Reverse Adaptations

Over the weekend I found a copy of the Superman III comic book adaptation that DC released back in 1983. I had never seen it in person so I grabbed it right away. I’ve had the Superman IV adaptation (and its awesome Jerry Ordway cover) since I was a kid. I loved it back then and remember reading it while watching the movie on VHS in my grandmother’s living room. The last two Christopher Reeve films aren’t fondly regarded by most fans, but I’ve always enjoyed their charm. I try and watch them at least once a year.

cover to SupermanIII comic adaptation

I’ve recently read the Batman and Batman Returns comic adaptations to coincide with the release of Batman 89. Something that stood out in those adaptations is they don’t have any of the internal monologue; no thought balloons. It made sense since they were adapting from a screenplay which wouldn’t include narration. The books move fast to squeeze everything into their page counts. Multiple scenes are sometimes put all on one page! On the other hand this Superman III adaptation reads like it’s straight out of the Superman comics at the time. Superman narrates everything he does just like readers in 1983 came to expect. Bates paces the issue similarly to a bronze age Superman book and of course has the classic Curt Swan art. He isn’t afraid to cut moments out of the story to work better in the medium. The characters aren’t drawn quite on model”. Robert Vaughn’s Ross Webster looks like him, but Gus Gorman doesn’t look anything like Richard Pryor. It’s also disappointing to see how poorly the coloring of the time handles skin colors that aren’t just white. While the book doesn’t totally redeem the sillier aspects of Superman III, it’s somehow more enjoyable in comic form. The cuts they make for pacing streamline the story and it’s an enjoyable read. Really happy to have it in the collection.

Afterwards, I revisited the Superman IV adaptation. Being post Superman 385 it uses the modern Superman logo with the rounded U” and not the shiny movie style with the square U”. Prices also seem to have doubled in the four years between them from $1 to $2. Along with the aforementioned Ordway cover we are treated with some rare post-crisis Curt Swan. Again, the characters aren’t drawn to resemble their movie counterparts with Swan opting for pre-crisis styles for Luthor, Perry, and even Jor-El. Most interestingly since the book is based on the script for the movie and not what was shown in theaters we get both incarnations of Nuclear Man. A real what if scenario. In 1987 Superman fans could get the crystals of the movie’s Krypton, this pre-crisis style Jor-El, and be introduced to Byrne’s take on Superman’s origin. With all the talk of multiple versions of characters in movies and television I wonder if this was a concern for fans at the time. Byrne’s take on Krypton would be inspired thematically by the movie, if not visually. Later Superman comics would take more from the theatrical Krypton like crystals and a white haired, older Jor-El. The original comic source material being inspired by the adaptations it inspired.

It’s fascinating to see the choices made by these creators that are adapting a movie that was adapted from a comic book. Choosing the quintessential Superman artist of the time makes sense even if he’s not going to go through the trouble of making Clark look like Christopher Reeve. That wouldn’t fit with Swan’s style. Unlike the Batman adaptations that do have Ordway make Batman a bit more like Keaton. Especially with the movie costume. Swan doesn’t even bother to adjust the S to make it more movie like. Almost the opposite approach that artist Wilfredo Torres is taking with the current Superman 78 book. Although Torres does make his S closer the comics than to the costume Reeve wore. The new books doing what Batman 66 did before them to take that on-screen continuity and move it forward rather than take new additions from the screen and add them to the current continuity.

This brings me to my final thought and a dark secret: Superman Adventures, the Superman comic based on Superman: The Animated Series. Closer in idea to Superman 78 as being a continuation of an adaptation in the original medium rather than an adaptation of an adaptation. I own about half of this run (actually only missing issues 47-65 except for 58), but have never read it. As I mentioned last week I like TAS, but there are some problems with it that keep it from being a favorite for me. Maybe my opinion will change after reading these books? A favorite twitter account of mine had the following to say on the subject:

Looks like my homework for the week is to read some Superman Adventures.

Extra reading: check out this article on Gone and Not Forgotten about Superman’s origins on the radio. Good tie in to what I ruminate on here about inspiration from adaptations which makes it back into the regular comics and what things do not.

September 13, 2021


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