Avengers: Beware the BoomA column article, Manifesto by: Jason Sacks
Hey, did you hear that there was a pretty big movie that came out not too long ago? Something about a bunch of characters who came together to fight some evil? I heard it was pretty popular and that everybody is having a geekgasm about it. And you know, it was a really damn good movie. Really, really damn good. Avengers was far, far better than we all had any hope it would be, a massive love letter for Marvel Comics and of course a giant sign that we have a whole bunch of new super-hero movies on their way to your local theatre.
We all know that The Amazing Spider-Man will be out later this summer, and of course Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and the inevitable Avengers 2 are in development. Ant-Man is on its way as well, and who knows what will come after. Will we finally get the long-discussed Luke Cage movie or a reboot of Daredevil or a Deadpool solo movie? Only time will tell, but I guarantee that the suits in charge in Hollywood are discussing their next Marvel movie, and the one after that, and the one after that.
And of course those movies will be quite long awaited and very exciting for all of us. I doubt any of us on Comics Bulletin could ever miss a Luke Cage movie; heck, we'd all be there on the first day of the movie's premiere. Even Ant-Man would get me into the theatres because, after all, I am a geek through and through.
And I also guarantee you that the suits who engineered Disney's purchase of Marvel are completely over the moon excited about the future potential that they will be able to pull from these characters, well aware that they have more billion-dollar franchises that they can exploit and market, and delight kids and adults.
In short, Avengers is a complete blockbuster, a massive hit and proof, as if we needed it, that we geeks were always right about how much we love these fantastic characters.
God knows that movies based on the comics have been big at least since Christopher Reeve put on the cape back when Carter was in the White House, not to mention the giant fan earthquake triggered by the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson Batman a decade later.
But this feels different somehow, this Avengers thing. Avengers is on its way to be the biggest grossing movie of the year by far, and people are already beginning to whisper the T word to describe its worldwide ticket sales potential (that's Titanic, thank you very much). This movie is so big that it might even help lift sales for other super-hero movies – the pretty much unwanted relaunches of Spider-Man and Superman might end up being helped in a major way by fans' seemingly insatiable lust to see well-muscled men in tight costumes fighting evil.
That's not to mention that The Walking Dead is the most popular basic cable show, a certifiable blockbuster at least in terms of its success, and a show that garners more buzz than any TV show this side of Mad Men. Even the Avengers cartoon on Disney XD is pretty damn fun and true to the comics – and apparently is really popular, as well.
So I hate to be the bummer, the glass half empty guy here, but I gotta ask: what does this mean for the comics themselves?
See, comics have already been invaded by the Hollywood brigade. I know it's a sad, old story that Hollywood is comics-crazy, whether a comic has never actually appeared (Cowboys vs. Aliens, anyone?) or if the comic is based on a star's pet project (anyone remember Rosario Dawson's Occult Crimes Taskforce, that had as its main character a woman who looked remarkably like… Rosario Dawson?), or if the movie is only tangentially based on the original comic (Wanted), or if the movie is based on an obscure and wacky series (Mystery Men has long been one of my favorite comics movies).
But we comics fans have to wonder if all that attention, all that slow build-up and buzz, was only just a precursor for the giant onslaught. We have to wonder if this means that the bigwigs in Hollywood will come a-calling again, and what that will mean for the comics industry and its fans.
Will the men with money come and strip-mine our dreams? Will the big Hollywood bucks help encourage creativity or will it cause lots of narrowly focused, easily filmable comics to be created? Will comics end up being wonderful virtual storyboards as the great comic book boom of 2012 starts to explode, while the level of imagination and quality begins to decrease more and more?
Instead of writing for the trade, will creators start writing for the screenplay, creating comics to push for the inevitable Hollywood option? Will there be more attention paid to creating work that can be easily adapted for a movie rather than exploring the creators' imaginations? One of the great, amazing things about comics is that there are absolutely no limits to the work that can be included on a comic page. You can do anything in comics, but will this rush for Hollywood bucks result in comics that don't really expand or embrace readers' imaginations? Could this result in a dearth of incredibly imaginative comics like Prophet or Savage Dragon or King City?
Will we lose some of our favorite comics creators to the creative black hole of the movie world, the endless snake pit of friendly conversations with people who lie every time they open their mouth? Will this boom help more people like the good folks at Men of Action or will it cause just as many creators to disappear into the endless miasma of the movie industry?
Will this growth in the industry bring in more people who enter the industry just to create marketable properties and not to create great comics? If one of the keys to Hollywood success is having a comic book that acts like a storyboard, will there be a new wave of aspiring screenwriters entering the field who see comics as a kind of back door to getting their material produced? It's always hard to sort "good motivations" from bad, and I don't want to sound judgmental over the entry of people who might create interesting comics. But historically comics have had an odd filtering mechanism: as long as people won't get rich doing comics, the only people who create comics are those who care deeply about the artform. As soon as people realize that comics can be the gateway to real money, projects get less ambitious, people are attracted who care about their series as marketable properties rather than as personal creations, and motivations get murkier.
And will the Big Two publishers, excited by the attention from their corporate parents – Disney and Warners – be compelled to pull back on some of the more interesting comics they produce and create more event comics like Avengers vs. X-Men that bring the blockbuster mentality to the so-called House of Ideas? Will the star system rise up again and lead comics to embrace flash and fame over quality and consistency?
Yeah, there really is a feeling that this is a rising tide that could possibly lift all creative boats. More and more people are embracing our amazing, awesome and incredible artform every day as they get converted from the Avengers movie. For once, there is an actual chance for the comic shops to reach that endlessly elusive movie audience that desperately wants to read more about their favorite characters. Marvel has finally triumphed in its struggle to make its characters icons, and that presents tremendous potential for the medium to escape its current slow sales and really grow organically. And the rise of digital comics even helps with that more, as bored bus riders can happily read collections of Kurt Buseik/George Perez Avengers comics on their iPads and not suffer the glares of that snobby looking accountant sitting next to them.
Comics are in far better shape now than they were 20 years ago when we experienced our last major boom. the industry is far more diverse, with many more great titles, better deals for creators, and a distribution system that gets material into readers' hands very easily. From an infrastructure standpoint, comics are better able to handle a bit of a boom than they ever have before.
But if this boomlet is really going to help comics, we need to advocate for the good stuff, the material that is well written and well-drawn, that exposes some of the greatness of comic art and of the super-hero. We need to emphasize the material that gets ordinary people excited about comics. We'll do our part here at the Bulletin to help you find the good stuff.