Movies Make Marvelous Comics (Mania.com)
Date: Wednesday, March 16, 2011
When DC announced plans for a series of original graphic novels featuring revamped versions of their most iconic heroes back in late 2009, Comicscape was all ears, and the Earth-One project killed more than two birds with one stone. Or at least, it will, if anything other than the Superman OGN is ever released.
Earth-One gave creators like J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis the chance to do an out-of-continuity update on Superman’s beginnings and (presuming he isn’t too busy being the Chief Creative Officer at DC) will eventually give Geoff Johns the same opportunity with Batman, teaming him with perennial favorite Gary Frank on art duties. It presents an opportunity for non-comic readers to experience the medium and the genre of superheroes without 75 years of confusing backstory, allowing them to start from scratch and read a complete story in one handy volume, rather than jumping into a periodical publication somewhere in the middle of a much larger tale. It gives the folks working at bookstores something easy to point people to when they come in asking for an easily accessible superhero book and of course, it gives us, the fanboys and girls, something fresh and exciting to complain about. So everybody wins, right? It’s sort of like Marvel’s Ultimate line, but in our humble opinion, better. Which begs the question, “When is Marvel going to follow suit?”
In a sense, Marvel already did it with the previously mentioned Ultimate line, which was intended to give readers that fresh start without a backlog of continuity. And to a great extent, it worked, though it didn’t take too long before the Ultimate line became bogged down in its own continuity. And these days, it seems like Marvel is ready to cut their losses and just kill the whole damn universe off. But that’s neither here nor there. The big differences between Ultimate and Earth One, in our eyes, are the format and treatment.
Earth One has been treated as an event and with the Superman book selling out and making headlines, it garnered a lot of mainstream attention for DC. And while you and I love our monthly books and our weekly trips to the comic shop, the average joe isn’t going to search online for a local comic shop after seeing the Thor movie only to shell out three bucks for 10 minutes of entertainment and they’re certainly not going to go back in 30 days for more. And even if they do, the first time the guy behind the counter informs them that the book shipped late, they’re done. That’s a potential reader who will instead stick with repeated viewings of a superhero flick on DVD.
But buying an original graphic novel, with a complete story, is a lot like buying a book. There’s a sense of satisfaction that comes with reading a story that actually has a beginning, middle and end, rather than going back month after month for a whole bunch of middles. Of course, you and I both know that a bunch of middles can be really sweet too, but that’s their loss, right? The average joe doesn’t always see it that way and if you want to try to convince them otherwise, we wish you the best of luck. God knows we have enough trouble convincing ourselves sometimes. Anyway, we think there’s a pretty simple way for Marvel to gain new readers as well as grab some headlines and it doesn’t even involve killing off another character every few months. Lets continue, shall we?
The Marvel Movieverse
In the past, Marvel has made a lot of money with movie adaptations and the continuing adventures of said movie adaptations. Remember the Star Wars comic? The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones? How about Machine Man? He was a spin-off of Kubrick’s 2001: a Space Odyssey, as hard as that may be to believe. It seems as though Marvel has an additional cash cow sitting right under their collective noses: Marvel Studios has been self-producing films for a while now and building not only a group of franchises, they’ve been building an on-screen universe much like the one we see on the printed page. Why not reverse-engineer the process and turn the Marvel film universe into its own imprint?
We’re not talking about several series’ of monthly comics here; we’re thinking that Marvel could imitate DC’s Earth One books by releasing two to four original graphic novels per year, set in the same universe that has been established in the Marvel films. Fans of the movies can walk into a bookstore more-or-less blind, ask for a “Marvel Movie Comic” and receive a story that features the exact same character they just saw in the theater, not a different guy under Cap’s mask or a red Hulk. They’ll get a complete story too, not 22 pages that starts in the middle of the action and ends with a cliffhanger or worse yet, just features 22 pages of Tony Stark in a board meeting with a bunch of stiffs.
Obviously, there are some potential problems. Much like Marvel’s old Star Wars comic, the creators’ hands will be tied by the fact that the movies will dictate what they can and can’t do in a story, but we’re thinking that the two-OGNs-per-year release schedule will help combat that somewhat. And hey, it’s not like you can’t tell a Hulk story that doesn’t have huge reprecussions on the film universe or a Captain America tale in which he thwarts some Nazi spies and doesn’t meet up with Tony Stark’s dad. These stories don’t have to be mini-movies, major events, sequels or prequels. In fact, we don’t want them to be! The intent here is to try to hook new readers who enjoy the films and want to get the chance to get a little more of what they love. But here’s the hook: if the stories are good and the art is good… then maybe there’s a chance they’ll check out the real Marvel Universe too.
And before you fire off a rant in the comment section, we know. We know that every Marvel comic should serve as an easy introduction to the Marvel U and new readers shouldn’t have to be spoonfed. But since that isn’t happening, we’re offering this as a potential solution. Will it work? Who knows? It can’t be any less successful at bringing in new readers than what Marvel is doing now, can it?
Are the iAvengers the Answer?
Marvel recently offered an eight-part digital comic series that serves as a prequel to the Captain America: First Avenger film for free download. Written by Fred Van Lente and featuring art by Luke Ross, Neil Edwards and Richard Isanove, the comic fleshes out some of the story and characters in the movie. It also serves as a great advertisement for the movie and an easy introduction to one of Marvel’s top characters. By placing it squarely in the “Marvel Movieverse”, it also ensures there’s no confusion among non-Marvel Zombies when the film is released. The guy in the comic is the same guy as the one in the movie. Hey… that’s a lot like what we’re suggesting, isn’t it?
And maybe going digital is the best way to do this? After all, we’re not looking at appealing to those of us who have 17 longboxes full of back issues in our closets; this plan is intended to appeal to the casual fan. The folks who don’t make the weekly trek to the comic shop and don’t care about history. We’re trying to appeal to the folks who want to read stories about the characters they saw in the movies. While we don’t see print going away any time soon, we’d be fools to dismiss digital comics. And if a Marvel movie can’t get people into comic shops, maybe it can get them into an Apple Store? As long as they’re buying comics, we don’t care.
We’ve already got the 616 universe, the Ultimate universe and the Marvel Adventures line, as well as a handful of non-continuity titles. A new imprint based on the Marvel film universe could potentially be a huge success and introduce a whole new demographic to the joy of sequential art. Superhero movies couldn’t exist without the source material but they do way bigger business. Maybe it’s time to capitalize on that success and turn it around to benefit the medium.