One of my favorite comic blogs is CBR’s Comics Should be Good. In a recent post, the blog pointed out something which I hadn’t realized before:
Okay, this is just a weird thought that struck me after I got the news that Smallville had been renewed yet again.
I suddenly realized that there are almost as many hours of Smallville on film as there are of all the other Superman TV adaptations combined.
Boggles the mind, doesn’t it? What really pulled me up short was the startling notion that for two or three generations of grade-school kids, Smallville is their primary — maybe only — experience of any kind of Superman story at all.
It makes you wonder: is the correct interpretation that comics is dying and being replaced by a lesser art form? Or that it is simply evolving to tell its stories using a new medium? Or maybe a little bit of both?
My take is that the comics industry made a big mistake years ago in investing in creative directions which became impossible for lay-people to follow along. As devoted as I am to the medium, even I find a lot of today’s stories difficult to follow and lacking in the original character work that made them so memorable. Take Superman – when’s the last time a good Perry White story was written? Or a good Jimmy Olson? You probably have to go back over 10 years to find them.
With Smallville, the barrier to entry is not only much lower (although after ten years, even Smallville has started to fall into continuity traps), its brought back the romantic soap-opera and angst-ridden introspection which has done so well for series like the X-Men or Spiderman, and wrapped it up with an impressive array of special effects and modern television-making in a mostly-weekly format.
I hope the industry sees this both in terms of lessons to be learned about how to revitalize the original medium (make it more frequent than monthly, add back the supporting cast, reduce the dependence on excessive continuity, add back real character drama), and in terms of how they can continue to adapt their rich stories for the future.