Superhero Adaptations As Completely Separate From Superhero Comics: Why Adaptations Can Tell Different Stories

I’ve made multiple posts about the nature of adaptations of superhero comics – one about why we don’t need word for word translations, one about the impact they have on how we perceive characters,  one about how adaptations sometimes displace the material they’re based on in public memory, and a few more. But now I have to make yet another, because a while back, I saw a post saying that you can’t make comic adaptations realistic without completely changing the heart of the comics, and I disagree with all my heart. Because I think that’s why adaptations are nice. By their nature, they’re not going to continue for decades. And that lets you explore topics that will, no matter how good the writing or the art, always end up falling flat in the comics themselves.

You cannot really delve into certain topics in comics because the nature of the medium means they’re never going to change. Take Robin. Obviously, I adore the concept of Robin, the characters to have borne the mantle, and all that. I think Robin is so essential to Batman, that you cannot have a Batman story that rings true without them – or, at least, one of them. But I’m also well aware that, if you apply that to a real world setting, it goes from being a lovely concept of a found family of misfits and strays that don’t fit in anywhere but with each other saving other people so that no one has to suffer the way they did to a frankly disturbing story of reckless child endangerment. This is especially true when you consider the not-Dick Robins, because Dick’s case was unique. He had skills that the others most definitely did not, and the same anger/grief/what have you that Bruce did. By the end of it, he came out shockingly well adjusted. This combination makes it easy to believe that Bruce did more good than harm, and that Dick would have got himself killed had he been left on his own. The others? Not so much! They didn’t have the same skills and training. They didn’t have the same motivation where they were going to do it regardless of what he did or said. They were brought into vigilantism because of the precedent Dick set…and the fact they looked up hugely to Batman. The person that was supposed to be the responsible adult telling them, no, you most certainly cannot go out at night and fight supervillains, these guys are killers. However, Robin – as a concept – is so much part of the foundation of DC that it’s not going to die anytime soon.

My feelings about the oversaturation of the Batfamily aside, Robin as a legacy matters, no matter who’s using the nameSo you can’t have meaningful stories questioning whether or not the legacy should exist. Not really, because even if you have a great story challenging how heroic someone can be if they’re taking a child into combat situations…it’ll fall flat, because nothing changes. It doesn’t matter. It’ll be a forgotten Aesop in a month. You probably think I’m exaggerating, right? After all, we don’t forget about Jason! But even though he’ll always be remembered as the Robin who died and his death had a huge impact on Bruce and Dick, it didn’t really last, because Death In The Family and Under the Red Hood didn’t end the Robin mantle. Court of Owls and all the unflattering parallels drawn between Bruce and the Court didn’t end the Robin mantle. So despite how great those stories were, themes alone don’t really mean anything unless there’s follow through.

You can make plenty of arguments as to how Tim, Steph, and Damian were different from Jason. Sure, Bruce tried to dissuade them more than he ever tried with Dick or Jason. Tim knew full well what he was going into. Stephanie, like Dick, had personal reasons motivating her and was already in costume before she became Robin. Damian was raised to be an assassin. But the fact of the matter is that Robin continues to exist, not because the post-Jason Robins were different from Jason, but because the legacy is too iconic to let die.

Comics work because they’re not set in a real world. They’re in a fantasy where people can have problems that are either like ours or just similar enough to be relatable, but where the solutions they have are not the solutions that should work in a real world. They’re in a world which is just different enough that when something seems weird, we can just shrug and accept that that’s how this other universe is. Comics can delve further into topics like, how healthy is it to deal with your trauma by going out at night and beating up criminals? or is training a sidekick the same thing as using a child soldier? but the second they do, the whole damn universe falls apart, because once you start trying to apply real logic, you can’t stop until there’s nothing left. Once you start trying to ask these questions, more and more will arise. You simply cannot try to apply comic book tropes to a real world setting.

That’s what’s nice about adaptations. Things like Titans and the Under the Red Hood  movie can contextualize comics. They can apply the issues raised to a real world setting. And that’s okay, because they end. When we’re watching an adaptation, we can see things change for the better, we can see characters learning lessons, without having to deal with the fact they’ll inevitably forget those lessons so that the story can continue, because in adaptations, the story isn’t supposed to continue! I talked about something similar in this post about how Jason isn’t a sustainable character. My reasoning revolved mostly around how I didn’t think he had a place to go as a character while still being a vigilante, and I think the heart of that argument is basically the same as this one: conclusions give stories weight. That post is largely about how Jason’s character development keeps getting reversed because he can’t really exist without the angst over his death, and this one is about how in adaptations, he doesn’t need to. In an adaptation, we can have a character that completes an arc, then doesn’t go back on it, because it ends. We can have a story that means something continue to mean something, because it doesn’t continue on only to for the moral of the story to be forgotten.

Death doesn’t mean much in comics. Not just in terms of people coming back, but in terms of the impact on other characters. It can’t. Not when there’s so much going on. It’s not that a death will never be brought up again. But it’s rare that it has a consistent, continuous impact on others, unless it’s relevant to the story being told, like Bruce’s after Final Crisis. And deaths and resurrections are now so common that they lose their impact on the reader. The greatest comics are those that have a point, and when the story is endless, those points almost inevitably get confused.

Furthermore, the writers of adaptations thinking critically about the source material and making changes keeps things fresh and interesting. It gives us things that are different, stories of which we don’t know the outcome going in. That’s not a betrayal of canon. The specific changes made might demonstrate a lack of love for the source material, but it might also demonstrate an enduring love for it. Take Gotham. A lot of people used to – not so much anymore – complain about how it “messed up the chronology”. To be fair, I used to kind of agree. Gotham was sold as a gritty crime drama about the mob families. As a prequel that would tell the story of how Gotham got to becoming the city that needed Batman, the city where supervillains thrived. And that was great. Except that, with a few exceptions, most of the villains that are traditionally around Bruce’s age were aged up so that they were already fully grown adults at the start of the series, while Bruce was only twelve. Meaning that, if the writers followed the traditional timeline, the villains would be well into middle age by the time Bruce put on the cowl, and by the time most of the Batfam showed up, they’d be fighting senior citizens. Which is why it was so great that by seasons two and three the writers had completely abandoned that premise. It became very clearly an Elseworlds tale, because instead of being a Batman prequel, it became what was, essentially, a Batman story, if Batman were a teenager. It’s about Bruce having to get his training from within Gotham, not outside it, and finding ways to help well before developing fighting skills. It’s an awesome take on the mythos and a sign of writers that care about the long history of Batman and telling a good Batman story while also making something we’ve never seen before.

Comic fans are impossible to please, and we all know that. You have people that complain about Gotham being too little like the comics and people that complain about Watchmen being too much like them. So the best way to tell a story based on superhero comics has to be embracing the new medium. As great and universal as the characters are, comics are different from animation are different from live action, and different stories are best suited for each medium. The more that idea is embraced, the better stories we can get.

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What Happens When An Adaptation Displaces The Source Material In Public Memory?

As we get closer and closer to the debut episode of Titans, I’m getting more and more perplexed about some of the complaints I’ve seen about it. I have my own share of apprehensions about this show. I’ve been vocal about that. But what I don’t understand is the people whose complaints stem not from the show itself or how that translates from the comics, but from the knowledge of the cartoon.

While there’s nothing wrong with watching adaptations, but not reading comics, it’s not right or fair to insist that those adaptations are how the material either has been or should be. The Teen Titans cartoon – something that I genuinely enjoy, when I look at it as something other than an adaptation – has very little to do with the comics bearing the same name. The roster – Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, Raven, and Cyborg – has become so cemented in people’s minds that when the show roster was revealed, the question didn’t become where’s Kid Flash or any of the other members of the comics roster, but where’s Cyborg. 

Even setting aside Twitter and Tumblr, sites well known for being a mess, look at the TV Tropes page for the show. While some of the people editing it clearly have knowledge of the comics, there are just as many from people whose opinions are coloured by the cartoon. Supposedly Starfire is out of character for not being an all loving hero, even though the original Star was a complete hothead that was far more violent than the version of the character that appears in the cartoon. Supposedly Dick is behaving more like Jason or Damian for being angrier than the bright spot people expected to see, even though good characters are always more complicated than can be defined by an attribute like “violent” and the Titans version of Dick is in a stage between the initial “bringing light and hope to Bruce and Gotham” stage and the later “knowing himself and what he has to do and in control of his anger” stage. It’s silly. There’s plenty to be nervous about, but that’s not the same as dismissing something altogether without seeing it because it’s not like another adaptation.

It wouldn’t bother me that much under most circumstances, but I’ve seen what people growing too attached to one adaptation can do. This backlash is painfully reminiscent of the backlash to Man of Steel. The Christopher Reeves version of the Superman – nerdy, clumsy, awkward, all country bumpkin out of place in the big city – has been so formative to the public perception of the character, people flat out forget that he’s been portrayed very differently in the comics and cartoons. The idolization of the Reeves Superman, coupled with the poor memory of what those movies were actually like, makes it impossible for creators to move on and try a different interpretation that’s still supported by the source material without “fans” jumping down their throats and saying they’re doing it wrong.

There’s no easy solution to this, because adaptations that make that much of an impact are a good thing. There’s no one out there that would deny how important Superman: The Movie was. And it’s gatekeeping nonsense to say people can’t have adaptations be their introduction to these characters, especially because at this point, as much as I’m loathe to say it, these adaptations are aimed at the so-called “general audience” because comics fans alone aren’t a big enough market. I just hope more people start to remember that superhero comics are a decades old medium in which there have been countless interpretations, none of which is inherently more valid than the others.

Adapting ‘Animorphs’

As anyone that has ever read anything I’ve written knows…I love Animorphs. And as anyone that knows anything about the Animorphs fandom knows, mocking the TV series is a time honoured tradition. That being said, the fandom is often discussing how great it would be to get a reboot, and there’s long been a debate as to the best way of adapting the series.

There are frequent claims that it should involve aging up the characters a few years. There are practical reasons for that – the entire series revolved around these six kids, and it’s a  safer bet that you’ll get a good performance out of slightly older actors. And “gritty reboots” are all but inevitable. But Animorphs would lose so much of what makes it awesome if there were changes made to appeal to adults. Aging the characters, adding sex or excessive cursing – all that would take away from the fact that this is a story about child soldiers. At the same time, if there was a completely faithful live action adaptation – for the sake of this thought experiment, let’s make it a movie – it would have to be rated R. Loss of limbs is just par for the course. The very first book essentially opens with involuntary cannibalism – an alien is eaten alive by his enslaved former mentor while five children hear him scream. At one point, a different alien is cut in two and, driven by uncontrollable hunger, one half starts to consume the other. There’s a reason fans frequently laugh about how weird it was that this series was approved for children.

And it is supposed to be for kids. Not just for kids, certainly, but what would it mean to take a series about kids and written for kids and fill it with so much blood and gore that, even if it’s accurate to the books, would stop the people in the demographic it’s for from getting to see it? Stories for adults are great. Movies that you probably shouldn’t take kids to are excellent. But even though the majority of today’s Animorphs fans are adults, it’s not fair to make an adaptation of it an adult one that kids can’t go to, because kids really deserve a chance to discover this world. Kids deserve great stories with nuanced and interesting characters, moral questions, action, and humour just as much as adults do. And nothing directed at children – hell, and few things directed at adults – combines all those things as well as Animorphs.

Even aside from the content, there’s a lot of disagreement as to what the best way to format an adaption would be. Some people want a series of movies, others say that that won’t capture the sense of a lot of time passing the same way the books did and want a show, yet others want it to be a cartoon (Applegate herself has said that when the original show was being made, she and Michael Grant, her husband and coauthor, had wanted it animated). Personally, I’m conflicted. I’m doubtful that a cartoon could properly capture the feel of the series, but I suspect that would be the only way to actually adapt it, because anything live action would be extremely expensive and likely inaccessible to the target audience of the books because of the sheer amount of violence. Both a live action TV series and live action films have similar positives and negatives.

While there are certainly filler books that, even if they do have interesting character moments or add something of value, aren’t strictly necessary, I’d argue that the majority of them contribute to elevating the work as a whole, especially as they help give the impression of a series that’s taking place over a long time and in which we don’t see everything that the characters do. In that regard, a TV show would be a great format. However, I suspect that if there was a reboot of the show, there would likely be a lot of filler in an attempt to drag out the story for more seasons. The interpersonal drama would shift from being about different philosophies as to how they should fight a war to more trite relationship drama and petty jealousies, things that really weren’t in the books at all.

On the other end of the  spectrum, a single movie wouldn’t do the series justice, because of just how much there is. I’ve said before that I’d love for a movie to be directed by Zack Snyder, largely because I’d love for him to direct anything and I think that, while the main series is more suited for an episodic series, the Chronicles would need movies to do them justice, and I also think Guillermo del Toro would be a perfect fit for the type of work Animorphs is. But would be extremely expensive to do right, and a faithful adaptation would be extremely difficult.

None of this even gets into the fact that all the books are told in first person, with a lot of the appeal being the characters’ internal narration – something that doesn’t translate very well from text. Of course, all of this is entirely hypothetical, seeing as there’s been no indication of any Animorphs adaptation plans. But I kind of really want to see one done justice, because it would be hard to overstate how crucial Animorphs was to me. They set the bar for character development. They’re the reason my reaction to so many characters arcs is, “this is good, but it’s no Jake from Animorphs”. Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan won a Newbery Medal. It’s getting an animated movie with an a majorly all-star cast. That’s all well and good, but I will always maintain that her best work was Animorphs. I need that adaptation, good or bad, if only because it will inevitably result in more people being introduced to the books.

The Strange Need For Adaptations Of Specific Storylines

Every time a rumour about the Batman movie surfaces, I see countless Tweets saying that it absolutely has to be an Under The Red Hood adaptation. This has been going on for years – ever since the picture of the Robin suit from Batman v Superman was released, people have been jumping up and down about Jason Todd. There are constantly people that don’t like the DCEU whining that it’s not just like the animated universe and that they should just make live action versions of those movies. I don’t get that.

One of the reasons I love Batman v Superman is that while it’s loosely based on a specific story – that being The Dark Knight Returns – it’s not chained to it. It takes liberties with the source material and makes it something unique, while still lovingly bringing to life certain panels and the rough plot and referencing countless other comics. It may get criticized for making those changes, but what’s the point in watching something that’s just slavishly devoted to depicting something with complete accuracy that already exists without any imagination or creativity?

I’d love to see Jason Todd in live action as much as the next girl, but if I wanted to see Under the Red Hood, I’d watch the animation. It’s an excellent movie. It’s well worth a watch. But if that plotline were included in a live action movie, I’d want to see more than just Jason and Bruce. I think the rest of the Batfamily should have a role, especially Dick and Tim, because Jason becoming Red Hood had a lot to do with the legacy of Robin and the feelings of being replaced. The DC animated movies are good, but also very simplistic, without complex character arcs. Live action movies can elaborate on all those things.

The upcoming Dark Phoenix movie bothers me for different, but related reasons. Let’s set aside the retcons and continuity issues and the Phoenix Force for a minute. As iconic as that comic arc is, as much as it was an excellent story, the way that it’s remembered is a fundamentally sexist premise based on the idea that the most powerful character in the universe can’t possibly be a woman, because women are temperamental. That’s not entirely accurate – people tend to forget that in the actual comic, Jean did maintain control for a very long time. It was the Hellfire Club messing with her head and manipulating her that made her lose her hold on her powers. But at this point it doesn’t matter, because like the phrase beam me up, Scotty, it’s so ingrained in our cultural consciousness that Jean Grey went crazy and couldn’t control the Phoenix Force, no amount of pointing out that that wasn’t really what happened will be enough to make people forget it. I’m not interested in seeing that committed to screen. I want to see creative changes made to the source material, challenges to how we perceive stories and characters.

So many Superman stories revolve around locking Lois out of the loop and either insulting her intelligence by making her, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, suspecting but incapable of proving that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person; insulting her intelligence by making her so oblivious, she can’t see what’s right in front of her; or turn Clark into an asshole that lies to and tricks her. Sure, maybe that’s historically a major part of the Superman mythos. Doesn’t mean it’s right, or a good plot element. Man of Steel didn’t include any attempt at lying to Lois, and that was one of the best decisions it made.

Adaptations are great because they’re adaptations. After all, translations themselves can be works of art. This NPR article does a fantastic job of explaining how that’s the case. Works based on another don’t need to follow a specific storyline, or adapt them word for word, image for image. The creators get to make their own choices about what it should be like, what story they want to tell, what needs to be there and what doesn’t. And we can disagree on whether they made the right choices, or whether their choices made for a good movie, but it’s important that they get to make those choices. I disagree with many of the creative choices in the X-Men movies, and I’m completely free to discuss that, but that doesn’t matter, because their job is to make the movie they think they should, not what I do. I don’t get to tell them how to do their job or what they should write. They can’t stop me from expressing what I do and don’t like.

It’s not just about comics – the same thing holds true for the live action versions of Disney movies. I don’t understand why we need them. Animation isn’t some lesser form of art that’s just a trial run for a story before it gets made into live action. It’s great and gorgeous on its own merits. You don’t see people trying to claim that Impressionist paintings aren’t important works of art because they aren’t photorealistic. The Impressionist movement was shunned and dismissed at the beginning, but over time, we’ve come to recognize the value and beauty in their work. Animation involves just as much skill as live action films. It needs excellent actors and a whole lot of time and effort. It’s disrespectful to everyone involved to suggest that a live action movie must be exactly the same as an animation. To the people involved with the live action movie, by saying their talents should be used to make a paint by numbers instead of an actually creative work. To the people involved with the animation, by saying their work has to be remade, usually with singers less skilled than the original ones.

The difference between the live action Disney movies and comic adaptations is that I don’t even think the former should exist, at least not as they are. I’m not a fan of remakes that don’t make any kind of meaningful change to the story. If they do, viewers can either like the change or not, but otherwise, there’ll just be comparisons to the voice actors, and the voice actors are almost inevitably going to be better at singing/emoting vocally, just because their job requires a different skill set than actors that are used to being seen and being able to rely on non verbal action. There’s plenty of reason to make comic adaptations still, because there’s a wealth of unexplored material, but only if they’re genuine adaptations, not just blind reconstructions. Being inspired and holding true to the spirit of the source material is good. Using it as a crutch and being utterly dependent on it is bad. Drawing upon what’s not in the actual source but in an adaptation, or that’s somehow made it into our collective memory of the story? That’s the worst of all.

Canon Foreigners in Comics Adaptations

There are plenty of reasons to create a new character in a comic book related work – to add diversity, to tell a story set in the universe but separated from the main characters, to flesh out the cast, to make a distant prequel or sequel, and so on. But opinion on these original characters tends to be polarized. While there are plenty of people that like them without hesitation – usually non-comics fans – there are many that cling to their source material so much that they hate them for existing.

We need new characters, but therein lies the rub – oftentimes, the audience doesn’t like said new characters. And they continue to dislike said characters for not being canonical. With time, these characters could get redeemed in the eyes of the audience, especially if they were introduced into the comics and became a canon immigrant, but why introduce a character in the comics when they weren’t liked? We need new characters to appear in comics and their adaptations, because how boring would it be if the only characters we ever encountered were the original casts? Without new characters in adaptations, we wouldn’t have Harley Quinn. We wouldn’t have X-23. We wouldn’t have Kaldur’ahm. Hell, we wouldn’t even have Jimmy Olsen or Barbara Gordon. Not all new characters are as immediately liked like these were. But they can be redeemed, and it’s better to have the conviction to try to make that happen than to just cram already canon characters in roles they don’t fit.

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Sometimes, writing a new character is just easier. That’s not bad. It just is. In The Dark Knight trilogy, Bruce’s love interest for the first two movies was an original character. Rachel Dawes. She was okay. I personally found her a little bland and forgettable, as well as being bothered that her primary role was to die, but that’s fine. My opinion. What I found more interesting than her as a character, though, is that she existed at all.

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Batman’s iconic love interest is Catwoman. She’s the one most people think of when asked to name Bruce Wayne’s love interest. She appears consistently throughout Batman related media, because like Superman and Lois Lane, there’s Batman and Catwoman. And yet she doesn’t appear until the third film in the trilogy. Rachel was introduced because the writers wanted a romantic subplot in the first two movies, but didn’t want the complications that would arise as a result of using Selina or Talia or any of Bruce’s canonical love interests. She was new and therefore malleable. She could be anything. She could be anyone.

I fully support the creation of new characters. Comics and their adaptations are a unique medium/form of storytelling. It’s just as valid to introduce a new character in an adaptation as it is to do so in a comic. Comics aren’t static, and new characters and new interpretations of old ones are how they evolve. It even makes sense to do it for a specific purpose. Marcos Diaz from The Gifted; Laura Kinney from X-Men: Evolution; Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series; everyone from Powerless, that gorgeous comedy that was cancelled far too soon. All likeable original characters, created to serve a purpose in the plot, but more than just plot devices.

But when the creation of new characters is handled poorly, you get Sara Lance, who could be a good character, except for how much she embodies white feminism. I want to like Sara much more than I do, to the point where she pushed me away from a show I used to enjoy. You get Felicity Smoak, who started off well and with potential, but then had everything good and interesting stripped away from her when the writers turned her into a love interest at the expense of her character. While I can’t say Felicity is the reason I stopped watching Arrow, she was definitely one of them. You get characters that are boring and forgettable – like the previously mentioned Rachel Dawes, more plot device than person.

What I hate more than the creation of new characters, though, is when an already canonical character is completely changed in a new medium. I take issue with the changing of random aspects of a character to fit them into a premade box. Call me crazy, but Arrow turning Dinah Lance into a lawyer felt like a terrible move to me. It was fine when we were just talking about her working for a nonprofit. That was fine. That was good. We were talking about a woman using the legal system to fight for the marginalized. But then she became a prosecutor, and while she was a prosecutor, she was also breaking the law through the pursuit of vigilante justice. I didn’t like that change. I could accept it, though, because her personality was identifiable as Black Canary.

There are changes that I get and accept, even if I don’t necessarily like them – take Laurel instead of Dinah. Yes, it’s weird to have a name change for such an iconic character. But it also makes some amount of sense. Dinah is quite an old fashioned name, Laurel is a gorgeous one, and you’re much more likely to encounter a Laurel today than a Dinah. But Arrow‘s version of Oliver Queen shares a name with his comics self and little else. Zari Tomaz from Legends of Tomorrow has absolutely nothing to do with her comics counterpart. Scott Summers from Apocalypse has none of comic Scott’s backstory or personality. It’s lazy. It’s a clear sign that someone isn’t actually interested in writing the character they were given. If that’s what a writer does, it seems like they want to have it both ways – they want the freedom to write a character however they feel like doing it, but they want to take the already paved road to get there by using one that’s already canon and thus has a fanbase/name recognition.

New characters aren’t fundamentally good or bad, they just are. But they’re much easier to accept in original properties than adaptations, where viewers go in with a set of preexisting expectations and opinions. And the visceral dislike for them that so many people have results in writers altering canon characters to avoid it, which may end up being even worse. I’ll admit that I’m not always quick to embrace the original characters myself. But I think we all need to work on getting better at it, because I’d rather see any number of poorly written new characters that could get better eventually than an already established character twisted beyond recognition to fit a role that they shouldn’t be in.

Philosophy, War, and Challenging Conventions: Why Zack Snyder Should Direct an ‘Animorphs’ Movie

From Dawn of the Dead to Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Zack Snyder has demonstrated his skill with both stunning visuals and deeply heartfelt moments. Animorphs beautifully blends action and emotion, as I discussed in this post. A movie adaptation wouldn’t necessarily be a great idea. A lot happens over a period of several years, and nearly all of the books contribute something valuable and meaningful. Even most of the fillers were good character pieces. It would be easy to lose some of that impact by trying to condense the story into one movie. In that regard, another attempt at a TV series would probably be a better adaptation. It would allow for more accuracy, as well as a less rushed seeming story. However, if the series were ever adapted into a movie, who better to take on the challenge than Zack Snyder?

Visual Storytelling

A major part of what makes Animorphs special is the characters and their internal turmoil. Each book is written in first person, and some of the most poignant quotes aren’t dialogue but part of their internal commentary. It’s something that would be really hard to bring across in an adaptation without excessive voiceovers, which is where Snyder would be perfect. He’s a very visual storyteller. His scripts don’t have any wasted words. He doesn’t tell, he shows. He’d be able to bring across all the emotion in those scenes without overusing voiceovers.

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Clark saying goodbye to Lois in ‘Batman v Superman’. [Credit: Warner Bros].
Snyder is the king of a distinctive visual style and subverting common tropes. We know for certain that Snyder’s not afraid of so-called silly topics. He’s made his career on geeky interests and comic book movies, after all. He makes bold choices and tries new things instead of constantly playing it safe. He uses his awesome visual sense and artistic eye to create beautiful, epic, memorable scenes in movies based on comic books. I’d love to see him take on the action sequences in Animorphs. They’re all fast paced, bloody, and almost ridiculously violent. They’re horrifyingly graphic, and Snyder is bold enough to commit to that.

Apart from his visual skills, Snyder specializes in philosophy. I still think Batman v Superman is his best work yet because of that. Animorphs is a masterpiece that beautifully questions right vs wrong and never flinches from discussing the realities of war. Snyder often works with religious philosophy, which isn’t the main thematic element in Animorphs, but the issues stemming from the morality of war would be something a little different that he could pull off beautifully. He conveys complicated issues clearly without oversimplifying them. He has mastered the art of making people take things seriously. A huge part of what makes his work special to me is that he clearly enjoys what he does and has fun working in the superhero genre without making fun of that genre. Adapting Animorphs would be a challenge he’s perfect for.

Most of all, though? Snyder’s strength is embracing all of those issues in the big blockbuster type movies that earn lots of money, in a way that a lot of people just don’t see. That’s exactly what Animorphs was. Everyone has at least heard of them. With the perception of them today, both among fans and people that haven’t read them, it’s easy to forget that they were hugely popular in their heyday. They were one of the best selling children’s series ever.

Prominence of Female Characters

Every movie Snyder has made has featured complex, awesome women that are completely different from each other. And his idea of a strong female character isn’t just one that punches people. No, his idea of a strong female character is a smart, brilliant journalist that isn’t a fighter, but is brave enough to stand between her injured boyfriend and the raging vigilante holding a spear that’s trying to kill him and is so important that Superman considers her his world, and the Flash travels back in time to tell Batman that she’s the key. Is a senator that’s not going to bow down to special interests just because she has somewhat similar reservations. Is a victim that fights back when against impossible odds and rendered almost powerless. They certainly can get into physical fights, but that’s far from all they are.

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Babydoll in ‘Sucker Punch’. [Credit: Warner Bros].
Animorphs has fantastic female characters, and I’d love to see Snyder’s take on them. From Rachel, the smart, talented, beautiful golden girl who got thrown into a war and learned she liked it to Cassie, the perceptive, kind, manipulative killer that hated all the violence but was nonetheless more dangerous than Rachel the Blood Knight to Eva, the mother that calmly walked right back into slavery because it was either that or risk open war that would kill billions of people when her slaver was no longer in power, the female characters were just as fully realized as the male.

Deconstruction of Conventions

Animorphs embraces a lot of dark topics. It’s a complete deconstruction of everything you’d expect from a kids’ series about aliens and saving the world. It’s also hysterically funny – made doubly so by how ridiculously nineties it is – with an underlying theme of hope. One book featured the lead characters staging an incompetent rescue of an android from a mall using a Bill Clinton mask, a misspelled sandwich board sign, a lava lamp, and Tommy Hilfiger underwear. One of the books was an extended reference to Yeats’s The Second Coming. The entire series is very reminiscent of Kafka. The last book was dedicated to the aftermath of a three year war and the ways in which the characters recovered – and didn’t – from the trauma of being child soldiers. It refuses to ever be pigeonholed as just one thing. It’s a science fiction war story about slavery and morality that’s told as the story of a bunch of idiot kids trying to save the world.

Snyder is fantastic at deconstructing tropes. Batman v Superman is a political drama on top of an action movie with superheroes. He has directed all sorts of cool, kind of trippy takes on classic genres. I wrote about how Batman v Superman and Man of Steel deconstructed the superhero genre here, and I think the ways in which it does are similar to the ways in which Animorphs deconstructs the sci-fi adventure genre. If Animorphs were better known, I’m sure a lot of people would decry it as “grim-dark”, like they did with BvS. It’s not. It’s grounded. It’s not dark for the sake of being dark, it’s dark because it’s a war story. And Snyder could do it justice better than anyone else.

Implementation

Animorphs shouldn’t be compressed into just one movie. It would need a series to do it justice. If I had to choose just one book for Snyder to adapt, though, I’d have to go with a combination of The Andalite Chronicles and The Hork-Bajir Chronicles, two of the prequels to the main series.  I’d have to sacrifice his take on the main protagonists of the series, but the Chronicles are some of my very favourite books in the series, and it would suit his directing very well.

These two books are set on multiple different planets, which would make full use of his skill with world building. They have a wide range of characters from different backgrounds – the idealistic scientist whose greatest wish was for the sentient species of the universe to explore the stars together; the person who had never known war or violence but found himself forced in the position of leading an army to defend his people’s freedom; the jaded, cynical warrior that had lost friends and becoming willing to do whatever it took to win.

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Krypton, depicted in ‘Man of Steel’. [Credit: Warner Bros].
Ethical issues galore, the difficulty of doing the right thing, complicated and well developed character dynamics – these two books capture a lot of the essence of what Animorphs is while being more self contained than any part of the main series.

Animorphs the book series was geared towards children, just like the TV show. But if a movie were to be made, and made accurately, it couldn’t be. I love the books, but even so, they probably traumatized me for life. There’s a scene in one of them where one of the characters loses an arm, then uses said arm as a club. The first book opens with an alien being eaten alive. Those are things you can apparently get away with in books. Not so in film. So even if Snyder – or any director that would commit to an accurate adaptation – were interested, it seems highly unlikely that any studio would go for an R-rated adaptation of a children’s series.

If more people gave Animorphs a chance, they’d love it. These books are dark. They never, ever shy away from discussing trauma. They’re so clearly an anti-war message that deals with slavery and the ethics of combat and intergalactic politics. But they’re also hilariousEven today, years after I read them for the first time, when I reread them, I still laugh, because the teammate is a slacker who mainly paid attention to girls and sports while in class and loves cinnamon buns and soap operas and caused a scene in a movie theatre because he’d never eaten chocolate before. A Snyder adaptation of it would open a lot of people’s eyes to how fantastic a series it is.

Zack Snyder is a perfect fit for an Animorphs movie because of his grasp on how to present philosophical ideas, his distinctive style, and his treatment of women. This movie will probably never happen, but if it did, it would have the potential to be one of the best science-fiction adaptations ever made.