Two upcoming events have got my old wheels turning on a subject that I find has many people divided. In all honesty, I’m not sure that some people even see it as an issue, and it might be just the overheated nostalgic brain of mine, seeing conspiracies where there are none, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. The event’s I’m talking about are the new Secret Wars from Marvel Comics, and Convergence from DC comics.
Full disclosure: I am a complete superhero junkie. I have loved the genre since the first time I picked up a comic book, and still love it to this day. I also feel that the best era of comics ran from late seventies up through the 1980’s, before the darkest days of superhero comics came on the scene in the 1990’s. Now, before you get your undies in a bind, I do think that many great stories and series have come into being since the 1980’s, but what I think the genre has lost is a steady and firm guiding hand. With the increasing involvement of corporate hands In the pot, the two major superhero publishers lost sight, in my opinion, of what made them great in the first place. And the commitment to producing great stories seems to have taken a back seat to which gimmicks will most effectively increase sales. But back to the matter at hand, and in my opinion, just another in a long line of gimmicks and ploys devised to bring in new readers, boost sales, and or punish the sins of earlier business ventures.
Let’s start with Marvel and it’s upcoming new Secret Wars event, which will be the company’s first major reboot. This story claims that it will delve into all of Marvel’s past divergent worlds and timelines, bringing together all the heroes and villains we love for one rip-roaring battle, that in the end will completely remake the entire Marvel universe. Just like the relaunch of the new Star Trek franchise from director J. J. Abrams, which left the old canon theoretically still “valid” while taking the latest versions of its heroes to a new alternate universe
So why do this? Was there something wrong with the current Marvel continuity? Well, despite the confusion that was caused when they changed the numbering system and relaunched every book with a new number one, then switched it back to the original numbering system, or the new trend of canceling and relaunching titles over and over again (for example, Daredevil, since 2000, has been canceled and relaunched three times and, if rumors are true, will be canceled and relaunched again after Waid and Samnee finish their current run) despite all that, the real troubling thing with this trend is that the book wasn’t canceled to languish in obscurity due to lack of sales. No, each cancellation was immediately followed by a relaunch. So why do something like that? The common theory is that it gives new readers a place to jump into reading the series. While that’s a nice idea, we all know it’s nothing more than a marketing ploy to take advantage of the uptick in sales from a new issue one. So is this newest gimmick just another way of increasing sales? Nope, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.
The slate of titles at Marvel seems to change with the wind, with the hottest characters constantly being thrown into new series, as the publisher tries to maximize sales based on the strength of those characters rather than the stories. That said, I believe the this upcoming event has nothing to do with streamlining the now confusing output from Marvel, or boosting sales. This sweeping change to Marvel comes down from on high, from the mighty overlord Disney, but why?
As many of you probably know, the film rights to many Marvel characters had been doled out to several different studios before Disney bought up the company. Most notably, the X-Men reside at Twentieth Century Fox, and Spider-Man at Sony. Disney despises the fact that these characters are not in the house, available for them to brush with their magic movie wand, making Disney billions in ticket sales-figures that make comics sales look like peanuts. And small peanuts, at that.
It’s a proven fact that Disney has the magic touch when it comes to producing and making Marvel movies, but the success of the X-Men movies, and the one-time successful Spider-Man franchise, is driving Disney crazy. So what can Disney do to combat this? Well, for starters, they can cancel the comics for the properties they don’t own the movie rights to.
As of this writing, Fantastic Four and Deadpool have already been sent to the chopping block, Wolverine has been killed, and Marvel is steadily chipping away at the X-titles, whittling them down and changing their line-up of characters to the point that they in no way resemble what we are seeing in the movies. A solid practice for a large company, but where does that leave the loyal fan of these characters? Out in the cold, but not for long, because Disney and Marvel have a solution for this predicament. While the solution doesn’t get the film rights back, at least not right away, it opens up a loophole in which to circumnavigate the problem. That solution is to blow up the whole Marvel universe, and start over.
So what will come out of this new Secret Wars? A lot of things that look like our old favorites, but are different enough to allow Disney to play with them as they see fit. And it appears that Sony is feeling some of the heat from the tactics used by Disney and Marvel, because of all the joint collaboration talks between the two in 2014 and continuing into 2015. While Sony hasn’t given in yet, and nothing is official, the newest rumor is that Spider-Man might make his first cinematic debut for Marvel Studios in Avengers: The Infinity War pat 1. That’s great for fans of the movies, but not so great for those of us that are avid Marvel comic readers, why: because it shows that the strong arm tactics being used in the printed books is working, and we can expect more of it until all of the properties are home at Disney and Marvel.
So in the end, we get a completely retooled universe, one that was brought about not because of a great new story idea, taking the characters, and the readers, to new and better stories, but simply a way to help Disney make money off of those properties. I’m not against a business doing well, and making as much profit as they can, but the writer in me cringes at the idea that the creative process has been hijacked by the simple motivation of profit. Don’t get me wrong a good writer can take any situation and turn it into a great story, but you put them behind the creative eight-ball when you do things this way. Unfortunately, this is the world we find our beloved heroes living in these days. Gone are the days when the two major superhero publishers would try to boost sales with better stories and art. Now the genre is driven by shock value, and ways to twist the characters around to maximize their big-screen potential.
In the next two instalments I will be taking a look at DC and their Convergence storyline (You really didn’t think I’d leave them off the hook, did you?), and then finally take a look at the world of indie superheroes, from publishers like Image, Dynamite and Dark Horse.