Monday, 19 December 2011

What If? SUPERMAN LIVES (1998)

[Most casual fans of comic book films probably don't realize that almost every major comic book adaptation has gone through what the industry has termed "development hell." The column 'What If?' looks at our favourite heroes trapped in this "developmental Phantom Zone," if you will. This installment looks at the mess Superman Lives went through.]

Despite the fact that almost two decades separate Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Superman Returns, wheels were constantly in motion to get the Man of Steel back to the big screen. Almost immediately after Superman IV crashed and burned at the box office, the Cannon Films honchos Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus announced that Superman V was beginning production (with Captain America director Albert Pyun at the helm), and would somehow utilize the 40+ minutes of mostly awful deleted footage from Superman IV. (You can read more about Canon's antics here)

Fortunately, that never materialized and Cannon went bankrupt, which meant the rights to Superman reverted to Ilya and Alexander Salkind (the producers of the first three Superman films) who quickly commissioned a script - titled Superman: The New Movie - from television's Superboy writers Cary Bates and Mark Jones. Interestingly, this script centred on Superman's death and resurrection predates the famous comic book storyline by about two years. Christopher Reeve had even agreed to reprise the role of the Last Son of Krypton. However, Superman: The New Movie never came to fruition and Warner Bros. bought the rights back from the Salkinds in 1993.

Now, that same year, coinciding with the "Death of Superman" arc that spanned the four monthly Superman titles, Warner Bros. announced plans to revitalize the Superman film franchise. Producer Jon Peters brought screenwriter Jonathan Lemkin (TV's 21 Jump Street, Lethal Weapon 4), on board to write the film. Lemkin used the "Death of Superman" arc as a springboard for his screenplay, titled Superman Reborn, which involved Superman being killed by Doomsday and Lois Lane giving birth to an immaculately conceived son of Superman who ages rapidly to take the place of his father (!). Ultimately, the script was rejected by the studio and Lemkin was fired. Gregory Poirier (Rosewood, A Sound of Thunder) delivered a new draft in late-1995, keeping Doomsday and Superman's death, but adding Brianic as a second villain.

In 1996, director Kevin Smith - riding high on the indie success of Clerks - was invited in to do some work for Warner Bros., and he became involved with the project, now titled Superman Lives. This is where the story becomes interesting. Smith has spoken at length about the creative process involved, which is simultaneously a fascinating, hilarious, and harrowing candid look into the machinations of Hollywood. Just watch (NSFW):

The Smith screenplay, even with Peters' insistence on giant spiders, polar bears, and "gay robots," showed signs of greatness, particularly in its first act. It's lively, fun, faithful to the comics' recent history, and assumes the audience already knows a thing or two about the Man of Steel. As well, there are some terrific scenes between Superman and Lois. Based on the strength of Smith's work, Tim Burton signed on to direct and Nicolas Cage signed on to play the Superman. 

I think we all owe Dean Cain an apology 
Smith was dismissed and Burton brought Wesley Strick - who had supposedly done uncredited work on Batman Returns - to refine Smith's drafts and tailor it more toward Burton's sensibilities, while still retaining Superman's death and subsequent rebirth. Meanwhile, pre-production work really began to ramp up in 1997, and it looked like we were going to see Superman back on the big screen in 1998. Locations were being secured, casting rumours were abound (Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor! Jim Carey as Brainiac! Chris Rock as Jimmy Olsen!), and concept art was coming out of the woodwork.

Did the Galactic Empire build Brainiac's ship?
Based on all of the rumours, hearsay, and conjecture, Superman Lives wasn't going to be a traditional Superman film, and would be very much a 'Tim Burton' film, stylistically and thematically, playing up Superman's outsider status and emphasizing the hero's existential crisis (it was derogatorily dubbed 'Extraterrestrial Scissorhands').

"Batman told me black is slimming."
Yet, due to rising projected budgets, costs, and a script the studio wasn't fully satisfied with, Warners shut the project down in May of '98, having already spent somewhere in the neighbourhood of $30 million trying to get Superman back on the big screen. (This large number, by the way, includes pay or play deals with both Burton and Cage - meaning they got their salaries even though the film was never completed.)

Plans for a new Superman film never really went away, though. After a brief hiatus the project was rebuilt from the ground up with several people attached to the film at different times - from director Ralph Zondag (We're Back! A Dinosaur Story) and screenwriter William Wisher (Terminator 2, Judge Dredd), to J. J. Abrams (TV's Lost, Mission: Impossible IIIStar Trek), McG (Charlie's Angels, Terminator Salvation), and Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand, Rush Hour). Hell, even Oliver Stone expressed interest at one point.

Superman eventually did fly back to the cinema courtesy of Bryan Singer's Superman Return in 2006, and thankfully the only thing Singer kept from all of these possible incarnations was the casting of Spacey as the Man of Steel's arch-nemesis. Though, one could argue Returns does see our hero's death and resurrection in a manner of speaking, but that's a discussion for another time...

Thursday, 15 December 2011

BETWEEN PANELS: A Very 24 Panels Christmas

Dru "Furious Fishface" Jeffries and Dave "Man Alive" Babbitt are joined by Batman: The Animated Series expert Lisa Para for a timely discussion of the series' two Christmas episodes: "Christmas with the Joker" and "Holiday Knights." Also on the docket: hot toddies.

This is a bonus episode of 24 Panels Per Second, so go ahead and listen to a real episode first. See you all again in the new year!

Episode breakdown:
0:00 - 5:05: Hot toddy talk
5:05 - 5:22: Clip: "Christmas with the Joker"
5:22 - 58:14: Main discussion: "Christmas with the Joker" and "Holiday Knights" (including a clip from "Holiday Knights" from 48:27 - 49:02)
58:14 - 1:01:40: Happy holidays!

Send all feedback to Stay up to date with our blog at Follow us on Twitter @24panels. Like us on Facebook. And don't forget to subscribe in iTunes!

Additional links: Go buy that t-shirt that Dru mentioned (pictured above)!

Episode 16. WHITEOUT (2009)

It's the last official episode of 24 Panels Per Second of 2011! Even if the weather outside hasn't gotten frightful just yet, the fire in Dru and David's bellies over Dominic Sena'a 2009 film adaptation of Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber's 1998 graphic novel Whiteout is so delightful. So if you've no place to go... listen to this episode of 24 Panels Per Second. ALSO: thrill to Dru's criticisms of the The Dark Knight Rises prologue! All that and more (read: bad jokes) in this episode.

Episode breakdown:
0:00 - 17:38: Intro banter (The Dark Knight Rises prologue)
17:38 - 18:17: Whiteout trailer
18:17 - 1:07:17: Main discussion: Whiteout
1:07:17 - 1:11:57: Closing remarks

Send all feedback to Stay up to date with our blog at Follow us on Twitter @24panels. Like us on Facebook. And don't forget to subscribe in iTunes!

Additional links: James' review of Whiteout.

Next episode: Tank Girl...

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Episode 15. 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007)

This week, Dru and David take it back to basics, to what 24 Panels Per Second is all about: discussing what makes a comic book work (or not work) and then getting into the nuts and bolts - the real nitty-gritty! - about how the film adaptation improves or ruins it. When it comes to 30 Days of Night, the vampire tale written by Steve Niles, drawn by Ben Templesmith and the film version directed by David Slade, Dru prefers the comics, Dave prefers the film. What follows is pure podcast magic. Jeremy Woodcock also chimes in with his hilarious musings on the latter-day vampire craze.

Episode breakdown:
0:00 - 11:09: Intro banter (Thor 2 director quits; new trailers)
11:09 - 11:56: 30 Days of Night trailer
11:56 - 1:13:21: Main discussion: 30 Days of Night
1:13:21 - 1:17:46: Jeremy Woodcock on vampires
1:17:46 - 1:24:09: Closing remarks

Send all feedback to Stay up to date with our blog at Follow us on Twitter @24panels. Like us on Facebook. And don't forget to subscribe in iTunes!

Additional links:
Follow Jeremy Woodcock on Twitter @jwpencilandpad.

Next episode: Whiteout...

CFP: The Comic Book Film - Media and Mediation

Papers are wanted for a panel on The Comic Book Film as part of the Film Studies Association of Canada Annual Conference being held at Wilfrid Laurier Univeristy, May 30th - June 1st, 2012.

Adaptations and remediations of comic books represent one of the most prevalent, yet undertheorized, modes of filmmaking in contemporary Hollywood. From early serialized adaptations of Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel to contemporary remediations of the works of Frank
Miller and Alan Moore, comic book films pose a significant challenge to traditional theories of adaptation that posit a transition from the written word to the moving image; in their place, a theory of remediation that explores the ways in which the form and style of comic books are
appropriated along with the stories and characters may take precedence.

This panel seeks to address the variable paths and transformations taken by comic book properties in the age of media convergence. Other suitable topics include, but are not limited to:

  • adaptation theory and the comic book film
  • other film theories and the comic book film
  • medium specificity/ontological differences between film and comic books
  • the role of animation/the digital in the superhero film
  • differences between the superhero genre in film and comic books
  • costuming and set design in comic book films
  • the superhero film as “bad object”
  • convergence, merchandising and franchising in the superhero genre
  • adaptations of adaptations (e.g. video games based on films based on comics)
  • hybridity and/or reflexivity in the comic book film
  • non-American comic book films
  • time/temporality in the comic book film
  • new technologies and the comic book film (e.g. motion/performance-capture, 3-D, etc.)
  • authorship across adaptation, and/or auteurs of the comic book film
  • memory and trauma in comic book films
  • satires/spoofs
  • violence and moral ambiguity and comic book films
  • nostalgia and postmodernity
  • non-superhero comic book films
  • film serials and comic books on television

Submit proposals/queries of 200-300 words to Dru Jeffries ( and James Hrivnak ( by December 21, 2011. Successful applicants will be notified by e-mail in early January 2012.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Preview Post: 30 DAYS OF NIGHT

After a two episode break from the genre, 24 Panels Per Second heads back into horror territory with the 2007 horror film 30 Days of Night from director David Slade!

The film is based on the 2002 comic book published by IDW, written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith. The three issue mini-series is set in the small town of Barrow, Alaska during a thirty day period when the sun does not rise. During this time, the town comes under siege from a group of vampires who are treating the town as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

While originally conceieved as a comic by Niles, the idea was met with little response by publishers. Niles then pitched the idea as a film, only to get the same response. When the comic was finally published by IDW, it was met with strong reviews and sales. The success of the book made stars out of Niles and Templesmith, and the original series has been followed up by various sequels.

The film is produced by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, a pair who know a little something about horror films involving people being isolated from the rest of the world...

The film is directed, however, by David Slade, whose career started in music videoes, including directing the video for the Stone Temple Pilots song "Sour Girl"...

Slade made his feature film directorial debut in 2005 with Hard Candy, a dark thriller which was met with strong reviews upon release...

In 2007, Salde followed up Hard Candy with 30 Days of Night. The film received mixed reviews and solid box office, but it was not the major hit hoped for by the studio. As such, Salde ended up directing another vampire film, though this time with much less gore. And less horror. And lesser acting. And - ah forget it, it's The Twilight Saga: Eclipse...

Anyway, rather than take the route of previous Twilight director Chris Weitz and use the box office success of that film to get a much more personal film made, Slade is apparently working on a new take on the Marvel Comics character Daredevil. With any luck, it'll go much better than the first time the character was adapted. We'll get to that film one of these days. But first, we've got 30 Days of Night on the next episode of 24 Panels Per Second!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Lizard Concept Art from THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN!

Instead of hemming and hawing over the designs of a Lizard Pez dispenser, some kind folks decided to post an actual picture of the Lizard concept art from Marc Webb's upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man. The pic shows Dr. Curt Conners (played by Rhys Ifans in the film) fully transformed into the villain we've come to know and love as The Lizard. It's probably no surprise that he bares little resemblance to his lab coat and purple pants-wearing comic book counterpart, but we remain cautiously optimistic that the film proper won't feature too many CGI-heavy fights.