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Friday, March 04, 2016 

Aligning with TV and movies won't guarantee quality scripting

A writer on CBR claims that for comics to survive, they have to align with their TV and movie adaptations. As if that hadn't been done already! The primary focus here has what to do with Supergirl and its own new TV show:
So you march into a comic book store, and ask to pick up the new "Supergirl" comic. Well, you can't: it was cancelled in May 2015 -- five months before the new show premiered on TV. And even then, that version of Supergirl had little to no resemblance to what is currently airing on TV... She was an angry, powerful alien who landed on Earth as a fully-costumed adult, battled Superman, and basically had no friends.
First off, what's this I see here: pick up the NEW series published? Not the OLDER series volumes from better days? This is one of the first big mistakes the writer's making here. Whatever the quality of the newer stories, why do they matter so much but not the older stories from the Silver/Bronze Age, written and drawn for starters by Otto Binder and Al Plastino? Oh, I get it, they're just shivering in their boots at the notion everybody would take a good look at the tongue-in-cheek quality some of those tales had and turn instantly away, unable to grasp a time when people did like slapstick and optimism, and the latter concept is something that, to my knowledge, was incorporated into the new TV show. In which case, the CBR clown must be incredibly dumb. A real devotee would unabashedly promote the older material as much as the newer, and not act like only today's output matters. He can't possibly be a serious fan, IMO. It's not like the earlier tales didn't have their faults. But most of them were a lot more readable than what we see today.

Also, how come he talks about more recent output not resembling the TV show instead of how it's not verbatim to a lot of the 60s/70s output, or even Peter David's "earth-angel" concept that ran during 1996-2003? Yes, the complaint about the New 52 Kara being angsty is valid, but it should be based on how it deviated so badly from the Silver Age rendition, where Kara was far from being as ill-tempered as the 2011 rendition was. As for lack of friends, that can be blamed on the insular approach that's become a staple of modern superhero comics, which also led to a lot of the company wide crossovers that're sure to continue no matter what anybody thinks of the TV series.
If that comic store owner is feeling generous, though, they might mention the currently running "Adventures of Supergirl" digital first comic by Sterling Gates and a rotating cast of artists, which runs every other Monday on comiXology and is set in the world of the show. Which is great (and it is: the comic is very, very good). But that title is only two issues in, having launched on January 25 -- three months after the show premiered on TV.

That's crazy. You could argue that DC's TV and comics divisions are two separate entities (they're not, exactly), so they had to wait and see how well the show did before launching a comic. You could also argue that most of the time the comics creators don't get to see the TV shows or movies, so have to wait to get a feel for the characters before writing/drawing them. But in this case, the "Supergirl" pilot leaked online in May, meaning it was done and available for viewing... the same month DC canceled their regular, ongoing "Supergirl" title.
Umm, why the aforementioned digital series, but not the Silver Age archives, let alone Peter David's series? There's plenty of older stuff to evaluate, and this is all they can think of? And if there's anything recent I'd advise not to bother about, it's the series Jeph Loeb had launched in 2005, where Kara didn't even have a secret identity for a time, and the artwork was totally wasted on pointless writing. If anybody's looking for a valid complaint about oversexualization of the heroine, yes, that series could be it, and when they supposedly toned that down, they still blew it by going out of their way to "prove" Kara was wearing underwear under her skirt (!), when all they needed to do was just refrain from "camera angles" where they'd be obsessing over her skirt's underside.

And why should the creators have to take a look at the TV/movie versions to get an idea for how to characterize? Why not older takes on casts, not to mention various other unrelated products where they might have something inspiring to offer?
"Supergirl" isn't the only problem here, though... When it comes to Marvel and DC's superhero output, the problem is industry wide. There have been varying tacks taken, and different strategies, but ultimately there are two ways of addressing this issue that must be taken, or Big Two superhero comics will continue to die on the vine.
Well I'm sorry, but it's just too late, they are, and failure to emulate the screen adaptations is the least of their problems. There's editorially mandated crossovers, making it impossible to get any creative freedom (and even then, the editors are still ruining everything), and variant covers are another detractor. If they want speculators to buy the different covers, they'll surely be gleeful when TV couch potatoes do the same, even though it's a bad idea, and I'd strongly advise against it.

He goes on say they should align with TV/movie release schedules, and only winds up recommending stuff that's already been done:
Marvel has been doing a much better job at this than DC, but they both have vast room for improvement. On the Marvel side, they're often working ahead to make sure trade collections that tangentially (or directly) tie with their upcoming movies are available in book stores. They also do a solid job of releasing series that tee up an upcoming TV/movie event either in collected trade form, or an ongoing title launching at the same time.

For example: in May, we're getting "Captain America: Civil War" in theaters... so Marvel is launching a new event series called "Civil War II," as well as returning Steve Rogers to his regular age (don't ask) and status quo. They're also flooding the zone, as it were: in April, nearly every title will get a "Civil War" variant cover; and throughout the next few months, 2006's "Civil War" event series, and nearly every one of the related spinoff titles are getting re-collected and released in stores; as well as several major "Captain America" arcs. Which is great!
Is it? Why must there be an ongoing instead of just a miniseries? Once, both companies used to be pretty good at conceiving miniseries that were well regarded. Now, it seems like every character must have an ongoing series even if the waters haven't been tested with audiences to see if it's worth putting out more than just a mini or a one-shot special. Years before, both DC/Marvel would usually do this, and Birds of Prey built up to an ongoing in this manner. But now, we have only so many ongoings flooding the market even if a long-term readership's not guaranteed, and some of these books have even fallen victim to diversity pandering, with a white protagonist thrown out in favor of a character whose racial background is wholly different.

And flooding the market with variant covers and other crossovers are just what's wrong with today's approach to marketing: they end up costing everyone more and take away time and freedom from the writers. That's not what even newer audience needs, and as has already been apparent, it's unlikely they'll take to the comics anyway.

He even goes on to suggest wiping everything clean and just making it all about TV/movies. I'm sorry, but if that's all its going to be about, then the books don't exist as their own entities. Rather, their very existence is dictated by what happens on screen, and "creative liberties", where there's differences from the source material becomes non-existent, making it all laughable. He then asks:
So what's preventing Marvel and DC from wiping the slate clean, and replacing their lines with new books that align perfectly with the TV shows and movies? The first is an aggressive need to keep the publishing schedule up... That's a monetary concern, of course, because if you don't publish more books, you can't afford to pay your staff; but publishing more books costs more money, so you have to publish more books, and the cycle continues.

The second is fear.

If there's one major factor that unifies both Marvel and DC, it's the fear of losing that customer base, those die-hard comic book readers who have been reading comics for decades, buy everything in the store, and know every in and out of every Crisis and Secret War. Comic sales, even as they've rebounded in the past few years, are dwindling, so to eliminate all of the continuity built up for decades in favor of a TV or movie continuity is risking losing all those fans for good.

F--k 'em. I've talked to enough comic book fans who have said, "If [blank] happens, I'm quitting that book forever." They never do. Or if they get pissed off enough about whatever character death, or major change in status quo, they move on to something else, another title. End of the day, the die-hards are going to be pissed off whatever you do; but as long as you pair good writers and artists to good stories, it doesn't matter. They'll come back.
As a matter of fact, I long quit reading DC/Marvel's entire modern output, after it became clear repellent products like Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembled were setting the tones for their directions. At this point, DiDio and Quesada's continued presence alone is what's keeping me from bothering again, and it's clear I'm not the only one. So who says nobody ever does? If anything, what we do try out now is their older products, and not the new ones. Would we come back? It all depends, but dismissal of anybody whom you realize is alienating can be a positive step. Certainly if they won't apologize.

Besides, contrary to what this goofball says, they're not scared of losing their customer base. Certainly not the sensible, intelligent crowd. All they care about is the naive and the speculators. It should be pretty apparent ever since both became closed shops for but a few to play in.
There's another fear though, that often manifests itself as a bravado... And that's the fear the comics folks have of the TV and Movie studios. I'm not saying they're not friends, or the studios are bullying the comics publishers. Heck, the guy who is one of the chief architects of DC's TV and Movie slate is writing the book that's aimed at bringing DC back to prominence (that would be Geoff Johns on "DC Rebirth" #1, natch). And Marvel's TV division is run by ex-pats from the publishing side of the business, including Jeph Loeb and Steve Wacker.
But they're just the problem, as noted before. Loeb, like Johns, is incredibly overrated and just as guilty of dumbing down superhero comics. If he's sugarcoating them, that's another mistake he's made.
...From the TV and movies side, they have more money and viewers. So they get to do what they want, when they want to do it. On the comics side, they're struggling for readers and trying to keep their business afloat. But they don't want to look like they're not getting the level of coordination necessary from the studios, so they try to play it cool and say, "we're doing our own thing," or "we're doing things in comics that could never be done on a movie or TV budget!"

Which is true, but also missing the point: the comic industry needs the movie and TV industry, far more than the movie and TV folks need them... And comics should be pushing every single angle possible to get even a fraction of that pie. The comics publishers should be getting down on their knees and begging the movie and TV folks to let them adapt storylines and characters.
Forget it, the point is a very poor one. Whether the screen tales are good, that doesn't mean they should have to adapt them. Besides, if they do, people might catch on and think they're taking the easy route. I've argued before that comicdom should go more for paperbacks than pamphlets, and if they did, coupled with better writing and direction, then they wouldn't need Hollywood that badly. And they honestly don't need them at all.

At the end, he suggests ignoring everything he said, and after he writes the following, I'm inclined to agree with the latter:
The studios need your material, but in order for them to use it, you have to create it.

So stop pouring resources into endless sequels and variations on movie and TV properties. That false bravado I mentioned above? Let it turn into a healthy swagger. Allow yourselves to experiment, to change, and grow. And not just with the creative, but with the publishing schedules, and how you engage fans and stores.

We've seen this happen with some success already. Take a look at the new "Ms. Marvel," which has sparked an immense interest not just with fans, but critically too... and Kamala Khan (star of the book) is popping up in more and more games and other media. It's only a matter of time before she ends up on screen; and given the sped-up schedule of how the studio is cherry-picking ideas, most likely sooner rather than later.
Okay, now it's veering into comedy town. There may have been some hand-made costumes at conventions (and even those don't seem to number many, from what I've seen in pictures), but I don't think there's been that many video games and such starring the character, mostly because the Islamic background is something they know won't sell well to a public they know looks very gravely upon it as an issue. He fails to grasp that experimentation, changes and growth, if any, have been selective only, and based on selfish PC, nor that comic sales even today are dismal. This is what convinced me the guy's not to be taken seriously as a columnist.

So, we're back to square one, having learned little or nothing about how to market superhero comics.

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I think it's partly that the publishers don't want to alienate their small, hard core fan base. It's also that the writers see themselves as Great Authors, and have an attitude of, "I refuse to sell out or to compromise my artistic integrity." Which, of course, is hypocrisy, since commercialism dictates the various line-wide crossovers and tie-ins, as well as gimmicks like variant covers, and also big "events" like killing off characters and reviving them later. And the PC attempts at "inclusiveness" and "diversity" are really cynical publicity stunts.

Actually, if I were running Disney or Time Warner, I might order Marvel or DC to reboot everything and publish comics based on the TV and movie versions. But I would also order them to make the stories family-friendly. And apolitical. And to publish editions at affordable prices. And I would try to get them distributed in non-specialty outlets, like supermarkets and drug stores. A lot of people are not into comics, and don't go to comic book specialty shops. But they know the really big characters (Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man) from movies and TV, and might buy a comic featuring those characters if they see it in the same store where they buy their groceries.

The fanboys might not care for such changes, but they are too small an audience to support the medium anyway.

I still say Kamala Khan is bland and you're getting all worked up over nothing with her. She's more like those old Annual characters that crop up every so often and then get killed off in some big event.

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