Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Marvel Cohesion Versus DC Fragmentation?

I came across this link via The Beat regarding a theory why Marvel is doing so much better in the movie department than slowpoke DC. The theory goes like this:

Marvel takes a cohesive, "universal" approach in which they are not only totally involved with the movie-making process, but has no problem with characters crossing over with each other (as long as it's all in the same studio).

In contrast, Warner Bros keeps DC out of the loop to an extent in the process of developing and adapting their movies, and different filmmakers hold "fiefdoms" over certain characters, making crossovers difficult or unlikely.

This is then extended to the philosophies of the individual comic book companies in general.

Which brings me to the concept of separate "offices" for separate sets of characters.

One of the most striking aspects of the DC Comics editorial management was the concept of "offices" or "groups." There was a Superman Office. A Bat-Group. A Justice League group. And several editors who handled "etceteras."

This was akin to keeping all your food separate on a plate with one of those sectioned-off plates you'd get at school or camp. Corn does not touch mashed potatoes.

An editor would be in charge of all the comics related to Batman, for example. Now, say another editor from a different group wanted to use Batman in a Hawkman comic -- they had to clear it with the editor.

What happened when characters were not cleared with the individual group editors?

Anger, accusations, fights, screaming matches.

"How dare you include blahblah in that crowd scene! She's on the planet Nimrod this month, encased in a vat of yogurt! Didn't you read my goddamn e-mail?!"

As you can imagine, this made the editing of JLA really fun.

A side-effect of this was that it was just easier not to have characters cross over into other books.

And senior editors would be in charge of certain characters for long periods of time, to the point of it being this seemingly unchangeable, monolithic thing.

On one hand, such an approach I'm sure helped the interior continuity of the titles. On the other, it was a method that threatened to render certain characters "stale," their spinoffs and miniseries sort of inbred and uniform.

When Dan DiDio came in, he expressed a desire to "change up" the different groups and offices. He felt that if the heads of different offices were switched every once in a while, that would promote innovation.

As for whether the fragmentation into different isolated SuperGroups and Bat-Offices was changed for a more cohesive group effort, I have no idea. Maybe it has changed.

But when you are stuck in an office for 8+ hours a day, staring at those damn comics in various forms of production, I can see how you could become maniacally possessive of your "fiefdom." I think fiefdoms are bad for comics, though. And maybe bad for comic book movies as well.


  1. As a reader, it seems like Marvel's applied the same philosophy to many of its' books. There's an X-group; a Spider-group; it looks like the cosmic characters have been herded together (for awesome results, mind you); and Bendis has staked his claim to the two main Avengers titles.

  2. I tend to agree that corn does not touch mashed potatos, but since KFC's number 1 seller are the Famous Bowls, I think America has said differently.

    We want everything in a big, gloppy mess.

    Thank you, thank you. I'll be stealing jokes all night. Try the veal.

  3. Cutting the home of the comics out of the process is definitely a factor. Can't cut the people who actually KNOW the character out of everything.

    As for the different offices, I suppose that process makes sense for the bigger franchises. It's like macromanaging. But the fiefdom thing...I dunno, I forgot who said it (so bad with quotes) but someone once said they're not your characters, you come in, do your thing, and when you leave they go on to someone else because they're the company's characters. Someone can come in and undo what you did in a heartbeat

    So I say take pride in your work, strive to make the best stories you can, but in the end remember; you're just leasing.

  4. i dunno, if you include batman in the mix, is dc really doing so poorly in the movie market? (actual question)

  5. I've come to think that DC/Warner's entire problem is that they're unwilling to take big risks. Look at what's happened to the Wonder Woman movie project that was in the works. They had fan-fave Joss Whedon on board and couldn't pull the trigger, apparently because they were afraid Wonder Woman wouldn't sell.

    Now, their fear of risk might be understandable given their financial situation (AOL being the biggest part of what put the company on the ropes), but movies are always risks, action "blockbusters" being huge ones. If they can't find ways to make good movies out of characters with histories stretching back 40+ years (even now, a "decompressed" monthly will have at least 2 stories a year), they really don't deserve to be in business.

    As for "crossovers," that's a matter of taste. The mainstream audience might get a taste for such things, but as of right now I don't have a problem with companies keeping movies/franchises self-contained if they want. Getting the individual characters out there in good vehicles should be the main priority because a) movies will bring in the kids (my nephews care more about comics every time a superhero movie comes out) and b) they've proven to be huge moneymakers, both at the box office and with licensed merchandise.

    Warner definitely needs to get its act together or Marvel is going to lap them, and all the Crises in the world aren't going to save DC from being a distant 2nd place, in movies and in comics.

  6. Warners has private investors-turned-production companies like Legendary Pictures to help finance big-budget blockbusters like Superman and Batman. Legendary in particular does not have a say in the production, that's all up to the screenwriter/directors/producers.

    With Marvel Studios, Marvel is now it's own production company, unlike DC that has no production office or group. Warners needs to make a DC film division like Marvel has in order to see some progress. However, with Picturehouse, Warner Indy and New Line shutting down, I see that as a longshot...

  7. This makes me wonder what is more important to the parties involved, control or success. Swamp Thing is a Vertigo character, so he cannot wander into Gotham City, so he sits on the shelf, a favorite toy that is too valuable to touch.

    I always thought that the editorial offices looked at the DCU like a map from Risk with the characters being the new lands to be taken.

  8. Anonymous4:55 PM

    I've got the sense that those groups (both Marvel and DC) can produce comics by committee. A lot of crossovers can feel that way.

    I can see a certain logic to groups like Batman or Superman where the character does appear in multiple titles every month.

    The problem seems to come from this dense continuity -- which is reflected by fans on the Internet too. "If Batman has his leg broken in Batman in January, then he should have it broke in JLA in the same month." Why? I don't see a reason for the books to sync up that tightly.

    As has been discussed elsewhere, I liked the days when cross-book continuity was just cameos of different heroes, not the current obsessing about what the Avengers were doing when the FF were fighting Galactus.

    Interbook continuity should be for fun. It shouldn't be a straightjacket.

    I liked the Nick Fury cameo in Iron Man, but I don't think the new approach inherently makes better movies. Most Marvel films were produced under fiefdoms with mixed results, just like DC. (I don't think the FF have been well-served by movies, for example. But Spider-Man 1 and 2 and X-Men 1 and 2 were great without needing to connect the franchises. Superman the Movie was a glorious film.) I think what matters most is that the films are good.


  9. And it's not as if DC's characters aren't suited to a less mythic and more human presentation. Remember the Worlds Finest mock trailer someone whipped up a few years ago? A movie that looked like that trailer would be 100 times more popular than the over-important melodramas DC has been putting out for the past three decades.

  10. "someone once said they're not your characters, you come in, do your thing, and when you leave they go on to someone else because they're the company's characters."

    That's ringin' a bell adam, specifically a bell called "J. Michael Straczynski's opinion on why he's okay with the One More Day reboot demolishing his past stories."

    I certainly don't have as much knowledge as you guys do on movie production, but in general, intelligent collaboration and cohesion should never fail to help out creativity. It DOES, however, have to be INTELLIGENT, and we'll get to see that tested out when James Robinson takes over Superman and when Batman: R.I.P. syncs up Batman and Detective Comics better.

  11. "Swamp Thing is a Vertigo character, so he cannot wander into Gotham City"

    Dan Didio said as much at ECCC

  12. I'm going to second Puckrobin and mention Batman Begins in this thread again.

    Warner/DC used to be the leader in the film world, back when the original Superman flick was the comic book movie gold-standard and Tim Burton's Batman broke records, while Marvel was stuck with B-movies and no-shows. Now it seems Marvel has taken the lead, but all it would take is a couple of DC-related hits and we'd be having this discussion the other way around.

    Mainly, I think Marvel has become mainly successful at simply getting tons of product out the door, but the quality itself has been hit-or-miss. For every X-Men and Spider-Man, there's been a Daredevil or Fantastic Four or Ghost Rider. Some have been aesthetically and commercially pleasing, some have have been financially lucrative dreck. Some have been all-purpose stinkers.

    Whereas Warner/DC has the new Bat-movie coming out, plus Watchmen down the road, which looks to be interesting.

    There must be others looming. I know Marvel has their big hit Iron Man out now and The Incredible Hulk on the way.

    Hey! I know!

    Let's all meet again and discuss this after the summer movie season!

  13. To put it quite simply, Warner Brothers has no interest in giving DC more editorial/content approval. If you look at their backlist of films, the corporate culture seems to lend itself towards large event movies...a trend in the industry in general.

    Executives at WB have a tendency to assign random hot director, hot writer, hot producer, etc, and not really involve themselves beyond that. This is why you have attrocities like Catwoman.

    However, Marvel has the option to shop its scripts around to different studios. They have editorial control over their content, because they can make that a part of their contract. DC doesn't have that flexibility. If WB screws something up, they can't just bring it over to Universal.

  14. JMS! That's right. Thanks, Kevin.

  15. I guess my issue with the Marvel movies is that it's always been true that at Marvel, even if they had all these little sections, that it's a cohesive universe. That's how you can have the FF pop up in Whedon's Astonishing X-Men and no one finds it weird. Giant monster in New York, of course the Avengers show up and run into the FF or Spidey (before he became a team member) or whomever. It never made sense for The Flash or Supes to be the only heroes around. DC seems to have taken the Marvel route, but not in their movies, which is a shame.

  16. Re: Vertigo-- it has been my understanding that Karen Berger has kept the Vertigo "stable" from mingling pretty strictly. An understandable choice (otherwise Dream might have been knuckledusting with the Spectre in "Crisis," blech) but one I think weakens things (I want Swamp Thing & Poison Ivy to team up!)

  17. Warner Bros made some terrible decisions when it comes to movie properties (ie: Steel, Catwoman) and it seems to have frightened them into a sense of inaction.

    However, when the properties have been given to the proper people and traded with respect, the movies have done better (Batan Begins, Superman Returns, Constatine).

    For Pete's sake... a medium budget Flash or Green Lantern filcik would most likely make a ton of cash. A Wonder Woman flick should be a no brainer. Just market it right and don't piss off the layal WW fans by changing it so much it's unreconizable (ah la Catwoman).

    This isn't rocket science you know.

  18. Yeah, that's another good point. The budgets. Why can't some of these things just be moderately budgeted but with really solid scripts?

    Superman should be epic, but you could do a really great Flash film without spending a bundle. There'd be more of a profit margin. The Flash isn't as iconic to the public at large as Supes or Bats, but they know he's a dude who runs really fast. So there's no need for his movie to cost $150 million in order to make twice that (the traditional profit-making point).

    Do it for under $50 million, make sure you have a compelling story with lots of action and smarts and emotional stuff to get people psyched about it, then make 3 times that!

    Too often the overload these things with over-designed sets and extraneous CGI effects. Just make us believe a guy can run really fast, and make us CARE that he can run really fast, and people will probably show up.

    Right on. How about an era of modestly-budgeted, well-scripted and acted superhero movies for some of the second stringers? I mean, there's no reason Daredevil had to be that much of a stinker... and they could've done an effective Daredevil flick for the price of a Sopranos episode!

  19. Mmmmm.... yogurt...

    The Flash TV show had a budget of $1 Million an episode, which was outrageous at the time.

    I found Superman Returns flawed BECAUSE the director was so enamored with the Donner films. (At the end of S2, Supes and Lois have killed off the last remaining Kryptons (who were powerless), and then Supes slips Lois a rufi at the end of the movie, which makes Supes a date-rapist and a dead beat dad in Superman Returns.

    (Oh, and that version of Superman tied into the current comicbook version almost as badly as Catwoman did.)

    The budget also has to include advertising and promotion. The plot has to introduce the origin and create a credible threat for the hero. AND be appealing to the general public.

    Marvel is not part of a big corporation, and so depends on other sources of revenue more than DC Comics does.

  20. DC is chaos under the guise of management. Marvel is management in the guise of chaos.

    Pretty silly if they're letting third-tier book continuity safety barriers extend into their managerial process for global film juggernauts. Booooo. But it's just more the case that Marvel is Marvel, whereas DC goes up and up to AOL-Time-Warner-YHWH, and bureaucracy sits heavily on the backs of both productivity and creativity.

    Also, I am talking out of my ear.

  21. The main reason they decided to segregate the DC Universe from the Vertigo Universe so heavily is that they didn't want to get embroiled in accusations of peddling "R-rated" comics to kids. If you put a Swamp Thing guest appearance in Superman, and the kid sees a Swamp Thing comic on the shelves the next week, and they pick it up and bring it home and mom flips out over seeing Abby eat hallucinogenic fruit and have sex with a giant plant-man...

    It's an issue they decided to avoid. I can't say I really blame them.

  22. Anonymous12:07 PM

    Oh, and that version of Superman tied into the current comicbook version almost as badly as Catwoman did.


    You don't think that's a bit of an overexaggeration?

    I mean, Superman still had the same name, costume, origin, and abilities, right? Right there, that's about four points that Catwoman didn't have going for it.