Shiny Shelf

Spider-Man: The Movie Adaptation

By Lance Parkin on 15 June 2002

Computer graphics have revolutionised cinema, allowing a screen to look exactly like the director wants it to, with a fraction of the expense or logistical challenges that would have meant even ten years ago. You could believe a man could fly in the 70s, but with Spiderman, we now have a superhero on our screens who can look like a real person but flip and fight as easily as his comic book counterpart.

Likewise, comics have benefited from the computer – enhancement and manipulation of the pictures and advances in printing mean that comics have had their own quiet revolution. Comics, computer games and movies have converged to some extent – it’s no coincidence that DC Comics is owned by AOL Time Warner, or that a good chunk of recent films (everything from Men in Black and Blade to Ghost World and From Hell) are based on comics. Modern comics often look like movie storyboards, they tend to feature strong,¬†instantly recognisable, characters.

At a time when sections of the comics intelligentsia have decided that superheroes are dead, the superheroes themselves are having none of it – Spider-Man broke every box office record going when it was released in the States, earning as much in the first weekend as the whole of the comics industry will this year.

That said, comic adaptations of films fall somewhere towards the bottom of the food chain in the comics ecosystem. Original stories based on film franchises are often rather good – Dark Horse have done good things with their Aliens and Star Wars licences. But the ‘comicisations’ of films have, far more often than not, been dreary – for every Dune or Coppola’s Dracula, there are a dozen Blade Runners, Demolition Mans and GoldenEyes. Dark Horse’s version of Attack of the Clones bears all the hallmarks of something put together in a hurry, using a limited number of reference photos, with a studio more interested in actors’ likenesses than an intelligent use of the comics medium. Ironically, the comics that are most likely to sell well and attract new readers are often rush-jobs that do the industry a disservice and just don’t reflect that comics techniques have moved on in the last couple of decades. The best adaptation of a Star Wars film remains the 1977 Marvel version of the original movie.

Spider-Man: The Official Movie Adaptation (there aren’t any unofficial ones, by the way) is a cut above the average. It’s written by Stan Lee (with a ’special thanks to Brian Michael Bendis’ credit, the writer of the superb Powers and Ultimate Spider-Man that has my spidey sense tingling that the script wasn’t all Lee’s work), with art by Alan Davis. Davis has a style that’s, well, ‘cartoony’ does it a disservice, but it’s fluid, not photo-realistic. He’s an interesting choice for the job, even if he sometimes seems a little unsure whether he’s meant to be going for a ‘likeness’ of the actor or not. He certainly isn’t just reproducing reference photos, he’s telling a dynamic comic book story.

The film is a straightforward telling of Spider-Man’s origin, a story which, at a guess, has been told a hundred times before. As with most comics versions of films, the bits that have been condensed to fit a page count are pretty obvious, and there are depictions of action set pieces that are more of a reminder of how good that bit was in the film rather than being that good on the page. But the story moves, the art is impressive, and it hangs together as a comic in its own right.

In the end, well, do we really need this comic at all, with the DVD of the movie out before Christmas? Anyone wanting a definitive version of this story should probably pick up the first few issues of Ultimate Spider-Man (or their paperback collection) instead. Despite those reservations, this is a movie adaptation that’s better than just being a good example of a bad sub-genre of comics, and a good introduction to the character. You could do a lot worse.

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By Lance Parkin

Lance Parkin writes lots of things, including a biography of Alan Moore that's due out late next year. Find out more at his website.

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