Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Big-Screen Synergy

Posted by Don MacPherson on January 31st, 2007

We comic readers always take notice when our four-color heroes make the leap from the pages of the medium we love to the big screen. DC and Marvel have had a lot of success in recent years, with comics flicks seeming to top the wish lists of movie producers. Obviously, one of the reasons the more iconic heroes connect so well with moviegoers is that they remember them fondly from their youth. From comics at camp to cartoons on Saturday morning, millions know these characters and are willing to plunk down cold, hard cash to reconnect with those imaginary friends from their youth. Given the power of that nostalgia, the new movie incarnations of those fondly remembered characters end up being simplified, adapted and sometimes reverted to forms they’d shed decades before. As a result, comics publishers often scramble to bring back old ideas and circumstances so the masses can find something they recognize in the comics of today.

Take, for example, the incorporation of the black Spidey suit and the villainous Venom into celluloid lore with this May’s release of Spider-Man 3. In reaction to moviemakers’ resurrection of the idea of a black suit, Marvel is dressing its best-known super-hero in his dark togs once again. The publisher has wisely taken advantage of the decision as a marketing opportunity, telling comics readers for weeks now to keep an eye out for its “Back in Black” event.

I doubt any readers familiar with recent Spider-Man storytelling will believe the black suit will be back for long. The Iron Spider suit lasted less than a year. The Spider family’s time in a dee-luxe apartment in the Stark Tower sky only lasted so long. It’s fleeting. “Back in Black,” as snappy a slogan as it is, isn’t exactly going to give Marvel zombies goosebumps.

But Marvel is tweaking its properties to parallel a big-screen foray in 2007, and neither Sam Raimi nor Tobey Maguire has anything to do with. There’s a Marvel comic out now that has quietly taken a couple of its characters back to the Silver Age and forward to the silver screen. And that comic is Annihilation #6. Yes, seriously.

Yes, there’s Nova, all battle-damaged and intense on the cover. The climactic conflict in this issue is between the C-list hero and Annihilus. Elsewhere in the comic, we see Ronan the Accuser leading an alien army against a generic cosmic villain. But don’t forget — also involved in the Annihilation event have been the Silver Surfer and Galactus.

Slated for release the month after Spider-Man 3 is another Marvel movie sequel: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. If you’re a fan of super-hero comics, chances are you’ve downloaded the teaser trailer featuring a fairly cool sequence in which the Human Torch chases the Surfer through New York. Honestly, I didn’t much care for the first FF flick, but the teaser trailer has titillated and tempted the fanboy within.

What makes the events of Annihilation‘s conclusion important to Marvel’s movie marketing and publishing plan is a key development: a reunion between creator and creation. After 40 years, Marvel has once again paired the Silver Surfer with the Devourer of Worlds in its shared super-hero continuity. It’s a smart move, especially if one assumes Marvel plans a new Galactus/Surfer comic-book story to coincide with the June 2007 release of Rise. We’ve seen a Fantastic Four teaser image, illustrated by Michael Turner, in which the two characters appear with a couple of FF members, so such a story is probably more of a safe bet rather than an assumption.

Will it make for good storytelling? I have no idea. That all depends on the writing and the art. I’ve been reading an enjoying Fantastic Four, so I would imagine I’ll find out. Do Marvel’s (and DC’s, for that matter) efforts to synchronize its movie properties with its comic-book counterparts make for good storytelling. Not directly, I’d say. I’m sure some good stories have arisen out of such decisions, but it’s not a matter of cause and effect, but coincidence.

Storytelling shouldn’t be a consideration anyway. We’re talking movies and mainstream super-hero comics. This is a matter of commerce, not creativity. Business is boss in this regard, as it should be. I would imagine some readers will react negatively to the Silver Surfer being recast in the role of Galactus’s herald in the comics, arguing it flies in the face of the peaceful and noble personality that the character has developed over the years. A more realistic perspective is called for, though. The Surfer is a beloved character, yes, but he’s also a commodity.

And movie money trumps comic-book bucks every time.

11 Responses to “Big-Screen Synergy”

  1. matt Says:

    Yeah, quite a coincidence to put Spider-Man back in his black costume in the comics just as he has a movie coming out that has him in his black costume. Or that the Sandman is being used in a current storyline. Or that Galactus and the Silver Surfer are back together.

    Its good marketing. You want people that go see the movie to find something familiar if they decide to check out the comics. They dont make the movies for the few hundred thousand of us that still buy their comics.

    I ask Marvel only one thing. Please dont make Harry’s costume come up in the comics. That thing is a disaster.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    To be fair, the black movie costume isn’t exactly like the black comic-book costume. The only design charge for the movie suit is the color. Honestly, that makes the movie costume less interesting, as far as I’m concerned.

  3. Palladin Says:

    I am anticipating getting my Issue #6 of Annihilation. I thought maybe you were going to take the track that Annihilation would make a great movie because it shows the ability of taking the lesser knowns and placing them within a movie-style story. I could see this tale as a space epic with all the bells and whistles of an old style space movie.

    You still have a great point with the direction you took with the post.

  4. Don MacPherson Says:

    Oh, I think Annihilation would not translate well to other media at all. I think the success of the story hinges on one’s familiarity with Marvel’s cosmic characters.

  5. matt Says:

    If you didnt know who Annhilus, Nova, Thanos and the rest of the crew were, then the story would be very superficial.

    I think that has always been a problem for the “cosmic characters” in the Marvel U. You either know them and like them a lot, or you dont like them at all.

  6. Don MacPherson Says:

    Matt wrote:
    If you didnt know who Annhilus, Nova, Thanos and the rest of the crew were, then the story would be very superficial.

    Don’t forget Drax’s importance to the story. I was particularly taken with his role in the event, perhaps because I was so impressed with the Drax the Destroyer limited series Keith Giffen wrote in 2005.

    I think that has always been a problem for the “cosmic characters” in the Marvel U. You either know them and like them a lot, or you dont like them at all.

    I’ve never been all that fond of the cosmic characters because they’re so hard to view as down-to-earth, emotional beings. Mind you, I think Annihilation did a great job of achieving a balance between a more grounded tone and the loftier, sci-fi fare.

  7. matt Says:

    I did forget to mention Drax. I loved the mini and thought it was a great lead in to Annihilation.

    I think Annihilation worked because it brought some of the characters down and into a true underdog role. They were getting their butt’s handed to them by someone who was infinitely more powerful. Plus, I enjoyed it because I’ve loved Annihilus since Byrne’s FF run in the 80’s.

  8. Don MacPherson Says:

    Matt wrote:
    I think Annihilation worked because it brought some of the characters down and into a true underdog role. They were getting their butt’s handed to them by someone who was infinitely more powerful. Plus, I enjoyed it because I’ve loved Annihilus since Byrne’s FF run in the 80’s.

    To be honest, I didn’t find the villains to be all that interesting. Annihilus is appropriately treated like the one-dimensional nihilist his name announces him to be. The other villains, such as Ravenous, were terribly underdeveloped. I really didn’t get why they wanted to be involved when there was nothing in it for them other than servitude. I preferred it when the threat was a mindless “Annihilation Wave” of insectoid beasts.

  9. matt Says:

    I was more lost by the two fighting Galactus. I had no clue why this was needed.

    I did like the wave. It didnt seem at first that they were setting Annihilus up to be some omnipotent badass in the minis. He was just the crazy leader of the swarm. Then he ate Quasar.

    The fact that the wave wiped out so much and by sheer numbers pushed the heroes to the brink made it much more interesting for me. I guess they had to include an individual nemesis to each character to make it seem to be more focused, but that actually might have backfired.

  10. Palladin Says:

    I disagree that one would need to know all these characters to get the story. A good writing team could overcome many of the things that a viewer might need to know about. It would probably need to be scaled down a bit in terms of the vastness of the characters off doing their own story.

    Why do we only need charcters that people know. Who knew all the back story when the very first Star Wars movie came out? It had multiple characters and an unknown history. People flocked to it. I dare say the very weaknesses stated could have fit to that movie. Now it is a cult success and billion $ industry.

  11. Don MacPherson Says:

    Palladin wrote:
    Why do we only need charcters that people know. Who knew all the back story when the very first Star Wars movie came out? It had multiple characters and an unknown history. People flocked to it. I dare say the very weaknesses stated could have fit to that movie. Now it is a cult success and billion $ industry.

    Obviously, no one knew the Star Wars backstory before Episode 4 was first released, and the movie was written with that in mind. But with Annihilation, if you don’t know a little something about Galactus, is Annihilus’s use of the world-eater really going to have the right impact?

    Look at it this way: when young Anakin Skywalker was introduced in Star Wars Episode I, the viewer’s knowledge that he will eventually become Darth Vader is a big part of one’s appreciation of the story and character.