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Our movies are doing great, why aren't our books?

Written by Liam on Wednesday, April 13 2011 and posted in Features

Green Lantern, Captain America and Thor are both building up plenty of steam in the run up to their box office debuts, but to what extent are their comic book counterparts trying to capitalise on this and should they be doing more?


No-one thought that Bucky would be Captain America forever, even Ed Brubaker has said it was only originally set to last a few issues until the slow news day explosion that surrounded Captain America #25 a few years ago. Since then Bucky has wielded the shield well and fans have long since ceased kicking up a stink about it in the face of quality stories and all seemed to be going well therefore it's no surprise that in light of the announcement that Steve Rogers will once again take up the star spangled mantle once more not everyone is over the moon.

The reasons behind the change are transparent enough: the notion that people driven to comic stores after being blown away by the latest Marvel blockbuster would rather read about Steve than Bucky. This is probably true, although I find it more likely that selling trades of Steve stories will be more likely to satisfy a new customer due to the heavily serialised nature of modern comics. Buying part one of six doesn't feel quite the same as having a whole story to go at.

This is not the first time Marvel has tried to capiltalise on movie buzz with changes to the line though. Doc Ock's costume got a revamp to line him up with Alfred Molina's portrayal in Spider-Man 2, and Peter Parker briefly flirted with organic web shooters, but is changing the comics more likely to hook these new readers or to irritate the older ones?

DC and Warner Brothers have taken a very different tactic, seemingly doing their best to hide any breakout characters from view in the comics. Jaime Reyes had his title cancelled just as his Blue Beetle persona was winning over new supporters on TV and even Bruce Wayne was nowhere to be seen while The Dark Knight was busy making millions.

The difference here is that DC brought a lot of Joker related material back into print around TDK's release as well as the hugely anticipated Joker graphic novel by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, and apocryphal data from my local comic store is that this tactic was very warmly received. So perhaps a movie's release is the best time to take advantage of the fifty plus years of stories these characters have appeared in rather than tinkering with what's going on today. After all while comic book movies have never been more successful or prominent in the public eye, sales in the direct market are plumbing new depths.

Two titles that have benefitted from the increase in exposure are The Walking Dead and Scott Pilgrim. While Pilgrim may have underperformed at the box office, its sixth volume sold in massive numbers, and all five previous books re-entered and dominated the sales charts for a huge chunk of the summer. Robert Kirkman's zombie title has always sold well in collected form, but, at various points last year, the long running series looked like the only game in town as far as trade paperback sales were concerned. Both titles benefitted immensely from being in print from beginning to end, from simple hooks (Guy's life is a videogame and Eek! Zombies!), and from good support from their publishers. Perhaps being the child of only one parent helped too; both Bryan Lee O'Mally and Robert Kirkman have no-one to answer to but themselves when writing their comics, and this creative freedom has bred nothing but quality in both cases.

Going back to Marvel then, one thing I remember clearly is the 25c issue program around the time I was getting into buying monthly superhero titles. The month X2 was released saw Uncanny X-Men get a cheap issue with no content changes at all. This was possibly the worst thing Marvel could have done. While Grant Morrison was briefly redefining the concept of the title in New X-Men, Chuck Austen's title was popular with almost no-one, combining baffling soap opera plot twists with incoherent stories and a cast which managed to avoid most of the mutants appearing in that year's cinematic offering. Well done Marvel.

So what's the conclusion? Change the monthlies to fit the zeitgeist? Maybe, but you'll certainly risk the ire of your precious few monthly readers at a time when you need them most. Change nothing but make the titles more accessible? Perhaps, but be careful what you promote. Not everyone will appreciate the latest continuity porn from Geoff Johns or the incredibly idiomatic dialogue found in a Bendis title. No, what seems like the best plan to my eyes is to make use of what you have.

These characters are popular for a reason so why not drag those reasons out of the archives and show them off to people. Both major companies have shown they're not averse to recolouring older stories to take advantage of modern stories and plenty of people have stories they loved when they were kids but have no way of reading legally nowadays. By all means keep churning out new minis for these characters that will be remembered by no-one twelve months from now, but why not see what you've got sitting in your vaults first.

Written or Contributed by: Liam

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