Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading Cracked.com. I find their listicles entertaining. Problem is, I also find them informational. That’s a problem, because when one of the listicles overlaps my area of expertise, I find out just how faulty their information is.
The first time it happened was almost three years to today. J.F. Sargent wrote a column prophesying that the comic book movie bubble would soon burst. The fact that the comic book movie is still around and thriving might be due to the fact that Sargent’s points were proven by errors of omission and cherry picking the facts that supported his argument but ignoring anything that didn’t. And if you have to bend the facts to work with your argument, you don’t have an argument.
But Sargent’s article was Pulitzer-worthy compared to Jason Iannone’s “6 Specific Reasons Why Superhero Movies Ruined Comic Books.” Iannone’s takes Sargent’s cherry picking and fact omitting to a new level. So much so that I feel forced to do a another bit of setting the record straight. Here’s the reasons why the areicle is full of crap.
1. David Goyer wrote for comics.
Iannone’s first point of how Hollywood ruined comics is that Tinseltown creative types “shit all over” For proof, he uses Bryan Singer banning comics on the set of the X-Men films to prevent hammy acting and Zack Snyder thinking Batman works best the darker they took him, even to him being raped in prison dark.
However, for his third example, he cites the writer and director of many a comic book film, David Goyer:
Then there’s director David Goyer, who understands literally nothing about comics and respects them even less, despite writing three Blade films, two Ghost Rider films, two Superman films, and four Batman films. When asked about Marvel’s She-Hulk, he dismissed her as nothing but “a giant green porn star,” created by horny, powerless men and masturbated to by hornier, even more powerless men. And the Hulk. According to Goyer, She-Hulk exists simply to be the only girl Hulk can bone without squashing her like Bambi under Godzilla’s foot. There’s a tiny hole in this theory: She-Hulk isn’t Hulk’s girlfriend; she’s his cousin. And a lawyer. And a feminist icon.
Perhaps Goyer endured something traumatic in his childhood involving the color green, because he also shat all over classic DC Comics superhero (and perpetual Justice League member) the Martian Manhunter. After asking a crowd how many people had heard of the character, he followed up with, “How many people that raised their hands have ever been laid?” He then called the character’s name and origin stupid and proceeded to describe a new one where he’s grown in Area 51, breaks out, and “fucks She-Hulk” (who lives in another universe). We’re only 60 percent sure that last part was a joke.
This refers to comments Goyer made on the Scriptnotes podcast almost two years ago today (symmetry!). What Iannone doesn’t mention is that Goyer was a comic book writer. Why? Because admitting that Goyer worked on the JSA title for about four years, working a good deal of time with Geoff Johns, a critically acclaimed writer lauded for his love and respect for comic book characters, totally invalidates the reality Iannone is trying to create about Goyer “understanding literally nothing about comics and respects them even less.” I mean, Iannone knows that She-Hulk is Hulk’s cousin but not that Goyer spent a good amount of time co-writing one of the best series of the new millennium? This is not to defend what Goyer said, which was frat boy posturing at its worst, but tell the whole story.
2. Creators DO get paid for characters who appear on the screen.
…writers get paid for their original ideas, but thanks to an industry-wide practice called work-for-hire, once they get their writing check, that’s it. They don’t own anything they create, and they certainly don’t receive royalties should their characters or storylines make it into the movies.
This statement by Iannone is not exactly true.
Both DC and Marvel has had a royalty system in place since the 1980s. Each gives creators royalties based on how many books they sell, any merchandise that springs out of their creations, and a percentage of sales from collection of their work. DC Comics even went one farther under publisher Paul Levitz. He instilled a payment program where creators got a percentage anytime a character or storyline they wrote appeared in other media.
This was not a perfect system. If DC didn’t want to pay royalties, they wouldn’t use the character (see Black Vulcan vs. Black Lightning). And after Levitz left the company, DC attempted to change the way the gave out royalties in this area. This caught the ire of legendary comics creator Gerry Conway, whose public criticism caused the DC Comics power structure to address the issue. Whatever was done was enough for Conway to issue an apology and even go back to work for the company.
Marvel’s film royalty program seemed less generous before they were sued by Jack Kirby Estate (co-creator of the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Avengers, Captain America and many more) and Gary Friedrich (co-creator of Ghost Rider). Both suits were settled out of court. Since then, creators who might have been getting ready to sue turn up smiling at premieres or come out and admit they settled with Marvel before the conflict was even made public. So it appears that Marvel/Disney has some sort of payment plan in place as well.
3. Films changing the looks of comics is overblown.
Iannone states that comic books are losing their identity as the companies try to make their books look and feel like the films that were adapted from. His first example does go to prove his point–Marvel making the comics’ Nick Fury from an old white man to a bald black man is definitely influenced by the films. So is the introduction of the cast of TV’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into the comics, but he doesn’t touch upon that. Instead he goes onto costume changes. Yes, costume changes.
There has been no character in comic books that has not had at least one costume change in their career. Even Superman, Batman, Captain America and Spider-Man have worn more than one uniform in their history. In other words, in the grand scheme of things, a costume change, even if it was mandated by a film costume, is no big deal.
Even still. Iannone makes a point to say that the X-Men changed to black and yellow outfits after the the release of the first X-Men film, he fails to mention that the look only lasted about 3 years before the team switched back to the garish spandex suits (As a matter of fact, you can say that the change had more to do with the creative team of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely joining than the film, because when they left, the costumes left too). He makes it seem that Hawkeye switched from the cowled look to a maskless one right after The Avengers, but he fails to mention that the character had about six (if not more) costume changes between the two looks, including one costume in the 1970s that was also sans mask.
He also fails to mention that Thor in the comics is now a woman, Sam Wilson is no longer the Falcon but is now Captain America and that Marvel has just killed off James “War Machine” Rhodes. So much for making the comics exactly like the movies, right?
And if adding elements from other media spells doom for comic books, well, comics would have never made it out of the 1940s alive. The Daily Planet, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen and kryptonite were all introduced in the Superman radio show before being injected into the comics, and they all made Superman better.
4. His use of sales figures is deliberately misleading.
This is the section that ticked me off the most, because this is the section where Iannone purposely misleads his audience. He claims that not only are comic book sales down, but ones featuring characters appearing in films sell less.
He’s right on the first part. It use to be that a book that sold 100,000 copies was in danger of cancellation. Now, that title would be a smash hit. The effect of comic book films on their staple-bound counterparts is always up to debate, but the conventional wisdom is that they had a small positive impact if any at all. Nothing along the likes that the films cause a dip in sales. That will take a lot to prove. Luckily, Iannone’s argument is so laughably absurd with proof so shoddy that I am going to poke holes in it starting at the top:
Books about The Avengers fare shockingly poorly considering how massively popular their films are. The Hulk, for example, started a new series back in 2014 and it sold a whopping 44,000 copies — awkwardly putting him under Batgirl and Aquaman, who haven’t had a movie in decades and never, respectively.
First, in this day an age, 44,000 copies is a respectable number any company would love to have, even if the book did rank below Batgirl and Aquaman. But this point is about how book featuring members of the Avengers do “shockingly poorly.” Fine, lets totally destroy that point.
Fast forward four months, to October 2014. We see that there is a new Thor series beginning that month. It debuted at #3 with a “whopping”150,862 copies. Jump one month ahead, to November 2014, and we see that All-New Captain America debuted at #2 with 120,500 copies. Funny how Iannone decided to ignore the sales figures on these Avengers-themed debuts. I’d say it was maybe because this Thor was female, but she was also Jane Foster, the character Natalie Portman played in the Thor films or that Sam Wilson took over the reigns as Cap in that series, but he was brought to life by Anthony Mackie on the big screen in Captain America: Winter Soldier.
He also forgets to mention that in the 39 comics that sold more than the Savage Hulk on that June 2014 sales chart, eight featured Batman, four featured Superman, two featured Spider-Man, two featured the Avengers, and three featured the X-Men, all characters who had movies in theaters within the same window as the Hulk’s last appearance on screen.
But that was two years ago, you say. Maybe people appreciate loose leaf more than HD these days? Ha, nope. January 2016 sales figures place Superman at #47, Hulk at #40, and Batman at #8. Brucie had the top-selling comic of 2014, but you know what he didn’t have that year? A movie. Bats’ comic book numbers magically dip the year Ben Affleck growled him back to big-screen life, so if he’s going to be in all these DC Universe films now, the Wayne fortune is about to shrink quite a bit.
Okay, for starters, the top-selling comic book of 2014 was Amazing Spider-Man #1. It sold 420,000 more copies than the highest selling Batman issue at the time. Granted, Batman had the number one book six months out of the the year, but even cumulatively, adding up sales for each issue released in the year, it couldn’t match ASM cumultive for sales in 2014.
Regardless, the lowest amount of copies sold for an issue of Batman in 2014 was for issue #31 (109,343). Do you know how many copies that Batman issue in January 2016 sold? 100,962. Yes, a sizable drop from the lofty heights that was 2014, but still a smash success for DC.
And do you want to know why Iannone singled out Batman‘s performance in January 2016 for his article when information is available up to April 2016? Because in February of 2016, Batman placed at #3 (102,689 copies). In April, it placed at #5 (101,922 copies). And March? That was issue #50. It came in at #1 with 162,406 copies sold, over 30,ooo more copies than any individual Batman issue sold in 2014. Granted, it was an anniversary issue and stores probably ordered more because of it, but that shouldn’t matter because the point is Batfleck destroys sales on the Batman comic. If that were true, then every issue would fall down the charts and sales would steadily decline. That hasn’t happened, but Iannone has to make it seem that it did, which he cherry picked the title’s weakest month of the year as proof and ignored the rest.
Shit, the same thing even happens to Star Wars. In 2015, the wacky adventures of Luke and his Papa owned 19 of the top 50 sales spots, including #1. By January 2016, shortly after The Force Awakens came out, they only owned four spots, with that month’s #1 spot going to The Walking Dead instead (TV works better than film, apparently). Since Disney plans to turn “new Star Wars” into an annual tradition, like the Super Bowl or flossing, don’t expect the paperback Skywalkers to come roaring back anytime soon.
This part of the argument is so idiotic that I do not need to use the sales charts to disprove it. He’s trying to compare YEARS with MONTHS! Those 19 spots were taken up by 11 individual issues of the flagship Star Wars title, four issues of the Darth Vader series, and first issues for Lando, Princess Leia, Shattered Empire and Vader Down series’.
Delving deeper, there is no way Star Wars books could take up 19 spots in January 2016 because Marvel doesn’t publish 19 Star Wars titles a month. It published 5 total Star Wars books in January 2016 and all 5 made the top 50 (I guess Iannone doesn’t watch Star Wars Rebels so that’s why he missed Kanan at #32.) Four of the books are in the top ten and three sold more than 100,000 copies. Many publishers would kill for this kind of abject failure.
And what were the three books that kept Star Wars out of the top spot? The Walking Dead #150 (a key anniversary issue), Secret Wars #9 (the final issue of Marvel’s big event series) and Spider-Man Deadpool #1 (the first issue teaming up Marvel’s two most popular characters). In fact, if it weren’t for high profile debuts, event series or key anniversary issues, Star Wars would have been the #1 book throughout 2016.
Also, Iannone posts an IGN headline stating that Darth Vader will end with issue #25, but either he didn’t read the article or deliberate intended to mislead his readers, because the IGN piece states the series is not ending due to poor sales, which Iannone hints at in his article, but rather because the story had run its course. IGN even points out how much of a financial success the series has been!
So, not only does he stretch the definition of a superhero movie to fit this last example, he compares two uncomparables and finally calls a smash success an outright failure. As a matter of fact, all his arguments in this section are bald-faced spin. How can you trust anything on Cracked ever again?
5. There is room for other stuff besides Marvel and DC in both the theaters and on comic book shelves.
Iannone’s last point seems a bit confusing to me. It appears that his final complaint about superhero films ruining comic books is that the Marvel and DC films choke out film adaptations from smaller comic companies. This means that Iannone wants us to believe that superhero films are both bad for comics but good for comics at the same time, hence the confusion.
He’s also wrong. Last year saw Kingsman: The Secret Service, a film based on the creator owned comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, become such a success that it will be getting a sequel next year. Millar’s works have been very popular in Hollywood and while some were housed at Marvel’s Icon imprint, they are less a part of Marvel than Vertigo is to DC. Also, this year Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 will be released, and that ‘s a franchise that was based on one of the most famous indie comics in history.
Granted, it’s not a big market outside of DC and Marvel at the box office, because bombs like R.I.P.D. made studios less willing to search for films from smaller companies. But there are films in the works based on Image Comics’ Chew and BOOM! Studios’ Tag, among others, so the opportunity is still there.
6. Iannone has no idea how rights issues work.
To keep the numbers of entries even, I’ll take a shot at this graph from Iannone:
Warner Bros. had a film adaptation of the classic manga Death Note on their calendar, but have now given up on it, presumably because it’s really hard to shoehorn a guy who kills by writing his enemies’ names in a book into scenes where he quips delightfully with The Flash.
Now, we know this statement is supposed to be a joke. So, should we assume that Iannone knows that if Warner Brothers options a manga or another non-DC comic book that they probably wouldn’t be able, let alone want to, add that property into the DC film universe? Yeah. let’s go with that.
I would not have any problems with a well thought out, well researched approach to this topic. One that addressed the issues without bending the facts to suit their needs. But, hey, I guess Cracked doesn’t work that way.