Monday, July 9, 2012

Comic Book Movie Business And Teaching Literature

There can be little doubt that comics have become mainstream cultural artifacts. Money talks: The Avengers has earned over $1 billion since its May release.  The Amazing Spider-Man earned $65 million over the past weekend.

The New York Times adds more proof.  Valiant Comics, a publisher that went bankrupt in the 1990s, will have at least two of its characters adapted for a film:
Mr. Kothari said he expects Bloodshot to be the first Valliant character to make the leap into theaters. Sony is working on the property with the producer Neal H. Moritz, perhaps best known for the “Fast & Furious” film franchise. The director Brett Ratner, whose films include “X-Men: The Last Stand,” has committed to Harbinger.
Bloodshot is a former mob hit man who becomes a super soldier:
Angelo Mortalli has become the ultimate killing machine. His memories have been erased and his blood has been infused with microscopic computers called nanites. These nanites allow him to heal wounds quickly, dominate electronic devices, and fully control every aspect of his body to maximize his physical capabilities. A modern-day Frankenstein, he wages a one man war, taking out the mob, the police and his covert government creators, in his struggle to find out who he was and what he has become.
Harbinger is a bit more complicated:
Toyo Harada is the first Harbinger, and unlike subsequent Harbingers he was able to make his powers manifest at will, or activate the powers of others. Other Harbingers exhibit powers only rarely and this activation is always brought on by severe stress. 
Harada is an Omega Harbinger: he commands the full spectrum of psionic abilities, including telepathy, telekinesis, mind-control, and many other talents. He uses these powers to create a multinational corporation and amass a large fortune. Fearing the world is on a course to destroy itself, he plans to take it over and mold it to his specifications. To this end he creates the Harbinger Foundation, which actively searches for potential Harbingers (whose powers Harada triggers with his psionic abilities).
Pete Stanchek is a normal teenager until he develops Harbinger abilities. After seeing an advertisement he contacts the Harbinger Foundation. Harada is intrigued by Pete, who is the only other Harbinger to have triggered his own powers and who exhibits multiple abilities. Harada is no longer the only Omega Harbinger.
Harada tries to persuade Pete to join the Harbinger Foundation and become Harada's right hand man, but when Pete's best friend, who had been vocal about his distrust for Harada, is murdered by the Foundation Pete realizes the truth.
Pete, along with Kris (a high school cheerleader who Pete had first been unconsciously mentally controlling so that she would go out with him) become renegades. They decide to recruit Harbingers themselves, activate their abilities, and form an army capable of challenging Harada.
The Valiant publishers believe these relatively unknown characters will succeed at the box office:
When it comes to movies, Peter Cuneo said he is not worried that Valiant’s characters are not well known outside comic circles.
“The general public didn’t know Iron Man and look at him now,” he said of the Marvel character that has starred in two hit movies and anchored “The Avengers.” “What matters is the quality of the movie you make.”
The comic book movie article has now become teaching tool.

First, what constitutes a good quality movie or, for the English teacher, a good work of literature

Second, when comparing items make sure to compare similar items.  Cuneo seems to be comparing two different things.  Iron Man and the Avengers debuted in 1963.  They have nearly 50 years worth of readers to draw from; the Valiant characters have fewer than 20 years of history.  Further, the Avengers in both the comic and movie versions have Captain America, a character who was created in the 1940s and Thor who has thousands of years of thunder god history.

More importantly, Iron Man can draw on the knight archetype.  His armor, while technologically advanced, can be associated with hero stories developed over centuries.  Nanites seem to be technological bugs; they have little heroic history.  In fact, they seem more likely to engender a discussion of the advisability of genetically modified food than a discussion of heroism

Appealing to the Frankenstein motif instead of the knight in shining armor may create a niche film that will appeal to audience more willing to explore darker side of human nature.

In literature and so-called real world, people judge characters on the story they have lived and how well they can tell it.  Valiant seems to be trying to tell a new story that relies on the technology.  The most successful characters use technology as a tool and tell a familiar story in a new way.

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