A Tale of Two Press Releases

July 6, 2010

Last week saw some big news from both comics giants. Let’s compare, shall we?

Marvel is forming a TV division to develop its properties into live action and animated offerings for that enormous television audience. They named Uncle Jeph (that’s Jeph Smallville-Lost-Heroes-The Long Halloween-Hush Loeb to the uninitiated) to head it. Back when Disney first bought Marvel, I said “Now we got us a fair fight.” I meant that Disney had the synergy of a multi-national corporation that has its fingers in many, many pies, a depth and breadth that Marvel lacked, and a knack for getting all those diverse operations working together to make the most of their properties. I know some of us wrinkle our noses when we hear our beloved characters described as “assets” or “properties,” but honestly, as a fan as well as a stockholder, I am all in favor of Disney’s efforts to get every dime they can out of every character they own. A higher ROI for me as a stockholder means MORE STUFF for me as a fan. It really is a win-win if the company knows what it’s doing.

And this is where I planned a contrast with Time Warner, which has that diversity in terms of the divisions listed in its balance sheet: there’s a movie studio and television as well as music and publishing, even if some are on life support.  But they’ve never been able to get it all working together very effectively. Even after Martha Stewart gave them a humiliating billion dollar tutorial on the process, they just don’t get the click going: strip the old science fiction series that had a cult following, build a new audience for new merch and a season-by-season DVD release, soundtrack, new novels, games, and then potentially a new series or feature film. As I said, that’s the compare and contrast I had planned, until *koff* the Amazon made her appearance. Thursday, DC announced their plan to give Wonder Woman a new origin and costume. They announced in the mainstream media, which is usually an indicator that they know their readership is long gone and they have to venture out into the world beyond Wizard, CBR and IGN to get a message through. (c.f. previous week’s Superman article in USA Today.)

It’s not the nature of the Diana news that interests me, however. Like West Wing’s Bruno Gianelli, I only have so much RAM in my head. I have to prioritize. I have to throw some things overboard. One of the things I’ve chosen not to care about is whether or not Diana of Themyscryra gets a new outfit. The thing about this episode that did get my attention was the contrast with Disney/Marvel’s announcement in, well… scope.  The latter is moving with a sure hand into new waters where movies, video games and even theme park attractions feed into each other, creating a capital-F Franchise that is more than the sum of its parts.  And the reactions to the news are a beautiful illustration of reaping what you sow: “OMG, he wrote Teen Wolf? I didn’t know that!” and “Wasn’t Heroes great! Remember those viewing parties we had? Did you know Tim Sale did the paintings for that show?” “Long Halloween was the best  comic I have ever read in my life. 10 years later, it’s not dated either.”

Meanwhile DC is creating this tempest tiara in a teapot, working a shrinking readerbase into a lather over a “controversial” new costume. The only people bothering to fight over this are that 1% of 1% of 1% that didn’t write this guys off by 2007. And in contrast to the Jeph news, reactions include the phrases “latest atrocity” “You read it for me, I’m afraid to look,” and “Oh good God, what are they doing now?” Says to me that 1% of 1% of 1% who haven’t jumped ship aren’t exactly enthusiastic. Is it possible the only reason they haven’t jumped is they don’t know how to swim?

Maybe it’s not a fair comparison. I would probably be the first taking the new regime to task if they tried moving forward without setting their house in order first. There are too many sins unadmitted and unatoned, so much so that if a typo slips into one of these articles: “Superman is Daily Planet reporter Bark Kent” everyone’s first assumption is that they’re replacing Clark in a new campaign to stick it to the old school fans. That is a problem that should probably be addressed before trying to weave the comics into the movies, cartoons, and gaming worlds where these characters thrive. But they better do it fast because Jeph is getting a head start, and history has shown us when he comes out of the gate strong, there’s no stopping him.

Chris Dee

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