In the convention hall of the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel, MorrisonCon rocketed onwards through its weekend programming with Celluloid Heroes, a panel that ostensibly began as a look at comic book movies but disintegrated into superhero semantics madness.
MorrisonCon co-creator James Sime opened the panel by introducing the moderator: porn actress and sex columnist Ryan Keely. Leading the crowd in a rousing cheer, Keely promised a look at “the filthy backdoor romance between comic books and movies!”
The panelists then entered, led by “Chronicle” screenwriter Max Landis, who ran around the stage screaming, bottles of water in hand; “Happy!” artist Darick Robinson; Grant Morrison and James Gunn, director of the upcoming Marvel Studios film “Guardians Of The Galaxy.”
“There’s only four comics properties that ever interested me in turning them into movies,” Gunn declared. “One was ‘We3.’ The others were ‘Thunderbolts,’ ‘Hit Monkey’…and ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy.'”
As for who he was thinking of casting for Rocket Raccoon, Gunn played it cagey. “There’s such a long, long list for all our casting choices, we’ve barely begun.”
Asked by Landis if he felt his movie was going to be cast-dependent or if Gunn had more freedom to adapt what he wanted, Gunn responded frankly. “It’s not cast-dependent. We could make the movie with unknowns if we wanted to. I can’t talk too much about this, because Marvel will kill me!”
Keely then asked if the panelists felt comic books naturally lent itself to adaptation, which set Gunn and Robertson to talking about the fumetti trend in the early ’80s, taking stills from movies and pasting word balloons over them to turn them into comic books.
Morrison spoke about what he saw as the main problem with adaption: things get left out. “There’s an interior life you can do in a comic that you can study and reassemble because it’s right on the page,” Morrison said. “With a movie, you’re dragging them through twenty-four frames per second…you drop a lot of the interior symbolic stuff that works on the page.”
“I’m saying this without a judgmental sort of thing that filmmaking is a very fascistic form in a certain respects because you’re taking the audience step by step and they have to go at your pace,” Gunn stated in agreement. He then told the audience he felt it was harder to do the remake of “Dawn Of The Dead” then “Guardians” as people had such specific ideas of what zombies entail — though he is experiencing a level of fan obsession with “Guardians.”
“I’m on Twitter and every hour I get suggestions about things I must do for ‘Guardians!'” Gunn said with a laugh.
“I think the most successful comic [movies] tend to be like Batman or the Avengers, where there’s fifty years of material to work from so they create a new story. With ‘Watchmen,’ you made a movie from a finished, complete story and it doesn’t work!” Morrison said, panning the idea of slavish devotion to a comic when adapting it to the big screen.
Landis, speaking about “Chronicle,” began the panel’s slide from conversation into heated argument. Stating he hates calling his film’s protagonist a superhero, the writer/director explained he felt superheroes are a specific archetype and his breakthrough movie had more in common with “Carrie” than Superman. Nor did he feel, he informed Gunn and the audience, that “Guardians Of The Galaxy” qualified as superheroes.
“I think of superheroes as capes!” Landis said, standing up to pace the stage as he spoke. “When ‘Chronicle’ came out, they were like, ‘It’s a superhero story.’ It’s only a superhero story because that’s what’s coming out now! If it came out in 1996, they’d call it a sci-fi thriller!”
Gunn disagreed with Landis’s defintiion, labeling “Chronicle” as, “One of the best superhero movies of all time,” to Landis’ obvious consternation.
“Come on! They’re superheroes, they have superpowers!” Gunn said.
“Matt is an immature goofball who is forced into a position of responsibility. At the end of ‘Taxi Driver,’ is Travis Bickle a fucking superhero?” Landis shot back.
“He doesn’t have superpowers!” Gunn said.
“He certainly gets shot a lot!” Landis responded to audience laughter.
Landis then labeled his movie as being born out of his love of superheroes but not being about superheroes, a move Gunn called disingenuous.
“If it’s born from superheroes and a tribute to your love for them, then I think that it is [a superhero movie] and you shouldn’t get offended,” Gunn said.
“To me, a superhero is someone who goes through an experience in their life that then causes them to create an alias for themselves…and then acts altruistically and puts other people ahead of themselves,” Landis replied, defining his notion of a superhero as members of the audience booed and catcalled.
“You can’t diminish that other people have other definitions of the word superhero!” Gunn responded. “Why are you booing an entire community of people calling it a superhero?”
“James, you hugely misunderstand!” Landis retorted.
“What are some other topics we have tonight?” Gunn asked as the audience and panelists laughed.
Keely attempted to get the panel back on track by speaking about the upcoming adaptation of “The Boys,” but that also segued into Landis’ issues with the execution of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s superhero satire.
“The premise of ‘The Boys’ is my favorite premise ever: superheroes are dicks! They do drugs and they’re a fucking mess and there needs to be guys to patrol them. Do you know how fucking impossible that would be?” Landis asked, pacing the stage once again and stating that he felt the comic’s central concept lost something as soon as the protagonist gained superpowers.
“But tell me how you really feel,” Robertson said to more audience laughter.
Robertson then defended “The Boys” by explaining, “Everyone in the boys is Hughie. When Hughie does kill that guy…it wasn’t something he took pleasure in doing…and if we killed him off in the first issue because he has no protection, there wouldn’t be a story! Whatever it is to be super-powered, Hughie has to maintain who he is and he holds onto his soul.”
Landis said the idea of having to patrol superheroes was a concept he was actually exploring in his next movie project, “Villains,” which was currently moving through Universal.
Keely strong-armed the conversation back to the current superhero trend, with Gunn stating he did not believe movies were going through a superhero “phase” and that the superhero film is firmly ensconced in Hollywood due to changing special effects technology.
“The other thing is, superheroes aren’t a genre — they’re an ingredient, not a genre,” Morrison added.
Landis chimed in that when it came to genre trends, Hollywood was in the middle of “pre-opting IP rights” to “Twilight” knockoffs with everything from mermaids to Peter Pan.
“There are tons and tons and tons of robot movies in the works,” Gunn added, as both directors expressed extreme distaste for the practice of creating comics solely for the purpose of adapting them into movies.
That led Morrison to bring up his work on “Dinosaurs Vs. Aliens,” while Gunn stated he felt that writers’ rights were still in the “Dark Ages” when it came to IP rights, pointing to things like “Cowboys And Aliens.”
“As a comic book fan, I think that’s fucking awesome!” Sime interrupted, saying that as a retailer, he sees no problem with any move to sell more comic books or give young artists more venues to work in.
Keely moved the discussion away from film by asking the comic book creators what television they were consuming. Morrison told the audience he only watched “Doctor Who.”
“[Steven] Moffat had been getting a lot of tweets from people who were saying, ‘You should have Grant write “Doctor Who,”‘ and I’d really love to write ‘Doctor Who,'” Grant said, adding that a friend of his who had worked with writer Mark Gatiss and Moffat pitched the idea to them and reported they wanted to hear from Morrison.
“We tried it four or five times, and he never wrote back,” Morrison said, adding that he had heard from those working on the related animated show that they were given Morrison’s ’80s “Doctor Who” comics for reference.
Landis then led the audience in a mass tweeting of Mark Gatiss unde r the hashtag of #letgrantmorrisonwritedrwho.
With the spotlight back on him, Landis then launched into a ten-minute description of the plot of a story he pitched DC Comics which revolved around the idea of the Prankster getting the best of Superman. The pitch was ultimately passed on as DC did not want to make Superman look stupid.
Keely finally opened the floor to audience questions, one of the first coming from MorrisonCon DJ Akira The Don who asked about the possibility of eventually seeing “The Invisibles” or “We3” as a movie.
“Hollywood does not get my comic books,” Morrison said. “Even ‘We3’ is, ‘I don’t get this.’ They’re fucking animals!”
Gunn added he believed the problem adapting “We3” was the sheer weirdness of the violence married with the animals and their friendship. This prompted Morrison to explain he actually toned down the violence while writing the screenplay adaptation, setting up a dynamic where the animals would only attack if they were attacked, inluding a scene where an army has to lay down their weapons and let the animals pass. “I think that’s a very cinematic moment!” Morrison said.
Another audience member, quickly designated the final one as the panel had run out of time, asked about technology, transhumanism and how far away humans were from real superpowers.
“Two years and three months,” joked Gunn. “A great superpower is blowing a guy away with a gun…carrying a machine gun is a superpower.”