Confession time: I haven’t seen the Season 2 premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet. Don’t get me wrong, I want to, but things have been busy here, and when I do tune in (thanks, Hulu Plus!) I want to give it my full attention. TV has become very serious in recent years, and the best stuff tends to require the viewer to invest some brain power into the shows.
It’s a good thing, but it can get a little exhausting. And if you’re a Marvel fan, there’s a lot to keep track of in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Characters, locations, devices and plotlines might trigger some stored bit of trivia in your brain and lead to a different appreciation for the approach.
Here at The Fifth Color, I try to keep abreast of all the Marvel comics news I can, and it’s requiring me to track more and more movie rumors and casting decisions — which is weird because The Fifth Color began as a way to relate to comics and how we readers view the stories. But comics are becoming more than just you and the pages in your hand; there’s a now a strong media influence on how we see comics. Even something as simple as a mobile game can draw you into a comic shop and change how you see the books on the shelves. No joke, I had a customer show me a comic cover he had unlocked on a Marvel mobile game and ask me if we had that book in stock. He wanted to find out what it was about. That’s good marketing.
It also raises an interesting question: Just how much are we influenced by the media when we read comics? In the dark, dark times of just 15 years ago, comic movies were either a pleasant little bonus or, in some cases, a disaster that might have even kept some from looking into the source material. Now it’s pretty much a given that whatever you’re reading is going to eventually be adapted. TV shows, movies and video games influence how we read comics, sometimes from personal experience, sometimes just radiant exposure through advertising and secondhand knowledge. That understanding can color how the way we look at comics. Are the media a new sixth color? Do I have to change the name of this column??
We now debate which characters deserve their own feature film or television series. Some Captain Marvel fans aren’t content with a solo comic; she needs to needs to be on the big screen, and now. On the other hand, some debate the need for an Ant-Man movie, and can come up with a dozen different projects in which Marvel Studios should invest its time. Comic-focused panels always have a few questions devoted to the details of the next Marvel movie project, even if the question is posed to an editor who has little or no input into what the film division does. It’s almost as if some fans demand more of the movies than of the comics themselves.
Why? Well, there could be a few reasons. Comics, no matter how brilliant we know them to be and how influential they are in other media, are sometimes still considered a ‘lesser’ artform, and kids’ stuff. Movies, on the other hand, are studied in schools and come across to the public as a higher art. If comics become movies, then they’re “legitimate,” at least in some circles. It could also just be a love of a character or plotline that demands more of a fan’s time; we all love Iron Fist, and seeing him in a film would be a bonus to the monthly comic. In a way, I think we’ve also gotten a little spoiled in how good, and how commonplace, comic movies have become. There’s a whole generation now that doesn’t remember Batman Forever or The Shadow, and assume that Hollywood takes these properties seriously.
The more comic books spread out into other media, the greater their reach is and the more reflexive they become. If you liked X, why not try Y? It’s good business and can bring a lot of new fans to properties they wouldn’t have tried on their own. “If you like the comics, go see a movie” works nine times out of 10; If you enjoyed Thor, the Thor movies are super-fun. “If you liked the movies, try the comics” works … for the most part. I can say with confidence that new customers at the store are more likely to look into Captain America comics when he’s appearing on screen; however, it’s a toss-up whether they’ll take those comics home or make it a habit. I would assume that if you like the TV show, you’ll check out the movies, considering Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the only thing that’s on, and it ties heavily into Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but this is still something relatively new.
A better example of all of this is the Star Trek franchise. What started out as a TV show has branched out into movies, novels and comics in a variety of different continuities that all tie back into one another. All of these things can be enjoyed separately, but when supplemented by the other forms of media give an entirely different perspective on the characters and stories we love.
You can watch Star Trek: The Next Generation, leave it at that, and enjoy it for what you’ve seen. If you read the novels, you get more stories and new perspectives on the characters you couldn’t have gotten on the TV screen. Add in the Original Series and now you know more about the history of the Star Trek universe and have a new layer of Star Trek to satisfy. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is awesome, and is still a legitimate series without a movie (although it would be cool).
Marvel has a lot to offer its fans these days and a variety of different ways to reach its audience, hopefully funneling them back into the comics from which this all sprang forth. There are a dozen different ways to enjoy your heroes and are coming to us with incredibly care and connectivity. But if you just watch the movies, that’s okay too. Marvel has something for everyone.
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