Dear Warner Brothers,
My name is Bill. I’m a comic book fan and have been for thirty years. I have been a film buff for almost as long. And I’ve been writing about both worlds for about as long as the Internet has been around, give or take a year or two.
I say this just to provide a little background to you. Because I have been meaning to speak with you in regards to your philosophy towards comic book films. And an article I read today compelled me to not wait any longer.
Over at Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnston relayed an experience from an anonymous comic store employee whose shop was visited by a “fan” who had a pronounced lack of knowledge of comic books, but an overwhelmingly odd knowledge of DC Comics films. This fan, no, wait, let’s call him what he likely was–a badly disguised marketing researcher, asked questions such as “what superhero films have had good Facebook pages?”, “Do you think comic fans would accept a superhero film without Nolan’s involvement, would him serving as a producer suffice?” “What do fans think of Aquaman? He’s lame isn’t he?”, “What is regarded as the strongest lineup of the Justice League and would work as a film?” The marketer closed his survey with an intriguing question: “What would fan reaction be to a Justice League movie with Frank Miller’s name attached?”
I don’t pretend to speak all fans or comics, films, or comic book films. I speak for myself and hopefully other fans agree with my opinion. And my reaction to this news is that it could quite possibly be the worst in a long line of bad decisions your studio has made in regards to its comic book properties.
Now, I understand that you’re in a difficult position. You once had the superhero film market all to yourself with first the Superman films then the Batman films. Then Marvel went from being a laughing stock to becoming the dominant producers of comic book films and you ended up playing catch up. Marvel has just had their most successful film to date with The Avengers and the DC Comics film slate is in a state of chaos. You are rebooting the Superman franchise for the second time in ten years. The Batman franchise is coming off a successful reboot by Christopher Nolan and is in a state of flux. Sure fire franchise starters such as Jonah Hex and Green Lantern ended up D.O.A. at the box office. Suddenly, playing catch up became being so far behind that there is a danger that it isn’t even a race anymore.
And, to be brutally honest, it’s all your fault. The list of failed attempts at rebooting the Superman franchise before you settled on Superman Returns is legendary for how bad the attempts were. I read the original script for Jonah Hex and while it might not have been a hit, it would have been closer to source material. But reading that script, it was easy to see what the studio mandated reshoots got us–Hex’s superpowers and the campy “weapons of mass destruction” plot line. I also read the Green Lantern script and thought it had the potential to be a fun film. Unfortunately, what we got was a film lacking a sense of awe and wonder.
Listen, I can see why you think Frank Miller might be an exciting choice for the Justice League movie, a film that needs some excitement because it meant to act as The Avengers in reverse (Instead of individual superhero films leading up to one big team up movie, you’re having one big team up movie that will hopefully lead to individual superhero films). Miller is a legendary comic book creator and has become a filmmaker as well. He even works with green screen techniques in his directing, which is quick, cheap and one of the reasons why you hired Zack Snyder to do Man of Steel.
But there is one flaw in the idea. the present day Frank Miller is just terrible at what he does. He just is. Now, I have nothing personal against Miller, despite how Wikipedia might make it look. I came in a bit after his storied run on Daredevil, but I was right on time for his Batman:The Dark Knight Returns. I consider that series to be the second best comic book story of all time. But since 2000, Frank Miller has become a case of diminishing returns. I don’t know if it’s because of the auteur syndrome (where creative individuals have been told that they were genius enough times that they figure anything they create is automatically genius so they stop trying) or something else, but Miller’s output in the new millennium–Dark Knight Strikes Back, All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, Holy Terror–has been awful.
I mean, have you seen The Spirit? Obviously not, because if you did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Watch it. Okay, that might be asking too much. How about you just go on Rotten Tomatoes and read some the reviews for the film? No, that probably won’t work either. How about you take a look at the earnings for the film? Money, you’ll pay attention to that. I’ll give you a hint: the reviews were as bad as the grosses–completely horrible.
The Spirit shows what happens when Miller is given free hand to write and direct a comic book film adaptation. He took one of the most quirky and iconic comic book characters in history, paid no respect to the original version, and married traces of the character to his fetishes (namely, film noir and hyper-sexualized femme fatales), a Calvin Klein ad, and force fed the concoction through a MacBook. The result is something the was as awful as you would expect it to be.
And this was a character created by his friend and mentor, Will Eisner! What would he do to the Justice League, a concept he has no emotional attachment to? Well, we do have some idea based on how Miller portrayed the team in All-Star Batman, The Dark Knight Returns and Dark Knight Strikes Again. Superman will be an ineffectual wimp incapable of independent thought, preferring to be led around by weaker men. Green Arrow will be a raving lunatic hippie. Wonder Woman will be a man-hating harridan. Batman will be a psychotic bastard. And the rest of the League will be made up of either sociopaths or feeble weaklings. In other words, nothing like the casual fan remembers them as being and not the type of characters that would be appealing to everyday moviegoers.
What’s that you say? You’ll never let that happen? Gosh, the only worse thing I can think of other than a Frank Miller Justice League film is a Frank Miller Justice League film after heavy studio meddling.
That fact that you might be considering Miller for this job tells me something I’ve always suspected–you think there’s some hidden secret to doing a successful superhero movie, and, by gum, you’ll try everything until you find it. Jonah Hex doesn’t have powers? All Marvel’s film characters have powers. Let’s give him some. Iron Man was a cocky and arrogant who is unfazed by whatever life throws and wields a powerful weapon. That characterization would work exactly as well for Green Lantern! The Nolan Batman films were dark and gritty. So, making the Superman film dark and gritty would mean that it will be just as successful! Joss Whedon, a Hollywood director who wrote comic books, leads The Avengers to over a billion dollars in box office receipts? Man, then fans would really flip if we got Frank Miller, a comic writer who is a Hollywood director, to do Justice League!
You are right though. There is a proven method of doing a comic book movie right, but it’s no secret. You get a talented and proven director. You get a great cast of actors. You get a great story that respects the source material while standing on its own as a film. You work with the comic book company to make sure the films stay on point. You don’t interfere unless it is to make any of the four prior things happen. It’s rather simple, but it’s not easy. You need to invest the time, do the due diligence, and trust the people you’ve hired when your only instinct is to overrule them and make unnecessary changes. But if you do that, your films might just be the quality of Marvel’s or Nolan’s.
Thanks for listening to me, Warners. I know I might have come on a bit too strong. After all, you were just pooling opinions. But I just think hiring Frank Miller for Justice League would annihilate any chance you have of ever competing with Marvel’s film output. I felt I had to say something, as a friend, before it was too late.
Stay in touch!