“Avengers” was a hell of a movie. I’m certainly not the only one to think so, if box office sales are anything to go by. As of my writing this column, the movie has made $1.2 billion worldwide in a month. When a sequel was announced less than a week after opening in the US, no one was surprised. When you’re opening weekend not only breaks the previous opening weekend record, but smashes it Hulk-style, you can be damn sure that the studios involved are going to make another. And I look forward to seeing Avengers sequels. As a close friend of mine said to me after seeing it opening day, “It’s almost the perfect ideal for what a big superhero movie should be.” And the sequence that played mid-credits sets up the possibility of some seriously interesting avenues for where the franchise can go. This isn’t to say that the movie’s success hasn’t raised some concerns for me, though.
A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to a Podcast wherein ‘Late Late Show’ host Craig Ferguson was asked if he’d want to take over CBS’s 11:30 timeslot when David Letterman retires. Without hesitation, Ferguson quickly said that he had no interest in the 11:30 slot, his reasoning being that at 12:30, his audience is small enough that he can basically do whatever he pleases. Budgetary realities and FCC rules and restrictions aside, he said, he can make exactly the kind of show that he wants.
I appreciate your staying through that last paragraph, I swear that there’s a point to it, and it’s this: in the entertainment field, the larger your audience, the more constrained you can find yourself.
Marvel now finds itself with a rather large audience. For the majority of this audience, their primary knowledge of the characters in “Avengers” isn’t from the comic books, but from the Marvel Studios movies that led up to it. As far as they’re aware, the characters they see in “Avengers” are the same characters that are in the comic book.
One of the hopes with a movie based on a comic book property is that more readers will be drawn into reading comics. This is a completely understandable hope; comic books readership seems to fall lower and lower each year, and more people are certainly seeing the movies than reading the comic books, so maybe, just maybe, they’ll become interested in the source materials and stop into their local comic book shop and take a gander.
If you’ve just seen a movie starring a comic book character and you’ve decided that you want to give comics a try, what book are you most likely to check out first? The one starring that character, of course. What comic companies try to do a fair amount of the time, is arrange it so that certain elements of the book and movie line up to a certain degree. You likely won’t get a storyline in the book that mirrors the movie; you’ll very likely see that a book’s characters are as similar as possible to their movie counterparts.
While sometimes this can be a boon to a book. For example, Eat Your Serial’s Shawn Abraham told me that he feels that Tony Stark is a much more likable character in the books now thanks to the Iron Man movies and their effects on the book, and I’d have to agree. Before the movies, I always thought Tony was a dick. Now I think he’s just a dick some of the times. Progress!
This isn’t too big a deal usually. Most of these characters are so iconic that a movie wouldn’t want to stray too far to begin with. The Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies were generally pretty faithful to the Spider-Man of the comic books. Geeky teenager, bitten by a spider, gets spider powers, saves the day, the end. There was one change made in the character powers, though, and that’s that instead of shooting webs from a wrist-mounted device that Peter Parker creates in the comic books, movie Peter Parker has organic web-shooters that shoot web right out of his wrist.
Now, this isn’t a huge change, and Marvel really didn’t make any changes to Spider-Man in the comic books at the time. Admittedly, a few years later, Marvel did give comic book Spider-Man organic web-shooters, but also other spider-ish abilities as well: toxic stingers that extend from his forearms, the ability to stick individuals to his back, an enhanced spider-sense and night vision, and an even more increased strength and speed. Of course, those, along with his marriage, were erased by Marvel’s version of the devil a couple years after that. Comics are weird, what can I say?
“Avengers” has set a little bit of a precedent for jumping through hoops to make a movie and comic book line up, though. You see, in Marvel’s main comic book universe, Nick Fury is white. In the movies, he’s black. “So what?” you ask. “What difference does it make if he’s black or white?” I agree it doesn’t really matter at all. Unfortunately, Marvel didn’t quite feel the same apparently.
To give the main Marvel comic book universe a black Nick Fury, they set up, and jumped through, some very contrived hoops. This year, Sgt. Marcus Johnson, Nick Fury’s secret son, who is an African-American, is introduced to us in the six part series Battle Scars. Over the course of the series, Sgt. Johnson loses an eye and shaves his head. Nick Fury retires at the end of the series, and his son joins S.H.I.E.L.D. Johnson changes his name to his original birth name of Nick Fury, as he appears on the Helicarrier on the closing page.What makes this even more frustratingly over-complicated is that Marvel already has a black Nick Fury.
In 2000, Marvel started publishing books that take place in the Ultimate Marvel universe. The Ultimate universe features re-imagined and updated versions of Marvel’s characters, unfettered by what was then forty years of continuity. These books didn’t replace the classic Marvel titles; it existed side-by-side with them in a different universe.
One character that was reintroduced was Nick Fury. Still the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Ultimate universe, he is also attempting to put together a team of super-powered heroes consisting of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, etc. He is also black. He also looks exactly like Samuel L. Jackson. In fact, there is even a scene in one issue of the comic where the heroes are sitting around trying to figure out who would play them in a movie. While all of the other characters are cast as stars that are most definitely not who played them in the “Avengers,” Nick Fury states that the only man that could play him is Samuel L. Jackson.
Look, changes in comic books are a necessary thing, otherwise you get incredibly stale stories and characters, and nobody wants that. And I like the idea of someone besides a white, straight, male being placed in charge of an organization in the Marvel universe as important and powerful as S.H.I.E.L.D. I just think that maybe it should have been done in a more organic, far less contrived fashion than what was done here solely to reconcile how the guy in the movie and the guy in the comic book look.
Either way, anyone who thinks that someone could have done a better job in the role of Nick Fury than Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t know what the hell he or she is talking about.
It’s been announced that a Watchmen-themed toaster will be released by Dynamic Forces. The fact that DC signed this licensing agreement makes me think that they might be actively trying to make Alan Moore cry now.
Marvel and DC are both making strides in terms of gay characters. Marvel has announced that in June’s Astonishing X-Men, Northstar, an openly gay character, will marry his boyfriend, Kyle. DC has also announced that a major, iconic character will be revealed to be gay in June. All they’ve said so far is that the character will be male, and will be someone that hasn’t been seen yet since the company re-launched its titles back in September. I like both of these moves by Marvel and DC, and I hope that eventually they catch up the surprisingly progressive Archie Comics in their representation of gay characters.
DC has announced that in the fall they will be releasing the first half of an animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, with the second half following early next year. I’m a little leery about the prospect of an animated adaptation of Dark Knight Returns, but not completely opposed to it. Peter Weller, best known for portraying RoboCop, will voice Batman. If they somehow involve Kurtwood Smith saying, “Bitches leave,” I’ll throw more support behind the project.