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The Grumpy Color | Carla and Tom take apart 2013, Part 2

by  in Comic News Comment
The Grumpy Color | Carla and Tom take apart 2013, Part 2

Today, Carla and Tom continue to muse through all the news the Big Two have brought us in 2013. See can read the first installment here.

Tom Bondurant: The Marvel Cinematic Universe (Avengers division) is now five and a half years old, and consists currently of eight movies, a handful of shorts, and a half-season of TV.

Carla Hoffman: Holy cats, we work fast!

Tom: However, it’s about to get a lot bigger, adding two movies next year, plus the four Netflix series (and the Defenders movie coming out of those). Clearly this looks like a long-term commitment — but how long can it go?

Carla: Ask me after Ant-Man. That’s going to be the hardest movie to sell to non-comic fans. If that turns out to be a surprise hit enough for Ant-Man (whichever alias he may be) to turn up in an Avengers movie, then I can’t think of a property that wouldn’t work on the silver screen as long as the right creative team is at work.

TB: See, I think Ant-Man just got a lot easier to sell, because now it’s “Paul Rudd joins the Avengers.”

Carla: But he’s not going to be joining the Avengers straight away (she says, making guesses about a movie that’s barely into pre-production). We have to be sold on Ant-Man in the same way people had to be sold on Thor, a character people can kind of guess about and probably come with a lot of preconceived notions about. My feeling is that Rudd might be closer to Robert Downey Jr. in style, where his personality and charm is going to make the movie gold. Maybe this will be a big renaissance for Hank Pym and he’ll reinvent himself again as a hero and beloved Avenger. Maybe he’ll be a bust and everyone will just file this one away with Ghost Rider. Let’s hope for the former.

Tom: While I’m still eager to see the Captain America and Avengers sequels, I feel like I’ve satisfied my need for Thor and Iron Man movies —

Carla: Yeah, I think Iron Man’s solo movie career ended on a nice note with Iron Man 3 but Thor could do another fun flick. If only to get more Warriors Three action!

Tom: — and I’m still not sold on Guardians of the Galaxy.

Carla: Have you read Annihilation?

Tom: Actually, no; I heard good things, but Marvel’s outer-space stuff never really grabbed me. I know about the GoTG primarily through their appearances in ‘70s Defenders and Avengers comics — but that’s a good opportunity to ask where I should start with the new(er) stuff.

Carla: Read it! Immediately! Annihilation, Annihilation: Conquest, the Guardians’ series and War of Kings is a pretty amazing run of Marvel cosmic tales. They are honestly just brilliant and really give a … well, for lack of a better reference point, a Green Lantern-y/Blackest Night-y kind of feel. Big in scope but true to characters and motivations. Each arc completely a story so you don’t feel like you are chasing after an ending, but feeling that grand accomplishment that comes from a big space opera. It’s really good stuff.

Tom: I knew you could help!

Anyway, the MCU isn’t going to be something Marvel just reboots and/or relaunches, like Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four — I have a feeling the Avengers are the boys’ version of the Disney Princesses, in that you don’t need a lot of narrative “content” to sell a lot of merchandise — but I don’t think the company can let it run for too much longer, at least in its current form. The original Avengers survived after Thor and Iron Man left — do you see the Marvel movies doing the same with their own “kooky quartet?”

Carla: That’s the beauty of how the Avengers are set up; Robert Downey Jr. can come in and cameo in another movie down the line and we’d be fine. None of these guys need to think about recasting or (God forbid) rebooting for a long time. If new Avengers are added to the mix every so often, we can get excited to see new characters as well as glimpses and hat waves from old favorites. The Avengers took breaks from the team all the time and went on reserve status, that’s fine by me if any of our founders want to do the same.

Tom: I may never really come to grips with the New 52 reboot, but I am trying to cope nonetheless.

Carla: I admire your courage, sir.

Tom: Part of that is this notion that in starting over, DC has thrown out huge chunks of its shared-universe history, mostly from the Golden and Silver Ages. However, Marvel has gone the other way , with books like Daredevil, Superior Spider-Man and FF (and presumably the Brian Michael Bendis X-Men, which I don’t read) tapping into deep veins of continuity.

Carla: Ehn, Bendis isn’t really rooting through continuity with his All-New Classic cast and FF (Future Foundation style or Original Recipe) isn’t really reaping in the references either. But your point still stands; there are a lot more references to the past in the mighty Marvel manner these days.

Tom: As far as I know, this doesn’t seem to have driven readers away, so when does continuity get oppressive?

Carla: When the creative team doesn’t want to use it. There’s enough that can be done within the bounds of what came before to last a thousand years. It’s when the writer or editor doesn’t want to use it is when the story feels weighted down. Their reluctance shows up on the page and readers feel the slog. Blank slate readers should know enough about Superman to pick up a comic and know what’s going on. If anything, jettisoning continuity means the reader has to be reintroduced to concepts they didn’t know in the first place, so answers aren’t as easy to come by. Then again, DC isn’t starving so maybe it is only long time readers who care about what came before.

Tom: Glad you mentioned us lifers. A while back we talked about comparing Donna Troy to Jean Grey — fan favorites with lots of personal history, who just keep coming back despite themselves — so let me put it to you this way: if Marvel ever did a New 52-style reboot, do you think it could realistically “forget about” Jean, like DC has forgotten about Donna? After all, there’d still be plenty of Wolverine….

Carla: Ah ha ha, no. Gosh no. Not in the slightest! While I had to be refreshed on who exactly Donna Troy is, the blank-slate reader knows Jean Grey is Famke Janssen. She’s a founding X-Man! The only woman! Part of one of the X-Men’s classic tales! While she has been reinvented several different times through death and rebirth, her core never changed. She’s still the redheaded girlfriend of Scott Summers, a telepath and telekinetic that men want and women want to be like. A better comparison for this question would be the winsome Wasp. Could a reboot of the Avengers remove her from the roster with little complaint? See the movie.

Tom: This year brought a lot of endings for various distinctive DC creative teams, including Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke on Green Lantern, J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman (and various artists) on Batwoman, Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette on Swamp Thing, and Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato on Flash. As new creative teams come in (like Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder on Action Comics, and Jeff Parker writing Aquaman), who’d you like to see taking his or her crack at the DC superhero line? Anybody from DC you’d like to see try a Marvel title?

Carla: Mr. J.H. Williams? If you’re reading this? Please draw Doctor Strange. Thank you.

Other than that, I would give some serious cash to see Gail Simone come back to Deadpool for a miniseries.

On the small screen, DC Nation was a fascinating idea to create an entire hour block of DC programming, from cartoons to shorts to information about the heroes and villains to cool stunts like “Can a boxing-glove arrow really work?” The animated shorts are my favorite (Super Best Friends Forever!), but what made them work as more than YouTube clips was the two main shows that went with them: Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Young Justice. Young Justice was a total throwback to the Justice League Unlimited days and had long, meaningful storylines and continuity galore. It was a great refresher from the New 52. So of course, it’s gone now and word on the street has it that Warner Bros. didn’t want to go in that direction, but wanted the demographic of “boys who are into goofy humor, goofy random humor, like on Adventure Time or Regular Show.” Now, anyone who watches more than one episode of either of the shows they mentioned know that both Adventure Time and Regular Show are not as random or goofy as they appear to be but at the same time … was Saturday morning really the best time for in-depth drama and action? Back in my day (she said from her rocking chair), Batman: the Animated Series came on at the end of a weekday lineup of cartoons on Fox, so could a later time slot work for Young Justice?

Tom: I’m glad you mentioned time slot, because it was a big part of my problem (logistically speaking) with watching the DC Nation block, and with Cartoon Network shows generally. I have to catch up with Adventure Time (and before it, Clone Wars) via on-demand and/or home video. Granted, it’s because I am a Luddite and still don’t own a DVR — let me GASP! on your behalf —

Carla: *GA–* Oh.

Tom: — and I am busy doing household-y things on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. However, that leads into my second point about YJ, GL, and DCN — where’s all the home video? Netflix streams Batman Beyond, Justice League and a host of other DC animated fare, but as far as I can tell, none of the DC Nation material. This is starting to sound like my personal issues playing out, because there are DVDs for YJ and GL. Still, it’s been hard for me to keep up with. I finally watched the Super Best Friends Forever shorts on YouTube, but I’d rather have ‘em (and the Aardman material, and the private-eye Wonder Woman, etc.) on a disc or two.

So, yes, trying to get back to the point, I think a different time slot could have done better for Young Justice, but more and more, I wonder if DC doesn’t need to make its shows more available in general.

Carla: Do kids even watch Saturday morning cartoons anymore? When I was young (and the world was new), after school and Saturday mornings were mainstays in kids’ programming, mostly because that was the time set aside for them on the regular networks. With so many specialty cable channels, cartoons run 24/7, so there really is no reason not to make them available at any time viewers want. Maybe Adventure Time is making them too much money and Cartoon Network just wants something to off set their biggest property; maybe the shows aren’t as popular as the internet makes it seem. All I know is that it was something really unique and kind of brilliant in terms of quality and depth and I really miss it.

Tom: In the most recent GOF I mentioned “The Architects,” namely Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid, who in the mid-2000s were seen as the main DC writers. Marvel then used the term (I think they followed DC, but you may know more) for its own group of high-profile writers. Today Marvel arguably has a similar group: Waid, BMB, Dan Slott, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, etc. However, DC is getting more decentralized. It has Johns, Scott Snyder, Gail Simone, Jeff Lemire and Brian Azzarello, but it also has a handful of professionals who either seem to be content with their own little corners of the universe (like Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti writing Jonah Hex) or a group of up-and-comers like Charles Soule and Ray Fawkes. Who do you see as the Big Two’s MVPs?

Carla: Looks like the Marvel Architects Initiative (everything’s an Initiative!) rolled out around 2010. Most of these guys still stand today. Marvel’s 800-pound gorilla is still Brian Michael Bendis. While I have some qualms about the technicalities of his writing, his stories work and resonate throughout the whole Marvel Universe. Jonathan Hickman is a relatively new voice that’s becoming part of readers’ memories when they look back on books he’s worked on. Despite a stellar run reinventing the Fantastic Four, I can’t help but think back to when Hickman was on board, let alone the … I don’t even know what he’s doing with the Avengers. Matt Fraction is a force to be reckoned with as his style brightens up everything he touches and has made Hawkeye a household hit. It’s weird to see Brubaker absent from the pages of Marvel, but his work on Captain America is still the go-to perspective for the Star-Spangled Avengers, leading to Rick Remender’s uphill battle on that series. From my side of the fence, I don’t even think Geoff Johns any more when I think of DC (which was pretty much a default a year back). I think of Scott Snyder, which tells you how much influence Batman has on the company. Sadly, outside of the Bat-books, I think of the editorial snafus and the people who aren’t working on books rather than the ones who are. Do you think DC editorial has gotten worse or better than last year?

Tom: I don’t know about “better or worse,” but in 2013 it seemed like the hits just kept on coming. Andy Diggle wrote all of one issue of Action Comics, Kevin Maguire was off Justice League 3000 before the first issue was published, Jerry Ordway aired his grievances with the company pretty publicly, and J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman left Batwoman because Dan DiDio didn’t want Bat-folk in committed relationships. I agree that Scott Snyder’s profile has gotten pretty high at DC, although I don’t know that he wants to be the new Geoff Johns.

Basically I think DC’s high-ups are focused on making sure the characters are presented well — whatever they think that is — and as long as they find people who can do that, they’re happy. I think both companies will say they’re open to new, fresh takes on the characters — and I do think DC can tell a creative team “you’re not bound by continuity,” whereas Marvel really can’t — but for whatever reasons, Marvel seems to have kept its creative teams happier across the board. Granted, some books have changed creative teams amicably, like Swamp Thing, Flash, and (except for a hiccup) the Lantern titles; and I can’t argue with Marc Andreyko writing Batwoman. Still, DC really needs to work on its social skills.

And speaking of the “Cartoon Network only wants adolescent boys” thing (gah! phrasing) —

Carla: “Targeting a male adolescent demographic”?

Tom: — there you go! What do you suppose it will take to reverse that? Is Warner Bros. so devoted to what it imagines as its core audience that it will alienate other groups just to please that core? Surely no Big Two publisher would do something so short-sighted!

CH: Executives are a crazy bunch of people. I think it’s going to take new management, the higher ups switching seats and getting some braver souls in the board rooms. Let’s not kid ourselves; creative teams and fantastic animation can only go so far before the money tightens up those reigns. DC needs the guys in charge to get a better vision of family entertainment, because that’s what comics books are. They’re not just for kids or just for adults, they are for everyone and when you produce a product for everyone, you make more money.

Tom: Well said! So who do you see buying Marvel and DC, and do you think the companies are attracting different audiences?

Carla: I don’t see as many DC diehards as I used to. Back in the Blackest Night days, we were turning over books hand over fist, and not just of that particular story. When the company is doing great, it really makes people get voracious for more.

Now, this is just hearsay and my estimate, but I see a lot more women buying Marvel comics than DC. Maybe it’s thanks to the movies, maybe it’s Kelly Sue DeConnick and her fan involvement with Captain Marvel, maybe it’s the movies’ growing fandom online, but female readership is skewing slightly more towards Marvel. Then again, independent comics are beating them both out of the water with books like Saga, Pretty Deadly, The Walking Dead and more being picked up by women.

Gosh, are they attracting different audiences? I want to say yes, but I can’t quite put into words who exactly those audiences are.

Tom: We’re about ready to wrap up, but just a couple more things. First, how’d you and your customers like buying all those Avengers and Spider-Man books that came out practically on a weekly schedule?

Carla: Ha ha. Marvel did have a relentless shipping schedule this year, but the only real complaints came from having to explain what they all were and related to. Did you want to read Age of Ultron’s tie-ins? Here ya go. Did you just want the main series? Want to ignore it entirely? These are all options and having options means having more chances to hook a reader in to a new book or a beloved series. Behind the counter, however, it can be a pain. Pull customers have to be more specific about what they want and really look at the titles they pull to make sure they don’t go home with something they hadn’t bargained on. Ordering gets trickier as you can’t just base your numbers off previous Spider-Man sales, you have to see how it fits into the rest of your stock and a broader picture of what sells for your store in general. Are we a mini-series kind of people? Do we like main titles and nothing more? Is there a creator everyone’s going to be talking about? Or did they talk about it all three months ago and now everyone’s moved on to something else? It’s a tricky business, sir.

Tom: Second, which books are you going to miss in 2014, and which newcomers are you excited about?

I was sorry to see Demon Knights and Sword of Sorcery go, because even with something like Justice League Dark, the intersection of fantasy and superheroics has tended to be under-explored. Mostly, though, I wish Dial H had found a bigger audience. It was a crazy commentary on superheroics that could have offered a whole new perspective on the New 52.

Carla: Seeing how the All-New Marvel NOW! (now with more NOW!) is promoted, I don’t feel like I can even trust cancellations anymore. Sure, they say this is the last issue, but then promote the same book, just with new numbering??! Still, I hate to say that we won’t be seeing anymore Journey Into Mystery as it was a darn near perfect title to give to young girls and adults of all ages. X-Men Legacy was the best X-Book on the stands in theme and humor, but it was probably just too weird to live.

Tom: As for the newcomers, Batman ‘66 was an earnest attempt to recapture straight-faced Silver Age storytelling that turned out to be lots of fun. I’m also finding myself more curious about Pandora, mostly because it seems to be undermining its original premise with every new issue, and I wonder where writer Ray Fawkes is going with it. Finally, Batman: Li’l Gotham is another digital-first highlight, a stylized superhero comedy fit for all ages.

Carla: Oh, man, I love Batman: Li’l Gotham! But for Marvel, I think Young Avengers is something really unique in the way that the creators engage their audience and create something that’s so perfect in intention and execution. They were really young adults, vividly on the page and embroiled in so much drama and heart that I hope they’ll be back again someday. Looking to 2014, we’re getting so many awesome new titles I don’t even know what to say. A bevy of female-led titles like Black Widow, Elektra, She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel will make Captain Marvel less lonely on the stands and it’ll be up to readers to go out and buy these books to keep up this diversity trend.

Really, there’s so much ahead of us, Tom. 2014 looks like it’s going to be a heck of a year. And hey, if it’s not, maybe we’ll get a reboot.

Tom: Couldn’t have put it better myself. Happy New Year, everybody!

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