I've begun to notice a curious divide when it comes to the geek franchises – and it may be a flight of fancy or pure ignorance on my part. But sitting on the edge of summer with so little to talk about leaves me no choice but to explore it, and try to convince you to read it. I apologize.
Geekdom is notorious for how eagerly it borrows and pillages from every single genre. Everything from Greek mythology to Unforgiven has been borrowed and reworked – sometimes into iconic brilliance such as Superman or Wonder Woman, or into pulpy fun like Mark Millar's Old Man Logan. Discovering what inspired Star Wars, Blade Runner, or Dune is a favorite topic of discussion for the hardcore geek. Scholars hold conferences on the influences of Joss Whedon. It's what keeps the whole machine of sci-fi, video games, and comic books ticking.
Doesn't it feel like we've stalled out on that? Last week, I wrote very optimistically about a renaissance of sci-fi and while I genuinely believe that can happen, I wonder if inspiration can spring from watching Marvel and DC the way it has from reading them.
There are recent movies that suggest that it can. We finally had original superpower stories with Hancock and Push. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor draw on comic books and video games for their manic filmmaking, using the immortality of Batman and Super Mario Bros as a perfectly good reason to keep Chev Chelios around. The world of Shoot 'Em Up seemed ripped from the pages of Vertigo, but wasn't. I want to believe that it's the first
first creative stirrings of a generation raised on a frenetic diet of comics, video games, and Star Wars. Why wouldn't that pop culture concoction spawn some original superpowered stories?
However, I worry that the trend towards adapting and franchising everything is that we're creating a lot of weirdly sterile worlds. As much as I enjoy the recent Marvel and DC adaptations, only one or two have managed to work in those cinematic and mythological references. They're so busy referencing the Marvel and DC Universe that they're devoid of the touchstones that inspired them.
It's difficult to explain what I mean (and I will surely be flamed in the comments for my failure) but the best I can do is to argue that a Punisher or Wolverine movie shouldn't just be loyal to the panels, but it should feel like Death Wish or Fistful of Dollars. You should recognize the cinematic origins of those characters when you watch their movies, just as you do when you read their comic books. Don't get me wrong – I don't want comic book and sci-fi films to simply rip-off a Charles Bronson flick and call it a day. But there's something very inorganic about the way they've been done so far. They are stressed to be Comic Book Characters that sprang unaided from the head of Stan Lee instead of characters who have a richer pedigree of mythology, detective pulp, and Westerns.
Perhaps this is inevitable. When you adapt something that is itself an adaptation of Hercules or Samson, perhaps the result is as flat as a comic panel. There's nothing new under the sun, and there's only 36 dramatic situations to run with. Maybe they do reach a dead end even as you're trying to spin a "new" onscreen universe.
Frankly, I don't think so. But I do think it's a matter of recognizing and acknowledging where your universe comes from. Whedon does this a lot whether he's dealing with vampire slayers or Browncoats, and his work is no poorer for it, neither is Quentin Tarantino's. Crank revels in its video game unreality and can't stop reminding you of its Nintendo heritage. Heck, even Pirates of the Caribbean didn't flinch away from nodding to Sergio Leone.
So why does Marvel and DC flinch away from it, and pretend their universes exist in a vacuum? Nothing exists in a vacuum, after all ... and if you don't remember where you came from, how will you ever encourage others to follow where you're going?