Friday, December 26, 2008

Pondering Gaiman's Law of Superhero Films

Back in May I posted,

Had a conversation with Paul Levitz the other day about Gaiman's Law of Superhero Movies*, which is: the closer the film is to the look and feel of what people like about the comic, the more successful it is (which is something that Warners tends singularly to miss, and Marvel tends singularly to get right) and the conversation went over to Watchmen, which had Paul explaining to me that the film is obsessive about how close it is to the comic, and me going "But they've changed the costumes. What about Nite Owl?" It'll be interesting to see whether it works or not...

And I wound up pondering that when I noticed that Frank Miller's The Spirit film had racked up a sad little 15% fresh over at Rotten Tomatoes.

The impression I get with Watchmen is that, with whatever changes they've made, and whether or not it works as an adaptation, if they manage to get it released it will do just fine, because there's a tremendous amount of attention that's gone into getting it as close as they can in a movie to the look and feel of Watchmen the comic.

There may be exceptions to Gaiman's law of comic-book inspired movies, but it's definitely the way to bet. The films that look and feel like what people liked about the original comic succeed. The ones that move away from that tend to have a rough time to the degree that they move away from it.

(It doesn't say anything about the quality of the film in question, I should point out. You could make a film you called Batman, in which Batman's costume is pink and green and he's a lawyer who works all day and into the early evening to save a small  health-food franchise from being taken over by a big conglomerate, and at night he goes on a succession of dates with odd people... it might be a wonderful, amusing, strange film, but what people know they want in a Batman film is a Bat-costume and crime-fighting and evil villains and night and Bruce Wayne and the rest of it, and it would be a very bad Batman film and it would fail.)

(And for that matter it doesn't seem to matter if people have read the comics or not. If you get what makes the character work, if you get what people like about it in its platonic ideal, you have a successful movie -- Iron Man being a lovely case in point.)

Which, I suspect, is why Sin City and 300 worked. They were like having the comics happening up on the screen. The thing that people liked about it was there. With The Spirit, what the reader responded to is Eisner's lightness of touch and mastery of story, his humour and his humanity -- and a world that looks like Eisner drew it.  The moment that it's obvious that that isn't there it almost doesn't matter what is there instead. According to Gaiman's Law, the more Sin City looked and felt like what people like about Frank Miller's work on Sin City, the more successful it was going to be with audiences, but the more The Spirit feels like Sin City and not like Will Eisner's The Spirit, the less successful it's going to be.

Ah well.

This is the link to the Will Eisner The Best of the Spirit collection that I did the introduction to. It's a wonderful way to start to discover The Spirit. Go and read it...


And here's another video from the talk I gave and interview I did with Henry Jenkins (a man my daughter Holly describes, with awe in her voice, as "The Dude...") at MIT earlier this year. J. Michael Straczynski is going to be the next Julie Schwartz lecturer. Find out about it at Henry's Blog:

*Not to be confused with Gaiman's Law Of Being An Author, which states that on getting your first published copy of anything, and opening it to the bit you did, you'll see a typo.

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