I swear there was a time when “comic book geek” equated to a pimply, shaggy haired kid, donning thick glasses, never getting laid and passionately spitting corrections about the smallest details of his or her favourite superhero. That, or I just think of the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.
Don’t get me wrong, this image of the comic book geek is still well and truly thriving today as it was back then. But the difference today is that most anyone can be a fan of comic book heroes (glasses or no glasses) thanks to the unending spool of Hollywood superhero franchises that profit from what these original page-flipping nerds love so much.
It’s not that we’ve never heard of these superpowered, crime-fighters before – they’ve just returned to our screens in bigger numbers after having their image rehabilitated by the big-spending studios that wish to oust rubbery suits and questionable stunts. On the surface it seems like superhero branded movies are get-rich-quick schemes for the creators, with impressive box-office stats suggesting mass audiences are willing to pay overpriced ticket fees (no thanks to 3D) just to indulge in the spectacle of special effects and the nerdy mythology of old school superheroes again and again and again. While some might see this as a serious drought of creativity in Hollywood, I like to believe superhero productions are actually very challenging and somewhat risky ventures taken on by the film industry, as much of the pressure in delivering quality film adaptations is linked to the nerd-army of comic book fans that are not only multiplying, but becoming increasingly diverse in their expectations and reactions.
For one thing, heroes can be brought down to cheesy and somewhat over-the-top reproductions just as easily as they can be raised to glorified heights – and we as the audience are fully aware of this. While cinematic technology has gotten a lot more sophisticated (Look! No strings!), no amount of explosions or mutant powers are going to cover up a poorly presented story – in fact, I would argue that we’ve gotten pretty inured to CGI by now. Instead, the creative brains behind superhero productions have to work overtime to think of ways in which they can do justice to long-standing legends, focusing more on the representation of characters, the dialogue, a distinctive visual style, and a narrative that will necessarily condense, but hopefully select key, complex ideas and themes specific to the rebooted hero. And with comic book geeks breathing down your neck, I think there is definitely an art and genius behind those who can get it ‘right.’
So as we wait in anticipation for the arrival of Captain America, The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, X-Men: First Class and even the reboots of Spiderman and Superman, I am one of the ever increasing masses who have caught onto the nerdy thrills of comic book fandom, but more so, in the joys of criticizing them. Because whether you’re a four-eyed fan or you’ve only just caught onto the trend of ‘it’s cool to like superhero movies,’ we can all at least come to an agreement of whether a movie tells a fundamentally good story or not. Right?