‘The golden age of comic book pop culture’

Comic books, film altered by proliferation of superhero movies

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/15/19

On March 28, 1941, the first ever superhero film hit the silver screen in the form of the first edition of a 12-chapter serial.

The series was called “Adventures of Captain Marvel,” which …

The News + Record is worth reading!

We’re all about Chatham County, and we welcome you to our site. You can view up to 3 stories each month, then registration is required.

Please sign in below if you have an account. If not, please register here to get an account and an additional 7 stories each month. It’s easy and takes just a minute.

Our staff works hard to bring good journalism, writing and story-telling to Chatham County. HELP US! You can get the News + Record mailed to you weekly by subscribing here.

Please log in to continue

Log in
‘The golden age of comic book pop culture’

Comic books, film altered by proliferation of superhero movies

Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing to the News + Record – you can do so by clicking here.


On March 28, 1941, the first ever superhero film hit the silver screen in the form of the first edition of a 12-chapter serial.

The series was called “Adventures of Captain Marvel,” which followed a boy named Billy Batson who gained the power to turn into the super hero Captain Marvel by saying the word “Shazam.”

Seventy-eight years and eight days later, on April 5, 2019, the movie “Shazam!” will hit theaters. The movie will follow a boy named Billy Batson who gains the ability to turn into a superhero by saying the word “Shazam.”

For nearly 80 years now, superhero and comic book characters have graced the small and silver screens, raking in tons of money and fame for studio executives, actors and the characters themselves. This year will see at least eight movies based on comic books debut in American cinemas, with “Captain Marvel” — about a different character, Carol Danvers — having debuted at cineplexes March 8.

The recent glut of movies — highlighted by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Extended Universe series of films — have affected both the comic book industry and Hollywood, as denizens of both will attest.

Silver screen icons

Movies based on comic books or superheroes regularly populate the end-of-year top box office grossing movies in the U.S. In 2018, Black Panther was first, followed by “Avengers: Infinity War” (No. 2), “Incredibles 2” (No. 3), “Aquaman” (No. 5) “Deadpool 2” (No. 6), “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (No. 9). Similarly in 2017, with “Wonder Woman” highlighting the slate at No. 3, followed by “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (No. 5), “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (No. 6), “Thor: Ragnarok” (No. 8) and “Justice League” (No. 10). The year before was no different – “Captain America: Civil War” finished third, “Deadpool” was sixth, with “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” No. 8 and “Suicide Squad” No. 9.

Neil Morris, the News + Record’s film critic, has been reviewing movies on a regular basis since 2002. He said that while superhero films have “gobbled up some of the blockbuster market and possibly crowded out more traditional action films,” it’s been getting people to theaters, which is more difficult than it used to be.

“The cinema has to always find ways to survive,” Morris said. “If superheroes are the tent-pole money makers, along with the ‘Star Wars’ of the world, if that’s how studios are going to get by, if that’s how theaters stay in business, then that is of a benefit. That is our era’s way of keeping the cinematic experience alive.”

The Marvel Cinematic Universe — which features characters like Iron Man, Captain America and the Hulk — has now released 21 movies since “Iron Man” came out in 2008. Morris cites it as holding a unique place in movie-making history because of keeping the same actors playing the same characters throughout and maintaining the same general storyline. That makes it different from another one of Morris’ favorite series, the James Bond 007 franchise, which has had six different actors over 57 years.

“I just think the MCU’s done it on a much longer, broader, leafier scale,” Morris said. “The benefit is that you become invested in the characters. Having the same actor playing the same character through different films, there’s an emotional tie-in that’s not easily articulated.”

As far as the recent rise of superhero movies, Morris cites two examples: 2008’s “Iron Man” starring Robert Downey Jr. and 2005’s “Batman Begins” featuring Christian Bale in the title role. The former reminded people that superhero movies could be “fun, funny and good” after the dark “Batman” films of the 1990s by Tim Burton, while the latter “not only re-imagines the Batman universe, but the superhero genre at a time when it really needed that.”

Not the funny pages

Siena Fallon, manager of Ultimate Comics’ Durham and Cary stores, grew up around comic books. She was even named after a comic book character: Siena Blaze, a “D-list” X-Men character first introduced in 1993.

As a lifelong comic book fan, she’s excited that more people are invested in the characters.

“It’s so cool that I can talk to someone about Hellboy or Captain Marvel,” Fallon said. “The average person wouldn’t know who Thanos [the villain in “Avengers: Infinity War”] was (without the movies). It’s so cool that these comic book characters are so involved in our pop culture right now.”

Fallon said that we’re living in the “golden age of comic book pop culture” and points to the glut of movies coming out just this year. “Captain Marvel” is in theaters now, with “Shazam!,” a reboot of the “Hellboy” franchise and “Avengers: Endgame” releasing in April. The summer will see the arrival of “Dark Phoenix” (June 7), the next installment in the X-Men franchise, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (July 5) and possibly another mutant group, “The New Mutants” (tentatively scheduled for Aug. 2). The year in comic book films will be rounded out by “Joker” on Oct. 4.

What the films have done for the comic book industry, Fallon said, is grow popularity.

“I think there’s people who want to read all these old stories and want to see how these characters change over time,” she said. “There’s a lot of great source material out there that these movies pull from that I think people are interested in checking out.”

Several of the more recent superhero films have taken direct inspiration from comic book stories. For example, “Captain America: Civil War” borrows the general concept from the “Civil War” story arc from 2006-2007. “The Dark Knight” takes inspiration from, among others, the 1998 graphic novel “The Killing Joke.” The 2010 film “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” one of Fallon’s favorite comic book movies, was based on the graphic novel series “Scott Pilgrim” by Oni Press.

While certain characters and movies have inspired a rush to the comic book store — Fallon referenced “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” in particular — she said there’s a lot more people can learn about these characters beyond the films.

“There’s a lot of really great standalone stories for these characters,” Fallon said. “There’s a ton of standalone Batman stories that you can read without ever having read a Batman comic in your life. All you need to know is his parents died, (he) got sad, (became a) billionaire. Then you can do a deeper dive from there.”

Perfect timing

Fallon also referenced the slate of television shows on Netflix and networks like The CW and Fox, series that have run for multiple years and have followings just as devoted as the films. She said creators in recent years have done “a great job” making the characters similar to their movie and TV counterparts, further deepening the connection between the Hollywood-produced and the pen and pencil-produced.

Morris said he thinks comic book movies are attracting the viewership they are because what’s on the page is now more reflected on the screen. Films like the Christopher Reeve “Superman” installments had a corny element because the special effects were lacking, he said, but what’s on the screen now allows characters to truly “come to life.”

“There may have been a kitschy enjoyment of those films, but even at that time, we looked at it and knew it was corny,” he said. “The visuals couldn’t measure up to the comic books and what was on the page and how it translated to your imagination. It couldn’t happen until now.”

So the timing is near perfect for an onslaught of comic book-based films. And as the list grows, the characters and stories permeate pop culture, something Fallon couldn’t stop being excited about.

“It’s insane to me that the average American knows who Thanos is,” she said. “I don’t know how [Thanos creator] Jim Starlin feels about it, but to me, it’s nuts. You would never have thought that people would have known who Hellboy is.”

Well, they do now.


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment