By Chris Hardwick
Comic books are flying off the shelves and blowing up on the big screen, hitting audiences with adaptation after adaptation and producing huge box office numbers.
Joss Whedon’s The Avengers set the record for highest domestic weekend gross, raking in an impressive $207,438,708 when it hit theaters in 2012, according to boxofficemojo.com.
Comic books and film share a surprisingly long history, stretching all the way back to the 1940s. So why are these movies just now receiving a surge of popularity?
Two answers appear again and again in response: computer generated imagery (CGI) has finally reached the point where these fantastic settings and heroes can be generated without appearing incredibly cheesy and “geek culture” has been absorbed into mainstream, popular culture.
Doug Mann, a sociology professor at the University of Western Ontario, discusses this popularity increase in his critical essay “The Post-Ideological Hero: Comic Books Go to Hollywood.”
Mann said, “A footnote to all of this is the fact that CGI effects today are greatly superior to those of ten or twenty year ago, so it’s now possible to create effective images of superhero battles.”
Take a look at one of Marvel’s recent films, Guardians of the Galaxy. The comic book follows multiple aliens, a human, an anthropomorphic tree and a talking raccoon that’s been genetically altered by robots, traveling across space battling other aliens on strange planets.
Imagine if a studio tried to adapt this comic book into a movie 30 years ago. If that is proving too difficult to fathom, take a look at an Avengers movie that almost saw the light of day back in the ‘70s:
The Incredible Hulk, a green superhero standing at 8’ tall and 1,400 pounds according to marvel.com, was played by a man painted green. With the advancements made in film and technology, studios are able to produce amazing settings, awe inspiring battles and accurate characters.
LOU FERRIGNO AS INCREDIBLE HULK IN 1978 COMPARED TO THE CGI HULK IN THE 2012 AVENGERS.
In the time it took for CGI to advance and develop to where it is today, these characters and storylines have moved into mainstream culture. There was once a dark age where comic books were deemed unpopular and enjoying them would certainly earn one flak on the playground.
Andrew Harrison documented this cultural shift in an article he wrote for The Guardian called “Rise of the new geeks: how the outsiders won.”
“You could argue that superhero and fantasy movies are modern cinema,” said Harrison. “Geek hasn't beaten the mainstream, it's the new iteration of the mainstream. You don't have to buy a fanzine on mail order to be part of it any more. You can be part of a digital community that draws you together and keeps building your interest.”
Harrison is not alone in his sentiments. Senior biology major Kyle Orton has noticed this trend as well.
“It’s more socially accepted now,” said Orton. “Think about it, back in the 80s going to see Batman or Star Wars was the ‘nerdy’ thing to do. Now it’s just normal.”
Roadblocks such as technology or too narrow an audience have been demolished, leaving an empty highway for studios to explore. As long as audiences remain interested in superhero based movies, they will continue to be produced as high volume.
Orton said, “Nerdy is the new cool.”