Thursday, July 5, 2012

"I told you that story to tell you this one."

Speaking of prequels, he said, as he began to ramble, . . . 

There must be something prequellian in the water because Prometheus opened the same week that DC Comics began publishing the first of their Before Watchmen cash-grabs, and Somebody Who's Not Martin Scorsese began filming  Raging Bull 2  in LA.  (I know, I know--that's a sequel--but "prequellian"--wow--I just invented a perfect rhyme for Orwellian.  Twenty bucks says Sondheim steals it before my birthday.)

If you ask me, all this so-called creative writing has more to do with product placement than actual creativity, which adds the latest Spider-Man reboot into the conversation, since the only reason Sony made the movie in the first place is because, if it didn’t, then the rights to the character would revert back to Marvel.  So if you read any interview where one of the thousands of executive producers on Spidey says that they made the movie because they wanted to tell a good story, try not to yell “Bullshit!” too loudly, okay?  

Ditto whenever DC editor Dan DiDio says something laughable like this:

After twenty five years, the Watchmen are classic characters whose time has come for new stories to be told.

TRANSLATION:  We’re taking the one piece of comic book fiction that everybody points to as exceptional and making it as run-of-the-mill as Superman.

Or like this:

The big selling point is that this material is true to the source material, but it gets the chance to examine all the aspects of ‘Watchmen’ that made it great.

Selling point is right.  It makes me want to yell out, “Hey DiDiot--you know what made Watchmen great?  It had a beginning, a middle, and an end!  You know--like literature?”

But comic books are not literature (which is why Watchmen has always been the exception).  And superhero comic book publishers (aka Marvel and DC, the Big Two) are, at the moment, in the business of churning out corporate-sponsored fan fiction based on intellectual properties owned by Time Warner and Disney.  Batman is not a character any more; he’s a brand--he’s a franchise--he’s something you market; and because he’s a product, you can’t really make any major changes to him.  (Which is why what Christopher Nolan has been allowed to do with Batman is nothing short of miraculous.  And it’ll look even more miraculous when the new Batman origin movie comes out in six or seven years, he said cynically.)


But again, this is what corporations do when they own products.  They slap NEW AND IMPROVED on the label and stock the shelves with them, which is exactly the same thing DC did when it re-started its universe last year, and exactly what Marvel is going to do when it re-starts its universe later this year.   In which situation the words NEW AND IMPROVED are meaningless, because the only new thing is the packaging, and the only improved thing is the artwork on the package.   

Think of it this way: as far as superhero comic books go, it’s literally a supermarket.  When a publisher says he’s trying to tell new stories and keep those characters relevant, it really means he's going to hire different writers and artists to revisit the same old avenues and maybe map a new alley or two in the same old city with the expressed purpose of increasing product sales.  He's not going to create a new city.  But if, in the course of working for him, somebody DOES create a new city, then he owns it, and everybody in it, and gets to market it to whoever he thinks will buy it.  Which is pretty much the Hollywood business model these days, no? 

And a pretty good example of Matthew's Third Law of CultureDynamics: "Everything decays into Hollywood."  Or in physics terms, if literature is radioactivity, then Hollywood is lead.  (Case in point: Raging Bull 2.  I mean, really?) (And what's the over/under on me living to see the inevitable Taxi Driver remake?)

THE SUPREME COURT: A lot better, now that we've passed Obamacare!

Remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels--none of those are the rules of literature.  And maybe that makes me a book snob, but there's a reason certain stories and characters appeal to successive generations of readers.  It's because they embody something, they epitomize something, they say something.  And then they shut up.  The fact that they actually do stop existing at the end--that their story is self-contained--adds weight and significance to the work in which they live.  Weight and significance which is diluted like Bretton Woods diluted the gold standard when you have remakes, reboots, sequels and prequels.

SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE:  Says the guy who reads every new Sherlock Holmes story he can get his hands on.

ME:  Not every one, he said defensively.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: Says the guy who wrote a sequel to Hamlet.

ME:  Okay, okay--but that still doesn't mean I'm going to buy a single issue of Before Watchmen.

DAN DIDIO:  Why not?

ME:  Because I don't want to read Before Bovary or The Rise of Gatsby or Getting The Car Ready For The Road any more than I want to read what Rorschach did either before or in between those Watchmen panels in which he appears.  Because if I'm going to be sold a product, I want something that survives beyond its shelf life.  If you can promise me that you won't restock the Watchmen aisle with sequels, prequels, and side-stories--if you swear to me that your company is committed to NOT creating a whole Watchmen Universe--then I might reconsider.

DAN DIDIO:  I wish I could do that. 

ME:  And I wish I could live forever.  But it's against the law of nature.  Like corporations being creative.

DC AND MARVEL: Hey! We hire creators all the time!

ME:  I rest my case.

Sucker-r-r-r-r . . . . 


Horvendile said...

Mind you, I'm loving Earth-2 and the Scott Snyder Batman, which makes me a total hypocrite, right?

Horvendile said...