There was once a time in the history of Marvel Entertainment when the movies they produced, though heavily influenced by the comics, were completely divorced from one another. But that was yesterday! Today, due in part to the overwhelming popularity of films like The Invincible Iron Man and upcoming The Avengers, it seems like the opposite is now true: the comics are bending to the continuity of the films in an effort to attract new readers. And with the recent announcement that S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson made his way into the main Marvel U, we at The MindHut got to thinking about other changes being made and what that means for the publisher’s future. Warning: major spoilers ahead!
Battle Scars Ushers in Change
Marvel wasn’t kidding when they said that the fallout of last year’s major crossover event, “Fear Itself,” would lead to major and widespread change across the Marvel Universe. Two limited series were released shortly after the event’s conclusion in the form of Fear Itself: The Fearless and the somewhat overshadowed Battle Scars. And if you just finished reading issue #6 of the latter, you probably now know that this quiet entry into the MU is going to be the driving force in shaping it to be more like its big brother on the silver screen!
Anyone who frequents the various comic book websites and pop culture newswires knows that fan favorite Agent Coulson now has a comic counterpart that is officially a part of the main MU canon as revealed in the closing pages of Battle Scars #6. While that is some mighty news indeed, the biggest revelation was the introduction of S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury’s love child, and Agent Coulson’s army buddy, Marcus Johnson -- a man of both caucasian and African American descent and the series’ main protagonist. After Johnson finds out for himself that Fury is his father and his mother was once a secret agent that worked alongside him, a series of cleverly written events turn him not only mentally, but physically, into the spitting image of Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of Nick Fury in the films; we also learn that Johnson’s real name is Nick Fury Jr., bringing everything full circle.
Avengers Assemble and The Mighty Thor
But even before Marvel dropped this major bomb on unsuspecting fans everywhere, there were plenty of signs pointing to the comics conforming to what is being established in the films. The obvious being the release of Avengers Assemble a few months back, an in-continuity series featuring the core team from the film of the same name: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and the jolly green giant himself, the Hulk! Running concurrently alongside Marvel’s numerous other Avengers titles, Avengers Assemble hopes to draw in new readers with the familiarity of the movie characters without having to research years of back issues to understand the continuity.
Signs of this change were also seen within the pages of The Mighty Thor. Having been presumed dead at the end of Fear Itself #7, Marvel was quick to have him make his way back into the land of the living and find himself amongst the ranks of the Avengers within a little less than a year, just in time for the film’s theatrical release. And in the comic book industry where dead characters take years to return from the dead, or sometimes not at all (i.e. Captain Marvel), that’s a surprising development.
Positives and Negatives of the Influence
But it’s this movie influence that has caused somewhat of a debate among comic book readers. On the positive side, it’s important that publishers draw in as many new readers as possible to keep the industry going. It’s sad but true, the comic book industry has taken a pounding as of late thanks to digital media and a shaky economy that has led to us being more frugal with our spending. And even though the loyal fanbase of readers will be there to maintain it, the truth is we’re only getting older (as unnervingly grim as it sounds) and if publishers don’t make efforts to fill in these voids with new readership, you can bet there won’t be a market for comics in the future. It’s the people’s dollars that make sure we see the adventures of Captain America and Iron Man on the shelves of your local comic shop or news stand rack. And the single most important thing about comics that cater to new readers is that they act as springboards for other series. Basically, someone who reads Avengers Assemble might want to broaden their comic horizon and start reading The New Avengers and so on. From there they would not only have an appreciation for the continuity of the movies, but that of the comics they came from as well. This also translates to the purchase of graphic novels that collect some of the classic and out of print material.
Adversely, a campaign to draw in new readers who solely watch the movies can have its own negative effects. For example, many people who see The Avengers will only see the team as the one presented on screen. As a result, Marvel would shift to a blind focus on marketing only those characters, printing multiple titles featuring Iron Man, Thor and such; diminishing variety for hardcore comic readers and, inadvertently, alienating them. Plus, any new series featuring characters that don’t occupy the public’s imagination might be canceled early or rejected before even going to print (it’s already happened before). Another impact this influence could have is a locked Avengers roster within the pages of the comic. Years ago, it was commonplace for the team’s roster to be shaken up and watch as prolific Avengers were replaced by more obscure, but no less powerful, members -- not that no one back then was complaining. Now, Marvel might not be so keen to do that since, as mentioned earlier, people might hail the film Avengers as the superior team and demand that roster only. It comes down to this question: would you rather buy an Avengers comic with Hulk and Hawkeye or Black Knight and Stingray?
In the end, it all comes down to keeping a business afloat. And what’s keeping it afloat are the movies that the comics originally inspired.
What’s your verdict on this issue?