I have received my instructions to like extraplanetary tourism this year.
Last week, I observed (not complained, dammit, just observed) that a lot of DC’s behind-the-scenes moves lately have looked so bad and resembled blind flailing so closely that they almost had to be doing it on purpose. This, of course (of course) was more than a little tongue-in-cheek; DC hasn’t planned anything since they wrote “New 52??” on a dry erase board in the conference room. If they seem like they are making it up as they go along, though, their counterparts over at Marvel sometimes convey the equally far-fetched impression that every butterfly that flaps its wings in the Marvel Universe was hashed out in a flow chart that Stan Lee drafted in 1967. It occurred to me this week when I read about an upcoming DC writers’ retreat that I could not remember ever hearing about one of those before, while I know stories about the annual Marvel retreat better than I know some of the comics that came out of them. Gather ’round, children, and I will tell you of how ye Joss Whedon saved the ending of Civil War. Don’t you roll your eyes at me.
While the Marvel Engineers do a pretty good job of reassuring the audience not to panic, that this is all going somewhere and all part of the plan (“‘Fear Itself’?… Well, I guess they know what they’re doing”) this does occasionally makes things feel a little… canned. As “The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show” tells us (The Simpsons is like a 21st-century scripture, in that there’s a passage applicable to every occasion and someone is always ready to quote it at the drop of a hat, but perhaps I digress) you can plan all you want, but you can’t dictate what your audience is going to think is cool. Indeed, the harder you try to plan “cool,” the less cool your endeavor ends up looking, especially if the audience has seen you do this sort of thing before.
All of this is my wordy, roundabout way of saying, “I don’t know what to make of these space books coming our way, you guys.”
I get it. We all get it. It doesn’t take an MBA. Someone somewhere in the Minority Report tub underneath Disneyland decided that the next Marvel movie was going to be Guardians of the Galaxy, of all things, and now the publishing division has to leaflet the populace in anticipation of the pop culture invasion getting fully underway on the ground. Lo and behold, then, new books about Nova and the Guardians appear on the radar for 2013, written and drawn by the heaviest hitters on the Marvel bench. If you’re like me, one of the people who bought every issue of Guardians when it was a cult series occupying its own cozy corner of the universe, literally light years away from the crossovers and the Superhero Registration Act, this is amazing and bewildering in equal parts.
On the one hand, seeing these deeply odd characters getting this kind of four-star attention is extremely gratifying. On the other hand… when the movie Iron Man came out, comic book people were delighted, but the world at large didn’t know what an Iron Man was. It took them by surprise. Guardians of the Galaxy is a comic book that makes the comic book people say, “I’m sorry. Who are these people again? Is that a talking raccoon?” I admire the chutzpah and confidence of taking this ragtag bunch and handing them to Bendis and Loeb and McNiven and McGuinness, saying in effect, “The ten people who read these books before saw something in them. Now it’s everybody else’s turn.” At the same time, it seems a little bit like announcing, “Oh, this is what you will all be loving this year. Await further instructions,” and that has a way of falling on its face.
I just don’t want to see us end up in Ryan-Reynolds-Green-Lantern territory, here.
Whether you’re talking about Marvel’s taste planning or DC’s whatever-they’re-doing, in the end I want everyone to succeed. I want desperately to see more bestselling talent to take on weird little Novas and Moon Knights instead of cranking out yet another Wolverine story. I want to see James Gunn knock it out of the park like the next Spielberg and get a plaque at my high school. (Did I mention James Gunn and I went to the same high school? I did? Forty-five times? Well, get used to it. Unless the movie bombs, in which case he and I are unacquainted.) I read news about these characters and picture my son lugging around a stuffed Rocket Raccoon a year from now and cackle like a madman. When I do, though, I also hear a voice whispering “Jar Jar situation” persistently in the back of my mind.
But what the hell? My kids love The Phantom Menace. Someone comes out ahead here no matter what.
Jim Mroczkowski also went to the same college as Howard the Duck.