Some of the many arguments that happen between fans of comic books and media personalities surround the idea of “Staying True to the Origin Story.” The loudest argument you often hear from many fans – other than a scantily-clad female hero should still be scantily-clad on screen – is that the origin of the hero(ine) must be preserved, often times right down to the smaller details.
Yet, when you look at the landscape of comic book adaptations to the big and small screens, sticking to the complete origin story as doled out by the comic books has rarely, if ever, been a model of success. Here is an example of story deviation that worked:
The Incredible Hulk TV series from the late 1970s also completely revamped its backstory and origin. The nature of the Hulk’s powers changed. The military characters (Talbot and “Thunderbolt” Ross) and Banner’s girlfriend (Betty) were removed. Even Banner’s first name was changed because TV execs were afraid of “Teh Ghey.” This show, like Wonder Woman, is still remembered, and fondly by its fans.
Now, look at both of the Hulk movies released in 2003 and 2008. Both followed the comic book stories moreso than the TV series. Many of the comic book characters returned, and Bruce was allowed to “exist” once more. Even the “Gamma Experiment” was allowed to come back.
And both were pretty underwhelming.
I posit that the reason for this had nothing to do with backstory as it had to do with the basic theme. The Hulk is about the struggle over ones pain and anger, and not letting it overwhelm you. It also highlights the helplessness that many people have over their own lives. It was never really about how strong the Hulk is or was; it was more about Banner’s anger and his quest to control it. The same could be said for Superman in many ways; the story is about his growing up as a stranger in a strange land, and using his powers to “help” people.
Overall, the idea is to create a story and make it stick. In the case of Superman, the revised history (since Superman: The Movie) is all about changing details; his basic theme has always remained a constant. Even movies like Raimi’s Spiderman series attempted to keep his origins consistent, even as the nature of his powers changed slightly. If you can stick with the basic theme, one of the things that happen is that the rest of the backstory becomes superfluous. This is, incidentally, how Blade succeeded; Wesley Snipes made the character “cool,” although you’d never know that the backstory and personality of Blade the character were altered to varying degrees.
And that is the most important part of the puzzle: Make the story stick – and make it compelling. Because the fanbase may not even notice that the story has changed much. In fact, it may mean that the new story becomes the accepted one after time.