I, along with some friends, used to own a comic-book store. And for the four and a half years we were there, a whole bunch of comic movies came out—Iron Man, Dark Knight, Watchmen, etc. Every time one of those movies hit, people—middle-aged men especially—would come out of the woodwork to check in with their favorite characters. This was always temporary, but for some reason superhero movies briefly relit a passion for comic books these folks had when they were younger.
And I wondered... and still wonder... why that is? I mean, in some ways it's the most obvious thing in the world that could happen—you see an Iron Man commercial on TV, you think "oh, I used to love that guy!" and you walk in to the local comic shop to catch up. In a sense, that's what comic movies are designed to do, and it's great for business… for a few weeks (fun fact: the Watchmen trailer in front of Dark Knight gave lots of stores, including ours, a CRAZY sales boost). But I actually think there's something more than just memory-jogging going on there, at least with some people. I think those… fair-weather fans, if that's an acceptable term… feel somehow validated by superhero movies.
In many ways, comic books are a niche thing. Yes, they're coming to be more accepted in schools and libraries (thanks in large part to non-superhero stories), but most people do not read comics, at least not habitually. In my high school class of almost 500, I was one of MAYBE five kids who went to the store every Wednesday and bought new books. That made me part of 1% of the population. Occupy Not Reading Comics, am I right?
Granted, that's a very unscientific analysis, but you get my point—you probably don't know a lot of people who read comics all the time. Now, in comparison, how many of your friends are going to see the Avengers Friday, or Dark Knight Rises in July? I've got news for you: pretty much EVERYBODY is going to see Dark Knight Rises. It would be harder to find someone who DOESN'T want to see it than somebody who does.
Yes, the comic-book movies stray from the source material to appeal to a mainstream audience, so there's not a 1:1 correspondence between movies and comics. But honestly, the changes made typically aren't as drastic as some fans would lead you to believe. In fact, viewer-friendly changes to the movies could IMPROVE on the comics in some respects, while certainly there are things in the books (longer, richer stories, more diverse villains, etc.) that would deepen the movie experience. So it's kind of a give-and-take.
My point is that mostly, comic book movies don't change the essence of the characters. You really like Iron Man on the big screen, chances are you can find a few graphic novels that'll give you a very similar experience. But most people won't seek those graphic novels out. It seems that comics still exist in something of a cultural ghetto, which brings me back to my original point—I think so many people enjoy comic-book movies because deep down the things all us devotees love about comics appeal to them, too. Just, for whatever reason—economic, time constraints, but also probably social—they don't make the leap to reading actual comics.
So here's my question for you: if you're someone who's going to see Avengers, but you have no interest in picking up an Avengers comic, honestly, why is that? Is it that you like the ideas and characters but just don't like the comic book medium? Is it a time or money thing? Or am I over-thinking this and you just straight-up like action movies no matter if they've got tights? Because that's also very possible.
But I think about those guys who came into our shop, and how thrilled they were that a new generation of kids would finally know who Iron Man was. To them, I think the movie did validate their interests. They suddenly felt like, because Hollywood was embracing their childhood passion, they didn't have to hide it anymore. Of course, any comics-reader will tell you that it's not an interest that needs validation… there are plenty of great comics out there, they're just not being devoured by an audience that's hungry for them. And putting something you secretly love up on a movie screen shouldn't make it any more okay to love it. So I'd really like to know why this phenomenon exists.