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Comics-based movies: Breaking ‘the book was better’ rule

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“Demon in a Bottle” will probably be better since well, you know…

Are you getting excited? New teasers and trailers are being released almost every day now. The countdown to Summer Movie Season is officially on, and the big blockbusters adapting comics are looking promising. Iron Man 3 has an armada of armors flying around; can’t really go wrong there. The Wolverine has ninjas as far as the eye can see. And the bearded and brooding Man of Steel might even end up being good. Throw in a little Kick-Ass 2 and RED 2, sprinkle with R.I.P.D. and 300: Rise of an Empire, and top it off with 2 Guns, and you’ve got yourself one fun summer.

While we still get clunkers, the ratio of good to suck has definitely improved. It used to be that the old chestnut response to a movie adapted from a novel could be more often than not applied to movies adapted from comics: The book was better. And it’s often still true. But there are times when the movies do it better than comics, and while that’s great for the filmmakers and audiences, in a way it’s an indictment on the comics-makers.

Comics offer more boundless creativity than almost any medium. With comics, there’s no studio executive, no creation-by-committee made up of shareholders and board members with less experience creating and telling stories than their companies’ interns. It’s why Tony Stark being an alcoholic doesn’t fly with Disney and was removed from Iron Man 3. Comics can still include collaboration and compromise but they can just as easily be the result of a single voice. Even with the most heavy-handed editorially mandated comics, they’re still created by a fraction of people needed to make a Hollywood movie. Comics are generally more spontaneous, imaginative and clever than most major studio movies. But sometimes, Hollywood gets the jump on comics.

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Conversing on Comics with Warren Ellis

One of the strongest voices in comics over the past 20 years has been Warren Ellis, a write whose impressive body of work ranges from Next Wave: Agents of H.A.T.E. and Transmetropolitan to Global Frequency and Planetary to Fell and FreakAngels. In 2012, however, that voice was largely absent from the medium. For the past few years, Ellis has split his time at his time between writing comics and, increasingly, prose novels such as 2008’s Crooked Little Vein and commentating on society and culture for magazines like Wired and Vice. On Tuesday, Ellis’ second prose novel Gun Machine was released by Mulholland Books, combining his fascination with the layered history of cities with crime noir. I reached out to Warren on Tuesday and we corresponded by email to discuss the future of his career, of comics, and his place in it all.

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