They began in 1941, believe it or not.
Many equate the often maligned; yet, celebrated “CBM” (comic book movie) with this tug of war of box office supremacy between Marvel and DC, but actually, it was decades earlier with Adventures of Captain Marvel (see the featured image). This was the Fawcett Comics’ creation of what would eventually become ‘Shazam!’
With a few good reflections on Billy Batson’s story, we got an official template — an altar ego, a purpose to serve the public, a treacherous nemesis, and spandex. This was the foundation of CBMs, but it was a slow burn to finally get accepted.
In fact, it took nearly 40 years from this black-and-white gem for CBMs to get their catapult into our hearts with Christopher Reeve‘s captivating role of Clark Kent and Superman in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie.
Fast forward to today — well, literally last night at the time of this posting — fans of superheroes created for the Big Screen are often the fodder for Hollywood trolls. They see how profitable these films are but, in their egalitarian circles, they aren’t even “movies.” These are campy recreations of paperback fluff used for peddling bubble gum. (And, for the most part, they were right.)
Now, thanks to the Hollywood Foreign Press, a comic book movie has been taken seriously and given a premiere award — Joaquin Phoenix was rewarded as ‘Best Actor, Motion Picture, Drama’ for his hypnotizing and disturbing portrayal of Arthur Fleck, the man who would become Joker.
A Beacon of Hope
The 37-year gap aside from Tom Taylor to Christopher Reeve, comic book movies have come a long way from last night’s triumph at the 2020 Golden Globes. Prior to cinematic extended universes (well, the one that hasn’t experienced the ‘Big Bang’ into the ether), taking the hero from page to screen was a challenging process.
We had to play leapfrog over murky waters of sewage to get to where we are now, but from Richard Donner’s Superman I and II (handgliding over the stankiest ravines of CBM doo-doo) to Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns (with less funk on the horizon, we could kayak through the roaring rapids of crap) to Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider=Man trilogies putting Tinseltown on high alert.
There were a few more deep puddles of mess that ruined our pants, but we finally meandered our way to Kevin Feige’s and Jon Favreau’s vision of Iron Man. Things have been different ever since.
Serious actors were coming to work with nerds on the regular. Scores were majestic. Directors with vast portfolios were interested. And all those box office receipts!
What’s next? Awards.
Actual recognition from the peers to say these movies aren’t only widely entertaining but the screenplay and acting should get a sniff from a SAG, Globe, or Oscar.
Not even Thanos’ gauntlet was powerful enough to bring the noses of Hollywood’s award bureaus down long enough to look clearly at these films. The aforementioned Donner showed comic book movies deserved some attention when it earned Oscar nominations for best editing, sound, and score. That unintentionally set the standard for years:
“Well, we can give those box office bonanzas access to the second and third tier of gold. No one really cares about art direction and visual effects, so we’re safe.”
From Superman to Batman, Men in Black to Spider-Man, the nerds were sat at the kids’ table. Until Christopher Nolan rolled up his sleeves and earned a ‘Best Cinematography’ nomination with Batman Begins. Sure, it lost to Memoirs of a Geisha but not even those pretentious parvenus could ignore the sequel.
The Dark Knight made CBM history as the great Heath Ledger broke through the basement floor to be given the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. Many haters callously retorted Ledger was given the trophy because he died, but this was a film that also won the Oscar for Best Sound, and earned recognition for Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects.
No, you highbrow muckety-mucks, it was just a great movie and truly, the first to make a dent in annals of award season. From that moment, the landslide was on its way downhill to swarm the seats of the Dolby Theater.
From Iron Man and Captain America dazzling sequels to the benchmark merging of The Avengers, Globes and Oscars alike were considered for most of them. They didn’t win any Tier Ones but they were close-ish. Then, Logan and Black Panther sliced up those snoots and demanded an answer to the adults’ table.
Can Fans Now Put On a Happy Face?
With the advent of two of the most celebrated CBMs ever, Logan in 2017 and Black Panther in 2018 exhibited while the community will always classify these as CBMs, the holders of the gold are now calling them “movies.”
Hugh Jackman and, if we’re being honest, Michael B. Jordan put acting front-and center in a comic book movie. (Chadwick Boseman was good, but that speech from Killmonger was powerful.) It became acceptable to look beyond the facial hair, spandex, and CGI body dots and get directly into the script and acting chops.
Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar shows respect for what these “books” were capable of producing. But, then the social awareness and unification behind Black Panther forced Oscar’s old, riddled, and arthritic hand with a real Best Picture nomination (also, best music, best song, costume design, production design, sound editing, and sound mixing — sure, some tier twos and threes but who cares).
We have arrived! We are here!
That was confirmation. That was cause for celebration. And then, something wicked this way comes. Todd Phillips played reclusive, refused to talk smack, and just made a damn, good movie — one that could not be ignored and rationalized by even the most butt-puckered and anti-nerd snob.
Who knows what will happen next month with Oscar, but odds are Todd Phillips, Joaquin Phoenix, and the sonorous visions of Hildur Gudnadóttir will get some of that Tier One love, potential stage time, and the casting away of the CBM shackles.
And that is no joke. (Sorry, but c’mon…had to do it.)