By Carter Glace
Before comics and movies, video games were my first artistic passion. I’ve been playing some system or series since I was about five. And the fifteen years of gaming has seen the landscape of the industry change more times than I can even count, but one thing has remained constant. I have never been particularly interested in the “Why aren’t there any good video game movies” debate. Sure, I’d love a great Super Mario Bros movie, but the discussion was well worn years ago. Instead, I would like to propose a new question: why aren’t there enough good video game comics?
When you stop and think about it, comics are the perfect venue to translate video games in everyway movies aren’t. Comics aren’t typically bound by the limitations of style and tone faced in film. Even small films are massive investments, meaning their appeal has to be mass appeal in order to recuperate losses (and most video game ideas necessitate blockbuster budgets). As a result, a lot of the unique, out-there charm that defines so many classic game series tends to be sanded off lest it alienate the uninitiated general population. The refusal to do this is one of the main things that killed Scott Pilgrim’s aspirations and why conversely, the Super Mario Bros’ film was at one point a rip off of Ghostbusters, then Mad Max, then Bladerunner, than god knows what.
Not only have comics been blessed with extraordinarily broad, niche audiences who can keep entire series afloat in small sizes, super hero comics are built on the mad logic and creativity games typically exhibit. Lest we forget, the Justice Leagues first enemy was a giant starfish. Comics can have whatever ridiculous ideas they want, because there’s bound to be enough people to turn a profit. It’s also a matter of structure.
Video games reach a level of franchising and sequel-ing that the Transformer’s series could only dream of. How can you reasonably compress almost 30 years worth of Metroid games into a two-hour movie? Things need to get streamlined, cut and hammered down. With the monthly schedule of a comic, that’s never an issue.
Comics already have a better track record with video games than movies. The Super Mario Bros comic published in Nintendo Power is a genuine gem, capturing the visual creativity and wonder of the games while adding a weird, often chaotic sense of humor. The Last of Us: America Dreamed was a wonderful work that helped cover one of the critical blank spots in the lore. And while I haven’t read all of them, The Legend of Zelda Manga tend to be great companions to the games.
Unfortunately, these are the exceptions. For the most part, any comics made a small companion pieces that either serve as prequels or are ultimately declared non-canon. There is an endless ocean of possibilities from fusing these visual mediums built for each other, but game publishers instead chase the white whale of blockbusters, a whale that has sunken their ship countless times now. And as much as I want to see a Kirby movie some day, it’s impossible to deny a whole realm of possibilities that, for the time being, is much more bountiful.
Carter Glace is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org