Do Superhero Reimaginations Ever Deserve Our Hate?

Posted May 6, 2016 by Jason Adams in Movies

The last month, comic culture has been abuzz with criticism for DC’s Batman v. Superman, and that hatred has been brought to the forefront once again this week. It could be in part because of the contrast provided by glowing reviews for Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, which seems to be more of a “faithful adaptation”. Of course, it doesn’t help that some of director and DC cinematic universe visionary Zack Snyder’s unflattering old interview soundbites have resurfaced this week as well. Regardless of the source, the witch hunt for Snyder begs the question “Is he really THAT bad of a person for making this film?”


I don’t want this piece being misinterpreted, so I’m going to explicitly state off the bat that I’m not defending the quality of Batman v. Superman. I think it has many problems beyond its fidelity to its preceding comic canon. And although Snyder’s film does receive flack for these flaws, in the comic community the main reason he gets attacked (not just on an artistic level, but in an increasingly personal way too) is for deviating from the source material so heavily. Now I don’t like 90% of what Snyder does, and I didn’t enjoy his latest cinematic offering, but I will plant my foot here and defend the validity of his artistic vision to my grave.


There seem to be two general ways by which to judge comic adaptations. The first is by how closely it sticks to the comics. The appeal to those that value this measure is seeing the same story that they’ve experienced (or as close to it as possible) played out in glorious live action. We’ve read enough Flash comics, and now we basically get to see them unfold in motion with real people in a much more visually stunning way for about 20 hours a season. The second way to enjoy these adaptations is by appreciating the ways that the creatives in charge have changed the story and made use of these pre-existing characters and tropes. The way ancient legends of gods got passed down and reinterpreted by different cultures, we get to see how every new generation of directors and writers create a new take on Spider-Man, maybe with web-producing glands in his wrists, or fighting a massive mechanical version of the Rhino, or with Marisa Tomei as a young Aunt May.

I’ll admit that I’m a huge sucker for alternate takes on characters. I was among the most disappointed when it was announced that a steampunk Batman video game in development had been cancelled. I followed all of last year’s Spider-Verse event with a level of excitement one would think only achievable by a child. And as much as I hated the mid-2000s Fantastic Four films, I’m still in love with their ominous ethereal intangible cloud take on Galactus. I don’t fully relate to the appeal of wanting to see something recreated frame by frame for the big screen, but it’s a view that I can respect. Neither way of wanting to experience super hero adaptations is wrong (though I’ve been labelled “not a REAL comic fan” often enough on the internet for my views), neither is right, and the internet would be a much more enjoyable place if we could accept the values of others in this never-ending debate and learn to live in a hand-holding harmonious utopia of online cooperation.


Reinterpretations of characters happen often enough, but many seem to take issue only when the film itself is sub-par for more technical objective reasons. I didn’t necessarily like Edgar Wright’s very different take on Hank Pym and a part of me was disappointed that he would never be the MCU’s Ant-Man, but I can still appreciate Wright’s restructuring and reimagining of the whole Ant-Man history to frame it as an intergenerational torch-passing legacy story, since in theory it lends itself to that story archetype pretty well. And then the film itself was funny and cool and everything a summer blockbuster should be, so the creation of a completely new character as the Wasp and the total absence of Janet van Dyne, along with the changes mentioned above, were ignored by most fans.


I’m not trying to say that cruel killer Batman and axe-wielding Robin are on the same tier of change as Old Man Pym, but if we can look past Wright’s changes, as well as others (WWII adult sniper Bucky Barnes, American teenager Quicksilver, advanced-tech alien Asgardians, the list goes on), can we not at least afford Zack Snyder the courtesy of a “We don’t like your vision, but that’s our collective subjective opinion”? Does having a dark, gritty, better-suited-to-the-early-2000s reimagination really warrant the “Fuck you” he was hit with earlier this week in tweets by Spider-Man writer Gerry Conway?


So if you’ve ever liked Frank Miller’s old grizzled and jaded DKR Batman, if you’ve ever not minded Wolverine’s black leather uniform over the possibly silly live action yellow spandex alternative, if you’ve read more than one issue of any Ultimate Marvel comic, all I ask of you is to ask yourself if Snyder’s interpretation of these characters really means he deserves our contempt on a personal level, and that you judge the movie on its own poorly-paced, overstuffed, drab merits.

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Jason Adams