Sunday, March 1, 2015

Is The Power Rangers Fan Film Too Dark?

StevieB returns to the FBU with his opinion of the recent Power Rangers  fan film that was released last week:

So if you weren’t arguing about the color of a dress this week you may have checked out the short Power Ranger fan film directed by Joseph Kahn and produced by Adi Shankar (Dredd).

 I grew up in the 90’s: I was 8 when I first watched Power Rangers. I was the target for this “remake”.

The first time I watched this I absolutely loved it. I thought “This is exactly how an adult Power Ranger should be!” But after sitting with it for a while and watching it again, my mind changed. This short may have actually been too dark.

I know what a lot of you are thinking:

Look, I love the dark and gritty like any other twenty something male but I think this was over the top. For something like this to be successful as a legitimate remake it needs to appeal to both the young and the old. You can make a movie adult but keep it tame enough to also appeal to children. This is important because it’s currently on TV as a child’s show. There doesn’t need to be gratuitous sex scenes, hardcore drug use, and massive amounts of violence for the movie to appeal to multiple generations and actually be good.

From a fan perspective, I really didn’t like the helmet design.
The color matches and it has the mouth piece but that’s about as far as it resembles the original Pink Ranger Helmet. I was actually off-put by this even the first time I watched.

The costumes as well:

I’ve always thought that an “Adult Power rangers” would be more armored. The gloves and the skin tight costumes never made much sense. I mean, if you’re going to try to make it more adult at least make the costumes more believable.

I still think this was a well done Fan Film and a nice “Else Worlds” tale. A “What if?” if you will. It just doesn’t have the themes and fun that make Power Rangers what it is. I am still very much looking forward to the legitimate movie coming out next summer.

What did you think of the fan film?

You can still check it out here. Watch it while you can. Saban is fighting hard to have it taken down.

- StevieB

Monday, February 23, 2015

Spider-Man of Two Worlds

In case you haven't heard, Marvel Studios recently reached a historic deal with Sony Pictures paving the way for the third cinematic Spider-Man of this millennium.

Also, the Pope is Catholic.

Since there are still less than a million analyses of the implications on the World Wide Web, let's consider a question not getting much press:  Is this the beginning of the end for exclusive licensing of comic-book properties?
More Spider-Men!  More!

First, though, let's clarify what this Sony-Marvel partnership is and isn't.

Despite some oversimplified reporting, movie rights to Spider-Man are not reverting to Marvel.  They remain steadfastly under the control of Sony's Columbia Pictures, who acquired the license back in 1999.  What's new and novel here is that the licensee (Sony/Columbia) is willing to share rights to the character and mythos with another licensee — in this case, the wholly owned subsidiary of Marvel we know as Marvel Studios.  In other words, Sony is willingly turning a blind eye to the exclusivity promised them in their original licensing agreement.
It still comes as a surprise how much this brand is worth.

Not without reason.  The Amazing Spider-Man raked in $758 million worldwide, a pretty penny by anyone's standards.  Consider the massive costs of making star-heavy, effects-laden movies — Amazing had a production budget of $230 million — and the uncertain costs of promotion and paying whatever licensing fees and revenue-sharing are owed Marvel, and you begin to appreciate what an expensive house guest the Spider-Man license can be.  If Spider-Man is a goose that lays golden eggs — and it most certainly is — it's one that eats its weight in gold, too.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 did well internationally, but its take at the U.S. box office dropped off nearly a third from the original film in the series, leaving a beleaguered Sony, reeling from hacking and The Interview fiascoes, anxious to step off the path of diminishing returns represented by The Amazing Spider-Man 3 and start fresh.  The deal with Marvel allows them to do just that.

On their own, Sony had no creative excuse to relaunch the flagging Spider-Man franchise.  In a partnership with Marvel, they can "cater to the creative needs of the Marvel Cinematic Universe," bend to the will of fans who "want to see a more authentic Spider-Man," or whatever reasonable mandate fits the eventual reboot.  "Fantastic new opportunities for storytelling and franchise building," as Bob Iger says.

Movie-making is big-budget, high-stakes business.  Studios don't like to introduce more risk into the process than is already built in.  This is why most mainstream films hew to the same formulas and how what works once becomes an endless barrage of what once worked.  A film pushes the boundaries a bit, surprises audiences with its freshness, and a dozen imitators arise to reverse-engineer its plot, characters, or "attitude."  No business, even comics, is as rife with rules, formulas, and received wisdom as the film business.

Marvel Studios put itself on the map by pushing specific boundaries, by breaking a few silly rules anyone with half a brain could recognize as rules, formulas, and contrivances.  When Iron Man hit theaters in 2008, the consensus was that only top-shelf super-hero properties could build an audience.  (Only seven years later, it strains our internet-atrophied collective memory to recall a time when Iron Man wasn't a top-tier name.)  When The Avengers arrived in 2012, everyone knew you couldn't build a summer blockbuster that required knowledge of previous, largely unrelated film series — and that if you could do it once, you certainly couldn't repeat it, as the cost  of superstar actors would be prohibitively high.

As we head into the summer of the Avengers sequel, things have changed.  Rather than an underdog breaking the rules, Marvel Studios is the establishment.  The Marvel brand rides high on a crest of faith from its fans that invites religious comparisons.  This golden age can't last forever, but Sony (like everyone in the movie business) knows to play it safe — to go where the smart money is while it's there.  No matter how clever or bulletproof their plans for a third Amazing Spider-Man film may have have been, Sony could only hope, at best, to compete with the zeitgeist magic of "a Marvel movie."  Partnering with Marvel Studios and breaking one silly rule about exclusivity in movie licensing allows them to make both a Spider-Man movie (the latest in a long chain of comics' most valuable licensed property!) and a Marvel movie (from the studio that brought you all that is good in life!).

By ignoring the exclusivity of its licensing agreement and working with Marvel Studios, Sony is making a smart move in the short run — and changing the status quo for all of us in the long run.  Once a rule is broken (as Iron Man broke the second-tier comic character rule and Avengers the shared-universe rule), the genie is out of the bottle.  The inexorable laws of Hollywood economics insist the rule be "broken" again and again for maximum profit.

The pressure is on for 20th Century Fox to reach out to Marvel Studios' Kevin Feige in some way.  Unless Josh Trank's hail-Mary production of The Fantastic Four scores a touchdown in August, every eye in the room will be on Fox executives to pick up the telephone and make that call, to cash in on Marvelmania while there's still time.

Ezra Miller.
Grant Gustin.
John Wesley Shipp.
Marvel's deals aren't the only places we see signs of exclusivity eroding.  Although the Flash stars in his own weekly television series on the CW, Warner Bros. is developing a feature film starring a different actor (Ezra Miller) to be set in the shared universe introduced by Man of Steel.  Heck, Miller's casting was announced just as initial ratings for Grant Gustin's turn as the TV Flash were coming in, leading Arrow star Stephen Amell to chide the Bros. for impeccably bad timing.

With The Flash and Arrow doing well on television, it's clear neither DC nor Warner Bros. have a hang-up about their characters appearing in different versions in (ever-so-slightly) different media.  And let's not forget Arrow's penchant for using Batman-family characters, notably Rā's al Ghūl, who featured prominently in Christopher Nolan's recent Batman films.  Do we really expect Roy Harper to stay true to Arrow and not appear in some form on the upcoming Teen Titans show?

The plethora of super-hero stories on big and small screens proves non-niche audiences have an appetite for the genre.  Maybe there was a time in the past when publishers benefited from granting exclusive use of Superman or Spider-Man to a single network or movie studio, but today's TV and movie makers are more than willing to negotiate for a slice of the Spider-Man pie rather than go without.  Even the publishers, creatures of habit though they are, are beginning to realize they're in the driver's seat.

The writing is on the wall:  Exclusive licensing is a bad deal for the IP holder and no longer necessary to get wider exposure.

It's past time for this change.  The notion characters must be licensed to a single studio is a silly rule, rooted in underestimating audiences and sheer, ignorant inertia.  Sony's willingness to look the other way, to "break" the rule, may be the thin end of the wedge here — the beginning of a flood of imitative deals that will leave licensed characters (and audiences) better off in the long run.

Not that long ago, everyone in television believed audiences had neither the capacity nor inclination to remember continuity from week to week.  Episodes of TV shows stood alone and could be watched in any order, stymieing long-term character development or plot pay-offs.  The networks got over that bit of so-called wisdom, and audiences now follow season-long arcs and even entire shows built around a single plot progression, like Breaking Bad.

So give me three Spider-Men.  Personally, I'd have loved Columbia to finish its Amazing Spider-Man trilogy with Andrew Garfield as it was promoting the arrival of a brand-new Spider-Man in Marvel Film to Be Announced (But We All Think It's Civil War).  In an age of cord-cutters and savvy television audiences who throw around the term "shared universe" as comfortably as any fanzine writer of the 1970s, no one would be confused by two Spider-Men.

A parting thought:  Since Marvel is now farming out part of its core Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity to Sony, would it be willing to do the same with future projects?  Looked at through a certain lens, isn't that what it's doing with ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter and the Netflix Defenders family of shows?  Could the Spider-Man deal open the door for partnerships with Lionsgate or Focus Features?  Might we finally get that Wes Anderson Power Pack movie I'm hankering for?

Monday, February 16, 2015

The END of the DC New 52

This week Blair gives us his opinion on the recent news that DC is making some pretty drastic editorial changes in June. Some of these changes sound pretty good, but as Blair explains, some could be better. - Jim

Last week, DC Comics made a surprise announcement regarding their plans after the Convergence crossover event. And to hear DC tell it, the era of The New 52 is over. According to DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio,
 “in this new era of storytelling, story will trump continuity as we continue to empower creators to tell the best stories in the industry.”

“Story will trump continuity.” What does that even mean? Does that imply that writers now have a greenlight to trample over other stories as they see fit? We kind of already had that at DC and at Marvel. Even within some of the biggest crossovers at both companies, consistency of story and character can be pretty non-existent. 

The ability to ignore continuity is something that comic creators have begged for in the past... not that it ever stopped them before. And I won’t shed any tears over the loss of the New 52... especially since it’s not actually going anywhere. DC later put out a statement that clarified that the 2011 reboot continuity is still in effect.

The bigger question is whether DC’s newest shake up can lure back lapsed readers and regain some of the sales momentum from the early days of The New 52. For me personally, I don’t think it’s enough. I see a lot of buzzwords in the announcement like “inclusive,” "contemporary," and "accessible;" which in theory sound like good ideas. But in execution?

Bleeding Cool’s Rich Johnston has characterized DC’s latest moves as a response to the success of the Batgirl of Burnside creative reboot by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr. To be sure, that book has been a success story for DC that brought renewed interest to Batgirl and Tarr’s artwork has been very pleasing to look at.

But as a template for the DC Universe, I don’t think that this Batgirl title should be the guiding light. I really wanted this to be something that I could get behind, but the title character as written by Stewart and Fletcher doesn’t seem like Barbara Gordon to me. Under their pen, she’s kind of a ditz, and she’s a lot less competent than she used to be. I understand that imperfect characters are more interesting than perfect heroes, but Barbara Gordon has lost a lot of the defining characteristics that made her so likable to me in exchange for character traits designed to make her seem younger and more hipster. 

I’ll give Geoff Johns this: at least his recent Superman run felt like a Superman story that could have been at home in almost any era. 

 His Clark Kent and Superman had an innate consistency with the core of his character that the new Barbara Gordon lacks. It’s not like we have this problem with Batman. He was one of the few characters to enter The New 52 largely unchanged, and Scott Snyder has been a very solid writer on that book. 

As much as I’d like to see the DC Universe I grew up with make a full time comeback, I know that’s never going to happen. You won’t see Wally West as a full grown married man with superpowered children outside of Convergence. James Gordon isn’t getting his white hair back any time soon and the only Justice Society sticking around will be the Ultimates-lite version hanging around on Earth 2, not the originals from WW II.

Will we ever see the Original JSA Members again?
I miss that pre-Flashpoint world. But I’m not so desperate to get it back that I’ll buy anything with the characters that I loved just because it’s in front of me. 

There are some encouraging things in DC’s announcement. I think that having Bryan Hitch back for a second run on Justice League of America could be a lot of fun... depending upon how well he can write. One of DC’s tactics to lure the big name artists appears to have been offering them the chance to write their own titles. That’s one of the reasons that David and Meredith Finch are co-writing Wonder Woman. 

But I still have to wonder how committed DC is to this current course of action. This feels less like a fresh start and more like one of Marvel’s annual “let’s relaunch everything!” initiatives. 

Believe it or not, I’d actually like to see DC succeed in bringing in new readers and new audiences. I just want to be able to enjoy the comics with them, rather than see some of my favorite characters twisted and contorted into something that I no longer recognize. 

- Blair

Friday, February 6, 2015

10 Things About the Daredevil Trailer

Nice to meet you!
Recently, Jim asked me to kibitz with him about the state of DC Comics.  If you caught that post, you may have noticed we share a common fondness for the bygone days of comics and a keen curiosity about their future, both as a medium and as a business.  We both grew up surrounded by comics, got liberal arts degrees, then swerved into careers on the World Wide Web.  We met when I worked in comics retail and Jim was transitioning from early adopter of digital comics to wild-eyed prophet.  It's an honor to be Jim's guest here, and I hope you'll indulge me as we look backward and forward together, talking about everything from back issues to digital formats, databases to nostalgia.
— Scott Simmons

Unless you're living in the bombed-out wreckage of a Blockbuster Video, I imagine you've seen the teaser trailer for Marvel's Daredevil series, coming to Netflix April 10.  Let's take a closer look and count down its virtues and vices, Flashback-style.

1. Catholicism is front and center.  The first thing Netflix tells us about this Matt Murdock is his religion, and it reveals more of the series' backdrop than that tired old shorthand "Catholic guilt."  Murdock's unease is no hand-wringing nag of conscience but the existential burden of the human condition: Try as he might to stay out of trouble, he finds himself morally compelled to act.  Daredevil is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't, steeped in a fatalism that strikingly complements that of Netflix's flagship shows, House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black.

Daredevil: Born Again
Religious iconography?  In Daredevil?
@ Amazon
2. And yet — no devil suit.  Sure, he'll have the iconic suit (or some version thereof) at some point in the series, but to leave it out of a trailer steeped in Catholic trappings is to miss an opportunity to demonstrate what makes Daredevil tick.  At his core, Daredevil is a mass — sorry; litany? — of contradictions:  A would-be good Christian who dresses as the devil to uphold his morals, a lawyer who breaks the law to uphold it, a man who abhors violence yet excels in it.  Excluding the secular icon that is DD's super-hero suit, the religious iconography of the trailer feels orphaned, perhaps even squandered.  I can't help thinking of an early trailer for 24 that failed to explain the real-time/24-hour conceit of the show.  Super-heroes aren't the only ones known for wearing red longjohns, and a trailer with no hint of horns is a Garden of Eden without a serpent.

3. Then again, this is only the first teaser trailer.  Maybe there's a reason to hold off on the suit.  There should be at least one more trailer before April 10, and the vast majority of the public, who don't set Google alerts for "Daredevil+Netflix" and pore over spy photos from movie sets will be encountering Netflix Daredevil for the first time in this trailer.  Leading with the devil duds may give cousin Norma a distorted view of Daredevil, maybe even leading her to write it off as "a super-hero show" (whatever that means these days).  So saving them for a second-trailer reveal could be smart marketing and smart storytelling — lop-sided iconography be damned.

4. No lawyerin'.  Not one shot of a courtroom?  Cousin Norma is going to have no idea what Matt Murdock does for a living!  The law is more than a colorful backdrop for Daredevil's office antics.  It's the rock on which Daredevil is built:  Street crime threatens it; failure to keep it (in the religious sense) is the source of all that delicious Catholic tension.  Just as there's no Fall without a paradise, there's no Daredevil without the law.  Focusing with such intensity on faith and crime in the trailer but not even mentioning the law is surely an oversight.  Plus, as Jim points out, audiences love a courtroom drama.  They loved James Spader as Alan Shore on Boston Legal, and they love him as Red Reddington on The Blacklist.  In Daredevil, Netflix is giving audiences both Spaders at once.  How is Papa 'Flix not exploiting that?

5. This masterful bit of mise en scène.  Two differently-shaped canvases on a wall evoke the panels and gutters of a comic book.  The canvases sport two tones, left to right, suggestive of old, yellowed newsprint and modern slick printing.  A lone figured framed against the larger canvas occupies it like a character in a comic book panel, except he stands in relief to the "panel," undeniably three-dimensional.  3-D as the camera gives us maybe the widest array of colors it will offer in this trailer.  Though it's a limited palette, it's subdued and stands in contrast to the four CMYK colors of the traditional comics page.  This is a beautiful, evocative image that almost works as a thesis for adapting comics to the screen.

6. Despite that, for a teaser trailer, it's light on the visuals.  Teasers are usually sumptuous, or at least visually punchy.  This one's dark and perfunctory, anything but flashy.  Given Daredevil's comic-book roots, I expected a trailer built on sweeping imagery rather than story-specific set-up beats.  But then, the first trailers for House of Cards were visually pedestrian, too, relying on Kevin Spacey as their single special effect.  Marco Polo's initial trailer was highly visual, though, seducing the eye rather than the ear.  Here, Netflix goes for the House of Cards approach.  Daredevil being blind, there's a fair point in aiming the trailer at senses other than sight.  That would be smart, but I doubt it's the intent here.

7. Because the trailer doesn't evoke the other senses particularly well.  The audio and visuals are slightly out of sync, creating a sense of disorientation and even obfuscating bits of the introduction of Matt Murdock.  Can cousin Norma, who's being introduced to Matt Murdock here, tell he's blind from watching the trailer?  We have the shot of him walking up the aisle toward the sanctuary, clacking his cane — but the cut to the confessional is quick, and it's easy to miss the half-second establishing shot that confirms the man with the cane is the man speaking to the priest.  If there are aesthetic benefits to the fuzzy-edged and/or dark shots, the too-quick cuts, the lack of establishing shots, and the crowded soundtrack, those are outweighed by the impact all this disorientation has on clarity.

8. The snippets of incidental dialogue that crowd out Matt's monologue, however, are well choreographed.  They reveal character and subtly shade our expectations.  "You think this is still about you," for example, indicates the arrogance it takes to don a mask and set about solving your neighbors' problems with violence, regardless of to whom the line is actually addressed in the episode.

9. The music is underwhelming.  Last year's Guardians of the Galaxy went unapologetically kitschy for its soundtrack, but to date that's the sole exception to Marvel Studios' penchant for low-key soundtracks that keep their heads down and try not to call attention to themselves.  The incidental music (or maybe it's just sound design?) we hear in the Daredevil trailer is typically restrained.  I don't know that Daredevil calls for a flamboyant sonic identity, and I doubt Netflix aims to discover or create the next Wes Anderson (who builds elaborate, immersive musical worlds for his films).  But I do look forward to the next Marvel Cinematic Universe outing that has a little spring in its step.

10. Cuff links.  Daredevil is going to put cuff links on the map.  Stop rolling up your sleeves now.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The End of The Marvel Universe

This week Blair gives us his opinion on the recent news that the end of the end of the Marvel Universe has been made official: Note - there may be one than one post on this topic this week as this has been a widely discussed event among many of the contributors to his blog. - Jim

I am not happy. 

In fact, I’m pretty pissed off about this week’s news that the Marvel Universe as we know it coming to an end. The 616 Marvel U is being smashed into the 1610 Ultimate Marvel Universe to form the basis of a new Marvel Universe once Secret Wars is over. And it looks like this may be the dreaded Marvel reboot that the longtime fans have feared for years.

It doesn’t help when Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso uses this analogy to describe the results “Imagine two pizzas: They're going to combine toppings, some toppings are going to drop off. And that is the Marvel Universe moving forward.”

Yeah... I don’t want that. At all.  

I understand the ridicule that comes with being a grown man who loves superhero comics. But I am so far past caring about that at this point. I’ve loved superhero comics my entire life, but I’m more of a Marvel guy than a DC guy. DC has a lot of amazing and iconic superheroes, but I’ve always identified more strongly with the Marvel characters. 

Marvel also had the advantage of never having a reboot. At least, not a complete reboot. Every few years, Marvel creators tend to retcon out some aspect of its backstory that no longer makes sense in a modern context. That’s why Tony Stark now became Iron Man in Afghanistan instead of Vietnam. That’s why Mr. Fantastic and The Thing weren’t actually World War II buddies with Nick Fury once the ‘70s and ‘80s happened.  

It’s a rolling timeline, and fans came to accept that because it meant that most of Marvel’s history was intact. We could overlook the fact that decades of stories were being condensed into an unrealistic ten to fifteen year time frame because it meant that our Marvel Universe never went away. For better or worse, everything in Marvel counted... unless it was unnecessarily retconned by later writers. 

Having come to DC Comics largely after Zero Hour, I didn’t feel the same way about Crisis on Infinite Earths and the big changes that it made to DC’s comics. But for the old school DC fans, it must have been like the gut punch that I felt when The New 52 jettisoned most of the non-Batman or non-Green Lantern stories. That’s the problem with dumping so much history for  a reboot. I loved the DC characters just the way they were. However, I don’t feel the same connection to their new incarnations. They may look the same (with some newer costumes that are uglier than their old costumes), but they are most definitely not the same. 

That was one of the reasons I never really got into the Ultimate Universe beyond The Ultimates and Ultimate Spider-Man’s early years. The first 25 issues of those Ultimate titles felt like something fresh and special, which I largely attribute to Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar bringing something new to the table. However, at no point did I ever want the Ultimate Universe to supplant the Marvel Universe. If you were a comic fan 14 years ago, you may recall that as a constant rumor that never came to pass. Unless it’s happening right now.

The thing that really bothers me about this is how unnecessary it is. It’s not like Marvel needs an excuse to slap a new # 1 on every one of their books. They do it almost every two to three years, and it’s rare for any title to hit # 50 in this era. As for accessibility for the fabled new readers, that was the initial goal for the Ultimate comics line. And it actually worked for a few years before it was bogged down by the weight of its own continuity. If they try that again now, history will only repeat itself.

When Millar left the Ultimate books, the line never recovered. Bendis has kept Ultimate Spider-Man going, but the only thing still worthwhile in the Ultimate Universe is Miles Morales. That’s it. Do we really have to go through Secret Wars just to transfer Miles to the regular Marvel Universe? Because you know that’s gonna happen. Most of the Ultimate Universe’s greatest heroes have already been killed off (mostly by Jeph Loeb), and I was okay with that because it wasn’t in the “real” Marvel Universe and a lot of those characters never resonated with me in the way that their 616 counterparts did. 

It possible that Marvel is playing us all and the changes to the Marvel Universe will only be cosmetic. Maybe most of what we love about Marvel will be more or less the same after Secret Wars is over. All we know for sure is that this will lead to another round of multiple relaunches and numerous tie-in one-shots and miniseries. 

But the powers that be at Marvel sure seem to enjoy making the fans feel angst about the fate of their comic book universe. Perhaps they’re right to do so if it means bigger sales and it finally brings in new readers. However, I am extremely apprehensive about the whole thing. 

Alonso is fond of saying that Marvel’s history isn’t broken and the company doesn’t need to reboot even while he hints that this might actually be a reboot. To that I say, “you break it, you bought it.” I’ve come to realize that the characters’ histories are part of the reason that I care so deeply about them. Without their backstories, a lot of the same creations felt like empty ciphers in the Ultimate Universe.

If the same thing happened to the Marvel Universe, it might mean that I finally have to divorce myself from this side of the hobby that I love so much. I really and truly do not want to do that. Avengers and Secret Wars writer Jonathan Hickman has signaled his desire to take some time off from Marvel after this event to focus on his creator owned comics. I think Hickman is a very talented writer, and I just hope he doesn’t burn down the castle on his way out the door.

That’s how I feel about it. Unleash your opinion below!

- Blair

Monday, January 19, 2015

How would you fix the DC universe?

Assisting me today with a speculative post on how to fix the DC universe is my good friend Scott Simmons. In thinking on the topic, I reached out to Scott because not only is he wise and well-spoken, but he also has extensive experience in comic book sales. (He worked at a local comics shop, Heroes and Dragons, on and off during the late '90s and early 2000s, during which he saw the end of the boom and the beginnings of the shift to digital.)

I notice a trend among commenters on the blog to lament what they see as the sorry state of the DC New 52 universe. While I'm not as down on the current line of DC comics as some people, I will admit that there is a real lack of innovation and differentiation among the titles. They tend to have the same look and feel. As a result, while sales seem okay (bolstered as they are by the weekly series and gimmick covers), there is no denying that, line-wide, DC is in a creative slump that is affecting sales. As proof of this, I offer up the recent mega-cancellation of 13 DC titles coming in a few months.

This saddens me, because as much as I like the Marvel universe, I consider myself a DC fan. So, in typical armchair quarterback fashion, I asked myself how would I fix DC and this is what I came up with:

As I see as the problem - regardless of how many titles DC puts out, they tend to fall into the same category, Superhero Fight Comics. And that's all they are.

What if instead, they actually treated their comics line like a book publisher, with different genres:
  • Humor
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Science Fiction
  • Drama
  • Romance (that sounds like a weird one, but at one time Romance comics were huge AND they still hold the record for fastest growing genre/trend in the industry.)
For instance, for humor, they could put out these titles:

Jimmy Olsen
Blue Beetle and Booster Gold
Thunderworld (C. C. Beck-styled Marvel Family adventures)

Then, clearly brand the various titles by genre to make it easy for readers to find what they like. In a way, Vertigo used to work like this (sort of, but I think it got confused as time went on) and I recall many podcasters who said they would always try a new Vertigo title because that was brand they trusted.

With that as my proposed solution, I reached out to Scott to see what he thought of the idea. Here's what Scott said:

Your idea's a good one, and I may surprise you by stealing most of it and claiming it as my own!  If you were hoping for a wildly different answer, I hate to disappoint — though maybe I can redeem myself by explaining that I arrive at a similar conclusion by traveling a slightly different path.

However you feel about DC Comics now, you can't deny the company owned the 1990s.  Or that it had the greatest variety of output any comics publisher has ever enjoyed during that period.  (Yes, even including the late Golden Age, before the super-hero ascended as the one genre to rule all of comics.)

DC's success wasn't just because of Sandman or The Death of Superman.  It was because, as you point out, DC published a wide variety of titles in the '90s and leveraged their corporate parentage to penetrate every existing niche market within comics.

There were super-hero titles, sure — competitive ones, fighting variant-cover-for-variant-cover with Marvel and Image.  Superman #75, the climax of the aforementioned Death of Superman, nearly matched numbers with X-Men #1 and X-Force #1 — heck, it outsold McFarlane's Spider-Man #1 — and it did it on the basis of a story, albeit a gimmicky one, rather than first-issue-fueled speculation.

But there were also horror titles (Hellblazer), science fiction (the Helix line), fantasy (Books of Magic), crime (Road to Perdition), magical-realist autobiography (Brooklyn Dreams), and even a bit of dabbling in war and western genres.  Romance even managed to come up for a breath of air via the hybrid super-hero romance Young Heroes in Love

Back to super-heroes for a moment, though.  DC's titles within the genre were far from homogeneous.  The Flash served up then-unfashionable Silver Age nostalgia, Lobo offered humor, Animal Man brought metatextuality to the fore, and Doom Patrol and Justice League Europe carved out a niche for thought-provoking mainstream comics with a philosophical grounding we might best describe as "art school comics."

The variety didn't stop with the comics!  DC put movies in theaters (though perhaps not ones you'd want to bring up to modern audiences) and beloved cartoons on the TV.  They turned those Dini/Timm cartoons into a beloved line of all-ages Adventures books, at just the moment mainstream distribution was drying up and comics stores were strange, intimidating places for women, children, and civilians to venture into.

The best part about all that diversity, though, the part no one ever mentions, is that (before Vertigo veered off into its own land at the end of the decade), it all happened in the same shared universe.

In the 1990s, when it ruled the world, DC Comics reached the apex of a publishing strategy it had had for a half century:  Letting everything "count."

Notice I didn't say "making everything count," but "letting" — because it doesn't take as much effort as one might think.  DC pioneered the strategy of building a diverse publishing line back in the Golden Age — first by expanding into original material in comic books instead of just publishing reprints of newspaper strips, then by introducing a hybrid genre influenced by the pulps and adventure stories, the super-hero.  Throughout the era, the company expanded its genre offerings to serve every audience it could find: super-heroes, funny animals, horror, crime, Westerns, science fiction, literary adaptations.  Many of those genres eventually faded, but when DC reinvigorated the super-hero during the Silver Age, one of its first moves (via Gardner Fox and Julius Schwartz) was to reference and bring back the heroes of the Golden Age.  All these different comics, conceived for different audiences, existed side by side in DC's stable.

And the company's leadership didn't have to work at it, as such.  They just had to stand aside, remembering wise old Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once cautioned, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

The world we live in is one of diversity.  It's a world that comprises both ISIS beheadings and the city of San Francisco's outpouring of kindness for Batkid.  Neil deGrasse Tyson exists alongside Charles Manson and Pee-wee Herman.  Adherents of Richard Dawkins and those of Joel Osteen leer suspiciously at one another beneath the same sky.

A DC Universe that allows Jamie Delano's vision of John Constantine, Phil Foglio's of Angel and the Ape, and Denny O'Neil's of Batman to breathe the same air is more than fun, more than a novelty.  It's realistic, in a way we rarely use that word.

The 21st century has brought a lot of lip service to diversity, and DC has, accidentally or by design, branded themselves as the anti-diversity publisher.  While many critics focus on the narrow range of ethnic, social, national, and sexual traits among the publisher's super-heroes, we should also consider the monotony and homogeneity of their titles.  Modern DC publishes, relentlessly, for a niche.  What's killing the company (and saddening its fans) isn't that the niche they publish for is the lowest common denominator; it's that it's only a niche, when DC has for decades reached out to publish not just pandering fantasies for a small segment of fans but a four-color representation of the breadth of the world, as seen through the lens of comics' best and brightest creators.

So what does DC need?  I think you've nailed it:  variety.

- Scott

Sunday, January 11, 2015

James Bond in Public Domain?

io9 had an interesting article about the fact that the early works of Ian Fleming are now public domain in Canada.

 As the article explains...

Broadly, this means that Fleming's Bond books can be published and sold by anyone in Canada, there could be Canadian film adaptations of the novels, and people could write their own Bond stories. So long as they did these things in Canada or one of the other countries where Bond is now in the public domain. It gets trickier if you try to leave the borders of those countries.

Which is to say, you COULD produce a comic book using James Bond (but none of the stuff from the movies which did not appear in the books) as long as you only sold the book within Canada (and the other countries Bond is in public domain.)

What the article doesn't say is how do you market such a book? One might think that the name James Bond is a protected trademark, but apparently, that's not entirely true as Danjaq LLC, the company behind the Bond franchise hasn't been able to successful secure it's brand against third parties using it.

Currently, kindle (Amazon eReader) versions of the old books are selling for $7.99 but I have to wonder how long that will last. Currently, you can pick up kindle complete compendiums of of HP Lovecraft books for much cheaper than that.

- Jim


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