Saturday, September 1, 2012

Symbiosis


As much as I hate to admit it, I understand the business perspective of Marvel Comics wanting to capitalize on a feature film's exposure of its characters. Though as a comics reader, you tend to wince a little when film promotion time comes.

No character arguably suffers from more comics over-exposure than Spider-Man. (I say "arguably" because, while there have been enough different Spider-Man comics titles released over the years to fill a stadium, there's no doubt that Wolverine may have shoved Spidey aside and taken the lead in this respect.) The films kicked that overexposure into overdrive. Take the character's black suit, which made its film appearance in Spider-Man 3. As if on cue (and I have little doubt it was just that), Spider-Man comics across the board featured the character re-donning his black suit, to coincide with a dark mood he was going through:





Which was the only way to go, I suppose, since for a black costume to stand out on the racks it would have to be displayed on every series cover. Yet, would Spider-Man have changed costumes were it not for the fact that the black variant was in the film? Peter Parker has gone through dark moods before without a costume change. And I can't imagine that near-traumatic memories of his assimilation by the alien symbiote would make him want to put this style of costume on again for any reason.

The promotion for Iron Man was less prolific, since at the time the comic book Tony Stark wasn't nearly as carefree or cocky as his film counterpart. But Marvel gave a nod to the film anyway with Public Identity:



But opening the door long ago for this treatment was the late '70s television series, The Incredible Hulk, which did parallel its comic book in that Bruce Banner was a loner and wanderer who kept a low profile, yet inevitably found himself in situations which made him become angry. Consequently, Marvel slapped a prominent caption on its covers that "Marvel's TV Sensation" was also this guy here:




I remember being annoyed at this constant plug, the purpose for which I couldn't quite grasp. Was it to nudge readers about the popularity of the character on television? Or was it supposed to increase sales of the comic by alerting the passer-by that this was the character they enjoyed on TV? The first seemed as unnecessary as the second.  There isn't much that the large word "HULK" can't do to promote itself and make the connection between the two, unassisted.

The Defenders, a book which somehow made the Hulk tolerate being a regular member on a team (in contrast to the Avengers, where he couldn't slam the door behind him fast enough), wore out the Hulk's welcome after the departure of writer Steve Englehart, but nevertheless kept the character around--most likely because the Hulk's popularity at the time was no doubt good for sales. Consequently, the Hulk figured prominently in almost every cover of the series. Even this one:



Thanks to this blatant caption at the bottom:



In terms of over-marketing, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. The Hulk certainly was "far behind," for the reader. In the context of the story arc, the wording is technically correct--though pity the reader who plunked down the money to buy this book, expecting to find the Hulk in it, because the character doesn't appear in one panel of it. In fact, to read it, you'd wonder what it has to do with the Defenders, as entangled in the Asgardian war story as the Valkyrie is. But it demonstrates the zeal with which Marvel was thinking with its wallet at the time. Apparently the company thought going without the Hulk on the cover for even one issue was one issue too many--no matter that the Hulk isn't even in the issue in question. Imagine a Harry Potter book being published without the character whose name appears on the cover, however cleverly captioned.

Cut to the build-up to The Avengers, where we had no less than four newly-released ongoing titles featuring the team(s), laying the groundwork for an Avengers film scheduled for 2012:





You've gotta hand it to a company that can capitalize on a film which hadn't yet been made.

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