A few months ago, I wrote a review of The Dark Night where I made the observation that comic books and movies had been growing closer over the past couple of decades:
“The development of the superhero movie genre has been fascinating to watch. Over the past couple of decades, comics have become more cinematic and sophisticated and adult, leaving the preteen audience behind to focus on college readers and adult collectors. At the same time, movie blockbusters have become more juvenile and franchise oriented, while on the production side they have adopted technologies that allow them to replicate the kinds of images and action spectacle previously only possible on the page. In retrospect, the superhero movie blockbuster seems like an inevitable meeting of storytelling forms. What makes it so interesting is the way the genre has been attracting some of the most talented and cinematically enthusiastic directors: Bryan Singer, Ang Lee, Sam Raimi, and now Christopher Nolan.”
It’s clear that the dark visions of Frank Miller’s take on the Batman had a tremendous influence on the movies, visually and thematically, though I would argue that Batman: Year One is an even greater influence than the more celebrated The Dark Knight Returns.
There is, however, a major storytelling difference: comics are (with exceptions) a serial format. Movies are (for the most part) self contained. Sure, there is the increasing franchise aspect to blockbusters, but even then it’s a wait of a couple of years between. In that aspect, comics are closer to TV storytelling, especially with the increase in long-running story arcs in such shows as Lost and Heroes. There, too, you can see the two formats borrowing from one another, not just in the conventions but in the increased crossover in writers.
Back in the seventies, it was almost impossible for a comics scribe (and I mean specifically superhero comics) to make the leap to television (apart from animated superhero shows) or screenwriting. When they did (like Roy Thomas on Fire and Ice and Conan the Destroyer) the results were invariably awkward and cartoonish. Gerry Conway, longtime Marvel writer (among his claims to fame: the Death of Gwen Stacy and the creation of The Punisher, both in The Amazing Spider-Man), quietly made the transition from animated kid shows to TV mysteries and cop shows and has since become a producer on such shows as Diagnosis: Murder and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, but he’s an exception to the rule.
Or rather, he was an exception. In the last decade, the barriers between the media became much more porous, and not just on the genre shows like Hercules and Xena and Mutant X. Jeph Loeb (Batman: The Long Halloween and Spider-Man: Blue, among other notable work) is a writer and producer on Heroes. Brian K. Vaughn (Runaways) is a writer on Lost. Frank Miller retreated from his first Hollywood experience (Robocop 2) to concentrate on comics, only to return and become a director in his own right, following Sin City with his take on Will Eisner’s The Spirit (due this Christmas).