Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #809: This Is Where I Try To Be Helpful

Last week I expressed some doubts about DC Comics character The Spectre becoming a viable TV series. I thought the character was too powerful, almost god-like, and the now that I think about it a little more, too much of a cypher, to make interesting weekly viewing.

This week, I'm not going to be a Negative Ned, and try to offer helpful advice on adapting comics characters to the small screen. Let's face it, with their choices being
The Spectre and that David E. Kelly Wonder Woman TV pilot debacle, they need it.

And who better to give it, than a smug internet know it all.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.


For too long DC Comics have been trying to adapt characters into big screen blockbuster franchises when they could have done a lot better on television.
Jonah Hex is a good example, he could have a made a nice, gritty Western TV series, instead they tried to make him into Batman, and not the Christopher Nolan Batman, or even the Tim Burton Batman, but the Joel Schumacher Batman.

Do you see what I'm getting at?

Anyway, I digress.

When searching for a comics property to adapt they need to ask these key questions:

A) Does the premise fit an episodic format? Remember a lot of comics are built around a single set story arc that will get easily used up in an open ended TV series. What a TV series needs is a premise that can do both one-and-done adventures, with what I call "background arcs" that can lead to a nice whopper of a season finale.

B) Can the audience relate to the character(s)? Networks like to base everything on likability, but it's really the ability of an audience to relate to a character. Don Draper of Mad Men isn't really likable, he's a selfish, self-pitying, chronic lying philanderer with the impulse control of a three year old, however, we can relate to him, because everyone's had a time when they've done something Draperesque, or at the very least felt like it. He's human, even tragic, and people can relate to that.

They can't be too powerful and/or too ethereal, however, you can't just go full Allan Moore and make a bundle of psycho-sexual neuroses, because that's been done to death. The character(s), especially the super powered ones, have to be both heroic and human. An appeal to the better angels of our nature, neither an apex or a nadir, just people with abilities trying to do what's right in a world that can often be wrong.

C) What drama can we extract from the nature/powers of the character(s) in the show? This is pretty important when you're dealing with "super-powered" characters. Their powers are going to affect their lives, and anyone planning on adapting them for TV better figure out how to wring some drama out of it, without flogging a dead horse.


Every book, comic book, or story has its own spirit. If you can find that spirit and figure out how to bring it to the screen you can have a successful adaptation. An example of an adaptation missing the spirit of the material is the 1990 TV adaptation of the DC Comics hero
The Flash. The show was slick looking, had pretty good effects for the era, but it was missing something.

Iris West (later Iris Allen).

You see the creators of the show went back to the original Silver Age Flash Barry Allen, but they grafted on Tina McGee the love interest of the Post-Barry Allen 1980s Flash Wally West onto the show. Half of the content of each Flash story was about Barry Allen and his relationship with Iris West, culminating in their marriage, and some really wild twists and turns. It was the core of the comic book, its spirit if you will, and it was left out.

That created a big gap in the whole series that the people behind it couldn't fill, and I think it hurt the show and hastened its end.


The showrunner and writers hired to make the show don't have to be fans of the specific character, although a certain amount of love is best. But I think being a fan of the medium, the genre, and the style of story is key. Too many times have I seen comic book heroes adapted to TV, and realize that the writers and showrunners have probably never seen a comic book because they're wasting their heroes powers and time fighting street thugs trying to get someone off their struggling Dude Ranch so they can steal the diamond mine underneath it. That sort of thing may have sold in the 70s, but television viewers and comic book fans are way more sophisticated now, and when they tune in for fantastical adventure, you better know how to deliver.


This is important when you're adapting superheroes, because every superhero needs a nice legion of super-villains to fight. Every character has them, and the fans want to see them in action. They need to be powerful enough to be a viable threat to either the hero, or his/her loved ones, faithful enough to the source material to woo the core fans, and they must be well written and well played by writers and actors capable of breathing some life and reality into some pretty outlandish characters.

Well, that's my advice. I wonder if anyone at DC will listen to it.


1 comment:

  1. I present the Metal Men - they're heroic, humorous, can get killed, each has a single easy personality trait so we don't need lots of backstory, and they have highly impressive powers that would look great in CGI.