Lost in Translation continues its retrospective with a fresh look at comic book adaptations.
There has been some uproar in the past few years about the number of adaptations being made by Hollywood. Looking at the past decade, there were no original works among the popular movies, with fourteen adaptations. Of those adaptations, eight came from comic books. Chances are good that if those eight were from a more literary source, which also excludes such genres such as science fiction & fantasy, romance, and all of young adult, there wouldn’t be an outcry.
But comic books are low brow, and thus are looked down on. Comics are for the masses. The studios, though, need the masses to be profitable. Some obscure yet acclaimed literary work just won’t hit screens outside specialty theatres. This isn’t to say that a comic book movie can’t be deep or moving. The issue is accessibility to the general public.
However, superhero movies, separating them from other comic book movies, are spectaculars. They’re big, loud, and filled with explosions. And they’re not going away, not anytime soon. Marvel is having a renaissance with its cinematic universe. DC is having success with the Arrowverse on TV. Until both Marvel and DC have a run of flops, they’re going to keep creating movies and TV series.
The advantage of comic books is that they are already a visual medium. The books can be used as a storyboard; this is what essentially happened with Scott Pilgrim vs the World. There’s no need to hunt through a tome to find descriptions of characters; they’re all there on the page. Superhero comics are built on action and drama with some titles having soap opera levels of inter[character conflict. Everything that a work would want to have.
The disadvantage, though, is that comics have a lot going on that just can’t fit into a 2 to 2.5 hour movie. The more characters there are to spotlight, the less that can be showcased. Finite time requires details to be dropped. With a TV series, there is more time to expand beyond the basics, but the budget per episode can’t match what a studio can throw at a blockbuster. There’s give and take.
One problem that’s starting to creep in that plagues long standing ongoing comics is continuity lockout. New readers can find that details a story leans on is in a hard-to-find long out-of-print issue. Crossovers bring their own problems. A storyline that requires readers to search for the other titles involved is a marketing move to generate more sales by introducing new readers to other titles. The drawback is that if a crossover goes on too long, the regular stories in a title get shunted to the side, especially in a company-wide crossover. Too many interruptions in the regular storyline will drive readers away.
With the Marvel movies, if someone missed a film leading to an Avengers movie, they may not know who a character is and why that character was there. Thanks to some deals made, Marvel Studios doesn’t have access to every Marvel character, most notably mutants related to the X-Men. Yes, there are exceptions, thanks to how fluid teams are in the Marvelverse, which causes headaches in lawyers and writers. Right now, most of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are origin stories, so not knowing how, say, Ant-Man became a hero isn’t important. Missing Captain America: Civil War could affect how a view sees the subsequent Avengers film.
It’s a balancing act. A shared universe means that characters can and will interact. Fans will try to get out to all the films, but it is possible to miss one, either due to timing, budget, or pandemic, and audiences shouldn’t feel like they’re missing a chunk because they weren’t interested in or able to see a specific film.
As with anything, if something is popular, Hollywood will exploit it. Right now, superheroes are big and are in no hurry to leave. They’re filling the role that the Western and the police investigation used to have, with none of the baggage of either. Non-superhero comics can and will slip in with some members of the audience none the wiser. There is plenty of depth to plumb from the medium. We should expect more adaptations and works inspired by comics to keep appearing for some time yet.
Crossovers can be an odd lot. When done within the same setting, characters from two or more sources, typically series, meet and work out a way to solve a problem they have in common, whether the problem is medical, social, or villainous. Crossovers become events in comics and on TV; casts appearing outside their own title does draw an audience but the writing has to take into account the new personalities. Cross-corporate crossovers are an oddity. Normally found in the realm of fanfiction, where negotiations between companies about how their property appears isn’t a thing, the cross-corporate crossover does occur from time to time and is treated as an event by all companies involved. Examples of successful cross-corporate crossovers include JLA/Avengers, bringing DC and Marvel’s premier super teams together, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, bringing together cartoon characters from Disney and Warner Bros.
Archie Comics, though, tends to have the more interesting crossovers in the comic industry. Among the crossovers are The Punisher Meets Archie, Archie Meets KISS, Archie vs Predator and Archie vs Sharknado, the latter being an official crossover written by the Sharknado creators. Archie is the little black dress of comics; he goes with everything, no matter how odd the pairing seems on first glance.
DC, in the meantime, has been continuing some if the older TV series based on their characters, notable Batman ’66, based on the Adam West series, and Wonder Woman ’77, based on the Lynda Carter show. Both series aim to capture the feel of the original series. And this is where Archie comes in. Archie Comics has a timelessness thanks to being around since 1939. Their titles have reflected a wholesome image of teenagers ever since, with the characters remaining a constant despite changes in culture and society over time. The company’s digests have featured current and older stories, with the only real difference being art style and fashion. This makes dropping Archie and his friends into a specific era easy to do.
Archie Meets Batman ’66 is not an unusual crossover for Archie. The Adam West Batman series shows a more wholesome version of Gotham City, a Gotham terrorized by villains foul, that wouldn’t look out of place beside Riverdale. Archie fits into that setting without any need to shoehorn details.
The comic ran as a six issue mini-series in 2019, then later released as a trade paperback collection. It begins in Gotham City as Poison Ivy terrorizes the World’s Science Fair with her snapdragon, only to be thwarted by Batman, Robin, and Batgirl. But Ivy provides the distraction Bookworm needs for he and his henchwoman, Footnote, to steal an electronic book. Elsewhere, the United Underworld – Catwoman, Joker, Penguin, and Riddler – comment on Ivy’s efforts, The Riddler realizes that Gotham isn’t where the United Underworld should start its world domination. Batman is just too difficult to overcome. It would be easier to take over a city that doesn’t have a superhero. Riverdale has everything Gotham has – a chief of police, a rich millionaire – and no Batman. Very low crime rate, even. Perfect for striking.
Hiram Lodge is the first victim of United Underworld’s mind control scheme. However, the scheme only affects grown men. With coerced help from Riverdale technical genius Dilton Doiley, the villains manage to get all the adults, but teenagers are still a random element. Riddler finds a protege in Reggie Mantle, while the Joker needs effort to turn Jughead into a junior version. Catwoman’s alter ego Miss Kitka gets most of the teenaged boys on board, leaving Veronica, Betty, and the other teenaged girls, plus Kevin Keller, to figure out how to stop the United Underworld. Fortunately, Batman is on the case. It takes a combined effort from Batman, Robin, Batgirl with Archie and his friends to defeat the United Underworld and save Riverdale.
With crossovers, characters from both sources need to be equally active in the plot, at least to the point of believability. Having one set of characters be in the backseat of the plot, being dragged around from plot point to plot point, does them a disservice. The spotlight’s on all the characters, not just the ones from one of the sources. Archie Meets Batman ’66 does this. While Archie and his friends aren’t trained crime fighters, they do pitch in. They may not fight, but they are willing to be distractions. Likewise, Batman, Batgirl, and Robin don’t stand alone against the villains in Riverdale. They accept the help offered.
Details are also important. DC’s Batman ’66 is based on the Adam West Batman, not the regular continuity. A Batman that works only in black and really dark gray wouldn’t fit in. The colours are bright, suiting both the 1966 series and Archie Comics. Even the smaller details help. United Underworld is pulled straight from the movie, as is Miss Kitka. The Joker has Cesar Romero’s mustache under the whitepaint. The Batusi makes an appearance as does The Archies’ hit single, “Sugar Sugar“, albeit three years too early.
There are scenes, though, when the soundtrack starts playing in your head. Fight scenes have the appropriate written sound effects, none repeated in the run of the mini-series. The narrator, who in most comics serves to remind readers of past events, takes on the voice of the TV series’, with alliteration during the cliffhangers at the end of chapters 1-5.
Archie Meets Batman ’66 manages to meld the two sources, combining Archie Comics’ timelessness and wholesomeness with the 1966 Batman TV series’ sense of fun and camp. The two merge seemlessly, a crossover long overdue. Both sources come through shining.
Superman is the first and best known superhero, creating the genre in Action Comics #1 in 1938. Since then, there have been many stories written about the Last Son of Krypton, leading to the character being adapted to radio, television, film, and books. Today, a look at the first Superman feature film, 1951’s Superman and the Mole Men.
Prior to 1951, there had been theatrical Superman releases, but they were serials run before the main feature, much like the 1943 Batman series. /Superman and the Mole Men/ was a low budget film, not quite running an hour. The movie starred George Reeves as Clark Kent and Superman, Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane, Walter Reed as Bill Corrigan, Ray Walker as John Craig, and Jeff Dorey as Luke Benson. Reeves and Coates would go on to reprise their roles in Adventures of Superman, Reeves for the entire run and Coates for just the first season. The popularity of the series made getting other roles difficult for them both, being typecast as Clark and Lois.
The movie begins with Clark and Lois arriving in the town of Silsby, population 1430 and home to the the world’s deepest oil well. The well is the draw for the Daily Planet’s top reporters, but they discover that the well is being shut down. Corrigan, the foreman, isn’t forthcoming on why, not to Lois and Clark, not to company PR rep John Craig, and not to his workers, who are wondering why the expensive tools are being buried. Lois feels like the trip is a waste. Clark feels there’s another story brewing. Corrigan isn’t forthcoming, though.
That night, while the visitors from Metropolis are at the Silsby Hotel, a second set of visitors arrives, coming up from the sealed well. Short, mishapen, they skulk around, eventually finding their way to the seventy-year-old security guard. The guard is found the next morning, dead. A doctor called in rules that he died of a heart attack. Given his age, it’s a reasonable call, except Clark notices that the guard’s tangerines are glowing, and the bag they came in is halfway across the room.
Clark pushes Corrigan on why the well is being closed. Corrigan comes clean; the well is deep, about six miles deep. The company kept going after finding a pocket of natural gas, hoping to find an oil gusher. Instead, the drill brought up goo that glows in the dark. Without a Geiger counter, it’s hard to tell if the goo is radioactive radium or just naturally phosphorescent. Corrigan also tells Clark that the drill suddenly hit a hollow pocket at about six miles down.
Alone, Lois starts to place a phone call. She’s interrupted by the visitors from below. The scream alerts Clark and Corrigan, who rush over to see what happened. They find Lois alone, but she describes what she saw. The group returns to Silsby, where news of the Mole Men is travelling like gossip.
Luke Benson isn’t one to let anything terrorize his hometown and will do what it takes to stop the Mole Men, including inciting a near-riot. The Mole Men, though, are peaceful. A young girl sees them and invites them into her room, where they play. It’s only when the girl’s mother comes into the room and sees the Mole Men that the situation turns worse.
The mother’s screams alert the town, and the mob rushes off to go after the creatures. Clark disappears, to Lois’ dismay, but she follows the story and the mob down the street. When she arrives, Superman is already there. The townsfolk, apparently not getting the Daily Planet, reacts badly, and they try to shoot Superman. Benson tries to punch Supes, earning a sore hand in the process. Superman disarms the mob, bending one rifle in half.
The Mole Men flee. Benson and his henchmen take a pack of hounds to try to find them, resulting in a chase across the desert to a reservoir. Superman catches up and warns Benson of what could happen. The Mole Men may be radioactive and if they fall into the reservoir, they will pollute the town’s drinking water. Benson and his cronies ignore the warning. One shoots a Mole Man. In a flash, Superman is off to catch him before he falls into the reservoir. The other Mole Man escapes, for now.
As Superman takes the wounded Mole Man to the hospital, Benson resumes his pursuit of the remaining one. The chase ends at an abandoned shed. The Mole Man is trapped inside as Benson and his cronies set fire to it. The Mole Man escapes and finds his way back to the oil well. He returns the next day with two more Mole Men and a weapon.
At the hospital, a surgeon manages to save the life of the wounded Mole Man, Lois, Corrigan, and Craig catch up to Clark, already at the hospital, though Superman has left again. Corrigan and Craig warn that Benson and the mob are on their way to kill the Mole Man there. Clark dashes out to check on the Mole Man while Lois, Corrigan, and Craig wait up front for the mob. Superman lands in front and stops the mob from entering. Benson slips away and spots the three returning Mole Men, who get the first shot on him. Superman realizes that they are looking for their friend, so brings the wounded one out, then steps in front of the laser to protect Benson.
Given the low budget, the special effects can be expected to be weak. The crew, though, worked around the limitation. Most of Superman’s powers come from superstrength and invulnerability. Superman doesn’t flinch from gunshots. Rubber can be used for the rifle that is meant to be twisted into a pretzel. Superspeed is shown in his reactions, pulling Lois out of the way of a gunshot. Flight gets trickier, but the movie shows Superman running towards the camera and leaping up, then changes to show the view of the ground from his view. The big effect was the moment where Superman swoops in to catch the falling Mole Man; it’s a quick enough scene that it’s over before the wires can be seen.
Effects, though, aren’t the best criteria to judge an adaptation. Comics have a huge advantage; effects are limited to the artist’s imagination and the cost of ink and paint. Reproducing Jack Kirby‘s art in film or television would push computer graphics to the limit even today. Simpler artwork, such as Superman picking up a car, as seen on the cover of Action Comics #1, still requires extra work as a practical effect. The goal is to represent the character to the medium’s best effort.
George Reeves managed to look like both Clark and Superman. While Christopher Reeve showed the transition from mild-mannered Clark to self-confident Superman through a change of posture and voice, Reeves used wardrobe. His Clark wears oversized suits; Superman is thinner but fit. Clark isn’t as mild-mannered in the movie; he takes the lead on the investigation of the well’s closure where Lois is willing to write off the trip as a lost cause.
Personality-wise, Superman is still Superman. In the movie, he made sure that no one was hurt if he could help it. He never threw the first punch. Superman made the discovery that the Mole Men weren’t dangerous except through passive touch. Benson may have been the villain, but Superman wasn’t going to let the Mole Men take their revenge on him. Reeves’ Superman came from the comics of the time and would still be recognizable compared to today’s version.
B-movies don’t get a large budget, so corners have to be cut. Comparing Superman and the Mole Men to today’s big budget movies isn’t fair. However, the B-movie got to the heart of who Superman was, even with the limited time it had. Superman’s origins were skipped over with an narration during the opening credits. The film jumped to its story early and kept the focus on the plot and on Clark/Superman. Superman and the Mole Man was very much a Superman story.
Two weeks ago, Lost in Translation covered the Netflix series, Titans, based on the various DC Teen Titans titles. Titans aims at an older audience, one that wants gritty. However, Titans wasn’t the first adaptation of the team. The Titans first appeared on TV with segments on The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. The team’s first starring role came with 2003’s animated series, Teen Titans.
Produced by Glen Murakami, Teen Titans was loosely based on the Marv Wolfman-George Perez series, The New Teen Titans. The show centred around Robin (voiced by Scott Menville), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Cyborg (Khary Payton), Raven (Tara Strong), and Beast Boy (Greg Cipes). Over five seasons, the Titans fought evil-doers of all types, from Mad Mod to Trigon. The series hit the first two arcs in The New Teen Titans, including Trigon and Deathstroke the Terminator, though the show used his actual name, Slade.
Before continuing, let’s put the series into the context of its release date. In 1995, a wave of anime hit American shores and made an impact. Three series debuted in 1995 – Dragonball, Sailor Moon, and /Technoman/, the latter based on the anime Tekkaman Blade. Two became massive hits; Technoman didn’t catch on, but Sailor Moon and Dragonball had staying power. North American stations and cable channels saw the popularity and started importing more series to sate the demand. Manga began hitting the shelves at bookstores and gained an audience that wasn’t interested in traditional comics.
During this, Murakami decided to use a mix of animation styles for Teen Titans, a blend of classic Warner animation, like Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies, and anime. Other animation styles crept into other episodes, like Terry Gilliam’s as seen on Monty Python’s Flying Circus as seen in “Mad Mod“. The mix of animation styles gave Teen Titans its own look. The series’ spin-off, Teen Titans Go! went a step further and added a super-deformed look to the characters.
Speaking of the characters, they are recognizable. There is no mistaking them for other DC characters. The biggest change in design may have been with Starfire; her figure less voluptuous and more teen-aged. The characters also went by their hero IDs, leading to the question of which Robin was in the show. Starfire and Beast Boy did get their names revealed, but it wasn’t made into a big deal. The series played with the audience on which one he was, never really confirming whether it was the original Dick Greyson or one of his successors.
Each season had its own arc, with some standalone episodes mixed in. The first season focused on Slade (voiced by Ron Perlman), who was trying to recruit Robin to be his protege. Slade returned in the second season, based on the Terra arc from the comics, with Terra (Ashley Johnson) being used to infiltrate and destroy the Titans from inside. Season three’s focus was on Cyborg as he dealt with his machine half and the attempts by Brother Blood (John DiMaggio) to misuse his electronics. The fourth season brough the Trigon (Keith Michael Richardson; Keith Szarabajka in the episode, “Nevermore”) arc in, putting the focus on Raven, though with foreshadowing of the arc in the first season episode, “Nevermore”. The final season put the focus on Beast Boy, introducing his old team, the Doom Patrol, and sees him taking on the Brotherhood of Evil.
Each season’s arc was treated seriously. The major villains were credible threats, ones that the Titans had to work hard to defeat. Not every episode was serious, though. Mad Mod (Malcolm McDowell), introduced in the comics in 1967 with a Mod-style approach to villainy. The character received an update without changing his schtick; in his first appearance, Mad Mod tried to revive England of the Sixties. At the end, it was revealed that he was a much older man trying to bring back his glory days. The Amazing Mumbo (Tom Kenny), whose approach to crime is to use a magic hat and wand, had a The Muppet Show-style episode in “Bunny Raven . . . Or How to Make a Titanimal Disappear.” Mumbo traps the team inside his hat, where he has full control. Several of the Mumbos appeared as Muppets, including Scooter, Statler, and Waldorf.
The series didn’t limit itself to Western references. Shout outs to various anime appeared during the show’s run, and not necessarily mainstream titles like Sailor Moon, series like Lupin III, homaged in a car chase during “Car Trouble”. Thunder and Lightning, from “Forces of Nature”, while based off a Kivalliq legend, appear in traditional Asian garb. Even the theme song was performed by a J-pop band, Puffy, aka Puffy AmiYumi. The theme was a way to tell when an episode was going to be different; when it was performed in Japanese, the episode was going to be far from serious.
Teen Titans built off the comics to become its own thing. The characters, heroes and villains alike, are still recognizable. The storylines, particularly the ones involving Slade and Trigon, were taken from the original work. The result is a series that blends several different styles of animation to become a unique TV series.
Comic book universes tend to grow. New characters get created, make guest appearances, get spun off into their own titles, then crossover everywhere. Some characters are popular but not enough to maintain a title. Others work better on a team than solo. When a large number of solo characters are popular, editorial toys with teaming them up. Both the Avengers and the Justice League came about for that reason – popular solo characters brought together in a new title to take advantage of the popularity.
With DC Comics, the characters include sidekicks to the main heroes. Batman has Robin. The Flash has Kid Flash. Green Arrow has Speedy. Aquaman has Aqualad. To complicate matters, Superman and Wonder Woman both had younger versions, Superboy and Wonder Girl. DC discovered that the younger characters drew younger fans; naturally, the company released a title to feature them, /Teen Titans/.
First appearing in The Brave and the Bold #54 in 1964, the original Teen Titans roster consisted of Dick Greyson’s Robin, Aqualad, and Wally West’s Kid Flash. In issue #60, the roster expanded to include Donna Troy as Wonder Girl. After one more appearance, this time in Showcase #59, the Teen Titans received their own title in 1966, picking up Roy Harper’s Speedy as a guest hero. The title ran until 1978, with a three year interregnum between 1973 and 1976.
In 1980, Marv Wolfman and George Pérez created The New Teen Titans. The roster this time around included Dick Greyson’s Robin, Donna Troy’s Wonder Girl, Wally West’s Kid Flash, Gar Logan as Changeling, Cyborg, Raven, and Starfire, expanding the original roster. This team came together to deal with Raven’s father, Trigon, a demonic lord of Hell who has enslaved countless worlds. With the threat defeated, the team remained together, facing off against Deathstroke the Terminator next. The title ran until 1996, spawning the concurrent spin-off Team Titans. The Titans followed two years afterwards, with Dick Greyson now as Nightwing, Donna Troy using no heroic ID, Wally West now as the Flash, Starfire, Cyborg, Gar Logan now going by Beast Boy, Roy Harper as Arsenal, and new member Damage. This title ran for three years, ending in 2002.
Comics pick up continuity the longer they run. DC’s main universe has been around since Action Comics #1, Characters develop and grow, whether editorial wants that to happen or not. DIck Greyson started as Robin, then left being Batman’s sidekick to go be his own hero as Nightwing, moving to Bludhaven. Wally West started as Kid Flash, then took over the mantle as the Flash. Donna Troi went through a few heroic identities, getting caught up in a continuity snarl during DC’s Crises. Gar Logan started as Changeling, changed his name to Beast Boy, and has been a member of both the Doom Patrol and the Titans over the years. The Titans may have only been around as a team since 1964, but they do have a history.
With the success of Arrow. The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow on television, the creative team behind the shows teamed up with Netflix to create Titans in 2018. The series adds Geoff Johns, former Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics and writer on a number of titles, including a Beast Boy miniseries and Teen Titans volume 3. The series stars Brenton Thwaites as Dick Greyson, Anna Diop as Kory Anders, Teagan Croft as Rachel Roth, and Ryan Potter as Gar Logan. The show also has some key recurring characters, including Hawk and Dove (Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly), a young Dick Greyson (Tomaso Sanelli) for flashbacks, and Conor Leslie as Donna Troy.
Titans begins with the death of Rachel’s adoptive mother, Melissa Roth. Detective Dick Greyson of the Detroit police department picks up the case and tracks down the girl, though not before a cult picks her up. Rachel’s dark side, though, turns the tables on the cultists, killing them. In Austria, an amnesiac Kory Anders finds herself in a gun battle and escapes, incinerating her pursuers. And in Covington, Ohio, a green tiger steals a video game from a electronics store.
Through the first season, the core team – Dick, Rachel, Kori, and Gar – come together. Each has their own story arc. Dick, despite having left Batman to go on his own, is still wearing the Robin costume when he stops crime the police can’t. Dick’s past comes out through flashbacks, painting why he’s having problems today. Not helping is meeting the new Robin, Jason Todd (Curran Walters). Rachel is having family trouble. Her father, Trigon, is looking for her, using a cult. Her main hunters are the Nuclear Family – Dad (first Jeff Clarke, then replaced by Zach Smadu as the character is replaced), Mom (Melody Johnson), Sis (Jeni Ross), and Biff (Logan Thompson) – who use drugs to augment their physical abilities. Kory is trying to figure out who she is and why she has to find Rachel, aka the Raven. Gar may be the most well adjusted of the group, a vegan who shapeshifts into a tiger. Even he has a few skeletons in the closet in the form of the Doom Patrol.
The first season deals with Trigon as the main plot, though his name doesn’t get mentioned until late in the run. This is the same plot that the Wolfman-Pérez The New Teen Titans began with. The take, though, is darker. The creators are taking full advantage of not being on a broadcast network. Netflix has its own standards and practices, so the language is far saltier than could be allowed over the air or even in the comics. At the same time, it’s not all dark all the time. There are light moments, coming from the characters. The tone is serious, but with light moments. Again, Gar is a point of light in the series. He’s better adjusted than the rest of the team.
The new series is taking the characters from the comics and bringing them into the same televised multiverse the other DC shows are in. It’s likely that Titans, like Supergirl, is in its own universe because it’s on another network. This gives the show room to maneuver when it comes to interpretations. The characters are recognizable, but Titans is putting its own spin on them, something to be expected in a cinematic universe. The costumes for Robin, Hawk, and Dove match what was seen in the comics. Rachel’s outfits hint at Raven’s costume; when she wears a hoodie to cover her head, the silhouette matches her comic counterpart. Kory, while not yet Starfire, wears a purple outfit that reflects the costume from the comics. Gar is the lone outsider here, possibly due to budget and time restraints. While his tiger form is green, Gar only has green hair when he’s human instead of being all green.
Titans may not be accurate to the comics. The series is taking its cue from the comics, though. Characters are recognizable to long-time fans without losing newcomers to continuity lockout. As such, it fits in with the rest of the DC television series.
The adapting of comics to television and motion pictures has more pitfalls than expected. While all three are visual media, the artwork in comics allows for a greater range of imagery that budget and physical restrictions disallow in movies and on TV. A laser beam is easily drawn, inked, and coloured on the page; on screen, that same blast takes longer to add, with multiple frames drawn on and edited. Something along the lines of Jack Kirby’s dots are prohibitive without the advents of modern CGI.
Adding to just the difficulty of adapting the visuals of powers is the sheer mass of continuity, some of it conflicting with itself. Marvel has fifty years of Spider-Man stories establishing the character and the setting. DC Comics, the older of the Big Two, has over seventy-five years of Superman* stories, with the added bonus of continuity being an afterthought during the Golden Age. Adapting a character may mean sifting through the years of issues to find the hero’s essence.
With Wonder Woman, there are other elements that come into play. Her creator, William Moulton Marston, had ideas he wanted to present in the title. Working under the penname Charles Moulton, Marston created Wonder Woman to offset the more violent titles featuring male heroes like Superman and Batman. Instead of pummeling a miscreant into submission, Wonder Woman would use love to put the villain back on the path of good. To emphasize the different approach, Wonder Woman came from Paradise Island, populated by just women, where they were able to advance technology and philosophy because the the threat of violence was non-existent. The early run of the title explored bondage and submission; defeated villains would be bound by the golden Lasso of Truth and submit to Wonder Woman, only to be released reformed. Comics Bulletin has more about Moulton in a review of The Secret History of Wonder Woman.
With the first appearance in late 1941 and the first issue of the title released in 1942, Nazis appeared often as the villain. Wartime comics were used as propaganda, keeping American morale up while warning of the dangers of the Axis. The war intruded on Paradise Island when a plane piloted by Steve Trevor, an American intelligence officer, crashed on it. While the women on the island were not keen on getting involved in the man’s war, Wonder Woman, then just Princess Diana of Paradise Island, fell in love with Trevor. She earned the right to take him back to the US, competing against other athletes in disguise. Diana received the Lasso of Truth and magic bracelets that would let her deflect bullets. In the US, Diana took on two new identities, the first being the superheroine Wonder Woman, the other being Diana Prince, assistant to Steve Trevor.
As time passed, Wonder Woman stopped fighting Nazis and started dealing with criminals and other would-be world conquerors, always using love instead of fists as her weapon of choice. In the Sixties, the title ran into sagging sales. To bolster readership, the character lost her powers, becoming secret agent Diana Prince, who used her head and heart to investigate. By the end of the decade, though, feminists were demanding that Wonder Woman get her powers back. Wonder Woman had become a feminist icon.
In the Seventies, ABC was looking for a new series. The network ordered a pilot for Wonder Woman, a ninety minute movie starring Lynda Carter as the heroine and Lyle Waggoner as Major Steve Trevor. The creators went back to the early years of the comic and set the movie during World War II. Maj. Trevor was assigned to a mission to stop a new Nazi bomber from destroying a secret base. Ultimately, Maj. Trevor rammed his fighter into the Nazi craft. Both pilots bailed out before the collision, leading to a gunfight while parachuting that left Maj. Trevor critically wounded and the Nazi pilot landing amidst sharks.
Maj. Trevor was more fortunate where he landed, an uncharted island in the Bermuda Triangle known by its inhabitants as Paradise Island. Two women spot the parachute and run to investigate. One of the women, Princess Diana, picks up the wounded pilot and rushes him to the island’s hospital where he is nursed back to health. While Maj. Trevor is never allowed to see his surroundings, Diana does what she can to spend time with him. As the Major heals, the Queen announces a competition to see who accompanies the American back to Washington. Diana is forbidden to enter the contest, but she does so using a disguise. The final event, Bullets and Bracelets, is down to two women, one being the disguised princess. Diana wins after she wounds her opponent without being touched by any of her shots. She reveals herself to her mother, who reluctantly lets her go.
Diana receives her costumes, her Lasso of Truth, her bracelets, and a belt that allows her to keep her strength and speed in the man’s world away from Paradise Island. She takes Maj. Trevor back to Washington in her invisible plane, leaving him at a hospital before disappearing. As she walks around the city, Diana and her costume attracts attention from both men and women. Diana is unfamiliar with the customs outside Paradise Island but is unfazed. During her exploration of Washington, she stops a bank robbery, through deflecting bullets, tossing the robbers, then picking up the back of the getaway car, all insight of a promoter, played by Red Buttons. The promoter makes Diana an offer, she performs on stage and she gets half the ticket sales. Not knowing better, Diana agrees.
The show is very much vaudeville. Diana is billed as Wonder Woman, capable of stopping any bullet. A number of people line up to take shots, from a revolver to a rifle to an old woman with a Tommy gun. Diana blocks every shot. Having earned enough money to get clothes and her own apartment in the one show, Diana leaves showbiz and returns to helping Maj. Trevor. The Nazi plot to destroy the secret base is still going. A second bomber has been sent, and there are Nazi agents even at the offices of Air Force intelligence. Diana also infiltrates the offices, posing as Petty Officer First Class Diana Prince, all the better to keep an eye on Maj. Trevor.
For Steve Trevor, his return to the US was a shock. He had been declared missing, presumed dead, after the collision in the Bermuda Triangle. No wreckage of his plane was recovered. His return meant that the defense of the base was still possible. The Nazi agent is also surprised by his return, having mourned him with the general. The Nazis kidnap Maj. Trevor, forcing Wonder Woman to rescue him. She is unsurprised to see the promoter; Diana had suspected something was out of place when an older woman with a machine gun showed up at the show. A shoot out starts, but the promoter is well aware of how effective shooting Wonder Woman is. Diana frees Steve and gets the identity of the Nazi infiltrator after using the Lasso of Truth. Back at the OSS offices, the Nazi tries fighting Wonder Woman, but loses. The second bomber is stopped by Maj. Trevor and the secret base is saved.
The pilot did well enough in the ratings for ABC to pick up the series. Etta Candy, one of the comic’s supporting cast, is introduced as a corporal, subordinate to Diana. Etta, played by Beatrice Colen, was a contrast to Diana and was a more representative woman of the era. Wonder Woman still faced Nazis, but also some domestic threats. The cost of keeping the series in the Forties led ABC to drop the show at the end of the season. CBS, though, was willing to pick it up, with changes. The second season brought Wonder Woman to the today of 1977. The first episode of the season starts with Diana back on Paradise Island after the end of WWII. Overhead, a private jet with Inter-Agency Defense Command agents has been infiltrated, with the hijacker unable to keep his gas mask on during a fight with Steve Trevor, Jr, played by Lyle Waggoner. The plane starts to crash in the Bermuda Triangle, but women operating a magnetic field bring the craft down safely. Diana is again the first to board the craft, where she sees Steve. After the war, Maj. Trevor found someone else and had a son who grew up to look just like him. Everyone is healed up, and Diana earns the right to follow the plane in her invisible jet after another Bullets and Bracelets contest.
Diana again must adjust to life in Washington. Fashion has again changed, as have prices. This time, though, she’s prepared. Her mother, the Queen, gave her some vintage, undamaged drachmas, which Diana is able to sell for a good price. Diana is quick to learn computer programming and adds new data to I.R.A.C., the Information Retrieval Associative Computer, that creates a background for Diana Prince. Most of the opponents Wonder Woman faces come from Diana’s job at the IADC, though she also has to deal with aliens and telepaths. Through it, Wonder Woman still tries to turn people around from their wrong-doing ways, but will fight if she must.
Season one of Wonder Woman took its lead from the early comics. Season two and three took some ideas from when Diana lost her powers and became a spy, but let her keep her powers, with some Seventies-specific ideas, like ESP, added. At the time, concerns about television violence and repeatable stunts were making the rounds, forcing Wonder Woman to find a way to stop an opponent without throwing a punch. That requirement worked out well, though. Wonder Woman went from punching to throwing, using a judo-like maneuver. Martial arts like judo and aikido are known as soft arts, using the opponent’s energy against him, fitting in with Wonder Woman’s original concept as envisioned by Marston.
Casting was key. Lynda Carter was ideal to play Wonder Woman. Beyond just looking like the character, Carter had the poise and confidence in the costume to be Wonder Woman. She performed feats of strength while looking like she wasn’t making an effort, but when effort was needed, she showed it. Wonder Woman wasn’t confident because she was sexy; she was sexy because of her confidence, and Carter portrayed that aspect well. For Maj. Steve Trevor, Lyle Waggoner may not have looked like him, but he was comfortable enough with his masculinity to be the damsel in distress of the series. Waggoner had been on The Carol Burnett Show and, prior to that, appeared as the first nude centerfold for Playgirl. Sex appeal and a sense of humour, both needed for the role.
As mentioned above, the key to a good adaptation of a comic is the ability to find the essence of the character or characters and bring them out on screen. With Wonder Woman, the TV series did that. Casting, as mentioned above, helped. Gender-flipping the hero/damsel dynamic emphasized Wonder Woman as the superheroine. Lynda Carter’s poise and confidence mirrored that of the character in the comic. The creators went out of their way to make sure that the source was honoured. Many of Wonder Woman’s opponents in the TV series were also women; if they weren’t in charge, they were the mastermind. The introduction of Wonder Girl, played by Debra Winger**, in the first season let the series show how well Diana adjusted to living in the man’s world. Even after the time and network jump, Diana kept her confidence and was allowed to do more investigating in her secret identity, only changing to Wonder Woman when needed.
The TV series became influential on the comic. Before the show aired, Wonder Woman changed clothes in two different ways. Originally, she just took off the top layer, revealing the costume underneath, much like Clark Kent changed into Superman in a phone booth. As the title continued, Diana would twirl her lasso, which would change her clothes for her. That method, though, would require a level of special effects not available yet in the Seventies. Instead, the creators came up with the idea of Diana twirling, using a platform. Carter suggested that she just twirl herself, taking advantage of her dance training. At first the twirling showed her clothes coming off, but to save time and money, an explosion of light marked the change from Diana to Wonder Woman. This twirl was then adapted by the comic.
The other influence was on artists such as Phil Jimenez and Alex Ross, who had watched the show when it was ion the air. Jimenez, in his last issue on the title in 2003, managed to get permission to use Lynda Carter’s likeness as Wonder Woman and as Diana. DC Comics has also released Wonder Woman 77, a continuation of the TV series. The Wonder Woman series caught the core essence of the comic and of the character.
Next week, the Adaptation Fix-It Shop looks at Battleship. Can the movie be salvaged?
* Action Comics #1 was released July 1938.
** The same Debra Winger who would go on to be nominated for an Oscar for An Officer and a Gentleman, Terms of Endearment, and Shadowlands, among other awards. Her version of Wonder Girl was Diana’s younger sister, Druscilla, created by Dru to hide her identity from the Nazis. The Nazis, though, confused her with Wonder Woman. In the comics, Wonder Girl was, first, just a teenaged version of Diana, and later a mantle taken up by Donna Troy and Cassie Sandsmark.
Thunderbirds are go! Again!
A new Thunderbirds TV series is set to launch. The show will forego Supermarionation for a mix of CGI and live-action models. The debut is on the 50th anniversary of the original airdate of Thunderbirds.
Next Terminator movie a reboot.
According to Jay Courtney, who will play Kyle Reese, Terminator: Genisys is more of a reset than a reboot. Other than Arnold Schwarzengger, an all-new cast will play the familiar roles. Two sequels have already been scheduled.
Warner announces DC Comics movie line up.
Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice leads off the ten, but has been moved to avoid competing with Captain America 3 in 2016. The other movies announced are Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Justice League: Part One, The Flash, Aquaman, Shazam, Justice League: Part Two, Cyborg, and Green Lantern. All should be released over the next six years. Warner also announced a trilogy of films based on JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a text originally found at Hogwart’s.
Knights of the Dinner Table in post-production.
Knights of the Dinner Table, a comic about tabletop gamers, will have a live-action movie based on the strip. The adaptation is in post-production and is looking for backers to help get the movie done.
Transporter: The Series started October 18.
Slipped past the radar here, but the new TV series based on the Jason Statham movies has aired on TNT. François Berléand returns as Inspector Tarconi, while Statham’s character Frank Martin is now played by Chris Vance. The series hopes to dig into why Frank got into his profession.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic movie confirmed.
Hasbro’s Allspark Pictures has the green light for an animated Friendship Is Magic movie. Release date is expected to be in 2017. Allspark is also producing the live-action Jem and the Holograms film, due out in 2015.
Dredd webseries has animated trailer.
Adi Shankar, producer of Dredd, has released a trailer for his “bootleg” animated series continuing where the movie left off. The series will look at the Dark Judges arc of the comic.
John Carter of Mars rights return to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
The rights, formerly held by Disney, have returned to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. The Disney film, John Carter, foundered in theatres with most problems traceable back to the studio, from a bland name to poor timing. The rights are now available to anyone willing to pay.
Fox developing Archie series.
Riverdale will be a drama featuring the Archie Comics characters. Greg Berlanti, of Arrow and The Flash, is on as producer while Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the creative mind behind such series as AfterLife with Archie, is writing for the series. The series will look at the weirdnesses surrounding small towns and may not resemble the Riverdale you grew up with. However, current readers may be familiar with the setting. Archie Comics have taken risks in the past decade, including the horror series AfterLife with Archie, having Archie and Valerie becoming a couple, and not only introducing an openly gay character, Kevin Keller, but giving him his own title.
Riverdale may get weirder.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, creative director of Archie Comics and writer of the new series, has compared Riverdale to a teen version of Twin Peaks. He has hinted at an Afterlife with Archie episode as well. Current continuity will be part of the series, too. If the series survives the, “But this isn’t *my* Archie!” fallout, it’ll pull an audience just through sheer audacity.
Clerks 3 confirmed.
Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes will be back as Jay and Silent Bob in the sequel. Shooting for the film will start June 2015.
The Six Million Dollar Man being remade.
To account for inflation, the name is being changed to The Six Billion Dollar Man. Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg, the pair behind Lone Survivor, are taking on the project for Dimension Films. The original Six Million Dollar Man was itself an adaptation of the book, Cyborg, by Martin Caidan, and ran from 1973, with several made-for-TV movies before becoming a regular series in 1974, until 1978.
Latest rumour in the Spider-verse has Aunt May getting a movie.
Sony is apparently mining out the Spider-Man license if this rumour is true. Other rumours include a Venom movie, a Sinister Six movie, and Glass Ceiling, which involves the female characters from the Spider-verse coming together. Of these, Venom seems more likely to gather an audience. Then again, I’m not at Sony.
In more solid news, Evil Dead greenlit as a TV series.
Starz will air the Evil Dead TV series starting in 2015. Sam Raimi will be the executive producer and will also write and direct the first give episodes. Rob Tapert is on board as well as an executive producer. Bruce Campbell will return as Ash, older but not necessarily wiser. Groovy.
Jonathan Nolan adapting Foundation for HBO.
Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series is being adapted as a TV series on HBO. The epic series covers centuries over the course of the books, with the cast of characters changing over time.
Fifth Tremors movie in production.
The movie, expected out direct-to-video in 2016, will star Michael Gross, recreating his Burt Gummer character. The original Tremors, starring Kevin Bacon, became a cult hit and has spawned three direct-to-video movies and a short-lived TV series. The movie in production will see Graboids appearing in South Africa.
Movies cannot contain the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Thanks to the popularity of the film, Marvel will be adding an animated series and a new comic aimed at kids to the announced sequel. How the animated series fits in with the cinematic Marvel universe is in dispute with the production staff of the sequel, but the series may just go with the team already together.
The Empire Strikes Back getting the Shakespeare treatment.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars did well enough to get the next movie adapted the same way. An educator’s guide is also available.
Neil Gaiman updates on American Gods TV series.
HBO is out. Freemantle Media is in. No network has been announced. From the same journal post, Anansi Boys will be made into a TV miniseries for the BBC.
Help put clues together with Sherlock LEGO.
LEGO is still reviewing the idea, but a set of Sherlock minifigs are making their way through the review process. Other sets being considered are the Macross VF-1 Valkyrie and a Back to the Future DeLorean.
Barbarella TV series sets up at Amazon Studios.
A pilot script has been written and is now waiting for a showrunner. Amazon Studios is run by the online bookseller. Gaumont International Television, the producing company, is also involved with NBC’s Hannibal and Netflix’s Hemlock Grove.
Gal Gadot to play Wonder Woman in three films.
Besides appearing in Batman Vs Superman, Wonder Woman will appear in two other movies, so far unnamed. Ideally, one of the other two movies will be a Wonder Woman movie, but this is Warner, who can shoot their own foot at a hundred paces.
Transporter: The Series to air in US in fall.
This slipped right by me. Season two of the series, based on the Transporter movies, begins filming in February.
The Astronaut Wives Club gets ten episode summer run.
Based on the book of the same name by Lily Koppel, ABC will be airing the drama over the summer. Both the book and the series follows the lives of the women who were suddenly elevated after their astronaut husbands on Project Mercury made history as the first Americans in space.
Redshirts to become a limited TV series.
John Scalzi’s Redshirts is being adapted by FX as a limited series. Casting has not started yet. It’ll be interesting to see how the novel is adapted.
Black Widow solo movie in the works.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps going. The Black Widow will be played, again, by Scarlett Johansson. The movie will delve into the background of the character.
Speaking of Marvel… Which studio can use which Marvel character? An infographic.
The surprising one was Namor over at Universal. He started as a Fantastic Four villain, has fought the Avengers, has been an Avenger, and has had his own series. The overlap is Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who are tied heavily to both Avengers and X-Men continuity. Fox could easily commit to a Cable & Deadpool movie, while Power Pack falls under Marvel Studios.
Raving Rabbids to invade silver screen.
Ubisoft has been busy, getting deals to have Assassin’s Creed and Ghost Recon adapted to film. The latest of the efforts is Raving Rabbids, who already have a TV series.
And an update! A month ago, I reviewed the Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight animated movie and the problems it had at adapting the original novel. Over at io9 this past week, Lauren Davis posted an argument on why Dragonlance should be the next fantasy franchise to be filmed. She has strong arguments. The only thing that could hold back a new adaptation is the failure of the animated movie. However, if ninety minutes was only enough for a shallow adaptation, two hours isn’t going to be enough time, either. Will people go for a six-movie fantasy series based on three books? Going back, I argued that TV may be better for some works than movies; Dragonlance is definitely one of those works. The television format allows for the development of longer arcs, such as Laurana’s growth from elf lass to military leader.
It’s been about a week since DC Comics called a meteor swarm upon itself, and things are starting to quiet down. What happened is easy to find; over at Jessica Banks schools you, Jessica and her husband Cam detail the latest problems quite nicely. Why it happened is another question. (more…)
Board game cafés opening up across nation.
No wi-fi here. Snakes and Lattes in Toronto was the first, but more board game cafés are opening across Canada, including Monopolatte in Ottawa and Krowns in Calgary.
DC Comics launching Justice League Canada.
Canadian writer Jeff Lemire slated to helm the series. The title is due out in 2014, with the team roster still unrevealed.
Bureaucracy becomes a nail-biting video game.
Processing as an immigration border officer adds in complex situations and requires the player to make difficult decisions. Not the usual approach to a video game, but compelling.
Toronto Fan Expo becoming cosplay highlight.
Half of Fan Expo’s attendance will be in costume. Last year’s attendance reached 91 000. That’s a lot of costumes and hours to create them.
Project for Gamercamp turns video game heroines into fashion statements.
The Double Flawless project brings together video games and fashion as five iconic heroines – Princess Zelda, Commander Shepard, Lara Croft, Chun-Li, and Mileena – get makeovers. See the initial designs here.