Heroes, villains and the X factor in comic book genre

John Mosby
John Mosby
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A Leeds author has taken a serious look at the comic book movie genre. Film critic Tony Earnshaw spoke to writer John Mosby.

SUPERHERO comics have been popular since the days of Superman in the 1930s.

But the explosion of comic book movies and graphic novel adaptations is a relatively new phenomenon.

Now the first decade of the millennium’s comic-book movie output has been appraised in a new book by John Mosby, a reviewer and blogger specialising in film who is an avowed devotee of the genre.

Mosby’s previous books include studies of the X-Men comics and Barb Wire, the movie we love to hate starring Pamela Anderson giving it both barrels. And in Gods, Monsters and Mutants he is quick to defend a genre that is as maligned as it is popular.

The 300-page book is a compendium of reviews, overviews and interviews with the current crop of cinematic crusaders starting with X-Men in 2000 and running up to this summer’s The Wolverine.

“I was lucky enough to be reading comics during the 1980s when books like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns started getting attention,” says Mosby.

“People started realising that if you put respected writers and respected artists together, there was no reason to think the result had to be just aimed at kids. Fortunately comics started to grow up just as I did.”

Mosby is now in his mid-40s – precisely the age group that is flocking to cinemas to watch movies like Avengers Assemble, the all-star ensemble that became the fourth biggest money-spinner in the international box office list. But while he accepts that the loud and brash superhero flicks that take over the world’s multiplexes every summer are a big turn-off to some cinemagoers he makes the case for movies like Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition and David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. Both were adapted from graphic novels with huge cult readerships.

“It’s very easy to write off comics and comic-book adaptations as lightweight material – especially in the UK where a lot of our comics were only ever aimed at very young readers,” he counters.

“In America they were always geared a bit older. My argument against writing off all comic-book movies as ‘just for kids’ is to say that people don’t say ‘That’s just a Western’ or ‘That’s just a documentary’.

“There are so many different tones within even superhero genre movies alone, even more if you expanded that out to award-winning films that were based on less-traditional comics such as A History of Violence and Road to Perdition. One aspect about writing this book is noting just how many Oscar-winners and respected performers had their own minds changed by being involved.”

Gods, Monsters and Mutants is out now.

Movies of the new millennium

Mosby’s book starts at the dawn of the 21st Century because of the sheer weight of films that preceded the year 2000. While he wished to trace what he describes as “the fascinating evolution” of the genre, he was faced with 30-plus movies from 2000 to 2013 alone. Thus pragmatism replaced passion and the book starts with X-Men.