These are boom times for the humble comic book hero. This year’s Avengers Endgame saw the culmination of over a decade of huge comic books movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Two years ago the eagerly awaited Justice League movie came and went, leaving a #ReleasetheSnyderCut hole in the Twittersphere, and only a few months ago Hangover director Todd Phillips shone a dark light on the origins of The Joker with a film that is garnering Oscar buzz. It’s hard to remember a month without a comic book movie release, or a first look at a highly anticipated new chapter.
It comes as no surprise then that the everlasting onslaught of comic book properties is having a distinct effect on the rest of popular culture. With a wide expanse of media covering the latest adventures of our heroes, barely a day goes by when we do not encounter someone or something which began life in the pages of comic books.
Here’s how comic book heroes have taken over the world.
Movies & TV
Comic book movies make up a huge part of the total box office haul year after year. New projects which began as comic books are inspiring countless adaptations on a monthly basis. Currently HBO’s Watchmen TV series has done an amazing job of continuing the story as created by the mighty Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Next year Netflix will finally bring Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez’s Locke & Key to the small screen. These are two relatively high profile adaptations with budgets to prove we’re a long way from the days of this…
The exponential growth in the market for comic book movies has seen many adaptations from lesser known properties. Indeed, it is often a surprise to some that these films were born on the page. The Kingsman films, Bong Joon-Ho’s outstanding Snowpiercer and Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow all began in comic book form, as did the relatively more well known likes of Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, Sin City and the Men in Black series. However, one film took a more subversive look at comic book culture and its effect on society.
Most people know James Gunn from massive MCU hits Guardians of the Galaxy, and the forthcoming DCEU Suicide Squad film, however one of his earlier films told a far darker and more referential story. Super, from 2011, was written and directed by Gunn and starred Office favourite Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page in a wonderful story of dysfunction and disaster unlike anything that had come before. It’s well worth checking out if you’re tired of superheroes saving the day.
Computer games came of age in the earlys ’80s, just as the Superman effect was still glowing in the cinematic sky. Pixelated adaptations of most of the major DC and Marvel characters were rife on 8 and 16-bit machines, with even the humble Speccy getting the well-regarded Questprobe series, which were text adventures featuring The Hulk, Spider-Man and more regonisable heroes.
As graphics became more advanced we started to see the comic book form being used elsewhere, for new properties.
Back in 1995 SEGA released Comix Zone, a fairly standard Beat-em up which used the comic book style to great effect. While little more than a gimmick, it did provide a singular experience. Take a look at the game in action.
A few years, and a couple of generations of console, later came XIII from Ubisoft. Itself an adaptation of the ’80s comic book series from writer Jean Van Hamme and artist William Vance, the cel-shaded look and graphical elements (such as the paneled action shot below) threw gamers into a new, yet familiar world. Games such as Jet Set Radio would also use the cel-shaded visuals to great effect.
Just take a look at this game announcement trailer to see how far into the public sphere comic books have traveled.
Jack Hammer – The hero of online slots –
Finally we come to online games, and there are hundreds based on comic books all over the internet. What we’re also seeing is a rise in games which use the comic book style to great effect, such as Jack Hammer, and the pulp fiction influence is easy to spot, and makes for a very fun experience.
Alex Ross’s historic painting tell us all we need to know about how powerful comic book images can be. And it’s no surprise that the comic book form is used to communicate in this way. Political cartoons go back as far as the printed page, and recent examples have only taken this further.
Exhibit A… Barack Obama: The Comic Book.
Even political ads have used the comic book style to appeal to voters… If you’re interested in finding out more, we can highly recommend Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. It is the definitive work on how comics function, and why we are so drawn to them.
Header photo by Colin Hart.