The Underappreciated Art of Visual Storytelling in Comic Book Films

By-Jane Gana

I’ve always wondered why visual storytelling doesn’t get the attention is deserves in comic book films. That’s not to say that art is no longer appreciated, because it is, and you’ll see many who will point out the beauty in movie shots and the expertise of the coloring, framing, and so on. Though it seems that a large portion of the general audience will rave about the beauty of said shots, they don’t always analyze them for deeper meanings in the way they do with dialogue.

There are some who feel the way a film is shot in a comic book film is not important because they don’t take the medium seriously. To many, a “superhero film” does not need to have a profound story or have multiple layers as long as they have the requisite, fun, humor and explosions. To me, the art of visual storytelling in this medium needs to be given the same kind of attention that compositions in music, pictures, writing, and every other form of expression do.

Let’s take one director for example: Zack Snyder. I understand that some people find him divisive and not all share his vision, but the one thing that is almost universally agreed upon is that he creates fantastic visuals. As someone who enjoys and follows his work, I feel very connected to his style.  Zack Snyder, who also happens to be dyslexic, uses visual storytelling and larger than life shots to create a layered meaning, Even in his interviews, he makes wide gestures and movements with his hands, a sign of that he is someone who relies on visually expressing himself and that translates to his films.


Snyder’s ability to craft beautiful, painting-like films reminiscent of the Greco-Roman Hellenistic era is remarkable. You can see that he spends much time and effort crafting his shots, hand drawing each one before it gets shot.  After looking at this beauty, one “criticism” that often gets thrown his way is that he is a “style over substance” director. My answer back would be,  Why can’t his style be his substance? The point of any art form is to express what you have to say. If Zack expresses the messages of his films through his shots, it is a valid way of doing so. If you don’t agree with what he has to say, that is fair, everyone is entitled to like to dislike something as they please. My overall point is to retort the notion that visual storytelling is not a valid way for a director to express themselves.


To help illustrate my point let me paint you a picture, so to speak. Two children are taken to a park by a teacher and told to describe the park on a piece of paper. The first child writes a composition, describing every minute detail, beautifully stringing words together; he remembered to mention that there was rust on an old lamp pole and that the park bench had a dent in it. People see this first child’s essay and rightfully praise it, applauding his attention to detail and how good he is at expressing his thoughts. Now, the second child also described the park; he drew a picture and he included everything in it that the first child did,  even remembering to illustrate the dent and the rust. People look at the second child’s drawing too and also compliment it; they talk about how beautiful it is and how well he draws. He doesn’t get any praise about his intellect or comments about how skilled he is at expressing himself though.

You see, like in the second child’s experience, visual storytelling very often only gets a superficial look. You’d hear that there were many cool shots in Batman v Superman, but you’d never hear that the Superman-saving-people montage had him slowly drag a ship using a chain on his shoulder, or how he lifted a rocket above his head – the weight causing him to go down into a crouching position. Both moments symbolizing how Superman carries the weight of the world of his shoulders and how, despite his vast strength, it is almost too much for him to bear.


You’d hear about how badass Batman looked in his fight scenes, but you’d never hear about how interesting it was that every time Bruce Wayne/Batman entered a scene vertically he was descending – symbolizing his fall from grace. During the titular Batman/Superman fight scene we saw Superman continuously throwing him upwards only for Batman to continuously take the fight lower and lower till he literally hit rock bottom, alluding to the fact that this wasn’t really a physical fight but a struggle for Batman’s soul. It wasn’t until he was “saved” that we saw him ascend on his own; using the batwing for the first time in the film and entering the warehouse fight from the ground up.


There are many more instances such as these, like how the Christ symbolism that certain fans complained about was only from the viewpoint of the people Superman saved, while he only saw himself as a man. It wasn’t until the people and Batman – both with their human mortality – saw him as a man too that he began to really matter to them. All of these things were expressed through visuals, and when you open your mind to the deeper meanings you get a much more fleshed out and layered film. Unfortunately, in the case of Snyder it seems that a lot of people have already married themselves to the idea that he’s just some dude bro, “yeah, yeah, cool, cool” guy who lucked into filmmaking when has no business being there, this mindset it flawed and doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what the director has done in his career.


To close, even if Snyder’s style isn’t your cup of tea, I advise you all to give further consideration to the visuals you see in all the films you watch and show a bit more love to the art of visual storytelling. In comic book films, only a handful of directors used visual storytelling to convey their message. Richard Donner, Sam Raimi, Christopher Nolan, and of course, Zack Snyder, all fall into this category. I recommend you all to look deeper into the shots and composition of the films you watch, even superhero films, chances are you’ll find layers you never recognized before.