This is Alan Moore.
He’s responsible for a few comics that you might have heard of: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, John Constantine, etc. Pretty much anything Green Lantern-adjacent that’s toward the weirder end of the Alien Guys spectrum is thanks to him.
He’s also very famously opposed to comics being made into movies at all, and when you’ve seen some of the movies that his work got made into, that’s maybe not an unreasonable position.
It’s an attitude that’s got some adherents out there in the Nerd Realms. I’ve heard plenty of people say some variation of the following: “Batman/Avengers/Persepolis/Sluggy Freelance is perfectly good as it is! Comics are the perfect medium for this story! It doesn’t need to be made into a movie!”
And you know what, they’re absolutely right.
The Avengers did not need to be made into a film franchise. They were fine as comics—heck, I’d even argue that comics are the best medium to tell that kind of story story. So no, this story—whichever comic we’re talking about—did not need to be a film.
The film audience, however, needed this kind of story.
I’ve mentioned how stories are told in the time and place they are because that time and that place has a need for that story.
- Society was shocked and fearful in the wake of World War 2, and so they needed the Lord of the Rings to tell them how pacifism and mercy were the real secret weapons against evil.
- The seventies were disenchanted and run down with Gas Crises and Malaise and Depressing Architecture and Too Much Disco, and they needed Star Wars to tell them that heroism, adventure, and escapism were still possible even if the future that we’d been promised turned out to be rundown and disappointing.
- Victorian London was unsure what to make of all these strange foreigners hanging about now that they were a colonial empire, so they needed Dracula to reassure them that yes, these foreigners will use black magic to prey on your womenfolk and turn them into wicked harlots. (I never said that all the needs that stories filled were good ones, did I?)
So if superhero movies are big right now, that implies that there is a widespread cultural need for an Empowerment Fantasy. Why could that possibly be, I wonder?
It’s almost as if most of us are much worse off than we were ten years ago, or something. It’s as if distrust in our own leaders is high enough that the current election cycle has a very real shot at bringing down one or both of the major political parties, which hasn’t happened since 1854. It’s as if there’s a whole generation that feels like it’s being blamed for a bad economy of which it is the primary victim. It’s as if climatologists are saying that a worldwide slow motion ecological disaster of some kind is now inevitable. It’s as if we feel powerless.
It makes sense that the culture needs stories of people who are powerful but good, who look cool and who can fly or jump out of airplanes or ride motorcycles that drop out of airplanes or who just plain HAVE airplanes, and whose problems can be solved by finding the right person and punching them.
We need to feel not just powerful, but superheroic—just like the seventies needed to feel adventurous, and the fifties needed to feel fantastic, and the prehistoric tribes sitting around a bonfire in the Caucasus needed to feel like the sky and the earth and the weather and the forest weren’t just things, but people, because people can be understood.
Is there some geek smugness hiding in the “It doesn’t need to be a movie” argument? Probably. Geek smugness is a natural consequence of the memory of geek humiliation, but that’s another letter (or this article). It’s also not the point. The movie isn’t being made because of what the comic needs, it’s because of what the audience needs (and can therefore be assumed to be willing to pay for).
It’s like a guy with a truck full of orange juice. He doesn’t deliver orange juice because the juice really wants to be at grocery stores. He delivers it because people want orange juice and the grocery store is the place they are going to go to look for it.
So yeah, Alan (because famous comic book authors now living as reclusive warlocks somewhere in northern England are definitely reading this), you’ve got every right to not like comic book movies. But you, and all the smug nerds who agree with you, can at least understand why they’re a thing.
Yes, some comic book movies have been bad.
Okay, really bad.
Very, very bad in ways that probably feel personally insulting.
But it’s not an insult to the orange juice if some of it gets spilled by the deliveryman. It just means he’s in a hurry, because the customers at the grocery store really want that orange juice.
It Helps Prevent Scurvy,
-The Guy Who Wrote This