Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Some random thoughts

At my mainstream job where I have achieved some sort of notoriety as an expert on comics when the company did a small blurb about my interests, I was approached a number of times about the merger of Disney and Marvel. The merger was all over the airwaves and friendly people wanted to know my take on it ("not a very big deal at the moment, but let's see what happens in two or three years if Marvel isn't making as much money as Disney imagined"). I have to say I am not looking forward to the potential appearance of Marvel characters at sporting events that ESPN is covering, or Michael Wilbon going up against Dazzler on Pardon the Interruption. But other than that kind of cross-pollination, I don't expect any big changes.

However, no one is asking anything me about the far more important change at DC, with Warner Brothers exerting control and changing DC Comics to DC Entertainment. This one seems a lot more troublesome to me, especially since it appears (important word choice there) to be a reaction to the Disney/Marvel merger. DC has long been the second-place comic company and some would argue way behind Marvel in the development of their properties for media. Such an argument would have to be based on quantity of movies, because frankly DC has long kicked Marvel's butt in the development of TV shows (Smallville or the groundbreaking Batman: The Animated Series, anyone?) and in the quality of their movies recently. But since Marvel has announced a schedule for the next two or three years, the perception is that Marvel is leading the race to make a movie buck. And I suppose they are, since four decent movies will generally outdraw just one great one. And of course, creating great movies is not an easily reproducible task.

I doubt that the change is a reaction to Disney/Marvel, since I would think it would take more than a couple of weeks to make such a change—I suspect this has been in talks for some time. Nonetheless, it has already had some serious repercussion with the resignation of Paul Levitz, a guiding hand at DC for some decades. While Levitz will return to writing, whether for good or ill remains to be seen, it is his role as publisher and final decision-maker that is going to be missed. Unlike the Disney/Marvel merger, where Disney was quick to say that nothing will change with the comics, no one is saying similar things about DC and Warner Brothers; in fact, such a move seems designed to force change since DC has been owned by Warner Brothers for years and there was no organizational shake-up.

I've read some interesting analyses of Levitz's tenure as publisher. Most of the industry has only great things to say about him (see, for example, http://busiek.com/site/2009/09/paul_levitz.php), but the fans seem somehow really angry at him. They blame a lot of interesting decisions about censorship on him without taking into account how important he has been on the larger movements of the comics industry. I think that such a view of his work neglects that comics may have no bigger fan than Paul Levitz, and every decision he made has come from the primal love. They may not have been the right decisions but they were grounded in the joy of going to the store on Wednesday and finding out what was new this week.

And if the result is non-comics people injecting themselves into decisions with an immediate goal of boosting the bottom line, I fear a lot of the creative energy at DC will get misplaced. DC has been very good of late giving comics a good run to find their audience, and with some success. I wonder how short the leash will be for new series. And I worry that more effort will be spent in aligning the comics with the other media representations, something that has already happened at DC, with an upcoming origin series for Superman being his third or fourth in a few years. Having a different viewpoint is not a bad thing and, of course, the long-term health of DC Comics has got to be more important than the career paths of my favorite characters. But it all just feels sort of ominous; perhaps I'm not worried about Disney and Marvel because I really don't read their comics and only am concerned with Marvel's health as it is necessary for DC's continued survival. But when someone starts messing with DC, my hackles may be up and I'm not even aware of it.

We certainly do live in interesting times.


Alex Bledsoe has written a nice opinion piece about the latest Star Trek movie. I've already made my feelings known about it, and Bledsoe has put another nail in the coffin for me, adding to my concern about the movie missing out on what distinguishes Star Trek from random space opera. Check it out at http://downinluckytown.blogspot.com/2009/09/core-problem-with-jj-abrams-star-trek.html. It's a really good point and one that I overlooked in my general unease about what the franchise is trying to become.

Interestingly, Mrs. Speculator was lately talking about the same thing in recent fantasy reading we've been doing. The whole "chosen one" meme seems ripped from mainstream high fantasy, and I've been more and more getting into fantasy that breaks away from the clichés. Mrs. Speculator has bravely gone along on the ride (I imagine she would say she had very little choice in the matter) and so we have read Mieville and Lynch and Rothfuss and Mr. Bledsoe himself. When you go back to the clichés after being in the company of such freethinking folks, it can feel a little ham-handed, and she noticed. Sadly, now that she is about to go back to school, I don't see how she is going to have time to read Abercrombie and Gilman.


A woman's college in the city I have spent my life in just changed their mascot from Angels to Avenging Angels. That strikes me as a little odd, since I would not expect young Methodist women to have much to avenge. It also seems to speak to not having a history of success in athletics, thus requiring the school to spend a great deal of time avenging historic ignominious defeat.

And to show what a geek I really am, I'm reminded of a train of thought I've long held, originating with my firmly held belief that DC comics are superior to Marvel. In 1963, Iron Man, Ant-Man, The Wasp, Hulk, and Thor came together to fight Thor's nemesis, Loki, and then stuck together because they felt they worked well as a team. They named themselves the Avengers, and they worked so well together that after the second issue Hulk was gone. But to my point—the event that brought them together. Loki was just being villainous; he didn't attack Thor or any of his friends, nor any of the others or their friends. Loki causes Hulk to rip up a railroad track. So what exactly is it that the Avengers are avenging? And wouldn't you think after more than 45 years, they would have achieved vengeance?

Note that DC's primary hero team seeks only justice, not vengeance….

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