Being Accurate to the Comics

What does it mean to have a TV or movie be accurate to the comics? This has been on my mind for a while. Oftentimes, people will love or praise a comic book movie or show for bringing characters or certain stories to the screen. But they can also tend to do that while overlooking the poor writing or execution of said story or character. And they may sometimes point out that the way these characters are portrayed or how the story plays out is being accurate to the comics. This has started to get to me a bit partly because just because they might be adapting a storyline exactly as it was in the comic, that doesn’t mean it’s done well. Comics & movies are fundamentally different storytelling mediums. Certain changes are always going to be necessary. And as for certain things in those adaptations being accurate to canon - despite how poorly written or executed they might be - let’s go over a brief list of things that are either currently canon to DC Comics OR were canon for a significant amount of time…

The Emotional Spectrum apparently has a finite amount and life itself - not just the Lantern Corps - runs the risk of draining a cosmic well where it resides. The Amazons of Themyscira would toss their male babies into the sea, committing infanticide. Superman once told a young boy that he didn’t have to worry about a gang cooking drugs in his neighborhood, simply because he told the gang to move their operation “over there”. Not actually alerting authorities, just told them to go to a different location. Batman was raped by Talia al Ghul…Nightwing was raped by Tarantula…Barbara Gordon was “fridged” and sexually assaulted by the Joker to enhance the story and arcs of male characters without any regard to her own character.

I’m bringing all of this up to show that comic book writers make mistakes. They can contradict longstanding facts about DC lore. They can go ahead with storylines and plot points that shouldn’t have occurred in the first place. And sometimes they can write a character in a way that completely goes against everything they stand for and the arcs they went through. (Cassandra Cain is a good example of that.)

Speaking for myself, when I’m looking for “comic book accuracy”, I’m looking for the show or movie to capture the essence of a character. So I don’t care if Superman is played by an African American actor, or if Supergirl is played by a Latina actress. What matters to me is their personality and behavior still represents the ideals they stand for.

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I agree, you can have Superman played by an African American actor, but he would have to be the right person for the role, no different than a white actor playing the part. Take Nick Fury in the MCU. I can’t imagine anyone that would have been better for the role than Samuel Jackson.

I mostly take issue when the whole character is completely different. The Arrowverse butchered the Mr Terrific character . Sure, they made him LBGT, and honestly that would have been ok on its own, but the whole characters personality was changed.

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Perfect example of a person a color playing a character so perfectly! :man_cook::pinched_fingers:

I mean, Esai Morales practically embodied the character. :100::fire::00_deathstroke:

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Veeery thought provoking conversation you’ve begun here. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes. Especially with the subject matter closely watched by site Monitors. I have my own thoughts, and I may well share them later. For now though, I want to see how thing “shake out” on this thread. You’ve expressed yourself well. I trust other community members will do likewise. I also applaud your choice of topic, and willingness to engage others in civil conversation on it. Good Luck!

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To me, it means the character both looks and feels like the comic version. I think both aspects are important as they can each connect fans to the character. Either of these taken to the extreme opposite often annoy me.

  1. An actor/animation could look exactly like a character, but be written completely wrong (speech, morals, actions, relationships, background, etc.). This situation can be very frustrating - if they want a different character, then just name the character something else!

  2. An actor/animation could appear very different but have a recognizable core and feel to the source character. This can be visually frustrating to me, especially if the source is a visual medium like comics, and can be distracting. Sometimes the differences could reduced by hair dye or a wig, so not doing so just feels lazy.

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Any film or TV version of a character is an amalgamation of the following things:

  • the comics that the writers/directors/actors have already read
  • the comics that the writers/directors/actors are provided by DC
  • the previous adaptations that the writers/directors/actors have seen
  • the previous adaptations that the writers/directors/actors are provided by DC
  • any other media that has influenced the tastes of the writers/directors/actors
  • the personalities and life experiences of the writers/directors/actors
  • the studio executives’ inevitable meddling with the project based on trends

And honestly, if you switch out “studio executives” with “DC editors,” the same could be said of the comics themselves, with the book’s writers/artists taking the spot of the filmmakers. Hence why the characters and their adventures can be drastically different from one run to the next.

What is “essential to the characters” is nothing more than what is essential to the people adapting the characters. If their sense of a character’s essence is different from your sense of that character’s essence, then you’ll insist that they got it wrong, no matter how many example pages they could throw at you from the last eight decades of DC’s publication history.

Why is Tim Burton’s Batman the way he is?

  1. Burton was given a collection of Batman’s earliest appearances.
  2. Burton was given the “Laughing Fish” story arc from 1978.
  3. Burton was given The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke.
  4. Burton is a big fan of horror films from the 1920s-1940s.
  5. Burton is more comfortable expressing himself visually, not verbally.

Why is Christopher Nolan’s Batman the way he is?

  1. Nolan was given the “Year One” story arc from 1987.
  2. Nolan was given The Long Halloween and The Killing Joke.
  3. Nolan had Burton’s and Schumacher’s films to compare.
  4. Nolan is a big fan of James Bond films and Heat.
  5. Nolan enjoys heady philosophical discussions.

They both lucked out on finding actors on their same wavelength who could channel their ideas effectively. (They’d likely have had as little success with George Clooney as Joel Schumacher did, whereas some other filmmaker might have been able to give us the Clooney Batman who would’ve outshined them all.)


As for the aesthetics, that’s very much a reflection of the times. Whether we’re talking about the costumes, the hair styles, the physiques, or even the ethnicities of these heroes, it’s always tied to the contemporary norms. Hence why Batman’s costume in Batman vol. 1 no. 1 is very, very different from his costume in Batman vol. 2 no. 1, despite featuring some basic similarities. It’s more than just advancements in technology. It’s a shift in audience expectations for how realistic a socialite fighting gangsters in a bat costume should be.

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You brought up how one person’s view of a character could be noticeably diffetent from another person’s. And that is valid, character can often represent different things for various people. But I would argue that even then, there is enough similarities between these various versions that still make it the same character. That 3 different views of the same character still tap into enough universally shared characteristics or traits to still make that character recognizable and authentic.

For example, Batman as portrayed by Michael Keaton and guided by Tim Burton is - overall - a faithful version of the character. But this version does indeed kill people. While that can be entertaining, it does feel like it goes against how most people view the character. Enough to ruin it? Maybe for someone else, but not for me. This part of adapting characters is where it can admittedly get pretty complicated

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For me, comic accuracy is pretty literal. Is the personality similar? Is the name right? Is the setting the same as it is in the comics? Etc. As @AlexanderKnox and @EDT said, that can be seen differently by different people. As such, I believe comic accuracy is a completely subjective idea, that changes very often for any given person.

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I’m assuming we’re talking about movies & shows based on comic book characters in general, not direct adaptations of specific storylines. Generally speaking, I don’t look for comic book accuracy on the screen any more than I look for screen accuracy in a comic book, especially for characters like Superman & Batman that have been around for decades. I mean there’s threads here dedicated to pre-crisis, post-crisis, in-crisis, golden, silver, bronze, platinum ages, in continuity, out of continuity, next to continuity.

Apologies for the sarcasm, but it’s there to make a point. Comic accurate to what, exactly? The answer is easier if we’re talking about a direct adaptation. You expect to see the same characterization and key events/beats of the story being adapted, maybe with a twist or two to keep things fresh. With an original story though, the answer for me is muddier.

Let’s take Superman in the past 10 years. Morrison, Pak, Tomasi, Jurgens, Bendis, and Johnson all gave different takes on the character. What’s a Superman movie or show to be accurate to? The somewhat brash hero running around Metropolis in jeans & a t-shirt? The family man living on a farm with his wife & young son? The hero with a heavy conscience that decides to share his identity with the world? The never-back-down type that decides to free an entire planet from slavery? And that’s only looking at a small fraction of available Superman comics.

Even the “essence” of Superman & other characters that have been around for decades is open for debate, as these forums demonstrate, and as it should be with any work of fiction. What matters to me is that the given work of art resonates with me, and what probably matters with the creatives making it is that it resonates with enough people for it to be considered a success, perceived comic book accuracy notwithstanding.

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