Refereed articles

Information articles

Notes on contributors

Print friendly version

Special Effect: Have film adaptations changed mainstream comics?

Liam Burke

In an acerbic answer often credited to James. M Cain, the respected pulp writer responded to the question "How do you feel about what Hollywood has done to your books?" with "Hollywood has done nothing to my books… They're right over there on the shelf, exactly as I wrote them". [1] Although the Mildred Pierce author may have been being somewhat facetious, nonetheless novels and other similarly inert texts are less affected by audiovisual interpretations than episodic texts. Conversely, mainstream comic books with their Sisyphean protagonists engaged in never-ending battles against "the evil forces of society" serve "as a model of the perpetually suspended narrative" (Lunenfeld 15). In his first appearance in Detective Comics # 27 (May 1939) Batman is introduced with the caption, "The 'BAT-MAN', a mysterious and adventurous figure fighting for righteousness and apprehending the wrong doer, in his lone battle against the evil forces of society… his identity remains unknown" (Finger and Kane 4). Consequently, these episodic works are susceptible to the influence of their adaptations - an influence that has intensified in this era of media convergence.

Media content today is rarely confined to one form with corporate dictums and technological innovations motivating the content, and its audiences, to migrate to various forms. Media scholar Henry Jenkins has explored this trend in several publications, adopting the term "convergence" to describe the "flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behaviour of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experience they want" (2006 2-3). Jenkins believes that within convergence, "licensing will give way to what industry insiders are calling 'co-creation.' In co-creation, the companies collaborate from the beginning to create content they know plays well in each of their sectors, allowing each medium to generate new experiences for the consumer and expand the points of entry into the new franchise" (2006 107). As comics often only offer the semblance of change their open-ended narratives are well suited to co-creation, where closure is avoided. Thus comics books have become central to media production in this era of convergence, as testified by the Walt Disney Company's 2009 acquisition of Marvel Entertainment, a company that could boast it was "one of the world's most prominent character-based entertainment companies, built on a library of over 5,000 characters featured in a variety of media over seventy years" ("Disney to Acquire Marvel Entertainment"). However, as this paper will explore, on moving to the centre of media conglomerates, mainstream American comic books, both the texts themselves and the wider industry, increasingly fall under the yoke of their most widely seen audiovisual adaptations: Hollywood movies.

In 2002 the record-breaking gross of Spider-Man (Sam Raimi 2002) ushered in an unprecedented trend in the adaptation of comic books by American studios that continues today. For example, Spider-Man became the first film to pass the $100 million mark in a single weekend on its release. It ultimately grossed $821,708,551 worldwide. This paper will explore the impact of cinema's increasing influence on comics on a number of levels: Publishing, how have comic book companies tailored their strategies and practices to maximise the exposure and sales film production can offer. Continuity, what effect have the more widely seen cinematic narratives had on storytelling content and style. Medium Specificity, has the desire to make comics content amenable to film adaptation diminished the form's unique means of expression?


To meet corporate remits and/or maximise mainstream attention, publishers and retailers have adopted a number of strategies that find them acquiescing to the film industry. For instance, since 2002 the American comic book industry has annually held a free comic book day, which is designed to bring new customers into specialist retailers. Rather than being timed to coincide with a major comic book crossover or the introduction of new creative team, Free Comic Book Day has been held on the weekend a major comic book film adaptation is released, with retailers even voting to move the event by two months to coincide with Spider-Man 2. Similarly, a high profile adaptation will often find a comic book being "rebooted" (i.e. restarted at issue one with a fresh or simplified continuity). For instance, in April 2011 The Mighty Thor comic book was re-launched for the second time in less than four years in an attempt to siphon interest from the film adaptation. The covers for these re-launched titles often evoke and even directly cite the feature films, serving as posters for the big screen adaptations.

Fig. 1 The poster for Thor (Branagh 2011) is evoked and directly cited on the covers for the re-launched comic book The Might Thor (April 2011).

However, under today's corporate structure what these covers are selling is often entirely unrelated to the comic. As mentioned earlier, the Walt Disney Company bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion dollars in 2009 ("Disney to Acquire Marvel Entertainment"). Very soon the influence of the conglomerate became evident in the comics. For instance, the promotion for Walt Disney Pictures Tron: Legacy found its new corporate affiliate becoming "TRON-ified" as Marvel Comics was "proud to announce variant covers celebrating the film" (, with issues of the publisher's most popular comics (e.g. The Amazing Spider-Man, Wolverine and Captain America) released in Tron-inspired variant covers.

Fig. 2 "TRON-ified" variants of Marvel Comics were released in October 2010 to coincide with the release of the Walt Disney Pictures' film Tron: Legacy.

Thus, under this corporate structure comic covers are becoming just another opportunity for cross-promotion. However, cinema's influence goes beyond, or rather beneath, comic covers, with adaptations having a far-reaching effect on content and style.


Undoubtedly the greatest criticism of film adaptations of cult text is a perceived lack of fidelity, with a quali-quantitative audience study carried out at screenings of Thor and Green Lantern demonstrating the premium audiences place on fidelity, as 74% considered it "moderately", "very" or "extremely" important that a film matches the source (Burke). However, the episodic nature of most mainstream comics complicates the idea of a source text. Often what is subsequently considered "unfaithful" was at the time of production closer to the source than purists would like to think, such as the jingoism of Columbia's World War II Batman serial or the ridiculous set-ups of the 1960s television series. [2] In this way, these adaptations become fidelity fossils, capturing in time the evolution of these Sispyhean characters.

While comic book readers prize "fidelity", the term most often used, and in relation to comic book adaptations the one which is more apt, is "continuity". The notion of continuity allows comic book fans to adopt a less hierarchical view of the relationship between source and adaptation. Comic book fans may want adaptations to display the same continuity (i.e. fidelity) as the source, but they are not adverse to elements introduced by the adaptations becoming canon. Accordingly, interpretations may often add elements that later become character mainstays, thereby increasing the fidelity of the adaptations retrospectively, such as the Batcave, Barbara Gordon, Grappling Gun, Harley Quinn and Para-capes. The Batcave was introduced to the Batman mythos by the Columbia serial The Batman (Lambert Hillyer 1943). In order to capitalise on the success of Catwoman Batman (1966-8) producer William Dozier asked DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz to introduce more female characters, with Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino creating Barbara Gordon, who appeared in the comic book and television series simultaneously. Following its frequent use in Batman (1989) the Grappling Gun became the hero's rooftop conveyance of choice in the comics, until Batman Begins (2005) introduced memory cloth with Batman developing his own "para-cape" in Batman & Robin #1 (Summer, 2009). Many elements of Batman: The Animated Series subsequently became "canon" when introduced to the comic books, such as: Joker's sidekick Harley Quinn who first appeared in the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series episode "Joker's Favor" before being added to the comic book with an in-continuity appearance in Batman: Harley Quinn (August, 1999). Similarly, police officer Renee Montoya became a regular fixture of the comic book following an appearance in the season one episode "P.O.V.", while the Emmy award-winning episode "Heart of Ice" introduced a new backstory for not only the comic book version of Mr. Freeze, but also the 1997 film adaptation Batman & Robin. In this way adaptations form part of the bedrock over which an ongoing comic narrative flows, sending it in different directions and shaping its course.

The continuity that has existed between comics and their adaptations is the transmedia goal of many of today's media conglomerates, where entertainments are co-created across a number of platforms rather than simply adapted. Appropriately recent shifts in the field of adaptation studies, have found scholars moving away from linear fidelity studies to a post-structuralist approach that positions each adaptation at the centre of a spider's web of intertextual relations, which includes - but is not limited to - the source text. Such an approach is a direct challenge to the fidelity orthodoxy that critics feel encumbered adaptation studies in the past, with McFarlane stating in 1996 that those who "repudiate the notion 'fidelity' as an evaluative criterion when talking about the relations between film and literature can bolster their case by invoking the far more productive notion of intertextuality" (26) and Stam suggesting that critics need, "to be less concerned with inchoate notions of 'fidelity' and to give more attention to dialogical responses" (76). Such approaches were predated by French critic André Bazin, whose optimistic prediction of 1948 is realised in the fluid continuity between comic books and their audiovisual adaptations, where chronological precedence is eschewed, and each version is produced and received simultaneously. Bazin wrote:

the (literary?) critic of 2050 would find not a novel out of which a play and a film had been 'made', but rather a single work reflected through three art forms, an artistic pyramid with three sides, all equal in the eyes of the critic. The 'work' would then be only an ideal point at the top of this figure, which itself is an ideal construct (26).

Forty years from the deadline, the co-creation practiced by conglomerates such as Time Warner and The Walt Disney Company has achieved Bazin's "ideal construct" where each version contributes to the whole. DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson even echoed Bazin's analogy in describing the strategies by which her company produces audiovisual versions of their comic book characters, "This is about looking at all the different faces of the prism" (Marshall).

However, despite egalitarian claims, it is the more widely seen adaptations that tend to dictate content. This process has many antecedents. For instance, in the 1950s, DC Comics precursor National Comics realised the advantages of maintaining consistency with the Adventures of Superman television series. However, as current Action Comics writer Grant Morrison notes, "By aping the kitchen-sink scale of the Reeves show, Superman's writers and artists squandered his epic potential on a parade of gangsters, pranksters, and thieves" (Supergods 53). However, once the television series was cancelled the comic creators were free to introduce fantastical ideas that became character mainstays such as the Legion of Super-Heroes, Brainiac, Kandor and the Fortress of Solitude. Similarly, after more than fifty years of courtship Clark Kent and Lois Lane's comic book marriage may have seemed rushed in October 1996, but editor Mike Carlin had to shelve earlier ideas for a wedding when the singletons of the television adaptation, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, proved a hit, and quickly resurrect those plans when ABC decided to marry its leads (Pasko 180-1). Whether it is a corporate dictum, or publishers that are eager to exploit mass media exposure, this trend has intensified in recent years as levels of adaptation increase and franchise-minded studios strive to achieve brand consistency.

For instance, many fans voiced resistance to the bright coloured heroes of X-Men donning black leather costumes for the first feature length adaptation (Brent). Nonetheless these costumes were subsequently introduced to the comics (New X-Men #114, July 2001) and other audiovisual versions, such as the animated series X-Men: Evolution and the video game X-Men Legends. Derek Johnson describes how Marvel's licensing strategies in an era of transmedia storytelling, "first required the elimination of difference between the comic and audiovisual versions of its character properties" (66-7). Johnson further notes how Wolverine went from a short brutish antihero, to a taller, more classically handsome romantic lead thereby increasing similarities with actor Hugh Jackman who portrayed Wolverine in the feature films. This point is made explicit in the script for the second issue of Ultimate X-Men, a title introduced in 2001 to build on the popularity of the films, where writer Mark Millar suggests that the artist "Play him [Wolverine] like Jackman" (DeFalco, 2006: 243). A similar controversy surrounded the first adaptation of Spider-Man, when the character's web-shooters were changed from mechanical to organic. However, following the release of Spider-Man this "unfaithful" aspect was incorporated into the comic books in Spectacular Spider-Man (vol 2) # 15-20.

Despite some rare inconsistencies,[3] this desire for brand uniformity continues. For instance, in July 2011 original Captain America Steve Rogers made an inevitable return as the star-spangled hero, just in time for the character's feature film debut. This "co-creation" has also lead to long-running episodic comics being effectively reverse-engineered to tally with the more widely seen versions. For instance, the controversial Spider-Man storyline "One More Day", in which the character's backstory was simplified, was viewed by some as an attempt to increase the consistency between the Spider-Man comics and film adaptations (Ahmed). Similarly, DC Comics recent re-launch of its entire publication line, branded "The New 52", is widely considered an attempt to prime its characters for adaptation (Moore), much as Marvel did with its Ultimate line, a strategy that is currently bearing fruit. Despite Marvel Studios recent adaptations having decades of source material to adapt, the primary reference for these film are the recent Ultimate imprint versions of the characters, including: the militarisation of the heroes, action set-pieces (e.g. Bruce Banner's fall from the helicopter in The Incredible Hulk) and casting (Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury).

This desire to maximise brands through a variety of adaptations may have contributed to the comic book industry's decline (Hiatt). In audience research all but one non-fan participant enjoyed Thor, yet when asked if it would compel them to seek out the comics only 22% indicated that they would (Burke). Following, this result the survey was changed for Green Lantern to ask participants would they be interested in following Green Lantern in any other format, with 50% saying they would. A series of formats from novels through musical theatre and web comics were offered. Comic books and an animated TV series proved the top choices, with a Live Action TV series, mobile phone app and video game also generating interest. Thus, with those mainstream audience members who are enticed by films more amenable to television than the source, the plethora of adaptations of recent years may have bolstered the profile of the characters but it also seems to have weakened interest in the source material, with consumers no longer needing to return to comics to get their regular fix.

In concert with these re-launched titles, many mainstream comics now have what Grant Morrison describes as a "decompressed screenplay style" (Supergods 96). This style not only lends itself to the repackaging of comics for the trade paperback market, but it is also amenable to cinema's traditional three-act structure. Where once Batman's origin could be told in two quick pages (Detective Comics # 33 November 1939), or an X-Men fan could be transported from Days of the Future Past, to the present and back again in two issues (January-February 1981), today every plot development is given the multi-issue treatment, with Mark Millar explaining, "We knew we were writing for graphic novels at this stage and a six-issue graphic novel has roughly the same number of beats as a movie. Thus, these stories were constructed with a classic three-act plan every time. I just thought of [ Ultimate X-Men story arc] 'The Tomorrow People' as my X-Men movie and the subsequent arcs were the sequels" (DeFalco, 2006: 246).

Thus the desire for "screenplay style" storytelling and brand uniformity has had an impact on comic book stories and how they are told, while constant adaptations seem to have diminished interest in the source. However, cinema has also had a considerable impact on the form's specificity.

Medium Specificity

Writing in 1933 art critic Rudolph Arnheim argues that, "In order that the film artist may create a work of art it is important that he consciously stress the peculiarities of his medium" (35). This is a frequent criticism of many film adaptations that are deemed to be too beholden to their source text, such as films based on novels, which, despite cinema's omniscience, use a voice over to maintain first person narration. On the subject of literary adaptation and film voice-over Seymour Chatman notes, "It is not cinematic description but merely description by literary assertion transferred to film. Filmmakers and critics traditionally show disdain for verbal commentary because it explicates what, they feel, should be implicated visually" (450). As George Bluestone noted, "it is insufficiently recognised that the end products of novel and film represent different aesthetic genera, as different as ballet is from architecture" (5). However, as comics and film are both graphic narrative mediums, they at least occupy the same aesthetic genera, if not quite the same species, only being as distinct as ballet from boxing. Accordingly, many codes and conventions pass back-and-forth between the forms, increasing the expressivity of both languages. The traffic of conventions is so heavy between comics and cinema that it can often be difficult to cite an originator. Lacassin notes how the "extreme close-up was born on a cinema screen. But only the comic strip, mirror of the imaginary, could raise it a fantasy level [sic] denied to cinema" (14).

Despite these commonalties, and the potential for cross-pollination, both forms have unique means of expression, or what Arnheim calls "peculiarities". Duncan and Smith consider variable frames, graphiation, visualised sounds and the blending of word and image "unique to comics". To this list one could add layout, reader participation and static images. However, in the desire to emulate mainstream cinema and its popular adaptations the form's specificity has been eroded in mainstream comics in recent years.

Starting with Duncan and Smith's first unique element, "the shape of the frame can affect the meaning of what is being framed" (10). Unlike the rigid aspect ratios of cinema, the variability of the comic panel boarder can enhance storytelling. However, some of this diversity has been lost in recent years as a number of creators strive to emulate cinema. For instance, traditionally the most common past-tense indicator in comics was the wavy-edged or scalloped border, but today creators will more often use black and white or sepia tone to suggest a flashback. Clearly, this shifting of signifiers is attributable to cinema's influence on comics. Films frequently use black and white and other muted tones for scenes taking place in the past as it recalls antiquated film technology. However, the same reasoning does not apply to comic books as even the earliest comics appeared in colour. A more appropriate approach in comics would be to approximate older forms of printing. For instance, for a flashback panel in Dark Avengers # 13 (January 2010) the creators recreate Ben Day dots, restricted colours and Kirbyesque "krackle" to achieve a medium-specific flashback. (Krackle is a pseudo-fractal image used in comics to represent energy discharages. The technique is often credited to comic book artist Jack Kirby who co-created the Fantastic Four in 1961.) However, with the exception of this panel the rest of the issue's flashbacks are conveyed through the more cinematic technique of black and white, which has become the most regularly used past tense signifier in modern comics, with the traditional scalloped-edge border rarely employed.

Despite the variability of the comic book panel, the comic book frame may not be as flexible as it first appears. The American comic book is standardised at 17 x 26 cm (6 ⅝" x 10 ¼ "), resulting in an optimum aspect ratio of 1.53:1. Thus, while cinema's anamorphic lens may capture the breath of Monument Valley, a comic book's portrait scale and grid-like structure is better suited to tall buildings and cityscapes. However, some attempts have been made to play with the frame, even within the confines of its size. Very often these innovations have come from artists emulating a cinematic proscenium. One method sporadically practiced is the "sideways comic" of which John Byrne noted, "When I sat down to draw [Fantastic Four #252], I just suddenly thought, this issue needs to be in Cinerama, so I drew it sideways" (DeFalco, 2005: 101). Double-page spreads are a more frequently employed technique to widen a comic's rigid frame. One oft-cited example of this technique is Jack Kirby's opening pages for Adventures of the Fly #1 (August, 1959), which mirrors widescreen presentations in an image captioned, "Now for the first time in comics: The Wide Angle Scream!". In the panel Kirby uses two pages to create a cinematic aspect ratio and completes the effect by adding a parabolic-shaped border and exaggerated distortions within the image.

While Kirby's example was a rare homage, for today's so-called "widescreen artists" like Bryan Hitch, Frank Quietly and John Cassaday these double page spreads have become almost a default setting, with Hitch using as many as four double page spreads and two splash pages in The Ultimates 2 # 11, and employing a rigid widescreen frame for most other panels. To further accentuate the parallels with cinema, many of these comics eschew traditional whites spaces and adopt black gutters between the panels that evoke a cinematic proscenium. In addition to diminishing the expressivity of the comic book frame, these movie-inspired tableaux all encroach upon another vital aspect of the comic form: layout.

Layout is undeniably a central aspect of comic book storytelling with Robert Harvey going so far as to suggest that, "Only in the comics does layout assist in storytelling" (162). Jim Collins believes that the major difference in the mise-en-scène of cinema to comics is that, "Mise en scene in film depends upon sequential replacement of one image with another, but the mise en scene of the comic depends upon simultaneous co-presence on the page"(1991: 173). This co-presence of imagery has led McCloud to conclude that "unlike other media, in comics… both the past and future are real and visible and all around us" (1994: 104). An inventive use of this "retroactive determination" (Groensteen 10) can be found in Watchmen # 6, where vigilante Rorschach's anaemic responses to a physiatrist's inkblot test are juxtaposed in the same layout with his memories of a dog carcass. However, this contrast would be lost if every page contained only a single image, as McCloud famously noted, "there's no such thing as a sequence of one" (ibid 20). Therefore, Millar and Hitch's 26 issue run on Ultimates, which includes 25 double page spreads and 69 splash pages, signals a disconcerting trend in mainstream comics, where layout is sacrificed in favour of widescreen aesthetics.

McCloud describes comic book art as inescapably expressionistic (1994:126). However, this expressive "graphiation" (Baetens, 2001: 147) has come under increasing threat in the digital age where creators have unprecedented access to photographic material. In the past many artist strived for credible characters and employed photographic models. John Romita describes his real-life inspiration for Spider-Man's love interest Mary Jane Watson, "I used Ann-Margret from the movie Bye Bye, Birdie as a guide, using here colouring, the shape of her face, her red hair and her form-fitting short skirts. I exaggerated her dimples and the cleft in her chin" (DeFalco, 2004: 32). However, today photoreal more often means photoshop. Perhaps the mainstream creator most criticised for his over-reliance on photoshop is Greg Land, with Brian Cronin of CBR describing his work as, "Possibly the most harmful art I've seen in a comic". Although Cronin's phrasing may be somewhat hyperbolic, his point is well founded. Much of Land's art is translated directly from film images and other photographic material resulting in inconsistent storytelling and diminishing the handcrafted nature that many identify as a central tenet of the comic book medium. The blog Jimsmash has a number of examples of this photographic referencing, identifying panels where Land's borrowing from film posters, other comic book art and magazines is indisputable.

Despite limiting the potential of the form, this photoshoprealism is obviously considered important for soliciting the movie audience, hence Land's most frequent work coming from the Ultimate line, which Marvel developed to attract the film adaptation audience. Some issues, such as Ultimate Power # 1 (October 2006), were even published in a "Director's cut" variant, with no indication as to who the "director" of this comic book is supposed to be. Clearly the publisher, and its parent company, value Land's style, with the artist tasked with providing the covers for the comic book adaptation of Tron, which was timed to coincide with the sequel's release by Marvel's new corporate affiliate Walt Disney Pictures.Comic book writer Grant Morrison colourfully summed up the approach of those artists who frequently use photo references, "The new school aimed for a luminous photo realism, a beyond-natural 3-D simulated style where faces were Botoxed to a masklike sheen. At the extremes of this approach, every female Marvel character appeared drawn in poses derived from original photographic images of swimsuit or porn models. Sometimes the same unfortunate superheroine could resemble four or five completely different, completely lifelike women in a single issue, depending on how many different pictures of pouting odalisques the artist had light boxed from Maxim or FHM" (Morrison 350)

While this photoshopealism still offers the veneer of handcrafted art. In 2003 Marvel introduced the "Ultimate Picture Books" which reworked the first story arcs of Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men as picture books with models and actors. Although, these books were not continued past the initial publications, they represent a willingness on the part of the comic publisher to eliminate the artist in an effort to solicit wider audiences.

Traditionally comic book art would brim with the creator's style. As Harvey notes of this "graphic manoeuvring", "Style is… the visual result of an individual artist's use of the entire arsenal of graphic devices available, including the very tools of the craft. An artist's style can be identified by describing the way he draws certain objects (shoes, hands, lips) or how he uses a brush or pen (thin lines, thick lines; sketchy or labored or detailed)" (152). For instance, Kirby's characters may not have always been anatomically correct, but their clean lines and heroic angles ensured that they were in keeping with the dynamism of the story. Today's trend toward photoshoprealism, may only serve to diminish the expressivity of comic book graphiation.

Duncan and Smith also cite visualising sounds and the blending of words and images as essential aspects of the comic form. However, how these sounds are visualised and words are blended has changed in recent years. McCloud notes how in modern comics the caption, which he describes as 'the equivalent of a movie over voice [sic]' (2006: 155), has eclipsed the thought balloon as the dominant means by which a character's inner dialogue is expressed. While a caption can fulfil many of the same functions as a thought balloon, McCloud notes a "caption only works as running narration, and readers have to know which character is doing the thinking, even in panels overflowing with characters. A thought balloon… can appear once in a 200 page graphic novel… and audiences will think nothing of it" (2006: 155). Despite medium specific advantages, movie-style captions, which are not well integrated into the art, have become the more dominant means of conveying a character's inner thoughts.

Two final aspects of comic book's means of expression that are under threat in this era of co-creation, are reader participation and static images. Discussing the participatory requirement of comics Pascal Lefèvre notes, "It is the readers who have to leaf through a comic and they can choose their own reading speed. They can linger on a panel, scan they complete plate, and return to panels or whole sequences at free will. A film though, obliges the viewer to follow the rhythm of the sequences" (5). Michael Cohen describes the virtues of comics' static images, "The depiction of motion by conventions in the artwork is complemented by the static nature of the image, which imbues it with a contemplative potential: even though the image might suggest or be part of a continuous motion, it can be scrutinized and savoured in a way cinematic images cannot" (28).

Batman editor Denny O'Neil cited participation as the inherent difference between the forms, as "reading requires more participation from the audience than cinema, where if you are just passive you can still get it" (Pearson and Uricchio 32). While Federico Fellini recognised that "the world of comics may, in its generosity, lend scripts, characters, and stories to the movies, but not its inexpressible secret power of suggestion that resides in that fixity, that immobility of a butterfly on a pin" (Gravett 2). However in the desire to maximise mass-media potential, producers have sought to erase these elements with the contradictory "motion comic", which features original comic art with some animation and voice over. A Watchmen motion comic was released online and on DVD to coincide with the Warner Bros. film adaptation, but any gains were at the detriment of the participation and limitless discourse-time of the source. The motion comic is an example of what Bolter and Grusin would term "aggressive" remediation, whereby there is an attempt to "refashion the older medium or media entirely, while still marking the presence of the older media". As Bolter and Grusin explain, this "tearing out of context makes us aware of the artificiality of both the digital version and the original" (46). Being neither comic nor cartoon, the motion comic becomes an unnecessary by-product of media convergence, and as McCloud pointed out, "When it comes to time-based immersion, the art of film already does a better job than any tricked-up comic can" (2000: 210).

Thus in this film-centric environment, many of comics' unique means of expression have been diminished in the mainstream industry, including: the malleability of panel borders, the playful possibilities of layouts, the expressionism inherent in a handcrafted line, the intricate blending of words and images, reader participation, as well as the static images that are fundamental to the form. With so many of comics' unique means of expression diminished in the mainstream, has the form reached what Marshall McLuhan describes as a "break boundary at which the system suddenly changes into another" (41). Although comics have always borrowed and repurposed film techniques, the last two decades of media convergence has seen the systematic replacement of comic signifiers with film codes that transgress the form's specificity. Such developments give credence to Will Eisner's warning from 1996, "How many of the classic vehicles of communication have disappeared as a result of advance of delivery?" (150)

Grant Morrison, opened his recent book Supergods: Our Age in the Wold of The Superheroes by optimistically stating "I've been aware of comic books' range, and of the big ideas and emotions they can communicate, for a long time now, so it's with amazement and a little pride that I've watched the ongoing, bloodless surrender of mainstream culture to relentless colonization from the geek hinterlands" (xvi). Morrison optimistically suggests that it is comics that are annexing Hollywood, when one could equally argue the reverse is taking place. Over the past decade the film industry has mined comics for inspiration, with many mainstream publishers offering little resistance. However a number of commentators believe that cinema's annexation of the mainstream industry's power fantasies will benefit the form (McCloud, 2000: 212-213), with Brad Brooks suggesting "that since now movies can use CGI, there is no need for comics to have superheroes in them" (Regalado 118). Accordingly, readers may finally find a diversity of genres on their shelves. Thus, it remains to be seen whether cinema, after it inevitably moves onto the next profitable source, will leave behind a rich artform or a barren industry unable to function on its own.


Ahmed, Samira. "Spiderman Cuts His Ties." Channel 4. 19 June 2008. Web. 30 Aug. 2010. < cuts his ties/1361467>.

Altieri, Kevin, dir. "P.O.V." Batman: The Animated Series. Fox. 18 Sept. 1992. Television.

Arnheim, Rudolf. Film as Art. Berkeley: University of California, 1957. Print.

Baetens, Jan. "Revealing Traces: A New Theory of Graphic Enunciation." The Language of Comics: Word and Image. Ed. Robin Varnum and Christina T. Gibbons. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2001. 145-55. Print.

Batman . Dir. Lambert Hillyer. Perf. Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft. Columbia Pictures, 1943.

Batman. Dir. Leslie H. Martinson. Perf. Adam West and Burt Ward. 20th Century Fox, 1966.

Bazin, André. "Adaptation, or the Cinema as Digest." 1948. Film Adaptation. Ed. James Naremore. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2000. 19-27. Print.

Bluestone, George. Novels into Film. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1957. Print.

Bolter, J. David, and Richard A. Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1999. Print.

Brent, J. S. "Bryan Singer Reveals Major X-Men: First Class Details, Including Kevin Bacon's Role." Reelz. 22 Aug. 2010. Web. 10 Feb. 2012.

Brooker, Will. "Batman: One Life, Many Faces." Adaptations: From Text to Screen, Screen to Text. Ed. Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelehan. London: Routledge, 1999. 185-98. Print.

Burke, Liam. "Shaping the Text: An Audience Study of Comic Book Adaptations: Thor and Green Lantern." Proc. of Joint International Conference of Graphic Novels, Bandes Dessinées and Comics 2011, Manchester Metropolitan University. Print.

Cain, James M. Mildred Pierce. New York: Vintage, 1989. Print.

Captain America: The First Avenger . Dir. Joe Johnston. Perf. Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell. Marvel Studios, 2011. Film.

Carr, Thomas, dir. "Superman on Earth." Adventures of Superman. ABC. 19 Sept. 1952. Television.

Chatman, Seymour. "What Novels Can Do That Films Can't (And Vice Versa)." Critical Inquiry 7.1 (1980): 121-40. Print.

Cohen, Michael. "Dick Tracy: In Pursuit of a Comic Book Aesthetic." Film and Comic Books. Ed. Ian Gordon, Mark Jancovich, and Matthew P. McAllister. New York: University of Mississippi, 2007. 13-36. Print.

Collins, Jim. "Batman: The Movies, Narrative: The Hyperconscious." The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media. Ed. Roberta E. Pearson and William Uricchio. New York: Routledge, 1991. 164-81. Print.

Cronin, Brian. "Possibly the Most Harmful Art I've Seen in a Comic." Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources. 21 May 2009. Web. 19 June 2011. <>.

The Dark Knight . Dir. Christopher Nolan. Perf. Christian Bale and Heath Ledger. Warner Bros., 2008. Film.

DeFalco, Tom. Comics Creators on Fantastic Four. London: Titan, 2005. Print.

DeFalco, Tom. Comics Creators on Spider-Man. London: Titan, 2004. Print.

DeFalco, Tom. Comics Creators on X-Men. London: Titan, 2006. Print.

Dini, Paul. "Heart of Ice." Batman: The Animated Series. Fox. 7 Sept. 1992. Television.

Dini, Paul. "Joker's Favor." Batman: The Animated Series. Fox. 11 Sept. 1992. Television.

Duncan, Randy, and Matthew J. Smith. The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture. New York: Continuum International Group, 2009. Print.

Eisner, Will. Comics & Sequential Art. Tamarac, FL: Poorhouse, 1985. Print.

Eisner, Will. Graphic Storytelling. Tamarac, FL: Poorhouse, 1996. Print.

Finger, Bill, and Bob Kane. "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate." The Batman Chronicles. Ed. Dale Cain. New York: Dc Comics, 2007. 3-9. Print.

Gravett, Paul. Graphic Novels Stories to Change Your Life. New York: Aurum, 2005. Print.

Green Lantern . Dir. Martin Campbell. Perf. Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively. Warner Bros., 2011.

Groensteen, Thierry. The System of Comics. New York: University of Mississippi, 2007. Print.

Harvey, Robert C. The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 1996. Print.

Hiatt, Brian. "Grant Morrison on the Death of Comics | Music News | Rolling Stone." Rolling Stone. 22 Aug. 2011. Web. 10 Feb. 2012. <>.

The Incredible Hulk . Dir. Louis Leterrier. Perf. Edward Norton and Liv Tyler. Marvel Studios, 2008. Film.

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York UP, 2006. Print.

Jim. "GREG LAND: TRACING, SWIPING & RECYCLING." Weblog post. JIMSMASH. 1 July 2008. Web. 19 June 2011. <>.

Johnson, Derek. "Will the Real Wolverine Please Stand Up?" Film and Comic Books. Ed. Ian Gordon, Mark Jancovich, and Matthew P. McAllister. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2007. 64-85. Print.

Lacassin, Francis. "The Comic Strip and Film Language." Film Quarterly 26.1 (1972): 11-23. Print.

Lefèvre, Pascal. "Incompatible Visual Ontologies: The Problematic Adaptation of Drawn Images." Film and Comic Books. Ed. Ian Gordon, Mark Jancovich, and Matthew P. McAllister. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2007. 1-12. Print.

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman . ABC. 12 Sept. 1993. Television.

Marshall, Rick. "DC Entertainment President Talks Comics, Movies And Creators And How The Recent Changes Will Affect Them." MTV. 9 Nov. 2009. Web. 10 Feb. 2012.

"Marvel Unveils TRON Variant Covers." 18 Oct. 2010. Web. 18 June 2011. <>.

McCloud, Scott. Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels. New York: Harper, 2006. Print.

McCloud, Scott. Reinventing Comics: [how Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form]. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Print.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. Print.

McFarlane, Brian. Novel to Film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996. Print.

McLuhan, Marshal. Understanding Media (Routledge Classics). New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Moore, Ben. "DC Comics' New 52 Reboot: The Complete Guide | Screen Rant." Screen Rant. 31 Aug. 2011. Web. 09 Feb. 2012. <>.

"More Greg Land Tracing." Weblog post. JIMSMASH. 23 Apr. 2009. Web. <>.

Morrison, Grant. "Grant Morrison Discusses Superman, "Action Comics"" Comic Book Resources. 15 June 2011. Web. 13 July 2011. <>.

Morrison, Grant. Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero. London: Jonathan Cape, 2011. Print.

Pasko, Martin. The DC Vault: A Museum-in-a-book Featuring Rare Collectibles from the DC Universe. Philadelphia: Running, 2008. Print.

Pasko, Martin. The DC Vault: A Museum-in-a-book Featuring Rare Collectibles from the DC Universe. Philadelphia: Running, 2008. Print.

Pearson, Roberta E., and William Uricchio. "Notes from the Batcave: An Interview with Dennis O'Neil." The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media. New York: Routledge, 1991. 18-32. Print.

Pearson, Roberta E., and William Uricchio. The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.

Regaldo, Aldo J. "Unbreakable and the Limits of Transgression." Film and Comic Books. Ed. Ian Gordon, Mark Jancovich, and Matthew P. McAllister. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2007. 116-36. Print.

Silverberg, Ira. Everything Is Permitted: The Making of Naked Lunch. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1992. Print.

Smith, Greg. "Shaping The Maxx: Adapting the Comic Book Frame to Television." Animation Journal 8.1 (1999): 32-53. Print.

Spider-Man 2 . Dir. Sam Raimi. Perf. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Columbia Pictures, 2004. Film.

Stam, Robert. "Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation." Film Adaptation. Ed. James Naremore. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2000. 54-78. Print.

SuperHeroHype. "Free Comic Book Day 2004 to Coincide with Spider-Man 2 | Superhero Hype." Superhero Hype. 8 Sept. 2003. Web. 18 June 2011. <>.

Thor . Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman. Marvel Studios, 2011. Film.

Tron . Dir. Steven Lisberger. Perf. Jeff Bridges. Walt Disney Studios, 1982.

Tron Legacy . Dir. Joseph Kosinski. Perf. Jeff Bridges and Garrett Hedlund. Walt Disney Pictures, 2010.

Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comics . Adapt. Jake Strider Hughes. Perf. Tom Stechschulte. Cruel & Unusual Films, 2008.


[1] This quote is sometimes attributed to Raymond Chandler, including in the Introduction to Everything is Permitted: The Making of 'Naked Lunch' by William Burroughs.

[2] Like many World War II US entertainments, the 1943 Batman Columbia serial took part in the vilification of Japanese soldiers, with Martin Pasko describing the villain, Dr. Daka, as a "Japanese spy stereotype" (51). However, the film did not/could not fully recreate the extreme caricaturing of the comic books and other visual materials of the time, with Will Brooker concluding that it was "a more realist variation on the grotesque stereotypes of the poster-art" (188).

[3] Eschewing brand uniformity DC Comics sent Bruce Wayne to purgatory at the same time The Dark Knight was breaking box office records around the world. Although this probably owed more to writer Grant Morrison's cache as a creator than any efforts to maintain sovereignty on the part of the publishers.