I’m traveling right now, so my writing schedule is a bit off. As I work on the next installment of “Universe Lost,” I thought I’d fill the gap with some remarks on why I started this blog.
In May 2008, just days after Iron Man‘s US premiere, Marvel Studios announced its plans to produce a cycle of films that would lead into 2012’s The Avengers (originally slated for a 2011 release). The news astonished me. Previous cinematic adaptations of super-hero comics had always dealt with individual characters in isolation from one another, even when they were close associates in the comic books.
Aside from the title character, there were no other super-heroes in the 1978-1987 Superman films. Except for a groan-inducing one-liner in the atrocious Batman and Robin, there was no indication in the 1989-1997 Batman films that there were any costumed crimefighters other than those based in the Batcave.
In stories published by DC Comics, however, Superman and Batman had been appearing together since 1941.
Exceptions to this approach only proved the rule of isolation by adaptation. The Fantastic Four have had their own movie franchise, but in the comics they were more of a family with super-powers than a super-hero team per se. Fantastic Four #1 introduced the entire team at once, showing the common origin of their superhuman abilities.
Similarly, the 2000-2006 X-Men films featured an ensemble cast, but the concept behind the X-Men comic book had been a school for super-powered youngsters. The original members of the Fantastic Four and the X-Men were all new characters who had never before appeared in any story. These teams were created as organic units.
The Avengers were different. The stars of Avengers #1 were all established Marvel characters, but none of them had their own titles at that point. When Avengers #1 came out in 1963, Spider-Man was the only Marvel character appearing in a title devoted solely to a single star. All of Marvel’s other super-heroes appeared in anthology titles that carried a variety of rotating features.
Avengers served to cross-promote characters who weren’t getting the same level of exposure as Spider-Man. Marvel hoped that if readers of the anthology title Journey into Mystery became fans of Thor, they might also pick up Avengers, which could then lead them to start keeping up with Iron Man’s adventures in Tales of Suspense, then go on to Tales to Astonish, which featured Hulk, Ant-Man, and the Wasp.
DC had tried a similar method of cross-promoting underexposed characters way back in 1940.
All-Star Comics #3 introduced the Justice Society of America, a group whose roster included whichever super-heroes that DC felt needed a marketing boost. Since Superman and Batman already had their own solo titles when the Justice Society debuted, they rarely appeared in the team book.
Although the Justice Society and the Avengers were both originally created for marketing purposes, as storytelling devices they introduced the notion that these characters existed in a shared universe. As I wrote about in an earlier post, it was this sense that the stories I was reading took place in a coherent world of their own that first got me hooked on comic books. Although the comic book story that turned me into a regular reader featured Rachel Summers and Magma, I wasn’t really drawn to those characters, but to the setting that they inhabited, to the idea of a fictional universe with its own distinct history.
That sense of exploring a fictional universe has been a major draw for super-hero fans for decades, but really only in the pages of comic books. As I pointed out with the Superman and Batman franchises, film adaptations of comic book properties adapted the characters, but ignored the settings they inhabited. Marvel changed all that with their 2008 announcement. I was astonished that super-hero movies were finally going to attempt what super-hero comics had been doing since 1940.
And I began to wonder why no one had thought to make movies like that before. After all, comic books had been relying on that type of interconnected storytelling for decades. When I learned that Marvel Studios was going to engage not simply in adaptation but in world-building, I started typing up notes on when and how various comic book properties made their way into other media, as well as how comic book companies had attempted to organize and manage their fictional settings.
Adding to those notes was something that I did sporadically whenever I heard about an upcoming comic book adaptation or a past one that I was previously unaware of. My attention went mainly to super-heroes, especially those published by Marvel and DC. By 2015, the text file containing those notes ran more than 100 pages, so I thought that it was time to organize them and start making sense of the patterns that I had identified. This blog is an attempt at that.
But it’s also something else as well. I’m in the process of changing careers, reinventing myself professionally. The first words I typed for this blog were a quote from the movie Adaptation not just because that’s what the blog is about, but also because that quote describes what I’m doing with my life right now – adapting.
My new professional identity may very well depend on my web presence, so I’m blogging anonymously about an entertaining subject to get practice writing in a format of 500 to 1000 words. I plan to turn that practice toward more serious subjects in the near future once my “real” website is up and running.
It’s been difficult to keep my posts within that 500- to 1000-word limit so that they can be read in only a few minutes. For every previous post, I initially wrote twice, maybe three times that amount and then had to heavily edit. This is the first post that came in under the limit on the first draft.
I guess I’m adapting.
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