As I grow older, I fear becoming the curmudgeon my dad was later in life. Heck, what am I saying? All the time I knew him he was a curmudgeon. When we went to see what I still consider the finest superhero movie of all time, Superman the Movie, he left the theater grumbling, "Well I still don't believe a man can fly." This, from a guy who thought that George Reeves hanging on wires was perfectly fine in the 1950s!
At this stage in my life, I begin to question whether my age is beginning to make me equally grumpy. There are many comic books I've given up on, including my favorite character, Batman. I was watching a History Channel show on comic book superheroes today, and when Frank Miller was describing how former Batman writers claimed that for them, he had ruined their character with his popular work, The Dark Knight, I literally shouted at the screen, "They were right, Frank!" Maybe it's that Batman has evolved past the point where I really liked the character or maybe I consider my childhood memories of the character sacred. But whatever Batman is now, he ain't my Batman. People who know that I love the Batman character can't help but ask me about what I think about Batman movies when they come out. I always have to say that I don't care for them. When they make the mistake of asking why, I trot out a laundry list. I don't think that makes me a curmudgeon, but someone who has a strong idea of what a hero is, and knows that the character as portrayed in the movies is not that guy.
This hits me especially hard at the comic book store, too. I see my childhood heroes acting completely out of character from how I know them. I understand that the target audience is much older than it was when I really enjoyed comics, but I would argue that sophisticated stories don't necessarily have to include rape, on-panel eviscerations, and psychotic, amoral behavior. I can accept those things more easily from creator-owned characters, but not from characters whose moral standards I looked up to as a kid.
Besides the Batman movies, I have lately had difficulty accepting some other film adapations. The Spirit was absolutely offensive to me. Director Frank Miller put some elements from Will Eisner's seminal work in his film, but trampled over the entire story with what we could call Millerisms. There was Nazi fetishism that he previously used in the Dark Knight, and he even stole one of his own lines from Daredevil. The style of cinematography was straight off the pages of Sin City, which he created. The Millerisms overpowered the classic and original storytelling techniques that made Will Eisner a true master of the visual form.
Last year's Star Trek movie had lots of stuff I liked and even some stuff I loved (Michael Giacchino's score, for example) but I still have a lot of problems with it. Does that make me a curmudgeon or just someone who loves the original Star Trek series so much that nothing would have been good enough?
When I start to think that I just hate everything, I have to remind myself that I absolutely adored the Watchmen movie. I didn't expect to, but I thought the makers of that film not only did the graphic novel justice, but improved the ending considerably by not teleporting a giant, telepathic squid into New York City.
So what is it that is making me fear being a curmudgeon? I sure don't want to be. I really wanted to love the Dark Knight, especially when I saw the reviews, but I thought it was horrible. I even bought it on Blu-Ray (on sale) and gave it another chance today. I got to the first scene where Batman drives the tank--sorry, Batmobile through the parking garage barrier, then explodes the corner stairwell, which one would assume is next to the elevator, and causes more property damage than he needs to, and I just have to think that if this is our hero, we deserve better.
I guess what I'm going to have to do is start writing something of my own, and see if I can do better. I'll have to see if I can make a story with internal consistency. I want a story that would appeal to my students and give those who are like I was at that age something to look up to, and ideals that they can respect. If I can do something like that, then I will feel justified in being a little cranky when I see Superman leaving thugs to die in Superman Returns.
We can only hope.