The comic crusade: Recent influx of superhero-inspired films has spread comic book culture
With movie theaters across the country being hit back-to-back with big studio films based on characters and stories from DC Comics and Marvel, larger swaths of people are becoming fans of comic book lore.
With the expansive universes these companies boast, it can be daunting for those who don’t know anything about the fiction to immerse themselves in it. But new movies are making it easier for people to take to the graphic novel industry.
During the last 15 years, approximately 100 films – both animated and live-action – have been based off of comics. Between Marvel, DC and other large studios, there are currently more than 40 comic book films set to be released over the next five years.
Emil Novak, owner of Queen City Bookstore on Main Street near South Campus, a local comic book store, said the recent movies are perfect for getting to know the different universes.
“Watching the narrative and watching the cliffhanger [of Marvel films], the story does make sense even if you don’t know the background – all you have to do is follow them,” Novak said. “It’s bringing people back into the hobby in general, whatever they choose as their favorite way to enjoy the hobby, whether in monthly comics or the graphic novel.”
Kelly Camacho, president of Student Association club UB Comics, said that while the adaptations of these films on the big screens and on TV are great for getting people involved, they also make comic books seem limited and don’t tell the full story of the characters.
“What is limiting about comic book-based movies is that these movies are primarily superhero movies, making comic books seem limited, while in reality comic books are diverse in characters, topics, and stories,” Camacho said.
Camacho cites Locke and Key, Saga and The Wicked and The Divine as popular comic books that are not superhero comic books, but still “take the comic book community by storm.”
Marvel has set the standard for inner-universe comic book movies, headlined by the financial success of The Avengers films that feature characters like Ironman, Captain America and the Hulk. When Marvel announced its upcoming movies, it created more interest in the comic books, from the Inhumans, a response to Fox’s buy-out of the X-Men brand, to Doctor Strange.
“DC [Comics] has definitely dropped the eight ball,” Novak said. “Comic movies are hot right now and they’re barely getting anything out.”
Unlike Marvel, DC doesn’t have an ark series in the works yet, so a trip into the superhero archive would be the only viable option in the DC universe.
One of the biggest issues that come when comparing the universes of DC and Marvel is the fact that Marvel’s universe is much more cohesive than DC’s. That’s why Marvel was able to put together The Avengers and all of the accompanying movies while DC is just starting to put together its universe with the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice film.
But what DC lacks in cohesiveness, it makes up for in quality of character. DC has arguably the two most iconic heroes in Batman and Superman.
Ironically, DC chose to have these heroes fight each other instead of joining forces like in the Marvel universe. They are also using the Batman and Superman film to introduce Wonder Woman and set up a Justice League film.
This could signal that DC has gathered itself and is ready to go up against Marvel.
But David Schmid, an English professor, said these companies might face what is called “superhero saturation.”
Superhero saturation can, from an economic standpoint, be understood in terms of supply and demand – if the market is oversupplied with product, it will lose its value and the demand will fall.
“Sooner or later the market is going to be flooded and that could have negative consequences for the comic book industry,” Schmid said.
Gabriel Cadalzo, a junior media study major, said that while these studios are drumming out films, now is not the best time to get into the comic book hobby.
“Next year would be a better time for someone to get into Marvel comics because they’re in the midst of rolling out an eight-issue arc series called Secret Wars, which will be giving most of the Marvel characters a new start,” Cadalzo said.
Schmid also said both the DC and Marvel universes suffer from lack of demographic representation, a common accusation in comic books and film. Some fans on the internet were upset over the choice of Michael B. Jordan, a black actor, to play the Human Torch in the latest Fantastic Four film. This lack of demographic representation hasn’t done much to slow the success of these films, though.
“With some exceptions, the Marvel and DC universes are overwhelmingly straight, white, male and ableist, and I don't think either Marvel or DC are doing enough to diversify their respective universes,” Schmid said. “In that respect, the superhero boom is as limited as much of American pop culture as a whole.”
As pop culture itself has gone on to almost collapse into its own vanity, the saturation of the hero seems to have a long way to go as the public has only shown more interest.
“The hero,” Schmid said, “speaks to aspects of our culture that are largely negative: our tendency to expect magical resolutions to complex problems, our tendency to assume that violence rather than diplomacy is the best solution to any problem and our tendency to celebrate individualism over community.”
Amplified by increasing social issues, these movies may theoretically draw bigger crowds and push more people into the comic book hobby.
Comic book fans say what the movies may lack in diversity and character development, comic books make up for – which is what initially made them popular and is making them popular once again. Fans also said the movies are only small tastes of what the comics actually are: complex and full of depth.
Kenneth Kashif Thomas is the arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com