Monday, June 11, 2012

Week of 06/11/2012

DC Comics And The “Epic” Failure
– by David Matthews 2

As some of you may know, I am a longtime comic book fan. I used to read all about Superman and Batman and Green Lantern and the Justice League from the pages of DC Comics. I used to read some Marvel Comics too, but aside from Spider-Man, they never really interested me until I got older.

When I first started reading comics, I didn’t know that Superman and Spider-Man were published by two separate companies. So when “Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man” came out originally in the 1970’s, I didn’t realize just how epic that crossover meeting was for the two companies. It’s like the Warner Brothers Loony Toons characters working with their Walt Disney counterparts in the film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”; up until then, nobody ever thought about doing something like that.

DC and Marvel have had a rivalry that has spanned the decades. They competed over who had the better talent, they competed over who had the more popular characters, they competed over who made the most money, they competed over who has the better merchandising for their characters, and they competed over who can pull off the better media crossover.

Both can say they’ve had their share of good and bad animation shows. Both can say they’ve had their share of good and bad live-action shows. Both can say they’ve had their share of good and bad motion pictures.

But with the recent release of Marvel’s “The Avengers” to the big screen, and the billion-dollar box office returns that went with it, there are many that wonder if Marvel Comics has finally come out ahead of DC. And then the big challenge is to see what DC can do to match it… if they can.

In all fairness, “Avengers” is not the “first team movie” as many have proclaimed it to be. That actually goes to the un-released 1994 “Fantastic Four” movie, followed by the 2000 release of “X-Men”, but even those are Marvel Comics creations, so they still have the bragging rights.

So it appears that the gauntlet is thrown down in front of DC to either match or top it. Comic forums and Facebook groups are full of questions about how DC executives could come up with a “Justice League” movie and who they would cast and how they would handle an ensemble movie.

I’m going to out on a limb right now and tell DC Comics executives and Time Warner executives to do… absolutely nothing!

I’m serious! Don’t call up Tim Burton or Ilya Salkind or Bryan Singer or Christopher Nolan and shove a spreadsheet in their faces and say “How can we top this?” Send the Hollywood reporters to voice mail. Tell the fans “No comment” when asked about it at the conventions. Or better yet, just say “wait and see”, which is what you’d tell the comic fans anyway. Whatever you do, do not rush into this like a corporate tool would otherwise do!

Let’s start with the fact that DC and Warner Brothers did manage to come up with an ensemble superhero team movie that pre-dates “The Avengers”. That move was “Watchmen”, based off the mini-series by the same name by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. A little-known fact was that while Moore and Gibbons patterned their characters after established Charlton Comics characters, their original inspirations were DC’s Justice League. So it’s not that DC and Warner Brothers don’t know how to do an ensemble team movie. They’ve done it. Their problem is not making it epic.

But that’s not the only problem that DC Comics is suffering from right now.

Under the one-two sucker-punch leadership of Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, DC Comics is currently engaged in a systematic rewrite of everything it has ever owned since the 1930’s. Their main characters, the “World’s Greatest Super-Heroes”, are all being re-written, re-drawn, and re-made in the images of DiDio and Lee. Even the forthcoming “Man of Steel” movie will feature the “remade” version of their first signature character, Superman. It’s a little hard to sell the movie version of the heroes when DC is still trying to sell the “remade” version in the comics to the same people who have been reading those comics for generations.

Now think for a minute about what Marvel did with “The Avengers” that made it so epic. They didn’t just make a movie and expect people to see it. That’s the Big Corporate/Hollywood approach to that kind of a project, and it explains why that approach has failed in the past.

Marvel started with “Iron Man” and laid the groundwork to the “Avengers” project. They introduced SHIELD. They brought in Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury as a teaser to “Iron Man” and mentioned something called “The Avengers Initiative”. They continued the teasing with “The Incredible Hulk” by bringing in Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and linking in the two movies. They continued this teasing with SHIELD and Fury and introduced the Black Widow in “Iron Man 2”. They brought in Hawkeye as a member of SHIELD in “Thor”. Then they wrapped it up with the appearance of Tony Stark’s father, and having Nick Fury and SHIELD show up one more time for “Captain America: The First Avenger”. So by the time they got to “The Avengers”, people were pumped up for it.

Did you see what Marvel did? They had a plan, they laid down the foundation, and then they worked on through to completion, keeping the audience in the loop and ever-so-curious as to what would be next. “Thor” may have been weak as a movie, but they didn’t stop everything because of it. They moved on, they pressed forward, and they continued with the plan to completion. And not only did they keep the continuity intact, but they also used characters that people already recognize. The only exception to this was the re-casting of Bruce Banner, but otherwise everything else about the character and his story remained.

Nick Fury, for instance, was re-made in the “Ultimates” version of Marvel Comics in 2000. Ironically, he was patterned after the man who would later play him in the movies. But this wasn’t a completely “new” reboot for the viewers. This didn’t happen overnight. Eight years went by before he appeared in “Iron Man”. Eight years for readers to get to know this version and to like this version enough to prefer him to the grizzled World War II vet originally created by Stan Lee and the late Jack Kirby.

Now I’ll remind you all that DC just hit the reset button on all of their characters last year. They still can’t make up their minds whether or not Wonder Woman should be wearing pants or panties. They can’t even get their own history right, claiming that about thirty years of trials and tribulations all happened within the span of the past five years.

Does this sound like DC Comics has a plan right now?

Even their current animated series on Cartoon Network, “Young Justice”, is a hodgepodge of characters from various versions of DC Comics that existed before their “Grand Reboot” last year. All of these characters are no longer recognizable in the current “mainstream” universe of DC Comics.

So if I were to talk about Batman’s sidekick “Robin”, would that be Damian Wayne, the ten-year old son of Bruce Wayne and former trained assassin? Or would you think Dick Grayson, now known as “Nightwing”? Or would you think Tim Drake, the former Robin now known as “Red Robin”? Or would you think Jason Todd, the Robin that was once killed by the readers and then brought back and is now known as “Red Hood”? In DC’s “New Universe”, it could mean all four. But in “Young Justice,” it could only mean either Dick Grayson or Tim Drake. Confused? And we haven’t even gotten to the thought of coming up with a motion picture!

Then there’s the matter of DC characters in recent live-action TV shows. There was the half-season series “Birds of Prey”, the recently-completed ten seasons of “Smallville”, the never-released “Wonder Woman” pilot, and this fall there will be a new “Arrow” series. Would any of these be tied into a possible movie? Would they be connected in any way to the current Batman movie series that is wrapping up this summer with “The Dark Knight Rises”?

Let’s get brutally honest here… DC Comics is simply not ready to do an “Avengers”-style motion picture!

Yes, Warner Brothers has the production means to come up with such a movie. And unlike Marvel, they don’t have to worry about licensing rights to the characters because they’re all in-house. Where their problem lies is with the source material for the movie to work from.

We’ve seen what happens when directors and producers stray from the source material. You get colossal flops like “Superman III”, “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”, “Supergirl”, and “Batman and Robin”. If you need further proof, then all you have to do is Google-search the names “Cathy Lee Crosby” and “Wonder Woman” and you’ll find a made-for-television abomination of “Wonder Woman” that existed in name only. That should be more than enough of a reason why it’s important to stick with the source material.

In order for a comic book movie to be truly epic, you need more than just money and casting. You need characters that the audience can relate to. “The Avengers” succeeded because Marvel re-introduced the audience to those characters before bringing them together as a team. In order for Warner Brothers to do the same, they need to make sure that DC Publishers DiDio and Lee get their act together first. Only then will they be able to come up with a movie that would be truly worthy of “The World’s Greatest Superhero Team”.

(Editor’s note: David 2 is not only a longtime comic book reader, but he is also a member of the City of Comic Creators, an organization dedicated to helping fan-made comic creators hone and perfect their skills. He is also the writer/editor/creator of “The Guardian Powers” and “Tales from Paragon City”.)

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