Opinion Time: Why Television is the Best Medium for Comic Book Adaptation

For the past ten years we have seen more films based of off comic books than we have ever seen before.  This is great! I love most of the films that come out and I will probably see any film based on a comic as long as it looks good enough.  However, there is a big flaw in film adaptation.  Film limits the ways we can tell certain stories and it inevitably boils down to the same formula over and over. Most of the time spent in a big Hollywood blockbuster needs to be spent on really cool looking action scenes and moving a plot forward at a steady pace so as not to bore the audience.  This is great and all, but we also need time for character development.  Yes, many of these things have done that well.  They have brought most of the correct elements together, but there is always something missing.  Sure, the characters are fleshed out perfectly, but you have an overly long film with very little action and the character has barely been in his or her costume.  We see these problems in films such as The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  You can tell they were trying to make it more about the person behind the mask than the the mask itself.  However, this can be boring.  But on the other end of the spectrum, you will have thin relationships and characters as well as thin plotting and characters are only a means to an end when it comes to the plot.  But hey, they action throughout is spectacular or overly long.  This is what is known as “Transformers syndrome”.

While some films are great and do not fall into either of these categories, we have to realize comics have so much potential. Limiting your big bad to only 2 hours and even then sprinkling underlings in there, makes it hard to feel the tension throughout.  And in a film series it is hard to bring up the exact same villain without seeing it as lazy.  And it always seems like the big bad has to be killed or die at the end of a film.  There is never any chance of having fun with them again.

This is where television comes in.  Television is a medium that is very similar to comic books.  It is split up into story arcs that last several episodes or sometimes a whole season, just like comic books.  Television also allows us to get into a characters head.  We can spend a whole 44 minutes on the back story of a certain character interrupting the overall plot of the season but it informs the characters actions throughout that season.  Episodes of television shows also come out more often than that of films.   Even if you have a 22 episode season of a television show, all you have to do is wait three or four months for the next season.  However, in film you have to wait the minimum for 2 years for a new one (with the character you enjoy) to come out.

Television also allows for the big bad to have a slow burn.  This can be done in film, but people want to see the villain more than the hero sometimes.  And if he is not meant to be a mysterious figure then the slow burn hurts the character.  It also means less development for them and there motivation is boiled down to simple expository dialogue.  Villains of the size and caliber of those in comic books deserve to be developed beyond what we see in films.  In film you could technically have the same villain in multiple movies but then people get tired of them after a while. Look at Malcolm Merlyn from Arrow versus Talia Al Ghul from The Dark Knight Rises.   Merlyn is a shown to be evil or at least shady early on, and as the show progresses we learn that he has bigger plans for the city (blowing half of it up).  He is given depth as a character before he is revealed to be the big bad.  We understand why he wants to blow up the glades in Starling City.  There is very little expository dialogue, if any.  Then we have Talia…she is probably one of the least/quickest developed villains ever.  She is not known as Talia throughout the first hour and 40 minutes of that film and then for the last 20 minutes she becomes the big bad out of nowhere.   She gives quick expository dialogue to Batman about why she is destroying Gotham and then we get a chase scene and she is killed 10 minutes later.

Another positive to having comic books on television are the subplots.  In films, you can have a B story if you want but it’s rare, and normally has to be connected to everything.  In television you can have a B and C story, that are about the main characters but don’t need to be about the whole episode, but it can contribute to the season as a whole.  Also, you can have an entire episode (just like an issue) spent developing a minor character or a villain, and you still have 23 more episodes of seeing your hero do his/her stuff.

The only downside to comic books and superheroes on television is the production value.  Nowadays, comic book movies have huge budgets and can create some pretty good CG effects (let’s pretend Green Lantern never happened). Unfortunately on television you have to limit the budget of the action scenes and we get some fairly crappy CGI. This of course all depends on the network.  It is easier to get away with in shows such as Arrow and the upcoming Gotham show, because they are more grounded with less special effects driven characters.  However, it will be interesting to see how The Flash and Constantine hold up when they come out this fall.

All in all, I think we should be supportive anything that is based on comic books, whether they be movies or television shows.  That way we get more of them.  Even though it was not that great the strong support for the show Smallville, opened the CW up to adapting more and more heroes into comic books and from what I have seen on Arrow and from what I have seen so far of The Flash, they are correcting mistakes they made a few years back.   We may one day even have a whole universe based solely on television shows which would be amazing. I hope that’s not just fanboys dream.



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