Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hitting the nail

So, I recently tripped over a couple of articles on a movie blog, one called 5 Comic Book Adaptations That Got It Just So Wrong and one called 5 Comic Book Adaptations That Got It Just So Right. You can find these articles on your own if you like, but I wouldn't waste a lot of time looking for the, since they should have just been combined into a single essay titled Some Superhero Movies I Liked and Didn't Like for a Variety of Reasons that you could then skip at your convenience.

In neither article does the author ever give us a clear sense of what just so right and just so wrong actually mean. Some of the so wrong movies deviate from what he considers the core concepts of the character; but so do some of the so right ones. His responses to the various movies and television shows are so idiosyncratic that the essays become even less useful than a typical review and are all the more disappointing because of the promise they held out for some greater meaning than a simple thumbs up or thumbs down.  There's no core thesis to be found. (Is my English composition teacher showing?)

To balance the ecosystem of the comixweblogosphere, I am going to offer my Superhero Comic Book Adaptation That Got It Right, and back it up.

First of all, to define terms: got it right means a movie closely matched the spirit and sensibility of the source material, visually, narratively, and thematically. It does not mean a slavish devotion to continuity or canon, but rather the evocation of the same sort of emotional response in the viewer of the movie that a reader of the comic would have.

In my mind, the movie that has succeeded best at this specific objective is...

Now, I know this 1984 Salkind spin-off doesn't get a lot of love (even though it gave us the wonderful Helen Slater), and I'm not arguing that it is the best superhero movie ever or even that it is a good movie. What I am saying is that this is the most faithful translation of a comic's style and mood from page to screen.

You see, in the early eighties, The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl was being written by Paul Kupperberg and illustrated by Carmine Infantino. Kupperberg was a former fanzine publisher who became a DC stalwart in the Julie Schwartz days; his stories were typical of Bronze Age DC: not as goofy as Silver stories, overly earnest in their "relevance," and about as hip as Happy Days. Infantino, after being removed as Publisher of DC, was back to work as an artist, replacing his earlier delicate style with lines that embodied the ideas of brio and gusto and elan. Here's an example of their collaboration, from a DC promotional comic:

"Halston I'm not, Kara..." Oh, Kupperberg, you wag!

Here are some more samples from  the comic:

I got news for you, babydoll - this ain't Watchmen. These comics are big, they're bright, they're bold - they're comic book-y

And they comprised the model for the movie that came out a year or so later. Here's the trailer from the movie, which matches my memory pretty closely (except I am sure there was a much higher ratio of Peter O'Toole). I think you can see where the filmmakers took their cues:

As my cinematic namesake would say, am I wrong? Sure, they changed a lot of stuff - that giant robot became a piece of construction equipment -  but the female antagonists, the forced humor, the awkward romantic element, and the whole tone and timbre are spot on. I mean, Faye Dunaway even looks like she was drawn by Carmine Infantino.

I will stand by this assertion:  over 30 years ago, Supergirl was the movie that got it right.

Of course, the greatest single performance to get it right occurred 18 years later, but that's another post.


  1. You almost make me want to watch the movie, which I've never seen. I always feel a little bad when an actor's great and the movie isn't, because from the bits I've seen, there's nothing wrong with Slater's Supergirl.

  2. The movie is a bit of a hot mess, but there's a lot of wonderful bits and pieces to be found. Just like a lot of comics, I guess.