In pre-Covid-19 America you couldn’t go more than a few months without the Next Big Comic Book Movie.
Five to six times a year we queued up for popcorns and soda pops to see the “Adventures of Whoziewhatz & the Blazing Bing-Bangs.”
Side note: Movie theaters make the bulk of their profits from concessions, so maybe stop sneaking in your own supply and drop a few bucks at the candy counter, but I digress.
What ostensibly began with 1978’s “Superman: The Movie” and the as-yet unmatched casting of Christopher Reeve has today become the dominating force in cinema.
Yet the company that inspired said force is running from itself as fast as it can. Woke broke Marvel, and it’s a self-inflicted wound.
Money in the Bank
Superheroic films are the most reliable money-makers Hollywood has left (despite the likes of “Bloodshot” and “Birds of Prey” under-performing and the promise of more SJW wokeness to come).
It was only a matter of time before Hollywood studios gazed lustfully at 50 years of characters and stories with an untapped fan base of obsessive nerds.
There were a few precursors like the silly ’60s “Batman” and earnest ’70s “Incredible Hulk” TV shows (the excruciating “Captain America” and “Spider-Man” are not mentioned in this dojo).
The sporadic output of the ’90s and ’00s included both good movies (“Spider-Man” 1 & 2, “Blade,” “The Mask”) and bad (“Fantastic Four,” “Daredevil,” “Ghost Rider”). And I suppose a certain tribute is owed to 1989’s “Batman,” which proved the material could be handled seriously, yet also took us down the primrose path of too-many-villains and (shudder) Joel Schumacher.
But if you’re of a certain age (say, 50), we’re at the peak of the Golden Era, specifically the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The saga began with 2008’s “Iron Man” and changed everything. For a kid that spent the ’70s wishing they’d finally make that long-rumored “Silver Surfer” movie, it’s been remarkable to witness.
In both scope and quality, the MCU’s 12-year run (and counting) is unlike anything ever attempted. Look at the “Alien” and “Godfather” franchises as a case study on how hard it is to make three good films in a row, let alone 23.
Twenty three MCU movies with six more in the pipeline.
And there’s no end in sight given their recent acquisition of the “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four.” (Don’t ask how Marvel didn’t own many of their own flagship characters for 40 years. It’s a rabbit hole.)
While no one would argue they’re all “Godfathers” (“Infinity War” comes close), they’ve all proven massively popular and incredibly profitable.
I mean, “Ant-Man” made $519 million worldwide. Half a billion!
Marvel’s Chief Competitor Just Can’t Catch Up
DC Comics, with its Holy Trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, is excluded from this conversation until they can measure up to the MCU. Since Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, the DC pickings have been slim.
But the question remains: what’s happened, comic? Let’s frame it thusly;
Say you grew up a Silver Age Marvel fan and want to introduce your kids to these amazing characters. So you drag them to the Phase One movies (“Iron Man,” “Thor,” “Hulk,” etc.) and embarrass them by weeping at “Avengers” because it’s a near-religious experience for you.
Maybe your Dadness sparks in them an interest in the source material. So you hit the local comic book shop, grab a recent floppy and open it up to find…
Iron Man: Embodied for a generation by the inimitable Robert Downey, Jr. (who almost matches Reeve-as-Superman in casting perfection), Iron Man is now a 13-year-old African-American girl named Riri Williams, a super-genius motivated by her (old, white) school teacher telling her “You’ll never be as smart as Tony Stark…”
Comics are for kids!
Thor: Dr. Donald Blake, who stumbled upon a walking stick that turned out to be the enchanted hammer Mjolnir has since been deemed unworthy. He’s been replaced by Jane Foster, his love interest since the ’60s (don’t ask how time works in comics) who dies of cancer a little bit every time she dons the mantle.
Comics are fun!
Captain America: Scrawny 4-F Army recruit Steve Rogers ingests the Super Soldier serum and becomes our red, white and blue hero. But since patriotism is stupid, the formula wears off, Cap ages out and he cedes the shield to Sam Wilson. The erstwhile Falcon fights racism along our southern border because white supremacy.
Buy war bonds!
The Incredible Hulk: Out with Bruce Banner, whose long-suffering woes imbue him with unmatched Marvel pathos, in with Amadeus Cho, teenage Asian super-genius (again…).
Iceman: The irascible teen horn dog of X-Men fame suddenly discovers he’s gay, despite no evidence of such in 50+ years of Marvel stories.
Captain Marvel: For 30 years readers relished the super-fun, super-sexy, super-powered Dallas Cowboys cheerleader known as Carol Danvers. Now? She’s been de-sexualized enough to earn the nickname “Carl Manvers,” complete with “speak to the manager” haircut. This humorless scold is supposedly Marvel’s most “popular” character, much like Kim is the most “popular” Jung-un. Comic sales suggest otherwise.
These are but a few egregious examples. More recently, the new New Warriors debuted a line-up that included characters called “Snowflake” and “Safespace” and I just can’t.
In short, the Marvel Universe you see on the screen bears no resemblance to the comics on the shelves. The stories being mined are from the classic tales we grew up with, but… when was the last “classic” Marvel storyline?
As the MCU rakes in billions, comic book sales have plummeted to levels below the Big Crash of the ’90s.
….despite the media dominance of superheroes on every screen, the superhero side of the publishing business has been mired in a slump, outside of a few isolated successes like Marvel’s new X-Men relaunch, sporadic DC releases like Doomsday Clock and landmark issues of long-running series. -- Forbes.com
Dozens of closures have been reported across the UK and US over the last few months – including, in January, the end of St Mark’s Comics, once one of New York’s most venerable institutions….Last year, comics website Bleeding Cool documented how 50 comic shops had closed in the previous year, in both the US and UK. And since June 2018, at least 21 shops in the US and 11 in the UK – including shops in Nottingham, Ramsgate and Tooting – have closed, with others likely going unreported.
While superheroes have never had a higher profile, the gap between cinema and comics has never been wider. -- The Guardian
So… what happened?
In the parlance of social media, Marvel got woke, went broke.
The gender-bending, race-swapping trend alienated existing fans and never drew in enough new ones. The people who spend all day howling about representation on Twitter, surprise, don’t buy comic books. They just want to make sure that the comic books that nobody reads have enough Latinx Muslim quadriplegics in them when they get pulped and recycled.
Out went creators who earned their way in the industry and built their resumes by chasing down any job they could. In came people with no real interest in comics who nevertheless persisted in using 50, 60, 70 year old characters as mouthpieces for their own progressive politics.
Even Marvel Comics Vice President of Sales, David Gabriel, echoed that take even if he quickly backpedaled following a social media backlash.
“Readers, Gabriel said, “were turning their noses up” at diversity and “didn’t want female characters out there.”
Comics were no longer “too male, too white.” They also weren’t “too read.”
Now, a sane person might ask, “Why not just create new characters that reflect your worldview and leave these legacy characters alone?”
The insane person replies, “Whatever, Nazi. Why are you so transphobic, bigot? Can’t handle a strong woman, Trumpster?”
It’s unfathomable, really, and a complete failure on the part of Marvel to not have had their books aligned with the films.
It’s not a giant leap to assume they’ll follow the comics headlong into the Social Justice Warrior Wokeness that has damaged the industry.
The end has already begun.
“Captain Marvel,”:middle of the road filler like the “Thor,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the “Iron Man” sequels delivered moments of sneering, dismissive feminism.
- Brie Larson as Super Karen AKA Captain Marvel
- The Grrrl Power scene in “Avengers: Endgame” (which I actually kind of liked)
- Scarlet Witch fighting Thanos to a standstill, nearly besting the Mad Titan
- “The Eternals,” set to unveil the MCU’s first same-sex couple
You don’t have to squint to see the approaching cliff.
No real comics fan cares one whit about the gender, race or orientation of their favorite character, so long as the stories are good.
Therein lies the rub. Incapable of writing good stories, the new crop instead chooses to lecture. Which is just what you want from your “X-Men” adventure.
So mark the time. As we mourn the losses of MCU stalwarts Downey and Evans, and look forward (?) to a future of Capt. Karen and Dr. Wizard Who Struggles with American Accent, rest easy in the knowledge that we few, the mighty, the 50-ish, got to see it all.
And I’m still waiting for that Silver Surfer movie.