Things that comics can do and film can’t

While watching The Dark Knight, it reminded me of the Chatman;s article “What Novels Can Do That Film’s Can’t (and vise versa)”. From what I can remember, Chatman was more invested in focusing on the former–things that novels can do that film cannot. In this case, The Dark Knight is not adapted from a novel, but from a comic series. This made me wonder: what would Chatman say about The Dark Knight? How does narratology transfer between the comic and the movie?

Chatman’s argument seems entirely hinged on the idea that (similar to Leitch’s discussion on the 12 fallacies) that a film is visual and a novel isn’t. Therefore, the narratology of a novel is fundamentally different than that of a film. Yet, both the source (a comic) and the movie is visual–there are images, though one is static and the other is moving. Therefore, Chatman’s argument begins to slowly destabilize, as the act of narration changes with the visual component.

So what about the The Dark Night? Chatman is comparing a novel and a movie of the same name. The Dark Knight is unique because it is adapting an entire series/universe. Therefore, it would be nearly impossible to compare a scene shot for shot (as Chatman does). The movie is essentially a conglomerate of hundreds of different comics. Yes, all of the major characters that were essential to the overarching story of Batman is in the movie. But because the original source was already visual, easier to try to find an actor that viewers will recognize. Additionally, it is important to remember that because Batman is a conglomerate of different stories, different artists, different narrators. Therefore, it gives screenwriters and produces more creative license, because the franchise is already so disparate.




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4 Responses to Things that comics can do and film can’t

  1. Dana Choit says:

    It’s interesting that your bring up Chatman’s take that films are visual with regards to comic books, as they too use image. I think it’s also noting that comics use both image and text (words) to convey the story.

    In thinking about how a film adapts a lore or series, rather than one particular issue, I thought about how some television shows or films based on a book series often take specific story lines or elements throughout all of the books in the series and expand on them, rather than adapting one specific book to a tee (unless they want to make one movie per book like Harry Potter, Twilight, etc.)

  2. The idea that The Dark Knight is an adaptation of a vast conglomerate of ideas taps into what is so unique about adaptation in the comic book world as a whole, particularly with super heroes. Super heroes are regarded as modern day mythological gods that are the archetype of our purest ideals. There is always an original creator, who establishes the basic rules and foundation, but all major characters have been passed on from writer to writer, recreated and re-imagined, all the while staying faithful to the core essence of the characters. Sometimes people will make bold and somewhat risky additions, but they become canon if they are widely accepted and believing and capable of bringing something useful to the series as a whole.

    Even with comic books, people have their favorite writer or actor of a character, and many times, seniority does play a role. While there is a legitimate debate to be had about who played a better Joker (Nicholson or Ledger), there are definitely a good amount of Nicholson-fans that harbor nostalgia for the Joker they first saw and loved.

  3. “The Dark Knight is unique because it is adapting an entire series/universe. ”

    I was thinking that the trilogy is something that MacFarlane would hold up as an example of an adaptation, rather than a transfer, and I think that’s partially because it’s physically impossible to do a transfer of the comics. Things are done and undone (in one of the articles Prof Ferguson linked to there’s mention made that some part of the comics was so hated that it was uncanonized, as in utterly removed from the history of the novels- isn’t it great that you can do that in comics?). As has been oft-discussed on the blog as reactions to TDK have been rolling in, the Joker himself is a prime example of that- he has a backstory, but maybe he doesn’t really. He dies, no he doesn’t, yes he does, no he doesn’t. He’s a bank robber, he’s a mad scientist type, etc. Unless you choose just one single edition of the comic to adapt (and presumably that would be a fairly short film), it would be impossible to perform a transfer of the material, because it is, as Darwin says, a whole universe unto itself.

  4. I really like the idea presented that films cannot transfer comic books directly as elements are decanonized or struck from continuity according to how they’re perceived and received by the readers. I think TDK would definitely fall into adaptation category. It borrows and blends from a cumulative history of the character, instead of just one story arc. Additionally, the film adds a lot of new elements to create something new. Therefore I think this would fall into the spirit mode. The directors and writers pull from everything from tv adaptations, previous films, etc. In doing this the film cannot be a direct transfer as it borrows from more than one medium as well as the source material.

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