FEATURE: STAN, MARVEL AND THE DRAGON
This isn't the Marvel Stan used to know, by Jonathan Ellis.
"Marvel is... more than a group of magazines. It's a cornucopia
of fantasy, a wild idea, a swashbuckling attitude, an escape from the
humdrum and prosaic. It's a serendipitous feast for the mind, the eye of
imagination. It has a spirit you can almost feel... it's a gleaming tribute
to our love of satire and excitement, a literate celebration of unbridled
creativity coupled with a touch of rebellion and an insolent desire to spit
in the eye of the dragon."
This was once true, but is it now? Marvel has suffered so much it's pain is palpable, and its battle scars are reflected in every book they produce. Marvel has come to live in the moment; faint instants of glory, but unfortunately they are just moments, and they don't last. Marvel these days isn't where you go for daring and diversity, it's where you go for superheroes. Now I'm not going to dredge up that old argument about superheroes, frankly I love Marvel's characters. I grew up with them. The fantastic and colourful bruisers. The determined boys in costumes trying to prove they're men. The selfless acts of courage and galactic wonders. I still get a kick out of seeing the Sasquatch trench through a forest or the Hulk against immeasurable odds. In fact the Hulk is probably one of my favourite characters, buy I don't buy the title - despite Paul Jenkins. It's just not what it once was, and a Byrne reboot certainly didn't help matters.
Marvel is in the moments. There were the Heroes Return titles; Garney and Waid on CAPTAIN AMERICA, Busiek and Perez on AVENGERS, Davis on FF, Chen's artwork on IRON MAN, and later on John Romita Jr. on THOR. They all had great starts. Big blow out issues with lots of advertising pointing to them, and a heavy focus on the return of these mighty legends. But as the books progressed, interest waned. Any marketting person worth their salt knows that there is some effort required in keeping a book "hot", and Marvel just seemed to let them slip down the sales charts in this case. The similar thing has happened with the no-longer-recently relaunched DAREDEVIL. Sorry Joe, Jimmy and Nanci, you're some of the best people in the biz and far and away the people that are keeping Marvel alive, but it's nothing you're not already aware of. Like the REBORN books, DAREDEVIL started out with a bang, a genuine smash hit, but these delays are causing 'the locals to grow restless'. Even if there's a good reason, how many are aware? How many still even care? Every month that a book is late, no matter what the reason, you lose your readers; you lose their trust and you lose their money. And you lose some of the magic.
The worst part is that all of these experiences have made me cynical. I can't help but feel that the same fate will be suffered by Marvel's new Ultimate Marvel line. I only hope it will bring good fortune and large paychecks to project writer Brian Michael Bendis first. If not for Bendis though, I might not have even given a damn at all.
The lateness issue brings up the argument of ongoing titles vs. Original Graphic Novels (or OGNs for short). Would these titles, these Marvel Moments be better capitalized on if they arrived (when scheduled) in short bursts? If Marvel truly only does exist in the moments, then maybe a publishing plan that took advantage of this would be in everyone's best interests? We wouldn't have to suffer through the horrors of seeing our favorite titles slide into mediocrity as the creative teams, editors, marketters, whomever, decide that their hearts just aren't in the story anymore, but keep the book going anyway.
It's taken for granted these days that a pipe dream of Stan Lee's is that should Stan Lee Media become successful enough, Stan would come back and buy Marvel. He could then he could put his own spin on the classic characters for today and make them more accessible to younger audiences. The problem with this pipe dream (as with most) is that it's just not feasible. You can't change things around for the younger audience when it's an older audience that is your bread and butter. You can only stop a title and start over at issue 1 so many times before everyone just gets fed up. I do believe that things like OGN's will help Marvel survive, but my cynical nature keeps rearing it's ugly head, trying to tell me that the people in charge at Marvel just don't understand this. Also, I honestly don't believe marketting the same style of book you produce for the 18-39 year old market towards younger audiences will mean more young readers. First and foremost, kids can't afford to buy comics (hell, I can barely afford to collect comics). And I have yet to see kids come into my local comic shop and get as excited about Spider-Man as they are about Pokemon and the toys on the wall. That may not be a failing of the character, but it's definately a failing of the company.
Is Marvel that same company intent on spitting in the dragon's eye, or perhaps, has it instead permanently become the mundane slumbering dragon itself?
Stan Lee's first house of ideas seems to have folded like a house of cards, but it's good to see Stan trying to press forward with Stan Lee Media. Here's to hoping that he succeeds.
Jon Ellis is the Interviews Editor at PopImage.
Make sure to visit Stan Lee online at http://www.stanlee.net.
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