance and investing to deeply into these icons of fiction. Moore is correct; comics and comic films can very much exemplify the simplification of responses to our problems which we are desperate for in a nuanced existence. However, it is our responsiblity to distinguish reality from fiction.
I will admit for a medium that is about highlighting heroics and doing the right thing, the rise of these properties coincides hauntingly with a time in our culture where we seem to have completely blurred the line of right and wrong, fact and fiction, power or goodness..
Good for us or not, it seems that the comic film industry is nowhere near dying down. If there’s anything I can take away from personally from Moore’s words is that I will continue to be more cognizant of the material I’m taking in. At the same time I am more appreciative of creators utilzing the genre to tell more nuanced tales that reflect the reality of our world- just like Alan Moore did himself when he created the masterpiece that brought him to fame in the first place.