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Friday, January 23, 2015 

Dan Buckley defends pointless changes to reflect Marvel's movies

Before the announcement of Marvel's planned reboot, ICV2 interviewed Marvel publisher Buckley, who wouldn't admit too many changes are being made to Marvel continuity designated to make the comics reflect the movies. First, there's these paragraphs:
We wanted to talk about a topic that ICv2 has been exploring (including at its conference), the "new comics customer," the growing gender diversity and other changes to the audience (see "Retailers Talk New Comics Customers"). What are you seeing in measurable changes in the gender mix of your products and particularly on something like Ms. Marvel that has a strong female starring character?

We’ll be very frank. This industry has not been known for doing a lot of consumer research. You probably have most of it. As Tom DeFalco said to me 20 years ago [doing a Tom DeFalco voice], "You know, Danny, the best research you could do is you print the book, the people buy them, then that’s the book they want to buy." We’re in an industry where the cost of investment to create a product is relatively low. In many ways it’s cheaper just to produce a book and see if it sells than to do a lot of consumer research. That’s where our medium is very different from television, movies and animation.
Interesting he admits their research on audience has been poor, and it's probably much worse than we think. Maybe more important is the fact that research hasn't even interested them, to know just what the audience thinks on any pertinent subject. The other article they link back to gives an interesting note about the female consumers:
The female TFAW customers were younger than the males, and were more likely to be new customers. They liked indies more than typical customers, and liked Marvel and DC’s less. Around 55% agreed with the statement “I like comics starring strong female protagonists. Often don’t like how women are portrayed in comics.” That was a lot higher than the typical customers, which had around a 25% agreement with that statement.
If this is accurate, it confirms what I've been estimating about where a lot of the current audience, old and new, stand on mainstream superhero comics. For 2 decades, there's long been a perception that female casts are treated like tissue paper in superhero comics, more likely to be subject to jarring physical/sexual violence than male protagonists, and it's very likely the female consumers find the politics seeping into mainstream comics far more alienating than what you see in most indie products too. In fact, judging from how poorly "Ms. Muslim" - if that's who ICV2's interviewer is referencing - is selling now, despite Buckley's attempts to claim otherwise, chances are a significant number of women find that alienating too, proving that there's a lot more realists out there than Buckley and company want to think. Also, while the main article in focus may not mention it, some lady consumers are surely offended by the mistreatment of Mary Jane Watson. Now, here's a bit more from Buckley:
We’ve been aggressive in trying a lot of diverse product over the last two years. I would give huge kudos to Axel Alonzo on that. He’s been very aggressive in making sure that we have more female lead characters, that we have a more diverse palette of ethnicity in the books, and the thing that’s exciting to see is that the books are selling.
They may have more female cast members (yet only emphasize superheroines), but they don't have better writers, and their idea of diversity has only been to supplant established heroes with brand new ones in the same costume. But in the end, the "diversity" has been superficial only, and sales have been nothing spectacular for female-led solos either.
In the past, we could hold onto books that were critical darlings [but not top sellers] and move them along. Runaways was a great example of that. We’re not holding on to critical darlings right now. Ms. Marvel is a legitimate top-selling title for us in all channels. And the Lady Thor book (for lack of a better term, I’ll use the moniker) is a top-selling book for us. Part of it is Thor fans checking it out, but a lot of women came in to check it out, and say, "What is this story? I want to take part in it."
How is a book selling so low on the charts "legit"? And what if it turns out not so many women tried the Lady Thor book, and any who read Original Sin's setup for this replacement started giggling at how silly it is for Nick Fury to determine everything?
Miles [Morales] has been a legitimate hit for us with Ultimate Spider-Man. Success begets more versions of these things that will beget more success and we’re very excited about it, because the more we can broaden our base, the better it is for this form of storytelling and our business as a whole.
Not sales-wise it hasn't. If the rest of the Ultimate line hasn't worked, it should be no surprise Ultimate Spidey didn't either. Now, onto the part about movies:
We’d like to talk about the transmedia aspect of Marvel’s business. There’s a perception that Marvel is changing its print continuity to align with the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity. Does that happen?

I think people like to jump to conclusions. I’m going to be very clear. Let’s go back to 12 years ago. We all remember picking up our X-Men books in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The Professor would go in to put Cerebro on and he’d wear a helmet in a room, and whatever room that was and whatever it looked like was up to the artist du jour. But that room now, after the X-Men movie when he rolled into that big open area with the metallic globe that he is sitting inside of with the ramp, and then he puts the helmet on, you go into a Marvel comic now and that’s what that room looks like. The movie defined the mass market perception of what Cerebro looks like. The comics guys are looking at it and thinking, "That’s pretty cool, I think I’ll do that!" So, to say that one medium does not influence the other a great deal would be lying.
Nobody is jumping to conclusions, and it's not as though they "like" to, unless we're talking about the obsessives who vehemently refuse to stop buying when quality plummets. For a couple years now, they've been increasingly writing stories with elements meant to evoke the movies, as if that alone will guarantee moviegoers are interested. But these are superficial changes only (like Hawkeye not wearing a mask), and do not equal characterization. The writers are also insulting the intellect of moviegoers by acting as though none of them can guess liberties are taken with comics as they are with some novel adaptations.
The fact is the comics universe continuity is driven by editorial and the creative people within that area: the writers and artists involved with the editorial staff, and business management people in the publishing group. All of those people are well aware of what we’re looking to do with our television shows, movies and animation, me being one of those people. We allow the publishing people to tell the stories that they’re telling, but when a movie comes out and does something with a character that we find to be cool and also is very defining of the character, that will probably start influencing what the comic continuity will start looking like because the creators we have writing those products are influenced by that movie.
Whatever they've done to mimic the movies hasn't been cool. This brings to mind Sean Howe's point that when you publish a comic book meant to resemble a movie cooler than the finished comic product turns out to be, you're only losing.

And a lot of their new output's been heavily influenced by editorial mandate, unless the writers are part of a favored group. Those working for them now are pretty uncreative types.
I’ll give an example for Thor. When Kirby kicked off Thor, it was sci-fi. If you look back at that material he drew with Thor, it was from his imagination. The outfits looked very sci-fi, for lack of a better term. Through the years, through a variety of different artists’ influences, and from their own imaginations, I’d say it felt more like Norse mythology or The Lord of the Rings. But now the movie’s come back. The feeling of what Asgard looks like (where Thor is from) feels more sci-fi again because we leaned into that with the movie.
This is ridiculous. From the beginning, Thor and other Asgardian deities wore outfits that honed closer to what ancient Scandanavians used to wear, whether Vikings or other tribes who inhabited northern Europe. They sure didn't look very futuristic, so Buckley's defense is laughable, and disrespects Kirby's memory. And while there was always plenty of sci-fi involved, fantasy elements played a big part of Thor's corner in the MCU too, which Buckley fails to explain clearly.
So there’s no way that these movies, which are seen by millions of people, are not influencing what we’re doing in the books, but we’re not looking to align continuity between the two storytelling worlds because, frankly, that would be a venture into madness.
Sorry, but the movies are, by ways of the editors, who're stuck in a quixotic mind thinking gazillions of moviegoers will flock to their products despite the fact they've had so little coming in. Millions of film watchers, but only hundreds of comic book readers; that's the situation for many years now. They recently withdrew from a few book chains, and unless they intend to resume sales there, I can't see how anybody could find their products at ease. Even today, there aren't that many comics stores around easy to reach.
One is not overriding the other, it would be way too hard. But they do influence each other and that’s a lot of fun.
Not everyone agrees. It all depends on the writing in the finished product, which has been awful since the turn of the century. If characterization isn't good, then all these visual changes mean nothing. The same goes for DC, who went out of their way to change Superman's red tights for a dull blue pair, and that was no substitute for good character interaction either.

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Buckley seems to think that the accusation is that Marvel are trying to merge continuities (which, of course, they're not; we're looking at two separate universes). He misunderstands. People are accusing Marvel of making changes to characters and their status quos to better reflect the movies. And he can say that its not happening all he wants, Marvel still cancelled Superior Spider-Man conveniently close to the release of Amazing Spider-Man 2, and nobody expects All-New Captain America and Lady Thor to last after Age of Ultron hits theatres.

On a side note, I frequently visit the Outhousers, who consistently take a left-wing view on most issues, and they also called out Buckley on how stupid his comment was. Not that its a left-or-right-wing issue, , but usually if a conservative says "yea", you can pretty well expect a liberal to say "nay" (and vice-versa).

Looking at this, though, made me really miss the old Ultimate universe, which was designed with movies in mind. It was a nice way of giving us "movie-like" comics without changing 616.

Save Nick! Down with Fake Movie Nick! Death to Fake Bucky, too!

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