Amid rapid shifts in the media-buying public’s preferences, comic-book adaptations have proved incredibly lucrative for movie studios, practically becoming Hollywood’s main business model. They’re an ideal medium for an industry constantly looking for ways to tap into built-in audiences and spin out endless sequels. Comics are never-ending serials with decades’ worth of fans and stories to draw from, and Hollywood can build upon that, making its own serial stories and movies, creating loyal, invested audiences who will always show up. This has helped sequelitis shed its reputation as a symptom of creative bankruptcy, recasting it as ambitious world building.
Serialized storytelling isn’t the only thing that has made its way from comics to the movies. The timing of the rise of resurrection in blockbusters is no accident — it’s an inheritance. Along with the rise of superhero movies came comic books’ notorious revolving-door attitude toward death. Given the medium’s sprawling, practically interminable story lines, publishers like Marvel and DC Comics often need ways to bring major upheaval to their worlds. So they kill off major characters. Superman, Spider-Man, the Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern and Captain America have all died — at least temporarily. But Marvel and DC are financially dependent on characters that are too popular to leave dead. As a result, death to comic readers has become something of a joke: a tolerated pretense that means nothing more than a cash grab (buy the issue where Captain America dies!). A character’s demise allows the publisher to hype their resurrection (buy the issue where Captain America comes back!) or at least facilitate the sustained financial draw of a popular character.
Death is no longer just a transparent formula; it has been hybridized with something worse: Business strategy. There is no greater force in the world for wringing the passion out of human affairs than the desiccating logic of quarterly earnings reports. Of course, Hollywood has always been a business.
Alexander Huls, “How Hollywood Killed Death”, The New York Times Magazine (20 April 2014), 45.