Maybe we can blame Benjamin Franklin for this comic book craziness we find running rampant in today’s popular culture. Did he start all of this, way back in 1754, with a single cartoon panel printed by an editorial and laden with political inferences? That’d be a stretch. Most experts would agree that Rudolph Topffer’s Obediah Oldbuck (1837) was not only the first comic book, but also the first graphic novel. The artistic styles that the comic book medium has presented, and the social issues it has juggled, have changed rapidly with the oncoming generations. Soon after their creation, comic books developed the superhero/supervillain tandem. This tandem would become the formula that the entire industry would follow all the way into present day. Comic books have had nearly two centuries to achieve their present evolutionary states. A little over a half a century ago the comic book began its transition to film. For the first twenty-five years, the transitional endeavors were often anything but a success. However, the last 25 years of films based on comic books have produced a colorful explosion of cinematic energy whose ambitious productions have rivaled the mightiest of summer blockbusters.

There are several comic book publication syndicates. But the two corporate juggernauts that have seized and overwhelmingly defined the industry are DC and Marvel. Marvel began as Timely Publications in 1939. Timely Publications renamed itself Atlas Comics in the early fifties. It changed its name once again in 1961, and so became Marvel. DC started as National Allied Publications in 1934. Three years later, National Allied Publications released the groundbreaking and still running Detective Comics series. National Allied Publications eventually used the Detective Comics series to introduce its readers to the company’s future-franchise-quarterback: Batman. Both companies respectfully named their future publications after their first major commercial endeavors: Marvel after the successful Marvel Comics series and DC after the enduring Detective Comics series.

In 1961, Marvel Comics published the Fantastic Four. The Four may have been Marvel‘s first hit printed under its recently changed name, but Captain America preceded the Four by nearly twenty years under Timely Comic’s jurisdiction. Captain America was also the first Marvel superhero to appear on the silver screen, way back in 1944. It was one of the most over budgeted moves of its era at a now meager $200,000.

At first I was adamant about giving both Marvel and DC equal scope in this article. But there are two graphic novels–both published through DC–that deserve an entire body of writing to even begin to comprehend their impact on the superhero genre, The early history of the superhero was pivotal in shaping the identities (or secret identities) of the hero and villain; however, it was a twelve issue series by three visionary artists, and a four issue series by a creative genius from the fringe, that were to shatter any further criticisms that comic books were not to be considered an expressive art form. Both graphic novels were released through DC publications and both ran through 1986; though, Alan Moore and David Gibbon’s Watchmen preceded Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns by a mere few months.

The symbol heavy Watchmen imbued comic books with a new standard of storytelling and an artistic integrity that helped give courage to artists to explore powerful social issues within the comic matrix. Watchmen even made Time magazine’s All Time Greatest Novels List. After several thwarted attempts to translate the Watchmen to film, Zack Snyder finally nailed it in 2009. Snyder also directed Frank Miller’s 300 and the upcoming Man of Steel in 2013. The Man of Steel will be produced by Christopher Nolan. Nolan directed the latest Batman trilogy. The tangled web that superhero artistry weaves…

Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, considered by many in the comic book industry to be the undisputed champion of superhero storytelling, has maintained an immeasurable influence on the generations of artists that have followed this seminal work. The Dark Knight Returns endowed a psychological edge and depth to Batman. Keep in mind, in the eighties, Batman was in serious need of a makeover. It could even be argued that Miller saved the Batman from certain franchise doom. He stayed true to the Bob Kane formula that developed rich characters for the villains to embody. As a result, Miller’s twisted sideshow of colorful bad guys stole the light. Miller dared tweak the Bruce Wayne character into a brooding mess of mental issues. It was an exhilarating success. It invigorated comic books, and would raise the bar for the artists that were to follow it. Miller was a major influence on Tim Burton’s vision of Batman in the late eighties and the early nineties. Trust me, he said so.

The eighties were a precarious time for superhero cinema. It was a make or break moment for the major studio productions of films based on comic book adaptations. The last smash superhero hit for the box office at the time was Richard Donner’s Superman in the late seventies. Donner’s take on Superman was campy and his leading man, Christopher Reeves, pulled off the square-jawed sensibility of the Golden and Silver Age Superman. But Superman‘s sequels were not doing well financially. They didn’t do well critically either. Burton changed all that with the box office success of Batman. He made major headway with studio suits; surely making the big wigs more receptive to Nolan’s proposal to reboot the Batman franchise years later.

The two behemoths of the comic business–Marvel/DC–were not able to overshadow all competitors. Image comics had a good run in the nineties with its token anti-hero Spawn. The success of the film version of Spawn was the first of many that were to ride off the dark interest that Tim Burton helped cultivate years earlier with his two Batman films. This grim cinematic movement produced mega hits like the Blade trilogy and culminated with Robert Rodriguez’s stylish film adaptation of Frank Miller’s (yeah I know, this guy is everywhere in comics) Sin City. Sin City blew the lid off any conventions that were beginning to bind superhero movies in the nineties. Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta was another honorable mention from this era.

Superheroes are so ingrained into pop culture, it would be impossible to separate one from the other. The revenue they generate is as outrageous as the villains. The marketing of comic book related merchandise shows no sign of losing its profitability. The movies are showing no signs of slowing down in the box office. Comic books are definitely here for a while. So, where will the evolutionary process of the superhero lead theater audiences now? We’ve been through the Gold and Silver Age. We’ve witnessed the grim graphic novel reborn on theater screens. What’s next? Well, if we follow the historical path that comic books have traveled, we’d be pretty close to the point on their timeline when manga exploded on the superhero scene. Did anyone see Sony‘s The Amazing Spider-Man this summer?

  1. winnymarch says:

    hey Paul some friends of mine seems interesting but they dont knw how to get ur book! they dont undesrtand bout this Do u thnk ur book we can get in malaysia or indonesia?

    • I’m not sure, I think so, I didn’t think about that. If you can, I don’t know how much shipping would be. That link is to buy it directly from publisher. Click ADD TO CART and it’ll go over that for your area shipping

      • winnymarch says:

        i hope ur book can fid in indonesia or malaysia! we just afraid the cost shipping is expensve than the book, the cost of book is ok and people can enjoy it

  2. Let me know how much shipping is. Maybe I can drop the price of it to match half the shipping.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s