Why Indie Comic Books are the Future of Comics on the Big Screen

When you think of the most prominent comic book companies in film, you conclude on Marvel & DC. These are the two big publishers who are dominating the film business right now. As aforementioned, these are big time publishers. Success has been habitual for them. How about the indie comics market? The Walking Dead is the most obvious example of an independent comic making it big. As huge tentpole films like Avengers: Infinity War and Justice League hit our theaters soon, fatigue could be setting in. Not comic book film fatigue as a whole, but fatigue from what we’ve been getting the last 10 years. Let me explain.

As we enter another year with several more comic book movies on the horizon, maybe we, as fans, need to contemplate enough is enough. I love comic book films. They entertain me, they move me and sometimes, they make me think on certain issues and/or topics worth pondering over. It’s amazing to see my favorite heroes come to life on the silver screen. I admire the fun and adventurous atmosphere of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I love the X-Men movies and how they’ve always provided very deep, emotionally evocative material. I’m very excited for what the DCEU will bring to the table.

As the release dates gets closer, I tend to be more indifferent. I approach these films with a “please entertain me” proposition; at the least. And they usually do entertain me as I watch them. At times, you get a gem like The Dark Knight, X-Men: Days of Future Past or Captain America: The Winter Soldier; comic book films that sort of do something extraordinary by attacking some larger societal issue in their narrative.  Even with those films, they, at times, possess the run of the mill “superhero film formula”. My main gripe I guess is that most modern comic book films are the same: you know the narrative before going in, the set ups are endless and there’s always a climactic battle with an excessive use of CGI. There is just no shock factor or anything unconventional to these films. This is not a fault of the genre, but more so Hollywood and how they produce these films. As aforesaid, there are surprises that are different from the usual tentpole superhero film. But, I think the “formulaic” aspects infecting the bigger films, is a serious problem; even if it doesn’t affect the gems. Those special rare comic book movies (CBMs) aren’t frequent.  I sound like I hate these films and I don’t. I love them. But, as a comic book fan who’s recently been revisiting some comics that deviate from the norm, I wonder what these deviations would look like on the big screen.

I want to acknowledge a few of those films, and/or franchises that set themselves apart from the rest. They embrace something different. They break what’s conventional.

X-Men Franchise – Standing up for the “different” guy

The X-Men films will always give recognition to a group in society that’s the victim of bigotry.

Guardians of The Galaxy – Each one of us is fucked up

Heroes who don’t always stand for truth, justice and you know the rest. They’re flawed in a very authentic way. They cure their own cohesive flaw, which is lonesomeness. They were all lonely at one point, but they stood for something together and became a family.

The Dark Knight – Goes without saying…

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Dark political subtext for everyone

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is as refreshing as it is pertinent. It dives into political minefields in an intelligent and gripping manner. The conspiracy thriller sneaks some meaningful commentary into a popcorn blockbuster.  It conveys a relevant message that’s as old fashioned at the titular hero.

The modern comic book movie (with a few exceptions, as I’ve stated) is fluff. I think the reason I feel this way is because these movies are increasingly becoming more and more empty calories. As a Marvel fan, I can admit, they are guilty of the formula. It’s easy to blame them because they started this whole modern golden age of CBMs. But, other studios have followed suit in Marvel’s occasional “formula fever”. On a different note, I think we demand too much from our comic book movies as well. We expect greatness every time. I think we’ve been spoiled by The Dark Knight, The Avengers etc. But, this spoiled feeling is unjustified as these amazing CBMs are rare. There have been dozens of comic book films and only a little more than a handful are close to perfection. I am grateful to receive entertaining films at the least. But, I’m yearning for something new. My excitement for upcoming films like Justice League, Wonder Woman, Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther are still strong. But, as much as I like spinach manicotti, I’d like to try something new every once in a while. That’s where indie comics come in.

Comic book films are suspected to be all flowing capes, alien invasions and good versus evil. The comic book movie genre isn’t going anywhere any time soon, but if we have to have some, why not dig a little deeper? Why not look for some obscure great comics that are worthy of a film adaptation? There are indie comics out there that are as intriguing as any Marvel and DC film or comic. The big studios who are spending millions (billions I you believe certain rumors) on Marvel and DC are missing out on some smaller, special independent properties. Kingsman, Road to Perdition and A History of Violence are films that received critical acclaim and are all comic book films. They originate from the indie division of comics. Again, I reiterate, not that there is anything wrong with Marvel or DC, but they seem to have done the bare minimum to diversify; or at least, they struggle with things they shouldn’t struggle with. (There shouldn’t be a fear of a female driven comic book film; I get the business aspect playing a part, but CBMs are at a point of succession where, they can afford the risk of failure I believe). There have been some strides made in giving indie comics some mad love (no pun intended). Ellen Page vehicle “Queen & Country” is said to be happening sometime. Tom Hardy is giving us a “100 Bullets” film (CAN’T WAIT!). “Sex Criminals” is coming to cable TV. “Cowboy Ninja Viking” is being led by Chris Pratt. There are some impressive irons in the fire. Let’s keep the fire burning.

The best way I can continue to propose how indie comics are a great future for CBMs, is by giving some excellent examples. There are a bevy of titles that are some of the best comics I’ve read—ever. Here are some below. (These are some of my favorites. I had to make some hard choices concerning which ones I wanted to highlight.)

The Massive
Dark Horse Comics

The Rundown: Welcome to a world where every big environmental disaster happened at once. This resulted in a post-apocalyptic landscape for the Earth. In this thriller, a boat, dubbed The Massive, which belongs to a fraternity of environmentalists, goes missing. A sistership, named the Kapital, searches for the missing sea vessel while contending with pirates, storms and all types of mess.

Why it’s So Damn Cool: Notice how the story isn’t your typical comic book fare. It has the story that’s reminiscent of an independent film. The events in The Massive aren’t world ending as much as they are world changing. That’s the beauty of it. Whilst, Avengers films and justice league films will, mostly likely, always have a world ending scenario, a comic like The Massive merely alters the Earth; even If the Earth is already a barren wasteland. An alien invasion or a psychotic android doesn’t threaten the world in this story, Mother Nature does. It’s not the typical post-apocalyptic story. You may be thinking this 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow. Those films focused on spectacle and he events that shaped the stricken worlds; The Massive is built on the characters and how they maneuver through this god forsaken world. There’ a reflection of the world they inhabit, as they are as broken as the ground they walk on. Survival is the core of the story. If you like films like The Martian or Castaway, you’ll love this comic. Our protagonists struggle more with themselves than others. How far would you go to survive? What does a world without hope do to your mind?
I suggest you pick it up. It’s an amazing read.

Criminal Macabre
Dark Horse Comics
IDW Publishing

The Rundown: A drug fiend monster hunter who’s as sarcastically deadpan as April from Parks and Rec.  I had to have gotten your attention with that. Cal McDonald is a hardass who kills monsters for a living. The story is, I admit, eerily similar to Constantine. But, that’s good. Constantine is one of the few comic book properties that are so damn different these days. The stories are dirty, gritty and just hardcore as hell.

Why it’s So Damn Cool: I recently re-read the first issue and I couldn’t put it down. I was hooked. The Constantine parallels and the fact that Thomas Jane has said “he’s born to play the role’ is enough to justify its big screen potential.

Image Comics

The Rundown: An immortal femme fatale goes through time bending the will of men she encounters. She does all this while running from a cult of Lovecraftian admirers.

Why it’s So Damn Cool: Its Ed Brubaker. Everything he writes is great. (Check out Sleeper and Criminal) Its noir and horror blended together beautifully.  It’s a psychological horror tale that’s imbued with Lovecraftian elements.  It’s my favorite series right now. The dialogue is so noir. But, it’s still very impressive; straight out of an old 1940s noir mystery. There’s’ gangsters’ demons, cults and Cthulhu.  The protagonist is an awful person. The men she manipulates are awful. There are no heroes in this, to be honest. And that’s refreshing.

Pretty Deadly
Image Comics

The Rundown: Narrated by a bunny and butterfly (very weird, but good), Death’s scarred daughter rides from town to town seeking revenge. I just started reading this and it’s immensely weird, but pleasantly fascinating. It’s a dark psychological western that’s sprinkled with horror and magic.

Why it’s so Damn Cool: I’m not going to lie, the first time I read it I realized by the second chapter that I had absolutely no idea what was happening. It’s like Inception but a comic book; it takes a second reading to get it. It’s very intimate and poetic. It’s also extremely gory; its Kill Bill level gore. The artwork is stunning and inspires great cinematography on the silver screen. It remained me of the anime Samurai Champloo, (if you’re familiar; if not check it out), in terms of its Far East tone and lyrical atmosphere. It’s blending a wide range of influences such as Japanese samurai films, westerns and mysticism. It’s begging for a film adaptation. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick does great work here.

Notable Mention:

Oni Press

The Rundown: a mystery taking place in Portland, Oregon that follows female detective Dex as she deals with gambling debts and cases. Very Jessica Jones, minus the superpowers and proclivity for ‘buttplay’ (had to do it). She’s’ tasked with finding the missing daughter of the head of the Native American tribe she owes money too.

Why it’s So Damn Cool: First off, this would work better as a TV show. I know that. But, I had to give it some recognition.  Greg Rucka is one of the best crime writers today. He knows how to write the best female characters, without resorting them to simpering wimps that need to hold onto a boy’s hands to walk them across a street. Dex, the main player here, is as tough as they come. She can take a beating like those ol’ Murdock boys and she still manages to get up. In the foreword, Stumptown is repeatedly compared to an old 70s PI television show called The Rockford Files. She gets worked over more often than Jim Rockford. Her bashed up eye is as ever present as Jack Nicholson’s messed up nose in Chinatown Again, the protagonist here is flawed. She’s like you and me. She has vices. She has weird penchants. She’s detective who isn’t a master of deduction. She gets her answers through any means necessary. Our hero is trying to save herself. Finding the missing girl isn’t about making sure she’s safe; its’ about clearing a debt. A story that is to gripping to be put down. Stumptown is an amazing story.

The people writing and directing current comic book movies are people who grew up reading comics and agonized through a period where the comic book films of old were mostly bad. The next generation of CBM writers and directors won’t be so deferential towards them because they never grew up in a world without them. Right now, CBMs are great, but not as diverse as they should be in terms of story. Comic readers today are in an age where indie comics are as good, if not better, than mainstream comics. Considering we are hitting a point where not only are we getting beloved characters brought to life on screen at a near alarming rate, we are getting the most truly comic inspired stories yet! Does that mean, in years to come, rebooting these characters we’re so successfully adapting now, will be unnecessary? I think you could argue yes. I think the films are evolving and the storytelling is getting bigger, but setup is still a necessary evil. Knowing the next chapter before it happens is still the norm.

Characters are merely managed until then to fit into place when these events hit. As inventive as the recent Marvel films have been with tone/genre to suit characters before the big team-up movie, it actually only deflates the huge build up because no earthly threat stands a chance against the monetary power of the sequel potential. With indie comics, there’s an appreciation for story and character that Marvel and DC sometimes don’t get nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, there are great stories in MCU films; I’m sure the DCEU will bring some heat too. But, the bigger picture though is that there are far too many blockbusters these days. At one point there was only a few portioned out in a year, and the anticipation was there on most occasions. It’s all about setting up the next event. These movies used to be all about the anticipation of them, primarily fueled by the name recognition and pre-existing emotional investment. With indie comics, there’s usually not a huge universe to reference or setup as the stories are more intimate and personal.

Maybe I’m wrong. This entire editorial is really just a combination of thoughts I’ve been having recently. I tried my best to convey them in an acceptable manner. If I could get my point across in a few sentences I would say: Comic book movies can be great as long as they keep diversifying and changing from what’s been previously done. With a few exceptions, most comic book movies think people are satisfied with just seeing characters and scenarios they recognize. As long as someone can say “I know that guy!”, then who cares if there are compelling story-lines. Indie comics lack a familiarity that modern CBMs have. Setup, famous scenarios and recreating panels wouldn’t be top priorities. I love the current state of CBMs. I’m having a blast watching them.  At the end of the day, as a fan of bigger publishers and smaller ones, I just want to see something different at times.  But, I sometimes find myself considering how long can I be amazed by the Justice League or Avengers? How long can Batman and Iron Man keep my interest? I think I’ll always be interested, but I often wonder if I will. I think these are questions that every CBM fan should ask themselves. As I’ve said before, I feel spoiled by CBMs. We can literally make anything. Will this overindulgence make me lose my appetite for them? Only time will tell. I’m certainly happy with the current state of the comic book movie genre. However, it’s never wrong to think on the future though.


Thanks for the read! Always open to (friendly) critique!