Friday, July 31, 2009

A Marvel Universe Marvelman is inevitable

Now that Marvel owns the rights to Marvelman I think that it's inevitable that there will eventually be a Marvel Universe version of the character. It is just a question of sooner or later.

The benefits to Marvel of such a move are obvious - it immediately generates some attention and makes it easier for them to leverage their biggest asset - the "Marvel Universe" continuity - in exploiting the character. Against that there are very few reasons not do it, negative fan reaction being the main one, and that can always be managed.

Remember that Marvelman is not Watchmen. Alan Moore did not create him, he merely wrote his version of a pre-existing character. Indeed Alan Moore actually introduced a version into the Marvel Universe himself in the mid-1980s, the character "Miracleman" from his Captain Britain run, so it's unlikely that he would object to this especially now that Mick Anglo has been properly compensated.

Even if the current management at Marvel is dead set against the idea- which I don't think is a given at all - the essential economic logic of the move will eventually mean that it will be tried at some point by some future administration. They might as well do it now and try and do it properly rather than let some future writer of, say Exiles vol. 7, use the character as a gimmick guest star.

Marvel have had other properties in the past that they initially planned not to include in the regular Marvel Universe - the New Universe, Star-Lord, Marvel Boy etc - but they were all eventually tied in to their existing mythology. Even the Ultimate Comics "universe" has been connected to the regular Marvel line, via the Marvel Zombies books.

I imagine Marvel's immediate priority with Marvelman is to sort out the rights issues so they can republish the sought after Moore/Gaiman material. They will want to get Gaiman and Buckingham to finish their story, which both creators have expressed interest in doing in the past. If possible, they will probably try to continue the story after Gaiman is finished - probably with some extremely prestigious talent, someone of the order of a Michael Chabon or a Jonathan Lethem if they can get them. But talent like that is slow and cant be rushed, and in the meantime a Marvel Universe Marvelman series could make use of the character.

I don't think that debuting such a version of the character necessarily detracts from continuing the Moore/ Gaiman story, as long as it was a separate continuity. The general comics consumer is pretty sophisticated, and assuming all the rights issues are resolved, Marvel could even differentiate between the two versions by continuing the Moore/Gaiman series under the "Miracleman" label. That's the title that most of these stories were originally published under after all, and the name most people associate with this version.

Obviously, a Marvel Universe Marvelman series would have to be handled delicately, and Marvel would be anxious to preserve the prestige that the concept currently has. I'd imagine that people like Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar or Brian K. Vaughan would be their top choices to handle something like this, if they can interest them.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bendis to write "Dark Siege"?

I not sure if anyone else has noticed this, but almost two weeks ago Tom Brevoort apparently gave away who's behind the upcoming Asgard-based crossover ("Siege of Asgard"?, "Dark Siege"?? the title hasn't been confirmed yet) that's rumoured to be scheduled for the end of the year . Quote Brevoort:
Dark Reign: The List is awesome, and the big thing that Bendis is masterminding out of the Avengers titles for year's end is getting underway.
I think this strongly suggests that Bendis is going to be writing the rumoured Asgard event, whatever it ends up being called. Perhaps lending extra credence to my speculation is the fact that when Rich Johnston reported last week that Matt Fraction would be writing the project Bendis was the one who denied it, expressing his glee at catching the rumour-monger out.

Anyway if I turn out to be right and the "big thing that Bendis is masterminding out of the Avengers" turns out to be this rumoured crossover, I have to admit Im pretty unenthused. Bendis can be a great writer with a strong ear for dialogue and a talent for character-based stuff, but for these big events you really need someone with a skill for tight, simple plotting. Bendis' tendency to play with structure and pacing in unorthodox, ambitious ways always seems to detract from the tension and large set-piece based drama that these big stories rely on.

This is not an original observation - the critical reception to his last two efforts at this sort of thing - House of M and Secret Invasion - was pretty uniform in pointing out that his plotting was a problem.

In fairness to Bendis though there are signs that he has finally taken some of this criticism to heart - his recent Dark Avengers work in particular has been quite straight forward structurally and the recent Avengers: Free Comic Book Day issue was so old-school it could have been plotted by Roger Stern (though the dialogue was uniquely Bendis).

I just hope, for this crossover at least, he doesnt decide to tell the conclusion in flashback again.

Why are there no Comic-Con panel webcasts?

I'm a bit of an American politics junkie, so I've been looking forward to next week's Netroots Nation conference in Pittsburgh, though I wont be anywhere near Pittsburgh while it's on. Last year they recorded live video feeds of most of the panels which you could then watch on the web whenever you wanted, and they are planning on doing the same this year.

I can't understand why all the major conventions (especially the just completed San Diego Comic Con who are really the best placed to make a move like this) don't do the same. Sure they couldn't do it with all the panels, especially the movie presentations that are generally meant to be sneak peeks, but there is really no reason why the other panels and Q&As cannot be webcast.

There would be costs involved, but I imagine they could be offset by including some sort of advertising material in the videos. Attendance levels wouldn't necessarily be badly affected, if anything San Diego's current problem is that it can't meet demand - something that this may partially ameliorate. Its not as if websites like Newsarama and Comic Book Resources are not already doing just about everything except broadcasting video of these events, what with all their liveblogging and constant updates.

These events must generate huge traffic spikes for those websites. I don't see why the cons themselves shouldn't see a piece of that profit. It wouldn't even necessarily mean a loss of traffic for the news sites - in fact it would be in the cons' best interests to allow embedding of their videos so that they would be distributed as widely as possible. It might even mean better con coverage, with reporters forced to find their own stories rather than the current situation where we get endless pieces transcribing the same quotes.

I'm guessing that the reason this has not happened yet is that the cons are worried about the legal issues involved, and whether they would have to pay panel participants. I think that issue could be overcome though, as most panelists participate for promotional reasons, so wider and better distribution of their appearances would be to their benefit as well.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Should Will Smith play Captain America?

There are various reports and speculation out there that Marvel is courting Will Smith to play Cap in the First Avenger: Captain America movie they plan on releasing in 2011.

Though many fans will cry sacrilege, I think it's a great idea.

Of course making Captain America a black man changes the character hugely. The movie will be set in the 1940s and there is no avoiding the fact that racial prejudice was widespread at the time.

But that opens up huge story possibilities and makes Cap’s story much more interesting. It’s pretty obvious how they could play it – being the only successful super soldier subject, a black Steve Rogers is put into the propaganda role of “Captain America” – a situation neither he nor the military is entirely comfortable with.

I think that the best Cap stories have always come from exploring the chasm between the ideals of America and the realities of the country. The dichotomy of having a black man as the symbol of America in a time of segregation illustrates that tension simply and strongly.

It also serves to heighten the conflict with the Nazis. There is a reason that the urban legend "Hitler refused to shake Jesse Owens hand during the 1936 Berlin Olympics" holds such power and continues to be repeated. A black Captain America being the perfect human specimen is a dramatic contradiction of the vile racial theories that were so integral to the Nazi ideology.

I hope the rumours are true and the negotiations with Smith work out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Buying Marvelman – potentially the biggest deal of Quesada’s tenure as Marvel Editor-in-Chief

From what I can piece together from interviews over the past weekend Joe Quesada seems to have been the first person to realise the inherent potential to Marvel of acquiring the Marvelman rights. Quesada credits publisher Dan Buckley with doing the (by no means insignificant) legwork but seems to claim the idea and the initial enthusiasm for it as his own. As such I think he deserves enormous credit for seeing what no one else did – that this is potentially a huge deal for the company.

It's only in considering the deal in the few days since its was announced that I've realised that the property has enormous potential, especially for Marvel. Just publishing the back catalogue (specifically the Quality/ Eclipse 1980s material) would be a windfall. There is already a huge pent-up demand out there for this material and even without the scarcity issue similar titles such as the Watchmen, V for Vendetta and Sandman trades have been perennial sales juggernauts for Marvel’s rival DC Comics – a phenomenon Marvel has no doubt envied for some time and are anxious to replicate.

There is even the possibility that because Marvel/Miracleman is much more of a mainstream comic superhero story it could even surpass the popularity of those other titles. I know that many would question this – could a more mainstream super-hero story actually mean higher sales in the largely bookstore dominated trade business? However consider of the three other examples I cite - the best selling of them is Watchmen. I think that one of the key factors in that book’s success is that it is a mature, intelligent story wrapped in the traditional trappings of the super-hero genre, the genre that most people have been trained to expect from comics. Marvel/Miracleman has the same strength, perhaps even moreso.

Then when you consider the potential for new interpretations – new comics, videogames, animation, movies – which if handled right (with due deference, respect and compensation given to the original creators) the company could be onto a major new property here.

Of course, all Marvel has done so far is acquire Mick Anglo’s rights to the character – and unquestionably the real value of the character at this point lies in the 1980s material. But the genius of this move is that Marvel now owns the character – which essentially stops anybody else from trying to publish stories featuring him. This means that all the other rights holders essentially have to deal with Marvel. And Marvel is one of the only organisations with both the resources and now, crucially, a real interest in sorting out the tangled mess of legal issues that remain unresolved.

Anglo and parties representing him have apparently been trying to exploit the character independently over the last few years, but were unsuccessful. I imagine the legal morass surrounding the character was a huge contributory factor to this. What independent party would be willing to invest significant amounts of cash in a largely unknown property with huge legal uncertainties surrounding it, and without access to the stories which make the character most attractive?. I think Marvel was uniquely positioned here.

Marvel have always lacked a credible “Superman” type figure in their catalogue of characters – a single hero with enormous power and all the iconic imagery and themes that go with that simple idea. Their recent attempts to build such a character from the ground-up – characters like the Sentry and the Blue Marvel - have been interesting but ultimately unsuccessful. Marvelman has the potential to credibly plug that gap – the name itself seems to suggest such a role (one note: Im not necessarily suggesting here that Marvelman should be placed into the Marvel Universe – that’s an issue I hope to deal with in a subsequent post).

And while some may point out the graphic nature of the 1980s work as a barrier to the characters future broad potential I would strongly disagree - just look at the wide variety of depictions of Batman, from The Dark Knight Returns to the current Brave and the Bold cartoon. Marvelman’s origins lie in children’s literature after all and that is what he was originally designed for.

DC, perhaps the only other credible company which could have also made this move appear to have been uninterested. They already own Superman and they have the rights to most of Moore and Gaiman’s most popular comics, so it seems they were complacent about it all and didn't see what Marvel sees. It seems ironic though that at a time in which they are spending a lot of resources acquiring the rights to old properties – such as the Milestone characters, the old Archie MLJ heroes and most recently the THUNDER agents - they have missed out on potentially the most valuable property out there.

Of course the legal issues are nowhere near settled yet – there are many interested parties whose rights have to be reconciled before Marvel can fully exploit the character and his back catalogue. Such parties include (but are by no means limited to) – Alan Moore, Garry Leach, Alan Davis, Chuck Austen, Neil Gaiman, Mark Buckingham, Todd McFarlane, Dez Skinn and DC comics. I hope to deal with some of those issues surrounding these parties in future posts.

Who is hueysheridan? and why is he writing this? Why should anyone care?

Good question - I'm a fan who has reading comics for over 20 years, and has been reading about them on the Internet since the mid 1990s. The key bit there is that I've been reading about comics online – and not necessarily interacting or contributing much at all. So I've just been pretty much a lurker for a long time and I'm sure no one out there has heard of me.

So why change a habit of a lifetime and begin to speak up? Well recently I've noticed that there is a gap on the market out there for intelligent blogs written by fans of what Marvel are generally doing at the moment (Paul O’Brien being the one massive exception I can think of). I may be just ignorant but it seems to me that the big guys out there – your Mike Sterlings, Chris Sims, and Dorian Wrights etc. are pretty DC-centric and cold to Marvel’s current output. I love those sites and I read them every day, but I just think there is room out there for someone who generally digs what Marvel is doing these days (and yes, that really means that at the moment I'm enjoying “Dark Reign”).

Also more specifically I was recently lured out of lurkdom to comment on a story that Alan David Doane did on his blog about Marvel’s acquisition of the Marvelman character from Mick Anglo. That made me think of all sorts of aspects of the deal and its possible repercussions, things that I didn't really see anyone else bringing up and more than I could really properly explore in a comment. So my thanks to Alan for providing the immediate impetus for this (though if you read the thread we actually disagreed strongly about the probable ultimate outcome of the deal for the creators involved).

So given my past online proclivities I cannot promises that I will keep this blog religiously updated. I have lots of ideas for posts though and a few written already so I'm hopeful at least that the next week should be consistent enough.