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Finding Superheroes: How Comic Books Became the New Cinema

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By Adam Chimeo for Eugene Daily News

Once again, the heroics of Gotham’s billionaire hero have found their way to the top of the box-office. The Dark Knight Rises recently passed $300 million at the domestic box-office. This summer has seen a plethora of comic book-inspired films, most of which were very financially successful. Of course, this is not a new trend in mainstream Hollywood. As long as audiences are willing to buy the tickets, see the 3D version, wear the merchandise, and get the extended Blu-Ray, it is safe to assume that we’ll have quite a few vigilante adventures to come.

But what is it about comic book movies that have young people everywhere sleeping on cold sidewalks for a midnight screening? Darrell Grimes, manager of Eugene’s Nostalgia Collectibles, believes that it is the heroes that keep us coming back for more.

“In today’s society, we’ve lost our heroes,” said Grimes from behind the counter. The walls of the shop are covered with hundreds of comic figurines, superhero cutouts, and vintage comic books.

“In today’s society, we’ve lost our heroes,” said Darrell Grimes, owner of Eugene’s Nostalgia Collectibles and Emerald City Comics.

Darrell Grimes has been a comic book aficionado for all of his life. In addition to owning Nostalgia Collectibles, he also owns Emerald City Comics, Oregon’s oldest comic book shop.

Grimes explains,

“When I was a kid, everybody wanted to be president. Today, the kinds of heroes we have are sports heroes, television stars, movie actors.  They’re flawed and at the height of their careers the media has a microscope on them, then they fall. So, the heroes we want to have are no longer heroes. Now, we’re accepting heroes that aren’t real.

The recent box-office statistics show us just how accepting we really are. The Avengers raked in close to $616 million domestic, and The Amazing Spider-Man has recently reached $242 million domestic and $654 million worldwide.

Perhaps the current superhero-film trend can be more clearly understood after considering Hollywood’s recent rehash, remake, repeat cycle. Comic books seem to fall perfectly into the formula. After all, audiences are used to seeing multiple interpretations of comic characters and Hollywood has proven that they are more than willing to take their time finding the right one (Hulk 2003, The Incredible Hulk 2008, Spider-Man 2002, The Amazing Spider-Man 2012, etc.)

Another thing about comics that is intrinsically good for blockbusters is the fact that they are usually told through a series of stories, which is perfect for sequels. And if there is one thing that we can all be sure about, it’s that Hollywood loves sequels.

Grimes explains how this cinematic phenomenon has impacted his local businesses:

“The hobby has grown because of the movies. The mainstream characters are gaining even more popularity, along with my business.”

As to why he had to wait decades before Hollywood got wise to the comic book medium, Grimes believes that the current state of film technology has played a large part.

Taylor Tomlin, a recent University of Oregon graduate and adamant Batman fan, explains his love of the series: “He’s the human hero. He doesn’t rely on any super powers.”

“The advancements in technology combined with the popularity within the general public is what makes these comics blockbuster hits. Now, you can make Mr. Fantastic’s hand and arm go under a door. You can make The Human Torch or Silver Surfer fly in a way that seems believable and real.”

Imagine how The Amazing Spider-Man or Iron Man would have played out in the days before CGI. Today’s technology has enabled the film studios to tackle even the most unbelievable of characters. However, with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, it is clear that the verisimilitude of the films is what has led to their phenomenal success.

Taylor Tomlin, a recent University of Oregon graduate and adamant Batman fan, explains his love of the series:

“He’s the human hero. He doesn’t rely on any super powers. Sure, he has millions of dollars but he also uses his body and his mind to save Gotham City.”

As a life-long comic book reader, Tomlin describes the transition from page to film:

“It has been hit or miss but it’s exciting to see the genre revamped for a new generation” —

—A new generation that is simultaneously shaping the genre and themselves. When we think about past generations in which we have no personal reference, their films tend to fill in the blanks that history and photographs leave behind. And, though they may not always be the most accurate interpretations, films tend to reflect the societies that made them. Iron Man was created in 1963, yet that superhero’s presence still serves as a symbol for the Military-Industrial Complex. Batman’s first couples of appearances in film were far less serious than the original comic book character, but Nolan’s present day interpretations deal with issues of social class, invasion of privacy, terrorism, and corrupted officials. These are all issues we hear about on a daily basis. The genre is gaining credibility and making billions in the process.

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