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Four revolutions in comics - Part 3 - Hollywood

Talking Raccoons and Trees These Were Not Your Usual Suspects

After Marvel's The Avengers grossed 1.5 billion at the box office, many observers of showbiz began to declare peak geek and predicted the tide of comic-book adaptations would recede quickly, after the stunt of a once-in-a-generation team-up had exhausted the genre's potential.

When Marvel announced in 2012 that their next slate of films would include a title called Guardians of the Galaxy featuring an animated talking raccoon, a walking tree, and starring a sitcom actor with a beer belly, skeptics said that Marvel is running out of properties to convert from comics to film. Guardians went on to gross more at the box office than two of the Iron Man movies and more than Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

This year's Ant-Man movie shares similarities with Guardians: another obscure character, coming right on the heels of an Avengers franchise success story. If Ant-Man proves a critical or commercial disappointment, the peak-geek narrative will likely return. When the Scott Pilgrim movie adaptation was a box office failure, the NY Times reported that studios were going to re-assess how they promoted movies at San Diego Comic-Con.

If there's anything the last decade of comic-to-movie/tv adaptations have taught us, it's that it's unfair to judge the Hollywood/comic-book relationship based on one property. The failure of Green Lantern did not doom DC Comics movies. The failure of Scott Pilgrim did not doom indie comics adaptations.

The comic-book origins of capes & heroes of the movies by Marvel and DC have a high awareness factor. But there have also been success stories for comic adaptations in which many audience members may be unaware of the comic-book origins of the project. When Blue is the Warmest Color won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2013, many were unaware that film is an adaptation of a graphic novel. Fun Home won the Tony award for best new musical - an unlikely occurrence for a story that began as a graphic novel.

By now, most audience members of cable juggernaut The Walking Dead are aware of its comic-book roots. But there are many other comic book film and tv adaptations in development that originate with material currently unknown to wider audiences:

And these are just samples of upcoming adaptations of properties that don't have a lot of awareness with moviegoers and tv-watchers. The upcoming slate of recognizable properties on television and film franchises is huge:

  • Gotham, Flash, Arrow - ongoing television series based on DC Comics characters
  • Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, The Defenders - four Marvel comics series for Netflix that will culminate in a television team-up series.
  • Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, Marvel's Agent Carter - a pair of Marvel titles on ABC.
  • Upcoming DC movies:
    • Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
    • Suicide Squad
    • Wonder Woman
    • The Flash
    • Aquaman
    • Shazam
  • Upcoming Marvel movies:
    • Ant-Man
    • Captain America: Civil War
    • Doctor Strange
    • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
    • Spider-Man (co-produced w/ Sony)
    • Thor: Ragnarok
    • Captain Marvel
    • Avengers: Infinity War (Part 1)
    • Black Panther
    • Avengers: Infinity War (Part 2)
    • Inhumans

And Joseph Gordon-Levitt is producing, potentially directing and rumored to be starring in a movie adaptation of the seminal Neil Gaiman graphic novel series Sandman. He recently updated the status of the project.

The effects of the abundance of media adaptations of comic properties has transformed the career arc for many in the industry. Most comics creators now envision the possibility of adaptations as integral to the development of projects, and structure their contracts accordingly and spell out media rights explicitly. The titans of the early days of comics did not have this awareness and were frequently left out of the proceeds from adaptations of their works. The estate of the families of Superman co-creators clashed with Warner Bros in court over rights and compensation. The family of legendary comics artist Jack Kirby recently settled (undisclosed terms) with Marvel. And DC Entertainment was recently criticized for its creator equity program as creators of characters now appearing on television are uncredited and uncompensated.

The picture is much different now. The prospect of Hollywood adaptations is no longer theoretical, and creators and publishers are acting accordingly.

Next: Part 4 - The Digital Revolution

Milton Lawson

Milton is a writer living in Houston. Comics, travelogues. Go Astros. Go Texans.

A short comic about an indie music shop written by Milton Lawson with art by Dave Chisholm

A travelogue about four friends taking their first trip to Europe. Now available on Amazon.com.