After wrapping up the Avengers Adaptation series last week, I started wondering what was in store for adaptations of comic books. If you’ve followed along here at MuseHack, you’ll have noted the posts about the movie meltdown coming. From Spielberg to Cracked.com, the current bubble is predicted to pop, possibly as early as 2015. Meanwhile, Marvel Studios and Warner Brothers have a number of big screen adaptations in planning. Add in companies like Dark Horse Comics, and the comic book movie looks to be a mainstay until the pop.
First, Marvel Studios has a number of sequels related to The Avengers, including Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Outside the Avenger titles, Marvel’s taking a risk with Guardians of the Galaxy, based on an older title of space-faring heroes. Another risk, though linking back to The Avengers, is the Ant-Man movie. Marvel did succeed with the movies leading to The Avengers despite the characters being lesser known. What may help is Marvel Studios using existing storylines from the comics. That still leaves the question on whether audiences are willing to give the non-sequel movies a shot. Summer of 2013 has audiences not turning out for the big-budget blockbusters as they had in the past.
Marvel Studios isn’t the only studio adapting Marvel titles. Fox has the rights to the X-Men and related titles and characters and have released The Wolverine and is working on X-Men: Days of Future Past combining the original X-trilogy with X-Men: First Class. Sony has the rights to Spider-Man and has rebooted the series.
Over at Warner, owner of Marvel’s Distinguished Competition, the success rate of movies depends on whether it centres around Batman. Man of Steel underperformed at the box office. The Green Lantern fizzled. Catwoman bombed. The Dark Knight trilogy did do well, though. The advantage Warner has is that it holds all the rights to the DC characters. If they need a character, they have the access. However, the lesson that Warner learned is that dark, grey, and gritty is the way to go, leading to Man of Steel. Warner’s next adaptation is based on World’s Finest, a Batman-Superman movie. Meanwhile, a Justice League movie may be on its way, thanks to the success of The Avengers, but this would put Warner into the position of catching up with Marvel. With The Green Lantern‘s middling success and the studio having no idea what to do with Wonder Woman, that leaves the rest of the classic team in limbo. Aquaman would need a Dini-verse makeover. The Flash would mean trying to pick which Flash* to use. There is a Flash movie in the works for 2016, though. The character does not work in a grim and gritty story. Other than Batman, the Green Arrow has had some success through the TV series Arrow
Adding to the movie implosion of 2013 is R.I.P.D., an adaptation of a Dark Horse comic of the same name. The comic doesn’t have the same name space in pop consciousness, so the failure of the movie shouldn’t impact the title. However, by being off the pop culture radar, the movie had to rely solely on marketing, a problem plaguing several releases over the past few years, including John Carter. While Marvel Studios, Fox, Sony, and Warner have the money to get word of a movie out to everyone if they wish**, a lesser movie won’t get the money behind it. R.I.P.D. did have marketing, but audiences stayed away.
Marvel managed to capture attention using the Avengers Initiative and high quality movies. Warner needs to play catch up without looking like a Marvel imitator, making the success of a Justice League movie difficult.
Next week, Blade Runner
* Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, and Wally West have all taken up the mantle of the Flash in DC Comics.
** For a counter-example, see John Carter. Please.
This week, everyone’s favourite hero with anger management issues, the Incredible Hulk.
The Hulk first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #1 back in 1962. As with many of Marvel’s early original heroes*, the Hulk was created by Stan Lee, with Jack Kirby. The origin had Dr. Bruce Banner, physicist, being at ground zero of a gamma bomb. Instead of dying, Banner absorbed the gamma rays, turning him into the Hulk. From that point on, whenever Banner was upset or angry, the Hulk would be released. Stan Lee has said that he invoked Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde along with Frankenstein with the character, noting that the Hulk, despite being the monster, was the hero. Although not an immediate hit**, the character guest starred in other Marvel titles and became a founding member of the Avengers, staying in The Avengers for the first two issues before leaving.
In 1978, CBS aired a television series, also called The Incredible Hulk based on the comic. Changes were made; Bill Bixby played Dr. David Bruce Banner, a name change required by executives. The gamma bomb accident because a lab accident that infused Banner with gamma radiation. The Hulk, played by Lou Ferrigno, had reporter Jack McGee chasing him, trying to find out the truth about the accident. The series ran five seasons, with three made-for-TV movies following.
Wait, you may be thinking, why mention the TV series when I haven’t done anything like this before? Isn’t this about the 2008 movie, The Incredible Hulk? Indeed it is, I say as I somehow read your mind. However, I continue, the TV series is important to keep in mind for the rest of the review.
The 2008 movie The Incredible Hulk was filmed by Marvel Studios as part of its Avengers Initiative, a series of movies leading up to the release of The Avengers. The Hulk, as mentioned above, was a founding member of the team, despite leaving after the second issue. Might be easy enough to gloss over; Avengers #1 is older than the target audience. Except, as seen with the other entries, the filmmakers are well aware of the history of the comics. The Hulk is, now, one of Marvel’s iconic characters, inspiring phrases such as “hulking out” and the source of, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”***
The movie quickly shows the Hulk’s origin during the opening credtis, combining the one comic and the one from the TV series to have a super solider serum test go wrong. Banner was led to believe the serum was to help resist gamma radiation. General Ross, an old foe of the Hulk from the comic, had other ideas. The movie opens in Brazil, with Banner working at a factory while trying to research a cure. An industrial accident that leads to a Stan Lee cameo lets Ross know where Banner is hiding. Ross sends a special forces team, led Emil Blonski, to retrieve the hiding scientist. Suffice to say, they got Banner upset, and that never ends well for anyone.
While Banner returns to the US to get the original data from the project that turned him into the Hulk, Blonsky and Ross work together to create a weapon capable of going toe-to-toe with the green monster. Blonski volunteers to under go the super soldier treatment, foreshadowing the events of Captain America. The first fight between Blonski and the Hulk, at a college campus, leads to Blonski recuperating in the hospital with every bone broken, but healing fast. The fight was also recorded by a jounalism student with the last name McGee.
The movie continues, using Blonski as a mirror to Banner. As Banner works to get rid of the Hulk, Blonski works to embrace the monster within, eventually becoming the Abomination. The difference between the two gamma radiated monsters is that Blonski kept his intelligence. Where the Hulk is raw, brute strength and fury, Blonski keeps his skills, losing a little in raw power.
The movie itself draws from the Hulk’s forty year comic history and the television series, blending the two. Edward Norton, who played Banner, looked a lot like the late Bill Bixby, even down to mannerisms as Bruce. Lou Ferrigno not only has a cameo as a security guard, but is also the voice of the Hulk. The journalism student mentioned is a shout out to Jack McGee of the TV series. Audience members who know the hulk solely through the TV series would not be lost. The influence of the TV series brought me to a question that I hadn’t considered before; that is, “Is there such a thing as an adaptation that is more influential than the original work?”
The Incredible Hulk also had to deal with history progressing since 1962. Originally, Blonski was a KGB agent. With the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the de-Sovietization of Russia, having a KGB agent would stick out. Turning Blonski into the English-born son of Russian immigrants on loan from the UK to the US brings the character into the 21st century. Likewise, the gamma bomb became a lab accident; the push to out-arm the Soviets also disappeared with the end of the Cold War. While the US does maintain a stockpile, the need to increase the number of warheads has dropped greatly. The movie updates the Hulk mythos nicely, telling an archetypical Hulk story with a current setting.
Next week, expanding a setting through an adaptation.
* As in, not the ones originally created my Marvel’s predecessor, Timely
** The Incredible Hulk, volume 1 lasted six issues.
*** Originally from the TV series, in the opening credits.