Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Superhero Adaptations

At the moment there appears to be an almost constant flow of material from comic books to film, television and computer gaming. Adaptations can be very appealing to audiences with “their mixture of repetition and difference, of familiarity and novelty.” (Hutcheon 2006: 114) The film adaptations of novels are often subjected to very negative comments that take a “profoundly moralistic” tone, with a suggestion that the adaptation is unworthy and a betrayal of the viewer’s feelings for the text. (Stam 2000: 54) This also happens with comic book films, especially as there are multiple aspects of fidelity to deal with. With a book adaptation there is some flexibility in elements such as a character’s appearance because textual descriptions can be interpreted in different ways. However for comic books the illustrated panels are a key part of the work, defining in a very concrete manner what things should look like. This visual fidelity is on top of the usual issues of narrative fidelity. In addition many of the most successful comics are long running epic narratives, with characters such as Superman, Batman and Spiderman in continuous monthly publication for decades. These characters often appear in several comics each month, which do not necessarily combine into one meta-narrative. When it comes to creating a film, this means there are multiple narratives, as well as different versions of the same narrative, and characters and the creators have to make choices over which one is used.
Unfortunately the adaptation of graphic novels which are frequently self-contained narratives is equally problematic.

Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was heavily changed when adapted into a film. The role of Allan Quatermain was heavily expanded, to make greater use of Sean Connery. In the graphic novels he is a self-interested and pragmatic character and a sidekick to the leader of the League Mina Murray. To fit more with Connery’s star persona Quatermain has become the heroic leader of the League, sidelining Mina to a secondary role. In addition a father-and-son narrative with Quatermain and Tom Sawyer has been inserted which bulks out Connery’s role further but adds a very different spin to the story. This kind of narrative is common in blockbusters, but not necessarily so common in independent comics, and becomes out of place. In addition it required the insertion of an appropriate character to perform this function, Tom Sawyer, who it appears was picked to appeal to American audiences.

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