How "DC Universe: Rebirth" Fulfills Its Promise of Restoring Legacy to DC Comics
I’ll admit it: I fell asleep at midnight last night. I got really close to the debut of Netflix’s Daredevil series, and stayed up as late as my poor brain could take, but then the next thing you know it was 7 a.m. and I had a kid who wanted breakfast.
Early reviews have been extremely positive; sure, everyone’s going to make the same Ben Affleck jokes, but I think a TV series is better venue for the Man Without Fear than a two-hour movie (good gracious, that was a long movie!). Due to his court dealings and his continual fights against similar foes (or just the Kingpin over and over), Daredevil better suited to the episodic format. His roots are in a quantifiable location, and his threat level remains the same. There’s a reason you don’t see Daredevil on the moon fighting Galactus; he’s just not that kind of guy.
His origins are very humble and, radioactive goo aside, very practical. In fact, if you break apart his backstory, you could get a variety of shows and movies out of Matt Murdock, yet none of them would inform all that much on the man he is today. Despite his early years, Matt Murdock is so closely associated with the Frank Miller era that the most important book for new fans to read is still Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. We’re lucky the new TV show seems to be skipping the steps it took to get to be Daredevil and going right for why he’s so cool now. It would be really easy to slow everything down to a step-by-step guide to being the Man Without Fear, but then when would we get to the kicky-punchy parts?
So much time, money and creative effort is spent to bring comic-book superheroes to moving-picture life that it’s almost backward to contemplate how those adapted environments could be translated back into comics form. Thanks to technology, live-action and animated adaptations are finding new ways to convince viewers they’re seeing powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.
And yet, these adaptations only go so far. Movies trade spectacle for (relative) brevity, offering two-plus hours of adventure every two to three years. The reverse is true for television, which is more prolific but often less earth-shattering. Both have to deal with practical considerations such as running time, actor availability, and the streamlining of complicated backstories. Thus, to borrow a phrase from politics, adaptations are often exercises in “the art of the possible.” By comparison, comics have much fewer limitations.
Therefore, comics versions of those adaptations must necessarily limit themselves, even if they only choose to work within some of those real-world limitations. Sometimes this is as simple as telling stories set within the adaptation’s version of continuity. However, sometimes comics are the most practical way to “continue” a well-liked adaptation, and thereby perpetuate its visual and tonal appeal.
What do we want out of a comic-based television series?
At this point in pop-culture history the corporate synergies are so closely aligned, and the fans so plugged in, that we can all come up with various ways to adapt our favorite comics into TV shows or movies. I mean, when I heard about the proposed Gotham drama — lots of Gordon, no Batman, some supervillains — it got me thinking about a half-dozen other DC features that would make passable TV series.
For example …
• Martian Manhunter: that detective’s really an alien shapeshifter with all of Superman’s powers, but he doesn’t know his version of General Zod is also on Earth and looking for him!
• Challengers of the Unknown: living on borrowed time after inexplicably surviving a plane crash, four adventurers solve the world’s weirdest mysteries!
• Adam Strange: it’s Indiana Jones with a jetpack, as an Earth archaeologist finds himself on another planet!
Mimicking comics in more ways than one, Warner Archive is offering a variant cover to its upcoming release of Shazam!: The Complete Series. The standard cover features a photo collage of the series’ main actors (see below), but the variant will have artwork by Jerry Ordway, creator of DC’s well-regarded Power of SHAZAM! series from the late ’90s.
It’s pretty smart marketing, too, because according to Super Hero Hype (who’ve confirmed with Warner Archive), the Ordway cover is only available to those who pre-order the series before its release date on Oct. 23. A lot of older fans have fond memories of watching the live-action show over a bowl of Fruity Pebbles on Saturday mornings, but haven’t seen it since and don’t know if it’s as good or fun as they remember. Younger fans don’t know what it’s like at all. Waiting to hear some buzz by others who’ve seen the new DVDs before spending $34.95 on the set is a reasonable strategy, but the Ordway cover makes it more enticing to go ahead and plunk down that $35 on a blind buy. Fortunately, we have more than a month to make up our minds.
Warner Archive isn’t so cruel as to make this the only way to get the art from Ordway’s cover, though: The Warner Archive podcast has a promotion going where you can get a poster version for free.
[I’ve] pretty much been given free rein on Captain America and Daredevil and all the stuff I’ve written for [Marvel] to do whatever I do because they like what I do. Still, I know what I’m doing. I know the superhero comic has to have a fight in it. I know there has to be a bad guy. I know that at the end of the day, the problem will not be solved by talking about it but will be solved by two people punching each other in the face. Although I have gotten away with letting the bad guys win a lot of the time, which is more true, I think.
David Milch said, when he created Deadwood, that part of Deadwood was wanting to exorcise — I think he worked on Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, and he thought it was bullshit that every week they were solving crimes when in the real world people were always getting away with it. He wanted to do something about crime the way crime really is, where crime is corruption and crime is behind everything. It’s much more about what’s really going on in our country right now, where Bill Clinton deregulates the media and now we have seven companies that basically own America. Sometimes when I’m writing a superhero story I wonder if they really have to punch each other in the face. Is that really going to solve anything? I feel the same way sometimes when I watch episodes of Law & Order. I’m like, “Yeah, right. You found the sex offender and now everything is fine.” TV is big on closure, but I think closure is horseshit in real life. I’m still haunted by stuff I did in my teen years when I think about it too much.
There’s a lot to chew on and pick apart and mull over in Tom Spurgeon’s long, fascinating interview with writer Ed Brubaker on the occasion of the launch of the next installment of his and Sean Phillips’s crime comic Criminal this week, but this is the passage that jumped out to me. I’ve often said that the core idea behind superhero stories is “extraordinary individuals solving problems through violence”; now that I think about it, what sets Brubaker’s Captain America and many of his other superhero comics apart is that the violence committed by their extraordinary individuals tends not to solve much of anything.
Not since Bane broke all the lunatics out of Arkham Asylum has Batman had this eventful a week. Perhaps to avoid the avalanche of news coming out of San Diego next week, DC has spent the past few days announcing a slew of new Batman projects and creative teams. And heck, even Marvel got in on the act, sorta…
I had no idea Mad founder Harvey Kurtzman ever did any work for Sesame Street, but lo and behold animator Michael Sporn has the images to prove it. (via Cartoon Brew, which also has a YouTube video of the finished cartoon)
Did someone tell me that the English producer/director Tupaq Felber is attempting to do a six-part adaptation of Peter Bagge’s Apocalypse Nerd for the BBC and I just conveniently forgot? Egad, I hope not. At any rate, above is the teaser trailer Felber put together. Hopefully the BBC will pick it up tout suite and BBC America (or some other Brit-loving American channel) will bring it stateside soon. (via)
Apparently back in the mid-80s Batman and Robin had to support their crimefighting habits by shilling for a retail store chain. Hey, batmobiles don’t come cheap. No doubt they had an added incentive in the fact that the Joker ran the competing chain. Man, he sure does enjoy gouging customers! (via)
It’s not comics, but I thought I’d share it anyway. The above is Statuesque, a short film written and directed by Neil Gaiman for the Sky1 drama series 10 minute Tales, starring Bill Nighy and Amanda Palmer. (via)
We’ve certainly done our share of review-preview posts over the past several days, but I still have this last bit of business to address. This is the third year I’ve done a ten-and-ten list, so why stop now?
(Click here for last year’s post.)
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The good folks at Flog! found this odd 1970s television ad for Excedrin pain reliever animated by none other than Burne Hogarth, co-founder of the school of Visual Arts, Tarzan artist of renown and author of several how-to books used and referenced by just about every cartoonist on the map.
Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading. Pull up a chair and sit down, won’t you? Our guest this week is Bill Kartalopoulos, who teaches classes about comics and illustration at Parsons, is a contributing editor for Print Magazine, and a comics reviewer for Publishers Weekly. But he’s probably best known as the Programming Coordinator for the SPX convention in Bethesda, MD.
Bill and everyone else has quite a number of books by their bedside table this week, so we’ll get right to it. Be a dear and click on the link below, won’t you?