Now That We’re Together

It was something that “civilian” moviegoers and television viewers had never imagined.  They couldn’t even conceive of the options that lay just beyond the horizon, once the floodgates were opened.  But those of us, who had read and studied comic books and the various worlds contained therein, had fully understood the joys and possibilities of the shared universe for decades.  However, even we had no idea that any of them would ever be reproduced on screen in any significant way.  Yet, here we are, in the 21st Century, enjoying the fruits of the labor of several highly creative individuals.

Marvel has its MCU, Netflix shows and even television shows that tie-in to varying degrees.  DC Comics has the DCEU and — fitting their personality — in an alternate universe, there’s the CW Network’s “Arrowverse”, a shared universe unto itself.   Long gone are the days when we tuned in to the weekly adventures of a hero and had to pretend that he or she was an anomaly in their universe.  Special effects notwithstanding, probably the hardest things to watch today in George Reeves’ Superman, Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman or Lou Ferrigno’s Incredible Hulk (and I love them all) is the fact that these incredibly powerful heroes were limited to battling Earthbound, powerless criminals.  Each was the only powered entity in their respective universe and, in many cases, they ended up stopping the bank robbers and terrorists that Batman and Captain America would have already taken down.  So, of course, that lead to the title characters being remarkably “powered down” in their series as compared to their comic book counterparts.  Wonder Woman had no powers out of costume and couldn’t even fly. The Hulk died after falling from a plane that exploded in the air.  Yeah . . .

However, there are other, not so obvious, tropes that really need to be abandoned in the age of the Shared Universe.  First, I think we can all agree that it’s well past time to move beyond the premise that the protagonist is crazy.  The one thing that I truly disliked about Marvel’s Defenders Netflix series was their treatment of Daredevil.  Every other hero had a supporting cast that offered . . . well . . . “support”.  Matt Murdock spent much of his time trying to explain himself to Foggy and Karen, who acted like they had no idea where poor Matt was getting his delusions.  What!?!  They’ve seen aliens falling from the sky and being fought back by Captain America, Thor, the Hulk and various others.  Tony Stark stated on TV that he was Iron Man and Black Widow was on TV giving out SHIELD secrets after they stopped HYDRA.  They know superheroes exist. And let’s be real, Matt Murdock is a blind man who can navigate the world better than either Foggy or Karen ever dreamed and fight like he walked out of an action movie.  Why do they think he’s any crazier than, say . . . Iron Fist?  People in the real world (our world) don’t dress in spandex or body armor and chase criminals, but, in that reality, it’s obviously something that certain people do.  After a while, I started wondering what was wrong with Foggy and Karen.

I’ve seen a therapist attempt to denigrate Oliver Queen on the Arrow TV show in the same manner.  Likewise, it used to add humor when the Joker would tell Batman that they were both crazy because Batman dressed like a giant bat.  Now, it’s getting old.  It was so refreshing when Black Lightning firmly told his ex-wife that he wasn’t fixating on anything, he had powers and he was going to use them to stop the rampant crime in their city. Then he moved on and did just that. When there is so much evidence that there’s a history of normalizing said behavior, it’s actually sillier to constantly compare their world to our world.  And that doesn’t even speak to the number of powerful villains that are now being used and have to be confronted by someone other than the police. I’m not saying there needs to be a crossover or cameo every other episode.  But this is something that certain people do in these realities.  It may be time for writers to move on.

On a similar note, the significant others, bosses, coworkers, best friends, etc. who actually know that these people are out there saving the world . . . or the city . . . or even just a few blocks yet somehow can’t quite understand that they may need to be excused from a mundane act or two have to be written better.  They’re not providing a real-world dilemma.  They just look really . . . extremely selfish.  The sun is about to crash into the Earth and Becky Sue is asking: “But . . . what about me? You promised we could have some time.”  Seriously!?!  And don’t even get me started on: “I won’t be here when you get back.” Yeah, well if that bomb blows up half the city, you probably won’t. So, what do you really want your hero to be doing with his or her time?

And, lastly, can we stop killing off major villains?  Honestly, I believe killing off major characters, in general, can be a sign of lazy writers running out of ideas.  But I’m just focusing on villains here.  I know that a lot of people feel that it adds realism for the antagonist to meet a bloody, final defeat.  However, as a former prison employee, I’d have to ask . . . what planet is that?  Prisons are packed to the limits and are one of the surest sources of job security (. . . if you can handle the internal politics).  The bad guys ain’t dying off, people.  (Zod’s death in Man of Steel served a purpose, but is the rare exception.)  Part of what makes the Joker so cool is that you never know when he’s coming back or what he’ll have planned when he does.  His psychosis grows with every appearance and it’s like he’s trying to top himself.  And, as powerful as Killmonger’s death was in Black Panther, imagine knowing that he was always out there . . . threatening the throne . . . trying to advance an ideology that’s actually shared by a large number of people.

The best bad guys aren’t used often, but it’s almost an event when they return.  And most of them can’t be defeated the same way twice.  It just takes a little more creativity that way.  Be blessed . . .

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THE GATE SWINGS BOTH WAYS

I recently responded to a question on the Quora website that I feel is relevant to my themes here. The lady posted the following query:

Does my obsession for these superhero CW TV shows make me a ‘bad’ or a ‘fake fan’? (Although I love the comics!)

My response:

In short, no. People come into fandom from various points of entry. That’s part of the reason that properties are expanded into various media. And you have stated that you already read the comics. So you know the “base” medium and have it as a means of comparison. The reason that shows like Flash and Arrow don’t slavishly regurgitate the comics is because, while it’s cool when we see moments taken straight from our favorite stories, it would get old for those of us who read the books and/ or know the histories pretty quickly. The producers want to hold our interests as well as attracting new fans, who will watch a well-crafted series but may have never considered reading a comic. As a creative person, I don’t feel that a bad fan exists. If you were to buy and enjoy my work and keep coming back, I want to maintain my quality and keep your patronage and loyalty.

And:

JUDY RUPE

1 upvote

Well, I first got into comics and superheroes because of my dad. He collected comics since he was 7 (he had over $50,000 in comics). I used to watch the terrible 70’s superhero movies and then my dad got the 1990’s TV show: The Flash and I was immediately obsessed. And I started reading comics and watching the cartoons such as: Justice League, Justice League: Unlimited, Superman: The Animated series, Batman: The Animated Series, Young Justice, Teen Titans etc… I’m a junkie for this kind of stuff 🙂

Trevor L. Wooten

1 upvote

Wow . . . I’ll bet he had quite a collection. I can’t even imagine the volume, let alone the value. And it’s awesome that the two of you could share that. My kids can watch the movies, but none of them turned into readers or collectors. My son would be closest with video games. But I followed your path with the TV shows through the years. Reruns of the 60’s Batman in the early 70’s were my first exposure to that character. Yet he became my favorite character, despite the distinct difference in presentation between the show and the tone of the comics. I just don’t see a bad way of introducing someone to the industry. If they have a genuine interest, they’ll want to see the source material. Then they’ll either stay or go, but it’s an individual choice. And nothing says they can’t still enjoy the medium that hooked them at the outset.

As was stated later in the thread, there’s a sense of tribalism among some in fandom; the actual feeling that something needs to be guarded.  These “Gatekeepers” are keeping a lot of new people away — or at the very least, a discreet distance — to preserve either a sense of superiority or purity.  Either would be misguided.  Especially in an industry as relatively small as the comic book industry, we should be embracing those who show a genuine interest.  We should be guiding them toward the highest quality creators and projects on the stands and in the bins.  We should be inviting them to the local comic book store with us every Wednesday.  As a self-publisher, I don’t currently have the tools to branch out into other media, but I see the value of Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, Valiant and other companies doing so reach new audiences.  And I definitely see the how completely suicidal it would be for us as an industry to sabotage their efforts.  Just a thought . . .

MARVEL IS INGENIOUS, BUT DC ISN’T WRONG

I’m a creative writer and a visual artist.  I’m a fan of both Marvel Comics and DC Comics.  I enjoy books, videos games, television and movies from both companies, but I don’t blindly follow either without objectivity and constructive criticism.  There has been a lot written about the brilliant strategic planning behind the implementation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  For the most part, I have to completely agree with the praise. It’s well deserved.  Almost equal amounts have been written about how DC is making “major mistakes”, while trying to “catch up” with Marvel.  Those people, I believe, may be looking at the situation from the wrong perspective.

Marvel had presented itself with the task of creating a shared cinematic universe.  Their best known and highest grossing comic book properties, Spider-Man and the X-Men, were unavailable for “home grown” films, due to licensing obligations to Sony and Fox respectively.  These are the most popular among the regular comic book audience and the most recognizable to the public at large, consistently selling the most merchandise.   I may belabor this point, but there is a reason.  They had to present characters that were less well known to the general public and, in fact, didn’t even sell as many books among regular comic buyers.

Now, if you and I could actually live in the Marvel Universe, we would see Captain America, Iron Man and especially Thor as the most powerful, most iconic heroes in the world.  They are the “Trinity” of the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.  For you and me, there would be no one more popular and no one more awe inspiring.  Spider-Man would be a popular second-stringer and the X-Men, if we even knew of their existence, would mostly be . . . scary.  However, in the real world, Spider-Man and Wolverine were added to the Avengers roster several years prior to the movie.  This was no doubt both a response to the popularity of those two characters and an admission that their addition would boost the sales of the often struggling Avengers franchise.

Therefore, when Marvel presented Iron Man in theaters, they were starting to build their Cinematic Universe with what was essentially a lesser known property.  And they were, in my opinion, taking a chance.  In the comics, Tony Stark is an egotistical, womanizing, alcoholic, genius, who cares about very little outside of his own perceptions.  It was Robert Downey, Jr., playing Stark/ Iron Man to perfection, who injected a likeable, basically good hearted person into the main character.   I seriously doubt that most people would have found Tony Stark a sympathetic character in his original state.  But Marvel had to start somewhere.

The Hulk has been on television and remains popular today, but his movie incarnation is more akin to his comic book roots and far removed from what the general public would recall or recognize.  Likewise, because Daredevil is my favorite Marvel character, I’m a major fan of the prowess and capabilities of the Black Widow outside of The Avengers comics.  And, consequently, Black Widow and Hulk alone would have been more than enough to entice me to a theater seat.  However, I fully understand how that might not have been the case for others, especially among the general public.  No.  Marvel had to start with films that introduced their characters with origin stories and build the universe slowly over time; one character at a time.  Iron Man.  The Hulk.  Captain America.  Thor. The ultimate payoff, they always knew, would be the culmination of these characters meeting as a group in The Avengers.  It would be the first time a comic book crossover was depicted on a movie screen. The buildup was well coordinated and the anticipation would be massive.  Of course, they killed it on every level.

DC Comics had a completely different set of parameters.  Their most iconic characters were also the stars of their best-selling comics.  In fact Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are among the best known characters in the world.  Even people who haven’t actually read a comic in years readily recognize the various Batman symbols, Superman’s “S” symbol and Wonder Woman’s stylized eagle and starred tiara.  Conceived in 1938, 1939 and 1941 respectively, this “Trinity” has been consistently published, been the subjects of various TV shows and movies, and appeared on numerous types of merchandise for decades.  They have grown to be as much a part of the global consciousness as Mickey Mouse or Apple Computers.

Further, I don’t recall a period when the Justice League comics ever sold as inconsistently or lagged as much in sales as The Avengers comics have at some points.  In fact, I’m sure it’s not lost on very many readers that, even after the massive success of the movie, Marvel had to set about merging the Avengers books with the X-Men books to boost sales.  But fond memories of the Super Friends animated show; the Justice League animation; and Justice League Unlimited, coupled with the usual sales of Justice League related comics should produce some sincere anticipation for that movie on their own.

Therefore, contrary to popular belief, DC Comics had no real need to follow Marvel’s cinematic example. If they so desired, DC could move directly into establishing their shared universe with a fraction of the build-up; as long as their “Big Three” were involved.  And that’s just what they did.  No, I don’t feel that Batman V. Superman was rushed or crowded.  I do feel that it was a well done movie that had a different tone and different pacing than the average Marvel movie.  And that’s okay.  DC has to be DC, not Marvel Chasers.  It seemed that there was a smear campaign before Batman V. Superman was even released; a hive-minded attempt to get people not to like it or even go to the theater.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s later discovered that money changed hands in some cases.  It was surreal to behold.  Some of the negative things I’ve read since its release have bordered on farcical.  I won’t go into them here.  It just makes me wonder, because the entire theater broke into applause at the movie’s conclusion, when my son and I went to see it on opening night.   No one had complained about a single scene throughout the movie.  And, no, I’m not saying that it was perfect.  But, neither was Captain America: Civil War, which I also loved.  The critics and fan boys were just much, much kinder.

At any rate, I can agree that Marvel has been ingenious in its machinations, but DC is most definitely not wrong.  Be blessed . . .