Welcome back, class! I hoped you enjoyed your break, and I hope you used the lessons you have learnt so far. Also, I hope you double featured Bridesmaids and Trainwreckand then found someone who was saying that women aren’t funny and punched them right in their balls. No? Well, then you and I had very different breaks.

Today, we’re going to continue our course on adaptation. Whether you call them a cultural genocide or the infantilization of modern culture, or a rip-roaring good time, you have to admit that comic book movies are hot right now. They are everywhere, and they’re huge. Some are great. Some are very much not great.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

So how do you do it well? Some comic book series are easy to adapt (in theory, anyway). They are short, close-ended stories, like Watchmen or From Hell (great comics, terrible movies) that can be adapted the same way as a novel, wherein you take the bits that can be filmed and film them, while trying at the same time to keep most of the plot from the source material and, crucially, its tone. With something like a Batman or an Iron Man comic, you have characters who have appeared in comics for decades, have starred in hundreds of stories, and so a straight, linear narrative is harder to follow.

The trick is to cherry-pick the bits that work from these vast catalogues of resources while staying true to an idea of the character. For example, The Dark Knight Rises has some original elements, but its main plot is nearly beat-for-beat identical to a Batman story called The Cult, in which a cult of sewer dwellers incapactiate Batman and take over the city by destroying its infrastructure and marooning it from the mainland. At the same time, a lot of its plot also comes from a different story called Knightfall, in which muscle-bound strategist Bane shows up in Gotham and breaks Batman’s back. Then there are some elements of Dark Knight Returns in which Batman comes out of retirement. Nolan ignores some of the weirder bits of each comic (such as where the villain in The Cult is an actual demon, or where after Bane breaks Batman’s back in Knigthfall Bruce Wayne is replaced by an extreme, 1990s style caped crusader, or how Dark Knight Returns is just generally insane) and keeps the best bits in maintenance of the Batman character. On the flip-side of that we have Man of Steel. That movie borrows from a few different Superman stories, like the classic All-Star Superman and Birthright, but fails because the writers lost track of who Superman is supposed to be.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

With characters like this the stories will change year-to-year, but the characters remain consistent, which is what brings readers back time and again. We know Iron Man will be a bit of a prick, Captain America will be the best possible person, Hawkeye will be a smartass, Batman will be dark and haunted, and Superman will be a super man. The boundaries of these characterizations can be pushed but not broken. Unless of course you have a fantastic story to go along with your recasting of classic characters, in which case go ahead.

Next time, we’re going to talk about Fantastic Four and How-To do them (not like that, you dirty minded creeps).

Featured Image: Warner Bros. Pictures