Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cinema Idols

Backing up a bit to SuperBowl Sunday once again, I do want to say a few things about a particular subset of ads: trailers for comic book movies. Not that I have anything particularly insightful in the way of commentary, but it’s my blog and it’s Wednesday and I’m pretty stoked to talk about something other than work.

I’ll start with Cowboys and Aliens, which the average NFL Championship watcher might not realize is an adaptation of a graphic novel. And yet it totally is! Granted, it’s a pretty obscure graphic novel that came out about eight years ago. So obscure, in fact, that despite watching the game at my buddy’s house amongst a set of friends who are the same folks with whom I have constructed multi-year roleplaying campaigns and attended out-of-state comic book conventions and so on, I was the only one there who knew the source material even existed. (And of course I had to awkwardly shoehorn that knowledge into conversation to remind everyone who the alpha-geek is.) The graphic novel is thoroughly mediocre, and the only reason I own it is because my local comic book store was literally giving away copies for free one week when I went to pick up the titles I was regularly following. The reason the shop had a metric ton of the graphic novels to give away is because of a certain strange marketing logic on the part of the creators: in the heady, early days of the 21st century when movie studios started snatching up comic book properties left and right there was a certain school of thought which believed that it wasn’t just the inherent quality (or capacity for nostalgia or simple name recognition or whatever) of superheroes and other comics characters which made them so ripe for development deals, but rather the fact that the comic book medium itself conveys ideas in a Hollywood-friendly way (given the similarity between sequential art in comics and storyboarding for movies) and can speed up the pitch process. Thus a young, ambitious dreamer could type out a spec screenplay and hope to get it in front of the right producer or director or other mover/shaker and hope that it might catch that person’s attention and go through the traditional process of becoming a studio film OR the same young, ambitious dreamer could convert the same screenplay into a graphic novel by finding a passable artist to give it a visual rendering, and then self-publish the graphic novel and put it out there in the comics market. Which actually ends up having two benefits over the traditional slog: now the spec screenplay that a bigwig might read and greenlight has the extra elements of character design and even shot composition right there on the page, and if a bunch of kids buy the graphic novel and love it, it’s already got buzz and a built-in fanbase for the inevitable “soon to be a major motion picture!” ad campaign.

All of which is well and good except for a couple of minor things, like the fact that really great comics artists don’t just fall out of the sky every day. And the storytelling demands and restrictions (and rewards and opportunities) of the comics medium are similar to movies with storyboard antecedents, but not identical. And it’s not like all comics fans are idiots who will latch onto and love any old crap you squarebind and put on the new releases racks. And in fact many comics fans can spot a blatant “this is an attempt to get a movie made!” pretty quickly and might actually be resentful of someone making comics not for love of comics, but in hopes that the inferior medium will be a stepping stone to greater things. (Comic book fans can be thin-skinned and defensive.) So yeah, Cowboys and Aliens did not exactly blow the comics world’s collective mind. But goldurnit and dadgummit if the scheme didn’t pan out and turn into a real movie eventually. A real movie, I might add, for which the trailer bears very little resemblance to the book I dimly remember reading because it was free. But on the up side, where the graphic novel was mediocre and forgettable, the trailer at least looked like proper high-adrenaline spectacle with a little something for everyone, including lasers and explosions for the boys, Daniel Craig for the ladies, and Harrison Ford for everyone who still needs to get the taste of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull out of their mouths.

Meanwhile, we also got to see trailers for Thor and Captain America. I’ve been high on the Thor movie almost since I heard it was definitely going into production; less so on Cap, mainly because of greater affection for the characters and concepts in the former (not like versus dislike, just like a lot versus like all right). At this point I’ll at least try to attend both movies, and look forward to both. Fortunately they will be hitting theaters at opposite ends of the summer, so it’s not as thought seeing Thor one week would lead to inevitable letdown in seeing Cap the next.

I admit I was somewhat saddened that there was no new Green Lantern trailer for the SuperBowl, but I guess the calculus for buying air time is altered whether you’re talking about a real premier or a second go. The Green Lantern movie comes out in the middle of the summer blockbuster season, a single DC offering between Marvel’s pair of future Avengers. (That may be the best reason of all to see the Captain America movie, by the by, because it will end up factoring into the Avengers movie coming in 2012 directed by Joss Whedon and bringing together Thor and Cap and Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man all in the same epic, but that’s really an entire blog post or three for another time.) My main hope for a new GL trailer was that I might get a chance to see the final CGI version of Rot Lop Fan.

I speak English but that name makes no sense to me!
A couple weeks ago in this space I was ragging a bit on Alan Moore and how his fanatical devotion to deconstructing superhero tropes in Top Ten was testing the limits of my love for his work, so let me counter that with some pure gushing. Moore used to write for DC Comics, and not always churning out multi-part epics or years-long redefinitions of characters. Sometimes he did silly little one-offs when the publishers needed backup stories or filler pieces or whathaveyou. One of these was a story about the recruiting of an alien Green Lantern, and involved Moore riffing on the idea that it’s all well and good to have a power ring which can do anything, including automatically translating spoken language into alien tongues, but there still might be limits to communication when one alien culture totally lacks the frame of reference for certain concepts. Hence Rot Lop Fan, a humanoid albino froglike creature with no eyes who lives in the Obsidian Deeps (an interstellar equivalent of a sentient blind cavefish, then) who possesses the courage and will to become a member of the Green Lantern Corps except for one small detail: with no visual sensory organs, as part of an entire culture similarly ignorant of phenomena like color and light, Rot Lop Fan lacks the ability to comprehend certain ideas. Like “green”. Or “lanterns”. So really just a wacky way of playing with the meaning of “Green Lantern” and the resolution of the story is cute, and it’s always been a personal favorite of mine. Anyway, I have seen on teh interwebs some grainy footage of rough cuts from the Green Lantern movie which indicate beyond a doubt that Rot Lop Fan is totally going to appear. (And get his own action figure!) So I just wanted to have some official, nationally televised confirmation of that. Guess I’ll have to wait for June.

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