A glimmer of immortality
Authors are not immortal. They die. Characters on the other hand, are near immortal, continuing long after their creators have shuffled off this mortal coil. Sherlock Holmes (despite Arthur Conan Doyle’s best efforts) has spawned a cottage industry of pastiches and parodies. Johnston McCulley’s Zorro has been reinterpreted recently by Isabel Allende in her Zorro: A Novel. And Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler reignite their love affair in Alexandria Ripley’s Scarlett, a sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind.
Sometimes a character is ruined by such works. It is rare for a much loved character to reappear, in the hands of another artist, and to be received well, let alone seen to be superior to the original treatment. This is a problem that also occurs when translating one medium to another. Think of any number of recent novels adapted to books, and the various reactions of those fans who were disappointed that favourites scenes were dropped, favourite characters were not as envisaged, or the exigencies of the film industry and the limits of the medium force the dreaded “creative changes”.
But sometimes, rarely, it happens. Sometimes you witness something that makes you realise: the new artist understands the character far better than the original artist.
And this example, is The Dark Knight. In two and a half hours, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan demonstrate a superior understanding of the motives, desires and essence of Batman, that far surpasses any such understanding demonstrated by any other writer, artist, or director of the various films, comics and television series – even the (at the time) outstanding handling of the character demonstrated by Bruce Timm in the animated Batman series.
For a fuller appreciation of why this film succeeds, I invite you to read this review of The Dark Knight (and I will admit the shameful nepotism, the reviewer concerned is a professional comic book artist, and also happens to be my brother…)
I watched The Dark Knight in awe. When the end credits had finished, I had two comments to make. Firstly, that if I ever wrote anything as good in my life, I would be quite, quite happy. Secondly, that some people simply do not deserve their own characters. With Batman Begins and The Dark Knight the Nolans have shown that they understand the character even more than Bob Kane, the creator of Batman. Kane will always be the creator of Batman. But for me, from now on Batman will always belong to the Nolans.
We as writers hope to leave something behind, something that will live on when we are gone, for which we will be remembered.
Do you feel comfortable with the idea that someday, someone may begin to reinterpret our characters, presenting them in new situations, perhaps reacting to events in ways you would not suppose?
Worse yet, what if they handle your character far better than you ever could?