Of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, director David Cronenberg (The Fly, Videodrome, Scanners, Crash) said, “I don’t think they are making them [comic book movies] an elevated art form. I think it’s still Batman running around in a stupid cape.” He went on to claim that, “A superhero movie, by definition, you know, it’s a comic book. It’s for kids. It’s adolescent in its core.” Before rebutting these assertions, I want to take a step back and try to glean what it is that Cronenberg actually meant, since these are verbal quotes and people are not always as accurate verbally as they would be otherwise (if they were leisurely writing their opinions, for example). So — Cronenberg’s argument, on the face of things, seems to be:
- A comic book is for kids; it is, in its core, adolescent.
- Adolescent art cannot be elevated art.
- A superhero movie is a comic book movie.
- Adolescent source material ensures an adolescent derivative work.
- A comic book movie is, in its core, adolescent because of its source material (1-4)
Conclusion: A comic book movie, and by extension, a superhero movie, cannot be elevated art (2,4,5)
Now, it seems ridiculous to say that all, or even most, comic books and, thus, all (or most) movies based on comic books are adolescent. Firstly, to say that comic books are inherently adolescent in their core is to make a generalization that is nearly indefensible. What is it about comic books that could render them intrinsically immature? The fact that we have pictures and words combining to tell a story? Along these lines, one might charge that comic books are for people too lazy or dumb or unsophisticated to read novels. But using logic similar to this, one could say that movies are for people too lazy or dumb or unsophisticated to read novels. As rational people, I assume we’re willing to easily grant that the latter claim is preposterous. Movies and novels are two distinct forms of art, each of which is able to explore people, places, and ideas in ways the other is incapable of (or at least less adept at). We can say that movies and novels are both capable of being elevated art because they can explore their subject matter in unique ways with the appropriate seriousness. So, why can’t we say the same of comics? Continue reading