Cinemagoers be warned – the season of the bombastic summer blockbuster is almost upon us. 

This year sees the release of three huge (and hugely-hyped) comic-book adaptations in the Green Lantern, Thor and Captain America, followed by additional films in the X-Men and Transformers franchises to name a few, all with heavy expectations and the financial fortunes of their studios relying on them to succeed. 

In previous years many of the biggest releases have been sourced from comic books, with Spiderman, Superman, X-Men, Iron Man and a rebooted, brooding Batman series being the best-known and most successful examples.

 However, over the last decade graphic novels (Watchmen, 300, V for Vendetta), sci-fi programmes (Star Trek, Transformers) and various other birthplaces of spandex-clad universes have dominated the schedule come the summer.

Even earlier, some massive movies from the 90s such as The Mask and Men In Black came from relatively unknown comic series and onto the big screen. 

So, why did such a derided, divisive and occasionally demented genre populated by fantastical cartoon characters and adored by that most uncool social group, awkward teenage boys, come to rule the roost? 

My thinking was that, essentially, it’s because teenage boys are stupid, they’re easy to target and they don’t really require much to earn their tickets – just loud explosions, mindless violence and good-looking women gyrating at cameras in positions a hair’s breadth from soft-porn. 

So instead of the more traditional and awkward way of making films – hire good actors, writers, directors et cetera, hope they all get on and a decent film’s at the end of a long shoot – all you now need is a pliant and fame-hungry starlet, an army of laptops and a few hundred million for marketing. 

To test out my theory, I went to the recent Sci-Fi, Film and Comic Memorabilia Fair in Manchester and asked around. 

With teenage boys outnumbered by middle-aged men and casual fans fewer than serious collectors and comics aficionados, I received a mixture of responses ranging from guarded optimism to near-disdain and world-weary scepticism.

Ian Openshaw, 39, who works in new retro and sci-fi shop Cineheroes just off Piccadilly in Manchester, said that the newer films as a whole were “fairish” in quality, but was optimistic regarding Thor, directed by Shakespearean veteran Kenneth Branagh and featuring big-name actors such as Oscar-winner Natalie Portman. 

“It’ll either be a massive hit or a huge flop,” added Stuart Goddard, a 37-year-old trader from Newcastle, who was generally critical of the big-budget Hollywood adaptations, feeling the recent Star Trek film succeeded despite rather than because of financial backing. 

Such cynicism was echoed by Manchester comic-fan Sid Jones, who emphasised the way the films warp the original content of the comics, especially as technology has improved. 

“When special effects kicked in no matter how much money they spend they still manage to bastardise the comics,” he said, “It’s so important not to lose the roots of it because the movies unfortunately don’t do the characters justice.” 

Some were more cheery about the prospects of the films. Donna Evans, a 27-year-old artist, is a big fan of Tim Burton films, and praised the recent films Iron Man and Hellboy. However, her views were slightly compromised by a serious liking for the average-at-best Pirates of the Caribbean series – another example of a relative youngster seduced by pretty actors and shiny explosions. 

Any words of praise were normally qualified by not actually referring to the quality of the films, but the quantity of people it draws into the world of comics and trading. 

“It’s about time they’ve done it, and they’re doing it right,” added John Wright, a trader from Southport eagerly awaiting the new Captain America film, who credited the mainstream comic films for inspiring witty send-ups and additions such as Kick-Ass and Pixar’s The Incredibles. 

It can’t do any harm, even if the films are bad,” said Tony Walker, 48, a trader from Stretford. 

 “They’re getting better,” says Ken Sampson, a fellow Cineheroes employee who, after stating a preference for the original 1948 Kirk Alyn Superman serial, showed his conflicted interests when discussing new films by adding “They’re drawing people into the shop.” 

A more representative view of those canvassed came from Tony Taylor, 62, a retired accountant from North Manchester. 

“The film companies tend not to produce good comics movies,” he said, “There are more bad films than good ones.” 

“Comics can tell a brilliant story in a visual way, but film-makers have to bring in special effects and overstate it,” he added, “And with something like Thor, they’re just going to throw money at special effects believing that’s what viewers want to see – I believe it’s the story that’s important. 

In summary, the films tend to be less like intelligent fantasy fiction they could be and more like mindless, ear-rending action pulp. 

Comic book films are the worst offenders in this category: most are over-hyped, over-budget and overwrought behemoths designed solely to sell toys, tickets and boxes of tissues. For every watchable X-Men or Iron Man is a dreary Daredevil ( I liked that film – Ed), a bloated Spider-Man 3 or embarrassing Batman and Robin (watch the compilation of Arnold’s ‘Mr. Freeze puns’ on YouTube and cringe). 

Graphic novels have, to be fair, not been quite as badly treated as comics, with Sin City and V for Vendetta pretty decent films, and sci-fi still produces the odd gem, such as Moon or District 9, but they all come far away from the glare, the glitz and the meddlesome moneymen of Hollywood. The Watchmen and the Star Wars prequel trilogy are testaments to what usually happens when big bucks take precedence over big ideas. 

There is an obvious irony in the fact that as the fan-boys and their kind have become big-hitters in the film industry, the quality of the films in their genre has dramatically declined. There’s fewer films like Alien or the Reeves Superman films, and more like Alien Versus Predator, Superman Returns or Elektra, all tired remakes, superfluous retreads and flaccid spinoffs. 

There’s been a bit of ‘Hair-Metal Syndrome’, where the eccentricities have been wound down, the marketability ratcheted up and the meaning more or less lost in the process. These films are the Poison and Cinderella to the earlier Led Zeppelins, Judas Priests and Iron Maidens, or whingeing emo bollocks instead of magnificent prog. 

The biggest losers are the original comic fans and true sci-fi aficionados, fed up with the moronic masses bastardising their passion and lowering the bar for the sake of impermanent success and eternal damnation in Film Hell. If it takes an overly-violent bludgeoning to make the heathens appreciate nuance, subtlety and properly-written stories, then so be it.

Written by Liam Barnes

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.