The Impact of Adaptations on Perception of Characters

Adaptations are a funny thing. When it comes to superhero movies or TV shows, it’s almost inevitable that someone out there will absolutely hate it.

It’s easy to mock the “not muh Superman!” people that complain about a different interpretation of the character that holds true to the source material. But some of the time, I do understand where they’re coming from. Sure, with a lot of characters, one bad adaptation isn’t the end of the world, but adaptations have a major role on how people perceive comics and comic book characters. Especially live-action adaptations and first adaptations. Especially when the adaptation is of a character non-comics fans don’t know much about.

One of the reasons I’m so anxious about Titans is because as much as I adore Dick Grayson, as much as I know he’s popular among comic fans, I also am painfully aware of the fact that despite his longevity as a character, he’s simply not taken very seriously by the general audience. He’s not Batman, Superman, Spider-Man. All of those characters have gotten multiple adaptations within my lifespan, but Dick? While we’re supposedly getting a Nightwing movie, that’s like the Flash, Cyborg, and Batman ones – stuck in development hell to the point where I doubt it’s ever coming. If he doesn’t stand out as awesome in Titans, he’s not gonna get another chance to do so for a long time.

It’s a similar issue to bad interpretations in a long running series or a shared universe that includes a lot of characters and movies, rather than just a standalone solo movie, or even a trilogy. I mean, consider Harry Potter. In the movies, Hermione took on basically all Ron’s skills and personality. Despite the massive popularity of the series, I highly doubt there’ll be a reboot any time soon, so the only visual adaptation we’re going to have for a long time will be one that stripped one of the most important characters in the series of what made him interesting and managed to make a lot of people – an astounding number, really, considering that Harry Potter was the series that got pretty much the entire world to line up at midnight for a book release and learn about the book version of the characters’ real traits – forget just how important and skilled Ron was.

Take the X-Men movies. Those did a similar thing. Yes, they’ve had both highs and lows that I’ve commented on repeatedly. But what’s more important than deciding how good they are is they’ve had a huge impact on perception of the X-Men. The X-Men were introduced in 1963. The first movie came out in 2000. That means this interpretation of the characters has been around for more than 30% of the characters’ entire lifespan – at least. The characters introduced in 1963 were the original X-Men, from the days before Claremont, the days before characters like Storm, Wolverine, Shadowcat, Emma Frost. Saying that the X-Men movies ruined a character, while still dramatic, is much more understandable than saying the same of a character like Superman or Batman. I have to suppress a laugh at people saying Zack Snyder ruined Superman because that just sounds ridiculous, but complaining about the movie interpretation of the X-Men? That I completely get.

Superman and Batman have had multiple different interpretations in my lifespan, in the forms of both TV series and movies, both live action and animated. The X-Men? Not really. When it comes to live-action, it’s just been the one set of related movies where no one that wasn’t Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto, or Mystique got any real attention and we had to sit through Xavier giving Magneto the same “there’s still good in you” speech like six times. And since there’s never been a real reboot, none of the characters got to be rewritten in a more interesting or more comics accurate way. I try not to say things like X movie ruined Y character, because oftentimes, that’s not fair. There are a lot of unseen people that work hard in the industry on every movie and we should at least try to find something to appreciate before we start complaining about what we didn’t like. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand bitterness towards the X-Men movies for how they treated most of the characters. Scott Summers is my favourite Marvel character, and I had to watch first the original trilogy strip away his background, personality, leadership skills, tactical instincts, and fighting ability, then the alternate timeline make him a totally different person. Believe me. I get it.

Adaptations have a huge impact on perception of characters and stories. Whether it’s how the Richard Donner Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve were so influential that people start talking about that as the source material rather than the comics, or how a first adaptation of a character can make or break their possibilities for a future adaptation, adaptations of superhero comics are arguably even more important than the comics themselves when it comes to keeping those characters alive in public memory. It’s disappointing. Comics are a wonderful medium with amazing stories and brilliant characters that should be acknowledged as such. And superheroes are a major part of cultural knowledge. But when it comes to the general audience, most of that knowledge comes from adaptations, or in a diluted fashion through cultural osmosis.

It’s neither good nor bad that the general audience doesn’t read comics and gets their knowledge of the characters from adaptations. Disappointing, sure, but not intrinsically bad. What is disappointing though is the lack of respect for comics in the writers and directors of a lot of these adaptations. I want the characters I love to get the best possible chance at making it into the public consciousness in an accurate sense. That won’t happen unless adaptations respect them and give nuanced takes. We’ll all still have different perspectives on whether or not those takes are good ones…but we’ll have to respect that there was thought and care put into them. In the long run, that’s what’s good for characters.

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Sixty Years of the Space Age: Happy Birthday, Sputnik

October 4th, 1957. A sphere of less than a foot radius. And signals detectable by any average Joe with a radio.  Sixty years ago today, Sputnik 1 was launched, and humanity entered the space age.

It didn’t do much aside from orbiting the Earth, but Sputnik changed the world forever. That first little satellite kicked off the space race. It made more people interested in science, both in general and as a potential career path. It contributed to the creation of NASA. It was the first step towards long distance wireless communication. Towards GPS. Towards environmental satellites and space telescopes. Towards rovers gathering data that humans can’t reach. We can’t know what the world would look like if it had never been launched, but it doesn’t require a huge stretch to think that in a world without Sputnik – and perhaps Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in space four years later – we wouldn’t have had people on the moon or rovers on Mars. Sputnik may have influenced the development of military technologies, but that is nothing compared to its positive legacy.

Sputnik means travelling companion, and that’s what it was. A different Sputnik took Gagarin into space; all the satellites that bore the same name accompanied the Earth. And the image of that first artificial satellite – that mark of human ingenuity, launched only 54 years after the Wright brothers’ first flight – accompanies all of us as we continue to explore the universe.

‘Snow Steam Iron’ and Non-Sexualized Violence

I gush a lot about Zack Snyder, and one of the reasons why is that I adore the way he handles female characters. Snyder doesn’t follow the model of making “strong” female characters who are most memorable for being strong or badass. He treats his female characters just as he does his male. He prioritizes well-written and interesting over strong, prioritizes realistic over badass. In his short Snow Steam Iron, he beautifully depicted a story centred around an abused woman without ever glorifying or fetishizing violence. Continue reading “‘Snow Steam Iron’ and Non-Sexualized Violence”

Cars, Pontiac, and Good Design: I Miss My High School Grand Prix

When I was in high school, I drove a Grand Prix. I learned to drive on a Cruze, so it was a little bit of an adjustment at first, but I loved that car.

It wasn’t something I really fully appreciated then, but since then, after driving other cars, I’ve realized just how well that car handled. It was very wide, which made it kind of a pain to park when I first starting driving it, but that and its low centre of gravity made it beautifully stable. It handled turns at speed excellently. It looked great. It was a performance vehicle with an excellent design – practical and functional without sacrificing the aesthetics.

I drive a Buick Lacrosse now. There’s nothing wrong with it at all. It drives fine. It’s somewhere between the Cruze and the Grand Prix for me – it’s a solid car, not difficult to drive at all, very comfortable for long distances, but none of the specific advantages of either of the other two. It’s very middle of the road, decent in everything, but nothing about it sticks out to me. It’s bigger than the Cruze, so it’s less easy to park anywhere. It’s heavier, too, so driving in the snow down the dirt road to my house isn’t as scary, but it doesn’t have as low a centre of gravity as the Grand Prix.

GM stopped manufacturing the Pontiac brand in 2010, and I understand why. They weren’t doing well, and it made sense to cut Pontiac loose instead of any of the four they kept making. But I seriously wish they were still being made, because my Grand Prix was a great car and I miss it.