The Worst Result of Superhero Comic Movies: You Lose Good Characters (Spoilers)

I’m not kidding, I’m going to talk major Marvel spoilers here for a comic that came out today, so please click through (or continue reading in the feed) only if you’re aware of that.

Of the three Marvel comic book movies this summer — Thor, X-Men: First Class, and Captain America: The First Avenger — I was most looking forward to the latter. However, I was just made aware of something that I blame the movie for, which is leaving a bad taste for me going to see it.

Fear Itself #3 cover

In today’s Fear Itself #3, they kill Bucky, the Winter Soldier. Now, this is an odd death to get upset about. Bucky used to be — along with Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, the Barry West Flash, and Supergirl — one of the very few inviolate deaths in the superhero universes. All but one of them have since been brought back, of course, because superhero writers get the biggest pop from strip-mining history and sucking up to nostalgic fans (who wind up disappointed, but that’s another post).

So Bucky should have stayed dead to provide Cap some trauma in his otherwise shiny patriotic background. He didn’t, and that’s ok, because good stuff was done with him, creating stories that were worth reading. Until now. (Apparently, his adventures will continue in the new Captain America and Bucky, but it won’t be the character I came to enjoy reading about. I liked that he’d had a tortured, unfortunate past to live up to, because it gave him depth and something to atone for. CAB will be a retro flashback set in WWII, presumably featuring a teenage, gee-whiz Bucky.)

I’m not surprised that Marvel is killing a character in order to make their latest big event crossover seem meaningful. (You could make quite the interesting chart of all the superhero company crossover events just based on who died in which ones.) But then I remembered that a week ago, Marvel released Onslaught Unleashed #4, during which they killed Nomad, an alternate universe female version of Bucky (at least in terms of being Cap’s sidekick). Rikki Barnes came from the Heroes Reborn universe but was most recently a founder of the Young Allies.

I’m drawing an unpleasant conclusion here. With the Captain America movie due out July 22, I suspect Marvel’s clearing the decks to keep their brand clean. They want new readers (those hypothetical creatures who rarely actually start buying comics after liking a superhero film) to avoid being confused, so they’re killing off anyone similar so Cap can get his “proper” costume back in the Marvel universe. After all, why would anyone want to read about a patriotic girl sidekick when they can get one of the many many collections featuring Steve Rogers and only him? Why should they sell a younger, confused version of their hero (who has more appeal to today’s readers) when they can stick with the same one they’ve been publishing for 70 years?

I shouldn’t expect anything different, I guess, now that Marvel’s part of one of the biggest and most accomplished at tie-in marketing movie studios in the world. It’s all about the brand, baby, and just mow down those who get in the way. They’re only ink on paper, after all.


20 Responses to “The Worst Result of Superhero Comic Movies: You Lose Good Characters (Spoilers)”

  1. Chris Howard Says:

    This is the new status quo for all Big IP’s. Marvel doesn’t live by their characters or whatever that quote was. They exist to promote their IP.

  2. Eric Rupe Says:

    “They want new readers (those hypothetical creatures who rarely actually start buying comics after liking a superhero film) to avoid being confused”

    Ever since the Iron Man film and IIM relaunch, I’ve felt like these kinds of relaunches are for lapsed readers of the characters or current readers haven’t read the character’s series before. I would honestly be surprised if people at Marvel believed that the movies combined with new relaunches would attract new readers in any significant manner.

    I didn’t hear about Nomad dying but I don’t find it surprising since, as you mentioned, everything is about the branding nowadays and Nomad has no awareness outside of the comic market it would be a lot easier for Marvel to go “Buy a Captain America comic since you saw the movie” than to try to push a new character. Same reason, if it’s true, that Barbara Gordon is becoming Batgirl again.

    “It’s all about the brand, baby, and just mow down those who get in the way. They’re only ink on paper, after all.”

    Playing Devil’s advocate here but…should Marvel, or DC, really care about characters who don’t have a particularly large comic following, either as a member of team or as a stand alone character, or are easily turned into multimedia properties?

  3. James Schee Says:

    Even Uncle Ben was sort of brought back in a weird way during PAD’s run on Spider-man. Where an Uncle Ben from an alternate timeline, where Aunt May was the one killed made it over to the regular Marvel U. but everyone thought he was a clone or something.

    I’m hoping this isn’t really the end of the current Bucky character, he’s too popular and interesting for me to believe they’d really get rid of him. With a movie I knew Steve would be back in the Cap costume, but hopefully they find a new maybe secret role for him. Sort of like how Dick Grayson was Nightwing perhaps or the like.

    I liked that Bucky was able to act like a person of that era would act if thrown into today, something that Steve couldn’t or it wouldn’t make him PC.

    Brubaker’s run has been entertaining, and I just have to believe that he’s got something nifty up his sleeve. After all there was a time I was going “They are bringing Bucky back? Really?? Why??”

  4. Steve P Says:

    ‘With the Captain America movie due out July 22, I suspect Marvel’s clearing the decks to keep their brand clean. They want new readers (those hypothetical creatures who rarely actually start buying comics after liking a superhero film) to avoid being confused, so they’re killing off anyone similar so Cap can get his “proper” costume back in the Marvel universe.’

    Steve Rogers would have been Cap again, movie or no movie — Brubaker has said as much (he actually didn’t intend for it to take as long as it did). Bucky could always get a new role, in this book or in another one.

    I mean, if they’re so concerned about new readers being “confused” by the comics, why not go all the way, and give Cap his movie costume in the comics, make Nick Fury look like Samuel L. Jackson in the non-Ultimate comics, get rid of Thor’s human identity and get him together with Jane Foster again, ditch Pepper Potts’ superheroic identity, etc. etc.

    They’re not doing any of those things, to my knowledge, so I have a hard time believing there’s actually some kind of dictate from on high saying that Bucky had to die.

    It’s true that comics largely exist to promote IP nowadays, but I think the movie business has a lot less to do with the actual content of the books than people seem to think. Remember when everybody was so sure Jean Grey would come back to life in time for X-Men 3?

  5. Hal Shipman Says:

    Nomad? Aw, crap. I liked her and bought her stories.

    And, yes, a real shame to lose Bucky/Winter Soldier. Especially outside the core title. And for such a lame, lame, lame event. Giving him another role would have been fine to me, but I suppose that his original death will be a plot/character point for the movie and they wanted to revert to that staus quo.

  6. Johanna Says:

    Eric, you asked “should Marvel, or DC, really care about characters who don’t have a particularly large comic following” — but that’s precisely what described Iron Man before the blockbuster movie (and the right casting) made him a hot property. If they don’t care about their characters, they may miss out on the next Blade. Who thought that character would spawn that many movies?

    James, yeah, I remember reading that Uncle Ben storyline, but I can’t for the life of me remember what the real story was.

  7. Grant Says:

    “Eric, you asked “should Marvel, or DC, really care about characters who don’t have a particularly large comic following” — but that’s precisely what described Iron Man before the blockbuster movie (and the right casting) made him a hot property.”

    I think it’s a pretty tough sell saying that IM’s popularity is remotely comparable to Nomad or Bucky Barnes. And I’d say that IM became hot again in the Marvel U because of Civil War(a storyline that predates the films by a few years). That’s not to say his own title was ever a big seller but he does have fondly remembered story arcs. Iron Man is one of those characters that is iconic but not a big seller. And there’s a difference between that and a character that isn’t all that iconic and not a big seller.

    I don’t really see why they felt they needed to kill the characters off just because of the movie. It seemed like there were alternatives. Why not put Nomad in Young Avengers and just have Bucky get a new name and put him on one of the dozen Avengers titles? Especially since the Avengers Toon has been hinting at a Winter Soldier story.

    Dumb decision but not unexpected.

  8. Kris Says:

    I thought you were spoiling one of the movies, not the comic, so I started reading the post. Oops.

  9. Greg Manuel Says:

    “It’s all about the brand, baby, and just mow down those who get in the way. They’re only ink on paper, after all.”

    Truth. A disappointing truth, but truth nonetheless. Our mainstream superhero comics have become soft brands to promote other multimedia projects.

    I’ve been thinking about “Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo” a lot, lately…when I think about the central plot of that story, I feel like someone was trying to warn us.

  10. Johanna Says:

    I’m not familiar with that story — what was the plot?

  11. Grant Says:

    Well, having grown up with things like the Nicholas Hammond live action spiderman, reb brown captain america and that horrible 70s dr. Strange pilot they did(boy, this new generation just doesn’t realize how great they’ve got it), I can’t really say that any of this is a bad thing because at this point, given the inconsistant quality of comic books, I’d rather redirect my love of the comic book characters that I grew up reading and caring about into their film counterparts.

    I mean, if a couple characters getting killed is the price for getting a sam raimi Spiderman movie, or a Favreau Iron Man or the kind of ambitious project that they’re putting together with the avengers movie and all the satelite films in it’s orbit like IM, Hulk, Thor and Cap and if I get to see them in a film with Skrulls and the cosmic cube (things that I have dreamed about since I was a kid and later after the first Superman film where I saw for the first time that you could adapt a comic to film and have it look spectacular)then so be it. I prefer the characters live, but if that’s the trade off, then off with their heads.

    Mind you, this is the opinion of a 49 year old fan geezer who has gotten pretty much everything from the hobby that he is ever going to get and who is thinking solely of himself. ;)

  12. Johanna Says:

    That’s ok. It’s good to hear different perspectives, especially optimistic ones, even if they’re from a very different place. :) You’re right, it’s sometimes good to remember how good we have it.

  13. Caroline Says:

    I’m skeptical about the correlation with the movies, myself, because I have a strong feeling the Cap movie franchise is going to include the Winter Soldier story. So Bucky going down is temporary at best. And I don’t really feel Nomad is a big enough character to ‘taint’ the brand. And I have a feeling that now that we’ve lost Rikki, they’ll turn around and have another story about getting Rikki back, ad infinitum. It’s dumb, but it’s nothing new.

  14. Johanna Says:

    I’m not confident Cap is seen as a franchise yet — the subtitle suggests that he’s being seen as part of the Avengers franchise, and that’s taking priority right now. I hope you’re right, although I wish we could get stories that show what makes characters themselves, not show what people can do to them.

  15. Caroline Says:

    Either way, my understanding is that Bucky is a major character in the film so, if anything, they would want to highlight him.

    Also, it occurs to me that I can think of at least one instance where a film has substantially improved a character’s status in the comics, which is Pepper Potts in the Iron Man books. Iron Man hadn’t had a strong, consistent female presence for years, until Pepper was added to line up better with the movieverse, and she has stuck around and become more central in the years since.

  16. Johanna Says:

    The more enlightened approach of Hollywood to issues of diversity is definitely a plus in comics.

  17. Rob Barrett Says:

    I’m also extremely dubious that “Captain America & Bucky” will stick to WWII stories on a regular basis. That seems like a recipe for commercial disaster. I therefore expect to see Modern Era Bucky back sooner rather than later.

  18. Grant Says:

    I’m of the opinion that we’ll probably get more films of the individual characters like Cap, IM, Thor and Hulk than we will a big run on Avengers films, mainly because of the cost of all those actors in one film. I can’t see them doing more than two Avengers films tops. But I can see lots of films of the individual characters with less expensive “cameos” like we’ve seen so far in the after credits sequences.

    Also, there’s plenty of other Marvel characters that can be featured in the single character franchises. So far we’ve seen the single character films build a continuity that leads to Avengers. I think we’ll see another batch of films do something similar that lead to a second possible Avengers film. After that we’ll probably see the focus on just the individual characters or on another batch of marvel characters that have still to be put to film.

  19. Thad Says:

    On the flipside, we miss out on interesting deaths. Millar and Hitch intended to kill off both Iron Man and Nick Fury at the end of Ultimates 2 — which would have been a much more interesting ending than what we got (especially since the entire closing arc was frickin’ IDENTICAL to Millar’s closing arc on The Authority). But Marvel ruled that they couldn’t kill off those two characters right before the Iron Man movie came out.

    And instead we got the mess that was Jeph Loeb’s run in the Ultimate Universe, which saw, among other bad ideas, Fury retconned into being a century-old mutant and…Wolverine killed off right before the Wolverine movie came out.

  20. Greg Manuel Says:

    The prime mover to the plot of “Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teen_Titans:_Trouble_in_Tokyo) was a corrupt police inspector/special forces commander Commander Uehara Daizo, who enslaved a once great painter, strapped him into an otherworldly machine that forced him into creating manga characters and monsters to give Daizo’s squad threats to fight, so that the people of Tokyo would think of the police inspector as some great hero. In the process, the artist – who had been strapped in the inspector’s machine for decades – was drained dry and literally wasted away to nothing by the story’s climax.

    The way I interpret “Trouble in Tokyo,” the comic book industry is that artist, strapped in the Hollywood machine at its own expense. I fear we won’t see this turn around unless the comic book film boom that “Blade” kicked off experiences another “Batman & Robin.” I think then, we’ll see a return of comic books being published largely for their own sake.

    I could be just reading into things, but two other places where I see allegories to the present-day state of mainstream superhero comics are “Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool” (http://greatblackcomicbooks.blogspot.com/2009/08/static-shock-rebirth-of-cool.html) and “Spider-Man/Fantastic Four: Silver Rage.” (http://demsgoodreadin.blogspot.com/2007/12/spider-man-and-fantastic-four-silver.html) I read both as cautionary tales against creative stagnation at their core.




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