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Saturday, August 02, 2014 

Too many changes to match the movies

Screen Crush told about all the changes that keep getting made to superhero comics to match the movies, a problem that's gotten way out of hand since it was first done with X-Men in 2000. At the beginning though, they say:
Believe it or not, there was a time when Iron Man was a C-list superhero who no one outside of a small niche particularly cared about.
I disagree. Long before the movies, there were some toy action figures, cartoons and games based on Iron Man that proved he had some significance. Today, nobody cares about the comics because the writing ceased to be about plausible character situations - the backbone for enjoyment of these stories - and became 99 percent stunts to generate 15 minutes of fame.
...despite all of their big screen successes, the comic book industry hasn’t seen that much change in terms of sales. Only the smallest fraction of people who made ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ a smash hit actually buy Captain America comics. Marvel (and DC comics, too) wants movie fans to buy comics. They want people to see ‘The Avengers’ and head out to their local comic shop and pick up some issues. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to manipulate and modify the Marvel universe to make it more accessible to newbies, wildly changing characters and teams and rewriting comic lore to make the jump from film to paper easier.

Of course, the big concern is whether or not this approach attracts new readers or simply alienates old readers. Heavy-hitters like Spider-Man, Batman and the X-Men have generally stayed the same over the years, but the same cannot be said for other lesser known DC and Marvel characters. Some of these changes have been perfectly fine. Some have made their series better. Some have been downright disastrous. [...]
I think a lot of these changes have been disastrous. Let's take the change to the X-Men's costumes in the early 90s, when Grant Morrison was writing as an example (and even before that, Chris Claremont made some puzzling changes in superpowers). A change like that is superficial at best; it's not character drama-based. And even quite a few of the changes that ostensibly were character based turned out so contrived (and under Morrison's helming, very alienating) - even when supposedly based on what the movie featured - that it should be no surprise moviegoers didn't care, if they wanted to read the comics at all. This can be blamed on the writers, some of whom are so terrible, even formerly well regarded writers like Claremont, their scripting wouldn't appeal to a lot of moviegoers.

The site goes on to list a few examples from recent superhero films and what changes found their way into the comics. For example, there's Iron Man:
...Within months of the film’s release, the comic version of Tony was sporting facial hair that closely matched Robert Downey Jr.’s trendy goatee and his dialogue became snarky and sarcastic, capturing the acidic wit Downey brought to the character. Suddenly, Iron Man was a charming quip-machine who represented his cinematic counterpart more than the character who had existed on the page before. There’s nothing especially awful about this — there’s a reason people love Downey’s take on the character and it works well on the page — but it was a jarring transition. But to be fair, no one seems to even notice or care these days. [...]
With pretentious writers like Warren Ellis, I don't think it's too surprising. Besides, there's a most serious problem they haven't mentioned: since Civil War, Tony's been made out to look more like a crazy crook than a kindly millionaire trying to help bring good to the world. And I don't think many moviegoers will be enthused about a story that severs Tony's ties with his biological parents for the sake of a contrived retcon. What Axel Alonso and Kieron Gillen have done is unlikely to turn up in the movies, much as I'm sure they'd love to do it, but does explain why few moviegoers will care to check out comics from recent years.

Next comes Green Lantern:
It’s easy to see that Warner Bros. was attempting to ape ‘Iron Man’ with their disastrous ‘Green Lantern’ movie. By casting an effortlessly charming leading man as a B-list superhero with a complicated mythology, the goal was to make rings fueled by willpower and blue-skinned Guardians palatable to the mainstream. The film was a critical and financial failure, but its aftershocks could be felt throughout throughout the comic book world. When DC comics relaunched its entire line with the “New 52,” Hal Jordan was no longer the serious soldier and leader of men — he was Ryan Reynolds, a wisecracking goofball who was reintroduced as a foil for the ever-serious Batman. This was even more jarring than the Iron Man change because much of Green Lantern’s continuity survived the New 52 reboot, making his new behavior all the more inexplicable. Now that the movie is a distant nightmare, Jordan seems to have slowly gone back to his older ways … but that will surely change when the character is reintroduced in a ‘Justice League’ movie.
And no matter the quality of the finished product, I'm sure it won't be good. I vaguely recall DC may have tried a mega-wisecracking angle with Superman in the mid-2000s, and that was also far too contrived to work. The kind of change they made to GL only makes it more difficult to appreciate Batman by extension, if he's made to look humorless all the time. But there's also Hal's preposterous bitterness over his father's death and the Red Lanterns' powers to consider as alienating factors. I don't think many moviegoers who like adventure will be charmed by a series featuring a team whose power seems to be belching out blood. The next example is the Tony/Bruce Banner friendship seen in Avengers:
One of the unexpected joys of ‘The Avengers’ was watching Bruce Banner and Tony Stark bond over their mutual love of science. Their instant bromance exploded all over the internet, leading to countless “science buddies” memes and all kinds of stories about where the two of them were going when they drove off together at the end of the film. Marvel chose to capitalize on this newly beloved relationship in the comics. It’s no accident that the first story arc in the the newly relaunched ‘Avengers Assemble’ series dealt with these two embarking on a semi-friendly adventure that tested their scientific philosophies against one another. In fact, all of this led to Banner being reestablished as one of the Marvel universe’s foremost geniuses after years of playing backseat to his big green alter ego as he travelled the galaxy.
I take it they haven't read Original Sin yet, where the friendship is collapsing in an out of the blue "revelation" that Tony had some blame to shoulder for Bruce's becoming the Hulk. So much for that friendship, eh? I don't think the movie's setup was the first time they were buddies though. Next comes the changes to Nick Fury:
This is where things get a little weird. The Nick Fury of the Marvel cinematic universe is based on the Samuel L. Jackson-inspired Nick Fury of the Marvel Ultimate universe, which is completely separate from the standard Marvel comic book universe (known as Earth 616). Comic books, right? Anyway, when Jackson’s Fury started to become a major player in the cinematic Marvel adventures, the original recipe Marvel comics bent over backwards to reconcile everything, resulting in a change that still has comic fans groaning. We first meet the character of Marcus Johnson in the miniseries ‘Battle Scars,’ but over the course of a wild adventure, he learns his actual birth name: Nick Fury Jr. And wouldn’t you know it, Nick Fury Jr. bears a striking resemblance to Samuel L. Jackson and he loses an eye on his first mission and he’s given a big job at S.H.I.E.L.D. despite having zero experience in covert ops. Yep, over the course of a single lame miniseries, Marvel forced a new Nick Fury into existence. And for the record, this miniseries also transplanted Agent Phil Coulson (who was created for the films) into the comics, where he’s still a major player in Marvel universe and pops up across countless titles.
They should've left the black Fury for the Ultimate line, but I guess it's lost so much popularity and sales, they decided to carry over ideas that might've worked there, and dump them on a universe where they don't. Then Green Arrow comes up:
When DC relaunched with the New 52 (see above), one of the weakest new series was ‘Green Arrow.’ The book struggled through its opening storyline and a new creative team was brought on a few months later, but there wasn’t much improvement. Both takes on the character felt tired and dull — no one knew what to do with the character. Enter ‘Arrow,’ The CW’s massively popular take on Oliver Queen and his bow-wielding alter ego. As the show grew in popularity, DC reacted accordingly. They handed the reins of the series over to the superstar writing and art team of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino, who opened their run on the series by killing off the majority of the book’s supporting cast and literally wiping the slate clean, rendering the previous year-plus of issues null and void. It was the perfect jumping-on point for new fans who were intrigued by the TV series and an opportunity to remake ‘Green Arrow’ into one of DC’s premiere books. And it worked! But things are getting shaken up again: Lemire and Sorrentino are departing the series soon and ‘Arrow’ executive producer Andrew Kreisberg and writer Ben Sokolowski are taking over and they plan to make the comic more like their show. That’s … well, we don’t know what that is. We’ll get back to you in a few months.
I'm sure it won't be for the better. But Lemire and Sorrentino "save" the series? Sales receipts suggest otherwise. And killing off characters? If they mean literally, I don't see how that helps. Both DC and Marvel have been pulling acts like that for years, and it's gotten considerably worse since the turn of the century, as superhero comics are no longer about co-stars and interactions with the same. Next up is Hellblazer, now just John Constantine:
This is where we’ll dip our toes into Conspiracy Theory Land for a moment, but the evidence is too much to ignore. With NBC bringing comics’ greatest mystic John Constantine to the small screen and ignoring so much of what makes him him (his smoking habit, his sexuality, etc), DC’s decision to retool the character in the comics makes a certain amount of shrewd sense. First, they reintroduced him to DC universe at large with series like ‘Justice League Dark’ and ‘Constantine.’ Then they cancelled his iconic and long-running ‘Hellblazer’ series, which lived over at Vertigo, the DC imprint for “mature” comics. As you’d expect, the Constantine of the main DC universe was miles away from the dark and complex Vertigo character. Now he hangs out with superheroes and feels ready to make the jump to lunch boxes and action figures any time now. All of this, just in time for his leap to TV. Hmm…
Why do I get the feeling he won't get any lunchboxes any time soon, let alone some stickers to put on a car window? And seriously, Constantine the DCU's greatest mystic? What about the past protagonists who took the role of Dr. Fate, like Kent Nelson? What about Zatara and Zatanna? As I'd said before, even if I disapprove of the culture, it's still pretty strange the producers of the planned TV series don't want to explore Constantine's bisexuality when the producers of the Flash and Arrow series are already doing the same with homosexual characters.

But now, here's where they begin to stumble, in a commentary supportive of Inferior Dr. Octopus:
For over a year, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ comic series was cancelled and replaced with ‘The Superior Spider-Man,’ which told an extended story about Dr. Octopus switching bodies with his arch nemesis just as his old body dies, killing Peter Parker and leaving him in a young spider-powered body. The series was a success and for good reason: it was funny and weird and totally unlike anything else on the stands. But all good things must come to an end and Marvel timed the cancellation of ‘The Superior Spider-Man’ and the relaunch of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ to the arrival of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2.’ With Spider-Man hype at its highest point for the year, Marvel had no trouble making the new #1 issue of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ into a gigantic success. In fact, relaunching series with new #1 issues to coincide with new movies has become common practice in the comic book world, but Marvel managed to make it a bigger event than most. Also of note: Electro’s new look bears a strong resemblance to Jamie Foxx’s take on the character. Coincidence? Of course not.
Yeah, do tell us about it. A story that goes far too long, bears traces of a "one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter" propaganda, depicts Doc Ock taking advantage of Mary Jane Watson, even if only for a short time, and expects us to sympathize with a ruthless criminal? That's not what any sane person wants to read about. Since many of those premiere copies were just ordered by stores that must think it's great to exploit the naive speculators, don't be surprised if a lot of them are gathering dust in the bargain bins now alongside the old premiere issues for the sans-adjective X-Men from 1991. Last on the list is Star-Lord:
...Marvel has launched a new series centered around space adventurer Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt in the film. After its first issue, ‘The Legendary Star-Lord’ seems a solid-enough comic book, but you can tell that the marching orders were “make it more like the movie.” Star-Lord/Peter Quill is a strange character with a convoluted and frequently retconned history, but he has never been a lovable goofball with a heart of gold. [...]
And at this point, I'd rather recommend moviegoers try the older, better material than this brand new series, where they'll find tales with more intelligence than the new product's bound to offer. If this new movie is a comedy, maybe that's not entirely a good thing, since it'll spoil everyone's understanding of the older material that could have amusing moments but still retained a serious side to it. At best, it'll probably be a mixed blessing.

The Big Two have done more to change the look of their own comics than any other owner of famous material, and it's not helping. Even if the failed John Carter movie had been a success, I don't think the publishers producing comics based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' famous stories would've made visual changes to their adaptations to mirror the movie, and to date, from what I know, they haven't. So what's the use of doing it for films based on the Big Two's output?

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