Edward Norton: Comics Have to Be ‘Dark and Serious and Long’ to Be Good

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Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

In front of a massive New York Comic Con crowd, Edward Norton unwittingly stepped into one of geekdom's most volatile minefields: the fight about whether superhero stories have to be dark to be taken seriously. Spoiler alert: He thinks they do and that "nobody read comics because they're cartoonish. They read them because they're dark and serious and long."

Norton's rant happened near the end of a standing-room-only Friday night panel for Birdman, the hotly anticipated surrealist drama featuring Michael Keaton as a washed-up movie star who used to play a superhero. Moderator Chris Hardwick asked Norton and Keaton if they'd ever do mainstream superhero flicks in the future. Norton (whose last superhero credit was the title role in 2008's The Incredible Hulk) answered first, calmly launching into a soliloquy about his own experiences reading comics (he's a big fan of writer/artist Frank Miller, the high priest of grim-and-gritty comics action) and how he's waiting for the movie industry to make something sufficiently weighty for his tastes. Here's the full quote:

I grew up on all the graphic novels, the Frank Miller, I was obsessed with that stuff. So I think it's this rich pool of stuff that's become almost, y'know, a whole modern-day canon of mythic stories for a lot of us, and we kind of all sit around hoping that someone's gonna make a film — make films out of that type of material that captures how serious it felt for us at that time in our life when — because nobody read comics because they're cartoonish. They read them because they're dark and serious and long. That's what was great about the best ones.

No audience members applauded this statement, least of all the ones dressed as cartoon characters.