Comic books and their denser counter parts, Graphic Novels have been adapted into everything from Movies and Television Series to Broadway Plays. With the upcoming releases of Thor: The Dark World, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we were curious how and why this genre and their adapted films, have reached such unimaginably large audiences and revenue.
Recently we asked producer and writer friend of ours, Damian Dydyn, to talk with the co-star of his upcoming web-series Selene Hollow, Doug Sobon. Staring as Augie, an odd obsessed man, running a comic book shop out of his living room; Doug was able to channel his life long passion of comics, into creating a character with the perfect balance of off-beat quirkiness and an intimate knowledge of a very complex world.
– – – – –
Damian: Doug, thank you for taking the time to chat with me, how have you been? What have you been up to since we wrapped on Selene Hollow?
Doug: Hi Damian, it’s my pleasure, thanks for having me. Well, since we last worked together I’ve been really busy with writing and pre-production work for my upcoming web-series Occ the Skeptical Caveman. We start principle photography in three days, so I’m very excited. Outside that, the little free time I have has involved video games and catching up on my TV shows and Films.
I just saw Man of Steel. I know a lot of people have been critical of the film, and probably for good reason, but I’m an unapologetic, non-critical hyper-fan of comic movies, and watch them often, over and over. For me, the escapism and fantasy is therapeutic and I really enjoy the different spin they put on some of my beloved childhood heroes.
Damian: I agree. Even when a comic book movie isn’t very good, I can often still enjoy it for the escape it provides. The very premise of a superhero movie is unrealistic and forces you to leave the real world behind as the story plays out. It takes you to a place where you have to accept that anything is possible before the opening credits are finished. In fact, these movies do a better job of leaving me in a creative mood than any other kind of movie. So tell me, where and when did your love for this genre spring into being?
Doug: Well, I saw Richard Donner’s Superman when it was originally released, I think I may have been four years old and I’m pretty sure I was a Superman fan before that, so very early on. Of course, it was a while before comic heroes got a another film of that quality. As a child, when I would play, I was always pretending to be extraordinary in some way, super strength, invisibility, I learned the word “teleportation” when I was less than ten (thanks Nightcrawler!) It’s funny to think about now, because my best friend and I would play together, he was always a sports star, while I opted for alien with superhuman powers.
Damian: I suppose that’s one of the reasons you act. You can still play an alien with super powers as an adult without the social stigma attached to someone who runs up and down the streets of their neighborhood, with a towel wrapped around their shoulders making laser sounds and exploding noises.
Doug: Well, I still do that too, but yes, the acting is more socially acceptable.
Damian: Earlier you mentioned Man of Steel. I also enjoyed it, though I do understand the criticism. One of the most insightful comments I’ve seen written about the movie is that it broke the unspoken contract we have with Superman as an audience. Superman doesn’t just save us, he protects us.
The distinction is that saving is more about the big moments and individuals. Lois Lane falls from a building and he catches her just before she hits the pavement, or Jimmy Olsen dangles from a crumbling dam and Superman scoops him up just as he slips. Behind those moments, however, he protects the world from catastrophic doom. In Donner’s Superman he manages to rewind and undo the quake that destroyed California. In Superman 2 he draws the Kryptonians away from Metropolis to minimize the damage to the city and the people that inhabit it. In Man of Steel however, Metropolis is leveled.
Superman saves people like Lois and Perry White, but he fails to protect the city. It didn’t feel like Superman to many people. Personally, I think the biggest issue is that we didn’t have a dichotomy between Superman and Clark Kent. Clark is Superman’s mask. It’s sort of backwards from most heroes who wear a mask to protect their civilian identity. Clark is also a glimpse into how Superman views humanity. Good, wholesome, and utterly helpless. It’s the biggest example of Superman’s hubris and that was lacking in this film making him feel entirely alien. Even still, it was a fun action movie with wonderful special effects, and the boys who played young Clark did a phenomenal job. So I still had a lot of fun despite the flaws.
Doug: That’s actually the one criticism I could bring myself to admit. The big effects, building smashing, ultimate battle in the city could have worked along those lines had Superman made every attempt to pull Zod away from the major population – but failed, or even a couple of shots of him zipping off to rescue people from falling debris before returning to confront Zod again. I didn’t mind the exclusion of Clark so much. I thought the retelling of his relationship with Lois Lane and that fact that she recognizes him through the impenetrable disguise of a pair of glasses did need to be updated.
So Superman first, then Clark. I would have liked to see more of him of course, but I imagine he’ll be quite prominent in the sequel. But you’re right, outside Kryptonite he’s invincible, his only weakness being his obsession with protecting others, something on which Luthor often capitalized. That being said, I’ve seen it three times and really, thoroughly enjoyed it. Hell, I even enjoyed Superman Returns. Don’t judge me. I watched Smallville for it’s entire run, fully aware of the fact that it could be described as sub-standard at best. But slap that S on some farm boy type and I’m probably going to watch and enjoy it.
Damian: I thought I was the only adult on the planet who stuck with Smallville up to the schlocky end. I was also fine with redefining his relationship with Lois, and honestly, I prefer taking previously used characters and trying new things. I just don’t think the approach in Man of Steel worked as well as they wanted it to. I like the idea of a Superman who has more flaws than a glowing green rock and a superiority complex.
Alright, let’s transition to that old cliché no interview about favorite movies would be complete without. If you were stranded on a desert island and could bring only one superhero movie with you, which one would it be?
Doug: Easy, V for Vendetta. It happens to be my favorite movie of all time. Hugo Weaving was absolutely brilliant and pulled off that role without ever showing us his face. I’m also a big fan of any revenge story, and the parallels with my favorite novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, only enhanced my love for the film. The political statements, the allusion to Nazi rule, the call to revolt after years of complacency, and a massively obsessed, even psychotic hero all blended together so beautifully.
Alan Moore, who wrote the original graphic novel is, quite frankly, a genius. His redefinition of the graphic novel is unsurpassed, in my opinion. Many of his works have gone on to become great films. His extreme distaste for Hollywood has kept him from ever viewing an adaptation of his work. It’s a small irony because the Watchmen was nearly a panel for panel recreation, probably the most faithful adaptation ever made.
Damian: Except for the ending, though I can understand not being comfortable with selling the idea of a giant mutated squid popping into existence in New York City and killing millions of people with a psychic blast. For me, it would be down to a coin flip between the first Iron Man and The Avengers. Iron Man blew me away. I wasn’t expecting it to be anywhere near as good as it was, and I could watch Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark all day. The Avengers is, well, a shiny example of just about everything Joss Whedon does well and I’m an unabashed Joss fanboy. If pressed to choose, I would probably go with The Avengers, though, since I get my Stark fix along with my hit of Joss.
Joss Whedon on the set of The Avengers
Doug: Loved them both, completely. In fact, the entire “first phase” of the Marvel move to films was just awesome. Once in a while I treat myself to a marathon culminating in The Avengers, which was a brilliant success when it could have fallen flat in so many ways. So yeah, props to Whedon on that one.
Damian: Let’s flip this on its head. What is the worst adaptation you’ve seen so far on the big screen? I’ll jump in quickly to say that Daredevil was it for me.
Growing up there were three books I read religiously. Captain America was one, The Amazing Spider-Man was another, and yes that includes the Ben Reilly run, and of course Daredevil. Spider-man was the most fun to read and Cap satisfied that little flame of patriotism every kid had drilled into their heads at school back then, but Daredevil was something different for me.
He first caught my eye because the emblem on his chest was my initials, and he was in a red suit with devil horns. Growing up with the name Damian, most of my nicknames played off of the devil somehow, especially in Catholic school. So I took to reading his books quickly and was immediately drawn in by the idea of a blind superhero. It was fascinating to me, and seeing him constantly getting beat up and broken while saving the day was also refreshing. There were immediate personal consequences for his decision to fight crime. It made him more real than the other heroes I had seen.
When the movie came out, even though I wasn’t a big fan of Ben Affleck playing Matt Murdock, I liked seeing him in pain early in the film. The addiction to pain killers was a wonderful touch. Then it fell off the rails. The grittiness that made the comic book so good was eschewed in favor of an over the top Elektra, a jovial socialite version of The Kingpin and a plot that made very little sense. It was a huge blow as it was an early entry in the Marvel universe and made me wonder if films like Spider-man and X-men were going to end up outliers. Thankfully, that didn’t end up being the case, but Daredevil had me worried for a while. What would be your big flop?
Doug: Well, the 70s-80s produced a host of truly horrific comic adaptations. Spiderman and Captain America most notably. They’re actually good to watch now for the pure, unintended comedy they provide, but man those were awful. I don’t think it’s fair to count those, though. They had shoestring budgets and no one working on the projects seemed to even be familiar with the original material.
In recent years, I would have to say Ghost Rider. Before even seeing it you wonder how a motorcycle rider with a flaming skull for a head, delivering justice, is going to avoid a high level of corniness. Well, the portrayal was pretty weak, and the whole thing was just lackluster. But it pales in comparison to it’s sequel, which is firmly at the top of my list. So many flaws I don’t have time to go through them, but a truly awful film. And for me to say that about a comic book movie, that really is something. But I’ll add another category: biggest disappointment. For a film that was capping off a phenomenal (so far) trilogy X-men 3 was a let down of Lucasesque proportions. Two wonderful films preceded that dung heap. It was good news indeed to hear that Bryan Singer is working very hard to, ahem, underplay some of the terrible choices made in the film. Not as bad as the Ghost Rider films, but the personal slight I felt for X:III was definitely more acute.
Damian: Last Stand was a close runner up for me. Likewise, Spider-man 3 did a terrible job of following up two excellent films and it didn’t even have the excuse of hiring Brett Ratner. Let’s try looking ahead. There is a Guardians of the Galaxy adaptation about to start filming, for which Karen Gillan shaved her head, and there are plans to try and develop films for Black Cat, Deathlok, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Silver Surfer, Sub-Mariner, Venom, Black Panther, Ant-man, Deadpool and even Runaways. What property would you be most excited about seeing an adaptation for?
Doug: Oh, I would absolutely love to see The Silver Surfer get the adaptation he deserves, instead of a supporting role like last time, and more Galactus please! I’ve always loved the grand cosmic scale on which his stories took place, and the Godlike power he wielded. He’s also a tragic character which makes him all the more appealing to me. With Nolan and Whedon, the bar for comic adaptations has been raised quite high. I think in the next run through SS will be presented to us with more respect for the material. I’m optimistic like that.
Damian: I think Runaways is the one that I’m most interested in. It’s a really interesting premise and it doesn’t have such a huge following that they would be compelled to play it safe with the material. There’s some potential for some really bold story telling there, and they could even try to cover some ground that The Hunger Games teased at but failed to deliver on. Specifically, the idea of children committing violence to survive. So, of the comic book movies currently in production, which one excites you the most? Marvel has The Amazing Spider-man 2, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: The Dark World and Big Hero 6 which is an animated feature they are working with Disney on. DC has recently hinted at a Batman Superman team up, or possibly a Batman vs Superman film and have green lit a Man of Steel sequel, but don’t have much else that looks immanent. What jumps out at you?
Doug: Yeah, I can’t say I’m familiar with Runaways. I’ll have to brush up on that. But man, when I heard about the promo hinting at a Batman/Superman film, I giggle like a child. That is, Bale’s Batman, I hope. I’ve been following the gossip, and it appears he’s open to the idea, even if his signing on hasn’t been officially announced. He and Henry Cavill together on screen in those characters would just be epic. I think this would be far preferable than a Justice League film, at least before the other characters have some established screen time, like the Avengers model. Even then, some of the characters just seem, I don’t know, problematic for a modern film? But a film focusing on these two and their divergent world views? I would lose my mind. There is so much great material to draw from. It’s all there in decades of comics. I even recall a particularly astounding graphic novel where Superman has his ass handed to him by an amped-up aged Batman. Though I think we should wait before recreating Miller’s masterpiece.
Damian: Batman vs Superman would be incredible to see on screen, especially I they can get Bale back for the role. If I had to pick one that I’m most excited for, however, it’s probably Thor: The Dark World. Chris Hemsworth managed to take Thor from the “take him or leave him” level to a must watch character. I never got into Thor as a stand alone comic, but the first Thor movie was epic fun and made him a character I could actually relate to. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he does with the role in the sequel. I’m still not quite sold on Ultron as the villain in the next Avengers movie, but I trust Joss Whedon and I’m sure it’ll end up being a great ride, but Thor has me invested in a way I was absolutely not expecting. Honestly, I’m just grateful that we have so many to choose from. It’s a golden age for comic book fans.
Doug: Yeah, how great was Thor? I was sure that one would fall flat on it’s face, but Hemsworth is so damned charismatic you just fall in love with him. And the realization of Asgard was just breathtaking, can’t wait to see more of that. Last I heard, Thanos was to be the big bad in the next Avengers film, didn’t know they were going with Ultron. Interesting, but you’re right, they really haven’t let us down yet with that franchise, so I’m sure I’ll love it.
Damian: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me about all this, Doug. We appreciate you taking the time from the production for Occ to chat with us.
Doug: It’s been my pleasure.
If you’ve seen any of these films or have a favorite (or least) we’ve missed, we’d love to hear about your experience. Don’t forget to LIKE us on Facebook, FOLLOW us on Twitter, and SUBSCRIBE to our Blog for all the latest news and updates.