Skip Navigation

Frame by Frame

Archive for the ‘Comic Books’ Category

Godfathers of Comic Book Films

Friday, November 27th, 2015

Before the Marvel and DC Universe, these were the pioneers who created the comic book film.

In this one astonishing shot, taken at a nostalgia convention in 1973, some of the greatest action directors of all time stand with cast members, a cinematographer, and stunt men who helped to create such classic serials as Spy Smasher, Captain America, Superman, Batman and many others – in their original versions as Saturday morning serials in the 1940s and 50s – working for most part for Republic Pictures, the studio that created the modern action film.

From left to right, director William Witney, who helmed numerous serials with his friend and colleague John English, in addition to directing a stack of classic Westerns – and incidentally, he’s Quentin Tarantino’s favorite director; Billy Benedict, a reliable sidekick in numerous action films of the era; Spencer Gordon Bennet, dean of serial directors, with hundreds of films to his credit; and Bud Thackery, sporting a goatee, an ace action cinematographer who later finished up his career at Universal in the 1960s.

Continuing on, stuntman George DeNormand stands in the back; Frank Coghlan Jr., who played the role of Billy Batson, Captain Marvel’s alter-ego in the serial of that name; Kirk Alyn, the original Superman in two serials, both directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet; legendary stuntman “Crazy Duke” Green, whose specialty was running up walls and then launching himself into space during a fight scene; the equally capable stuntman and actor Tom Steele; and stuntman Davey Sharp, whose credits as a stunt double number into the thousands.

Just watching these amazing professionals at work, knocking out three and four hour serials in 30 days on budgets in the $200,000 range, or lower, is an amazing sight – a look into the past of motion pictures, before CGI and motion capture replaced feats of genuine athleticism and skill. None of these people thought twice about working twelve hour days, or longer, six days a week, for decades at a clip, to deliver the thrills that entranced audiences in the middle part of the 20th century.

Let’s not forget them now – they created the comic book film.

Supergirl – The TV Series

Monday, October 5th, 2015

Finally, a Supergirl television series – and it’s long overdue.

I seem to be in a comic book vein these days, and now comes word that Supergirl, who has always been neglected in both TV and movies, just like Wonder Woman – can you say gender discrimination? – is finally going to get a TV series, long, long after the 1950s Superman series hit the airwaves, starting October 26th on CBS. Of course, it’s pop culture stuff, but at the same time, it offers a powerful role model for young women to identify with, and starts – just starts – to balance out the scales, which have long been tipped in favor of male protagonists, both in regular dramas, as well as comic book/pop culture films and television shows.

As the show’s official bio notes of the series, “Supergirl is an action-adventure drama based on the DC Comics character Kara Zor-El, Superman’s (Kal-El) cousin who, after 12 years of keeping her powers a secret on Earth, decides to finally embrace her superhuman abilities and be the hero she was always meant to be. Twelve-year-old Kara escaped the doomed planet Krypton with her parents’ help at the same time as the infant Kal-El. Protected and raised on Earth by her foster family, the Danvers, Kara grew up in the shadow of her foster sister, Alex, and learned to conceal the phenomenal powers she shares with her famous cousin in order to keep her identity a secret.

Years later at 24, Kara lives in National City assisting media mogul and fierce taskmaster Cat Grant. She works alongside her friend and IT technician Winn Schott and famous photographer James Olsen, who Grant just hired away from the Daily Planet to serve as her new art director. However, Kara’s days of keeping her talents a secret are over when Hank Henshaw, head of a super-secret agency where her sister also works, enlists her to help them protect the citizens of National City from sinister threats. Though Kara will need to find a way to manage her newfound empowerment with her very human relationships, her heart soars as she takes to the skies as Supergirl to fight crime.”

Let’s see what this develops into – I, for one, wish the series all the best.

New Frame by Frame Video – Comic Book Movies

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

I have a new video out today on comic book movies in the Frame by Frame series.

Working with Curt Bright, I have a new video out today on comic book movies – specifically, where they’re headed in the next five years. Disney, DC, and Marvel (which Disney owns) are all battling each other at the box office to create the most effective brand domination, but as you will see from the video, I think Marvel has a real head start, and probably will remain the major force in comic book films for the immediate future – even if DC is planning out to 2020. I just don’t think DC has the depth of characters that Marvel has in their “universe,” and that’s really where the problem starts – at least for DC.

With DC, you have Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and that’s about it – and a sure sign of this early exhaustion of possibilities is that DC is already reaching into the ranks of their villains for the upcoming Suicide Squad, which is an attempt to broaden their character horizons. The next stop after that is parody, and we’re already perilously close to that with some of the current crop of superhero / comic book films, such as the recent Green Lantern film, which did little to help the franchise, to put it kindly.

For the most part, though, it seems all too predictable – another Star Wars film every year for the next fifteen years from Disney, DC dutifully rolling out their own product, while Marvel does the same. And now Disney is doing a live-action Winnie The Pooh reboot, to be written and directed by Alex Ross Perry, while Godzilla is also being ramped up for yet another go-round, and the Maze Runner series, as well as the Hunger Games series, continue on for what is supposedly their final films – but are they really? Franchises exist to be extended interminably – just ask James Bond.

We’ll just have to wait and see- check out the video here and see what you think!

Marvel vs. DC – The Social Media Battle

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Talkwalker describes the social media battle between DC and Marvel as “a friendly rivalry” – but really, it’s a battle to the death.

As Julie Hong writes, “A friendly rivalry between Marvel and DC Comics has spawned since the 1930s, originating from comic books and then flourishing onto the big screens and video games. With more than 20 movie adaptations planned in the next 4 years, superhero movies are bound to break box office numbers, and social media records. While we must reckon that comparing Marvel and DC worlds is like comparing Coca-Cola and Pepsi – it’s a matter of taste – we can however determine who is catching the attention on the social web this summer in regards to figures and stats.

Using Talkwalker’s social media analytics platform, let’s see who wins each round in terms of social media trends, share of voice, hashtag analysis, sentiment, and engagement on Facebook and Twitter.” Hong then takes the various Marvel and DC films through a variety of social barometers, with Marvel sometimes winning, and DC sometimes coming out on top, but in the end – surprise – Marvel wins, mostly because they have a much deeper bench of characters than DC, and they’re clearly more adept at playing the social media game, and have been, long before Twitter, Facebook and the like were invented, and the only fan feedback was the “letters to the editor” column.

Hong concludes, “Our 8-round battle concludes to Marvel winning over DC on social media in terms of general conversations about comic books, volume of brand and hashtag mentions online, buzz originating from its cinematic universe, and Twitter activity. Winning the battle, but not necessarily the war. Superheroes fans, the floor is yours. Let us know who wins your heart @Talkwalker! This analysis was conducted using Talkwalker, a social listening and social media analytics platform that monitors and analyses online conversations on social networks, news websites, blogs, forums and more, in over 187 languages.”

So check it out – even if comic book films aren’t your main interest, this is fascinating material.

Batman V Superman, or, Twilight of the Franchises

Friday, June 26th, 2015

What do you do when a franchise starts to falter? You double down – watch the trailer here.

In the mid 1940s, Universal was coming off a two decade wave of horror movies, such as Frankenstein and Dracula (both 1931), The Mummy (1932) and The Wolf Man (1941), but at length, audiences were bored with just one monster, and demanded something to amp up the franchise. Thus, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943) was born, the first of the Universal monster “team ups,” but in short order, the entire franchise collapsed as Universal combined nearly all their famed horror icons in two “monster rally” entries, House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945), in cheap, hastily staged films that did little more than revive the monsters only to destroy them. With these final two films in the initial series, it seemed that the franchise was exhausted, and the next Universal horror entry wasn’t a horror entry at all; it was the parody Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). It wasn’t until Hammer films re-energized these classic characters in such films as The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958) that the franchise once again took on new life.

It seems to me that we’re now at a similar point with the DC Universe; the Superman series seems a bit played out, as the character seems a bit too straight arrow to relate to 21st century audiences; and Christopher Nolan has run the Batman series into the ground, as did Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher before him, so that both characters seem, for the moment, played out for the contemporary viewer. What to do? Why, just put them both in one film, as a a sort of WWF smackdown, recalling the first Universal team up, Frankenstein Meets (or more accurately, “battles”) The Wolf Man. And so now we have Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, directed by Zack “300” Snyder on a $200 million dollar budget, which wrapped filming in December 2014, and is now going through an apparently intensive post-production process, and won’t be released – at latest word – until March 25, 2016. What the final cost will be, who knows? Will it “blow up” like Jurassic World, and make a fortune? DC certainly hopes so.

It seems worth noting to me that Marvel has been much more successful at these “ensemble” films lately, but then they have a much larger cast of characters to work with. And when one character gets tired, they just sideline her or him for a while, and go for an Avengers team-up, and everyone seems happy as the dollars roll in, and then Marvel eventually gets around to rebooting whatever needs to be jump started next, as the cycle continues with Sisyphian relentlessness. But DC, I think, doesn’t have the same depth in its playing field, and so this team-up has, at least for me, the inescapable whiff of “last chance at the genre corral,” when you take your two most influential characters and put them into a face-off. After this, what can you do; repeat the same thing all over again, perhaps throwing in The Green Lantern for some added traction?

It seems sad to me that this is one of the most hotly anticipated tickets of next year – because the whole thing seems so formulaic and predestined, but there it is. On yes, and Wonder Woman, in the person of Gal Godot, will also swing by to get in on the action, so this in many ways might be closer to the “monster rally” films than the first Universal team-up film. In an excellent wrap article in Cinema Blend, Eric Eisenberg tracks what we know so far about the film, whose cast includes Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, and Holly Hunter. Notes Eisenberg, “the idea of a Batman/Superman movie has been around so long that it was even made into an Easter Egg gag in the Will Smith action movie I Am Legend [2007] – the film jokingly dated for release only after the Earth had been devastated by an apocalyptic plague.”

He continues, “Warner Bros. released an official plot synopsis for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and watching the debut trailer one can at least kind of pick up on what this movie is putting down. It seems that the world of the growing DC Cinematic Universe has labeled Superman (Henry Cavill) a controversial figure after the events seen in Man of Steel, and while there are many in the world who see him as a superhero, there are many others who view him as an extreme threat. It would seem that Batman (Ben Affleck) falls into this latter category, and uses his incredible resources to do what he can to try and stop the perceived alien menace.

The first official footage sees him as a superhero, there are many others who view him as a savior. And that plot synopsis does little more than confirm this. How the story will deal with all of the major supporting characters (of which there are many) remains a mystery, though that same synopsis does tease a new threat that comes out of the woodwork, which has led many to speculate about Doomsday’s possible involvement. While provoking Superman into a fight probably seems like a terrible idea to most of us, Batman will have some special toys specifically designed to negate his enemy’s advantages. Specifically, he will wield a Kryptonite-laced spear. How exactly he obtained this substance remains unclear, but he’s Batman. The guy has means of acquiring all kinds of unusual items.”

You can read the whole article here – the trailer is above, behind the image.

“Fans Don’t Want Change – They Want The Illusion of Change”

Monday, May 4th, 2015

Graeme McMillan, writing in the May 3, 2015 issue of The Hollywood Reporter, has these thoughts.

As McMillan writes, “Throughout Age of Ultron, the specter of death looms heavily. Characters repeatedly tell each other that it’s unlikely that they’re going to make it through what’s happening alive, and Hawkeye practically gets awarded the Most Likely to Die prize when his wife tells him that she just wants him to come home alive, damn it, right before the final showdown . . . it should, by all rights, be something that makes the final battle feel even more dangerous, with everything up for grabs. But the very nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe undercuts the tension entirely.

After all, the audience knows that none of the big name characters are going to die [emphasis added]. Most of them are already announced to appear in next year’s Captain America: Civil War, or subsequent movies down the line (Thor: Ragnarok, for example, if not Avengers: Infinity War). Along the same lines, the very existence of those movies means that there’s never any possibility of Ultron’s plan succeeding even a little bit . . .

I’m reminded of a line often attributed to Stan Lee, when talking about what comic book fans look for in stories. Reportedly, as the common wisdom goes, he explained that fans don’t want change; they want the illusion of change [emphasis added].

It’s an attitude that makes sense, as much as it seems dispiriting to hear. With the many moving parts of the Marvel comic book universe, in which multiple series are published simultaneously, many of them sharing concepts if not characters, there needs to be a default status quo to which characters return to allow the toys to be used by as many creators as necessary at any given point. The same, it seems, is starting to become true of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In a way, it was unavoidable; there are only so many stories you can tell in a shared universe before they start, if not contradicting, then at least overlapping each other. When you promote, as Marvel has, the interrelatedness of your stories (‘It’s all connected,’ as the tagline goes), that’s a selling point, instead of a bug — until the existence of those other stories starts limiting what you can achieve with each individual movie or television series.

The question then becomes, at what point does your audience realize that you’re standing in place in terms of narrative momentum, and are you doing so in such an entertaining way that they don’t care?”

Fascinating stuff – read the whole story by clicking here, or on the image above.

“You Plan Around The Marvel Responsibilities – You Have To.”

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Seems like we’re going to be subjected to a seemingly endless series of movies from the “Marvel Universe.”

As Matt Goldberg reports in Collider, “there’s no rest for a weary superhero. Chris Evans is out promoting Avengers: Age of Ultron, and very soon he’ll be suiting up again to start filming on Captain America: Civil War. Evans spoke to Esquire about his upcoming shooting schedule and says that filming on Civil War will go until about ‘August or September’, which is the usual shoot time for a major blockbuster film.

However, because he’s on a Marvel contract and Marvel has release dates for all of its Phase Three movies, Evans also knows that he’ll be needed for Avengers: Infinity War, which will be two films shot back to back. Evans tells Esquire that he thinks filming begins in either fall or winter 2016 and, ‘That’s going to be like nine months to shoot both movies back to back.’

The lengthy production schedule isn’t too much of a surprise, and I’m curious to see how many other MCU actors will have to adhere to it. So many actors are getting sucked into the MCU, so how many of them will be spending the larger part of a year working on these two movies? Evans doesn’t sound bummed by the prospect, and just accepts it as part of his working schedule. ‘You know, you plan around the Marvel responsibilities,’ says Evans. ‘You have to.’

Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 will be released on May 4, 2018, and Avengers: Infinity War – Part 2 will open on May 3, 2019. Captain America: The Winter Soldier screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely will pen the script and Joe and Anthony Russo will direct.” [Upcoming Marvel titles now in development include, with release dates;]

  • Avengers: Age of Ultron – May 1, 2015
  • Ant-Man – July 17, 2015
  • Captain America: Civil War – May 6, 2016
  • Doctor Strange - November 6, 2016
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017
  • Spider-Man Reboot – July 28, 2017
  • Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017
  • Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 – May 4, 2018
  • Black Panther – July 6, 2018
  • Captain Marvel – November 2, 2018
  • Avengers: Infinity War – Part 2 – May 3, 2019
  • Inhumans – July 12, 2019

It looks like we live in Marvel universe, for better or worse.

Patty Jenkins Is The New Wonder Woman Director

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Warner Bros. made a real “tone switch” on this one – can’t say I agree.

As Justin Kroll reports in Variety, “While Warner Bros. made a swift decision this week to hire Patty Jenkins as its new Wonder Woman director, industry insiders are still chattering about why original helmer Michelle MacLaren suddenly vanished from the project. The studio is declining to elaborate on the clichéd ‘creative differences’ joint statement that was issued when the two parted ways. But, according to multiple sources close to the project, the director’s vision for the movie was vastly different from the studio’s view.

MacLaren envisioned the DC Comics-based Wonder Woman movie as an epic origin tale in the vein of Braveheart, whereas Warner wanted a more character-driven story that was less heavy on action. Warner executives, these insiders said, became increasingly concerned about MacLaren directing a large-scale, action-packed production when her experience was limited to the small screen, where she made her name directing episodes of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.”

While Jenkins has directed episodes of The Killing and the excellent feature film Monster, somehow, I think this is a mistake. Wonder Woman needs the epic sweep MacLaren was going for, and as strong as Jenkins’ resumé is, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead seem like excellent calling cards to me — we’ll have to see what happens, but I think I would have preferred MacLaren’s version.

Read Kroll’s entire article by clicking here, or on the image above.

Wonder Woman Loses Director Michelle MacLaren

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

This is really bad news for a number of reasons.

As Scott Mendelson writes in Forbes, “The Hollywood Reporter is, uh, reporting that director Michelle MacLaren has left Wonder Woman. The usual ‘creative differences’ are being offered as the reason, and I’m sure there will be more details in the coming days. Her coming aboard the project was something of a big deal last December, as it would have been the first time that a female director had been handed the reins to a major comic book/superhero blockbuster title. And no, I’m not forgetting Lexi Alexander, who helmed the $30m R-rated Punisher: War Zone for Lionsgate back in 2008, but I think she’d be the first to tell you it’s not entirely the same thing. Nonetheless, as of moments ago, MacLaren has dropped out of the project, leaving its future, or at least its June 23rd, 2017 release date, in potential jeopardy [. . .]

As you recall, Marvel brought on Patti Jenkins (Monster) to helm Thor: The Dark World, but she and Marvel quickly parted ways and she was replaced by television director (Mad MenHomicide: Life of the StreetGame of Thrones) Alan Taylor, who it should be noted did just fine with the fantasy sequel. Couple that with Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first Twilight to blockbuster success only to part ways with the franchise and have the other four installments be directed by men, and Sam-Taylor Johnson, who directed Fifty Shades of Grey to $565m+ worldwide success only to leave the project, presumably over clashes with original author E.L. James, and we have what I would argue is a statistically improbable pattern of female directors either not making it to the finish line with high profile projects or not making it to the sequel when the finished film becomes a blockbuster.

The so-called glass ceiling for female directors helming major studio pictures is thick enough that an exception to the rule qualifies as news whenever it occurs. Without speculating about what said creative differences there might have been, one can hope that this doesn’t further the myth that female filmmakers can’t handle big-scale studio tent poles. For the sake of the project and for everything else involved in this now knotty situation, I can certainly hope that Warner Bros. doesn’t back down from its original intentions and find a female director as a replacement. Yes, it may be tokenism, and yes it may be about ‘the principle.’ But considering how hard it is for female filmmakers to get their foot in the door in comparison to their male peers, the worst thing that can happen for the perception of the project is for a male director to take over for MacLaren.

In the meantime, Michelle MacLaren is now available in case Marvel wants her for Captain Marvel. Otherwise, there are plenty of other talented female filmmakers who could use the gig and the profile boost. Beyond that, whatever ‘deep thoughts’ I might have about this will have to wait at least until we get a little more information. But come what may, this is frankly terrible news.”

This is a very disturbing pattern, and something that should be addressed - now.

Transformers Universe?

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

Paramount wants to make the Transformers films into a “Marvel Universe” style franchise.

Somebody out there must be watching these filmsthey make a fortune, even though my students routinely dismiss them as special-effects driven trash, without even the slightest narrative thread to hold anything together. But in Hollywood, especially in 2015, the bottom line rules, so here comes the “Transformers Universe.” As Germain Lussier reports in Slashfilm,

“Marvel is doing it, DC is doing it, Lucasfilm is doing it, the Ghostbusters are doing it and now it looks like Transformers will be doing it too. Deadline [arguably the top Hollywood inside business journal] reports that Akiva Goldsman, the Oscar-winning writer of a A Beautiful Mind (and the writer of Batman and Robin, among other films) is in negotiations with Paramount to lead a brain trust of writers with the aim of upping the output of Transformers movies for the studio. Goldsman will join executive producers Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg and Lorenzo di Bonaventura in the hiring of a collection of writers to create ‘a potential multi-part Transformers sequel, and come up with potential spinoff films.’

Deadline broke this news and say things are expected to come together quickly. Bay, who has directed the last four uber-successful Transformers films, is currently expected to come back for Transformers 5. (Which is tentatively set to come out in 2016, but 2017 seems more likely.) He’s about to start production on 13 Hours and the hope is, once he’s done with that, a plan and script will be in place for him to work on. They also report that while Goldsman might be the leader of this group, he isn’t likely to write the movies himself.

With Transformers being such a monster hit for Paramount, this really isn’t a big surprise. It’s how Hollywood is going. Plus, the last few movies have had a very cut and paste feel about them with very little cohesion or logic. If a group of people get hired to keep everything straight, that’s a good sign. In addition, the last film definitely left the franchise in a place where there was a pretty blank slate. All we do know is Mark Wahlberg will likely be back.”

Along with Michael Bay, and of course, the Transformers.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at or

RSS Frame By Frame Videos

  • Frame by Frame: Science Fiction Futurism
    UNL Film Studies Professor Wheeler Winston Dixon discusses the 2015 Ridley Scott film "The Martian," and the accuracy (and often inaccuracy) of science-fiction films at predicting real advancements in science and technology. […]
  • Frame by Frame: Batman v Superman
    UNL Film Studies Professor Wheeler Winston Dixon discusses the genre of comic book movies in the context of "Batman v Superman."  […]

In The National News

National media outlets featured and cited Wheeler Winston Dixon on a number of topics in the past month. Find out more on the website