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Re-“Born Again”: Daredevil, Season Three, and the Limits of Textual Fidelity…

One of the more interesting aspects of the modern boom in geek culture is the increased emphasis on textual fidelity.

Much has been written about the high volume of adaptations, sequels, remakes and reboots that dominate contemporary popular culture. The trend is strong, even among this year’s prestige releases. A Star is Born is the third remake of the film, and there are many more stories besides. First Man is a story that covers well-worn ground, a modern American myth, albeit from a unique perspective. Suspiria is a remake of a beloved cult classic. Widows is an adaptation of a British television series. If Beale Street Could Talk… is taken from a James Baldwin novel.

However, it is also very revealing that so many modern adaptations of beloved properties are very much fixated on the idea of fidelity. “Faithfulness” has become a watchword for these adaptations, not just in terms of easter eggs, but in terms of basic construction. In its own way, this may perhaps be an extension of the emphasis on comic books and graphic novels as a key inspiration for modern blockbusters. Given how many comic book artists also work as storyboard artists in film, it is tempting to treat the source material as a storyboard, to adapt a panel into a still image.

This is an interesting approach, but one which often overlooks the actual act of adaptation as an art of itself. It is not enough to cobble together a film from a collection of familiar static images, and can occasionally lead to a very surreal and uncomfortable disconnect, with a filmmaker lifting very literally from their inspiration while also making something that bears little resemblance to the source material in any non-visual manner. The third season of Daredevil runs into this problem repeatedly, largely as a muddled attempt to bring Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Born Again to the screen.

Note: This article contains minor spoilers from the third season of Daredevil.

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Non-Review Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

The best and worst thing that can be said for Beauty and the Beast is that it beautifully recreates the animated source material.

A lot of love and affection went into Beauty and the Beast. The production design is amazing, a truly stylish blend of physical objects and computer-generated imagery to create something that feels like a hybrid between live action and animation. It is a very skillful blending of two different approaches to film making. On a purely technical level, judged as a mechanical adaptation, Beauty and the Beast succeeds triumphantly. It is a live action fantasia recreation of a beloved animated film.

More than that, Beauty and the Beast works largely because it is so effective an adaptation. Beauty and the Beast scores phenomenally well because it so carefully and precisely translates material that has incredible emotional power. There is a case to be made that the original Disney adaptation is one of the best films in the company’s canon, with some of the best songs and the most memorable set pieces. The live action adaptation ensures that very few of these moments get lost in translation, which lends the movie a compelling weight.

Unfortunately, it is also a reminder that a nigh-perfect adaptation of this version of the story already exists. Beauty and the Beast runs a muscular two-hours-and-six minutes to the animated film’s eighty-two minutes, but that statistic is misleading. The additions are pointless at best and distracting at worst. As a whole, Beauty and the Beast makes the animated original look like a more streamlined take on this tale that cuts a lot of the fat, telling the same story in a way that is at once more concentrated and more concise.

Mirror, mirror.

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Daredevil – The Dark at the End of the Tunnel (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

Adaptation is a tricky business.

One of the more interesting aspects of the comic book movie boom that occurred in the years following Blade (although really kicking into gear with X-Men and Spider-Man) has been the discussion over narrative fidelity. It seems like a comic book adaptation is no longer truly judged on its own merits, but weighed against how faithfully it recreates its source material. It is not enough to produce a good superhero film, it is expected that most contemporary production teams should produce a good superhero adaptation.

Trinity.

Trinity.

This would have seemed ridiculous during the nineties. After all, Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns stand as two of the most successful superhero films of the decade, and they are arguably better described as “Tim Burton films” than “Batman films.” There was a point at which Tim Burton was planning to direct his own Superman film that would have been (very) loosely inspired by The Death and Return of Superman written by Kevin Smith and starring Nicolas Cage, a giant spider, and some polar bears.

Largely driven by the success of the Marvel Studios business model, however, it seems that contemporary superhero films and television shows are expected to show their work and to emphasise their connection to the source material.

"Let's turn this town into a warzone. A Punisher: Warzone."

“Let’s turn this town into a warzone. A Punisher: Warzone.”

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Roy Thomas’ Run on The X-Files: Season One (Topps) (Review)

We’ve recently finished our reviews of the nine seasons of The X-Files. Along the way, we tried to do tie-ins and crossovers and spin-offs. However, some of those materials weren’t available at the right time. So this week will be spent finishing Topps’ line of “Season One” comics, published during the fifth season in the lead up to The X-Files: Fight the Future.

It is hard to figure out what exactly the point of the Season One line was meant to be.

In a very superficial way, the point was obvious. The intent was to add a second regular series to Topps’ line of comics based around The X-Files. Even during the comic book bubble burst of the mid- to late-nineties, The X-Files was a good seller for the company. The monthly book sold well enough that Topps’ eagerly supplemented it. New stories were published as Digest editions, published alongside the less successful Ray Bradbury comics. Annuals were published alongside the monthly book. Collections were published frequently.

xfiles-beyondthesea13

However, this was not enough to satisfy market demand. Topps wanted to publish more X-Files material with greater frequency. However, Ten Thirteen were less interested with the supervision that the line required. A compromise seemed in order. Rather than creating a new original series of comic books, they flooded with market with new adaptations of existing X-Files media. Writer Kevin J. Anderson and artist Gordon Purcell offered a four-part comic book miniseries adapting Anderson’s Ground Zero prose novel.

The publisher also decided to put out a series of adaptations of classic first season episodes, released once every two months. These would be adaptations of stories that had already been properly vetted by Ten Thirteen, having been produced in-house. The trick would simply be translating them into comic books.

Burn with me.

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The X-Files: Season One (Topps) #9 – Shadows (Review)

We’ve recently finished our reviews of the nine seasons of The X-Files. Along the way, we tried to do tie-ins and crossovers and spin-offs. However, some of those materials weren’t available at the right time. So this week will be spent finishing Topps’ line of “Season One” comics, published during the fifth season in the lead up to The X-Files: Fight the Future.

And, with Shadows, the Season One line comes to a close.

Although The X-Files was at the very peak of its popularity between the fifth and sixth seasons, the Topps line of comics was winding to a close. Although Topps had turned a very tidy profit on the line, Ten Thirteen had been less enthused by the relationship. The production company decided not to renew their contract with Topps, and so the X-Files line of comics was quietly retired. Shadows was published in July 1998, a month following the release of The X-Files: Fight the Future.

A shadow of itself...

A shadow of itself…

It was not the last X-Files comic book to be published by Topps. The company would release one more issue of the regular series – Severed – shortly before the start of the sixth season. There was little indication that Topps expected the contract to come to an end; the publisher had actually solicited two further issues of the Season One line beyond Shadows, adaptations of The Jersey Devil and Ghost in the Machine. These were somewhat lackluster first season episodes, but episodes with the sort of impressive visual ideas that might translate well to the comic book medium.

An adaptation of The Jersey Devil and Ghost in the Machine would certainly have made for a more visually satisfying final issue than an adaptation of Shadows.

What we do in the shadows...

What we do in the shadows…

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The X-Files: Season One (Topps) #6 – Space (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

If the jump to Ice suggested that the Season One line would only be covering the “highlights” of the first season of The X-Files, then the decision to immediately follow with an adaptation of Space puts paid to that theory.

Ice is generally regarded as one of the strongest stories of the first season. It is moody and atmospheric, tense and claustrophobic. It shines a light on the characterisation of Mulder and Scully, while also offering a particularly memorable (and unsettling) monster of the week. In contrast, Space is generally regarded as one of the weakest stories of the first season. It is clumsy and muddled, slow and dreary. The episode’s direction is bland and the special effects are woeful. On paper, it is probably the least likely choice for a Season One adaptation.

Face the future...

Face the future…

However, Space ultimately lends itself to a comic book adaptation. The story finds itself well-suited by the transition from live action footage to comic book page. there are a number of different reasons for this, but the truth is that the story is simply better suited to this format. That applies to the technical limitations imposed on film, but also to the storytelling conventions associated with comic books as opposed to live action television. It is a startling result, and arguably the biggest success of the entire Season One line.

Although it is a qualified accomplishment at best, Space is the first Season One comic that manages to surpass its source material.

Is there life on Mars?

Is there life on Mars?

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The X-Files (Topps) – Ground Zero #1-4 (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Ground Zero offers an indication of just how much success Topps was enjoying with their line of licensed X-Files comic books.

The monthly series was still being published, and Season One was on a bimonthly schedule. Both books had stable creative teams, and there was no indication that they were likely to wrap up any time soon. Of course, Topps would pull of the comic book market in late 1998, but there was no indication that they considered their X-Files line to be anything other than a complete success. As such, it made sense to expand the line. After all, the company had already used the brand to sell annuals and digests.

Eye see all...

Eye see all…

However, there was reportedly a considerable amount of friction between Topps and Ten Thirteen over the comic book line. Ten Thirteen was reportedly quite firm in what they would and would not allow to be published. Writers John Rozum and Stefan Petrucha have talked about how difficult it was to get their scripts published for the monthly series. It seems that Topps was eager to work around these restrictions. It is telling that neither Season One nor Ground Zero were original concepts; they were adaptations of ideas and stories Ten Thirteen had already approved.

Ground Zero is written by veteran tie-in author Kevin J. Anderson. Anderson had already written a number of popular X-Files tie-in books and had provided a fill-in arc on the monthly comic book with Family Portrait. The artwork for Ground Zero is provided by Gordon Purcell, one of the best likeness artists in the business. Publishing a four-issue adaptation of a tie-in novel is the very definition of a “safe” choice to expand the line, and only illustrates some of the wasted opportunities towards the end of Topps’ stewardship of the license.

Doomsday clock...

Doomsday clock…

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