But perhaps no single announcement received more wankery than the Marvel 2016 release, Captain America: Civil War. And with good reason.
This year’s Captain America: Winter Solider is arguably the best Marvel release to date, bringing to the screen for the first time a Marvel story that didn’t feel like a comic book movie, something that appeared to approach the gritty realism of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
From a fast-and-furious elevator fist fight to an almost Saving Private Ryan-esque highway shoot out, most of Winter Soldier’s action scenes minimized their use of CGI and in effect strengthened our ability to maintain a suspension of disbelief. After all, superheroes whose bodies move in ways that defy not only basic anatomy but the laws of physics can never look like anything other than a cartoon (See, the Spider-Man films, The Hobbit saga, Avatar, and countless other CGI-powered dreck), but actual, live human beings, well, with Winter Soldier, shit got real for the first time in a Marvel movie.
However, Captain America: Civil War looks to be a retreat into the comic bookery of 2012’s The Avengers, the first two Iron Man flicks, and the Thor movies. In part, it’s because the movie will not only feature Iron Man himself but pit him in a fight against good ole Cap and in part it’s because the film will recycle Marvel Comics 2006 crossover epic Civil War.
In that much-celebrated event, the U.S. government passes the Superhero Registration Act in an effort to control masked adventuring. Tony Stark approves, Steve Rogers doesn’t, and poor old Peter Parker is caught in the crossfire. Now, it’s uncertain at this point if Spider-Man will appear in Cap 3 or if his character will be replaced by Black Panther. Marvel Studios, a division of Disney, doesn’t own the silver screen rights to Spidey; Sony Pictures does. However, there is some indication that a deal can be reached, and we’ll see Spider-Man in a Marvel Studios property for the first time.
Regardless, Civil War the movie will most likely score at the box office, and the fan community will exit the theaters in eager anticipation of the next Marvel movie to be shat down the PG-13 pipeline. However, most fanboys and geek girls have failed to grasp what the existence of Civil War portends: the end of Marvel.
OK, that’s not entirely correct. Marvel Studios will continue to crank out films from now until Ragnarök, but with Civil War and 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel has begun tapping into some of their most celebrated story lines.
This isn’t the first time that a studio has attempted to tackle a pivotal comic plot. The X-men films botched the stellar Dark Phoenix Saga from the 1980s but succeeded with this year’s Days of Future Past and last year’s The Wolverine, which was inspired by Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s bold 1982 mini-series that put comic-dom’s favorite Canucklehead on the map. Needless to say, all three films were limp homages to the stories that inspired them.
Even worse, those three X-movies effectively eliminated far more faithful adaptations of those stories from the cinematic canon. The same goes for the death of Gwen Stacey, Spider-Man’s first girlfriend. That pivotal moment in Marvel history has endured for 30 years, but was dealt with definitively on the big screen in a hackney sequel — The Amazing Spider-Man 2 if it must have a name — that was hampered by corporate mandates and delusions of future franchise grandeur.
And this trend of burning through the past 30 years of comic book history will continue. Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron is clearly inspired by the 2013 series of the same name, while the franchise’s two-parter Avengers: Infinity War was inspired by Marvel’s 1992 series called, you guessed it, Infinity War.
Marvel’s not alone, of course. DC’s upcoming Batman v. Superman lifts several defining elements from Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, from the design of Batman’s costume to the armor the Caped Crusader wears when he takes on the Man of Steel to the rumor that actress Jena Malone will take on the role of Carrie Kelley, the first female Robin. With these choices, any hope that the Dark Knight Returns will ever make it to the big screen have disappeared. And it’s a shame because Miller’s 1986 mini-series is the single most defining Batman story of the modern era.
The question then arises, what happens when Hollywood cannibalizes all of Marvel and DC’s most popular story lines? What arcs will they feast on next? At the rate we’re going, it appears there won’t be any in a few years. And when that happens, the golden age of comic book movies will end not with a bang or a whimper. It’ll will end with a burp and a case of indigestion.
Of course, there is another way. Hollywood could begin telling original comic book stories. However, that’s not likely. The fanboy and geek girl communities crave the familiar; they crave more of what they already know and love and they want shit to blow up real good while doing they’re enjoying it.
This craving doesn’t just mean that they want quasi-adaptations of comic book arcs. No. They also want epic stories where the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance and only our heroes can save all of humanity. In the geek world, every movie must climax with an all-hope-is-lost final battle in which our heroes always emerge victorious, whether they’re hobbits or X-wing pilots. They don’t want all the countless little tales that dot the comic book landscape — treasured works like The Killing Joke, X-Men No. 212, Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Instead of these small joys, the comic book masses want the fucking apocalypse each and every time
We’ve seen this end-of-the-world plot line in the first installment of The Avengers, and we’ll see it again in Age of Ultron and then in The Infinity War. We’ve seen it in Thor: The Dark World and we’ll see it again in Thor: Ragnarok. We’ve seen it in Man of Steel and we’ll see it again in Batman v. Superman and its sequel Justice League of America. And we’ll see it in virtually every other comic book story to hit the big screen from here on out, from Guardians of the Galaxy 2 to, gasp, X-Men: Apocalypse. Say what you will about the Spider-Man films, but at least they avoided the Independence Day-temptation to blow up every single building in sight and wade knee-deep in Armageddon mucky muck.
So where do we go from here now that we’ve hit peak comic book geekery? Well, there appears to be two paths.
On the one hand, we can take the path that Patton Oswalt advocates in his quintessential essay on fanboyism, “Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die,” and that’s the path of feeding the comic book-obsessed beast until its very belly explodes. On the other hand, we can wait passively like the sitcom actors in Adult Swim’s “Too Many Cooks” to be struck down by a genre-hopping serial killer hell-bent on mocking — if not destroying — every stale genre trope.
Truth be told, both Oswalt and “Too Many Cooks” lead to the same conclusion: the time has come to hit the reset button on comic book culture specifically and genre culture in general. It’s time to say goodbye to Batman. It’s time to say sayonara to Star Wars. It’s time to say adios to The Avengers. The once thrilling prospect of seeing our comic book heroes on the big screen has vanished. The novelty of watching a film about a lonely farm boy transforming into a valiant knight who defeats the evil empire has worn off. We’ve reached the peak of geek and it’s time to take a swan dive back into the real world.
Who knows exactly what’s below? It’s been so long since any of us lived there. But perhaps, and this is a very strong perhaps, we just might find something inspiring to write about.
Chris Haire is the editor of the Charleston City Paper and the author of TOMBSTONED, a lo-fi, sci-fi, film noir, comic book, porno parody about lo-fi, sci-fi, film noir, comic book, porno parodies.