Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Odds & Ends

Am I alone in thinking that Marvel's Dark Tower spin-off is just not going to be a success? For all this talk about "heavy promotion" and midnight sales, I am just not seeing how Marvel is going to get the readers in the store. The audience will be whatever portion of the normal comic shop crowd likes Stephen King, plus maybe a handful of King diehards who somehow managed to hear about the book in the first place.

I cannot help but remember Truth: Red, White & Black. There was another massively-hyped serious for which Marvel succeeded in pulling huge preorders . . . only to see the book wither on the vine. And this was long before the current three-week cut-off on orders, so retailers had already ordered three months of Truth before they saw it was a stinker. At least now, retailers will be able to see how well (or poorly) The Dark Tower #1 sells before making their final decision on #2. But I suspect #1 will be a quarter-bin staple for many years to come, unless Marvel can make good on the promise of luring King's readers into Ye Olde Nerd Emporium. I'm not holding my breath.

It might sell well in the inevitable collection. Of course, people thought 1602 would sell well, too, and that book actually had the bestselling author's direct involvement, not merely a competent and well-liked but by no means massively popular substitute. Can Marvel get The Dark Towerin front of the audience who would buy the book? Every single signpost says "no" -- even the eventual collection will have to work hard not to be consigned to the oblivion of the non-manga comics ghetto at Borders.

And yes, I did quite like The Truth; a shame they tried to sell it as something it wasn't. There was no way the conventional mainstream audience was going to accept the series as it was, and Marvel's failure to recognize this fact was nothing short of a tremendous lost opportunity. If it had found the right audience . . . ah, but it was never to be.

It is interesting for me to see all the reaction to Joss Whedon being cut from the Wonder Woman movie . . . firstly, I am more than a mite surprised that this many people care one way or the other. I mean, despite her ostensible icon status, the reality is that Wonder Woman has never been more than a niche success in comics. Some people really like Wonder Woman, but obviously nowhere near as many as Batman or Superman or Spider-Man or even Green Lantern. Is it any surprise that Warner Bros. would want to maximize their potential audience by crafting a Wonder Woman film with the broadest potential appeal? For all the fond memories associated with the Linda Carter TV show, any Wonder Woman is going to be a dicey sell. I predict: cleavage, explosions, and not a lot of the serious mythological context heavy-duty Wonder Woman fans are probably expecting. All the ponderous claptrap in the last Superman film succeeded in doing nothing so much as reducing the film's potential toy sales. It is possible they could manage to craft a middle-ground approach more similar in tone to The Lord of the Rings, but that would by no means be a sure-fire success either, because despite the fact that such an approach would resound with Wonder Woman fans, it is a far cry from the general public's expectations. Wonder Woman, to the general public, means invisible jet and sparkling lasso, so that's probably what we'll get. And some hot brainless bohunk to play Steve Trevor, undoubtedly two steps behind Wonder Woman while she gets up to all sorts of cross-cultural hijinks in man's world.

Light-hearted fish-out-of-water buddy movie with action setpieces, easily-merchandisable villains and incredibly attractive young twenty-something leads? Check.

Joss Whedon is a filmmaker who, like Kevin Smith, has built his career out of narrow-casting to the most lucrative audience possible. He has never shown so much as the slightest proclivity towards broadening his appeal. Smith, for all his failings, at least tried to make a play for a broader audience -- but sure enough, Jersey Girl was enough of a failure to send him back into the arms of his beloved nerd fandom. I suspect Whedon might have a similarly hard time playing to a general audience. He may have a knack for exploiting a certain niche, but you can only rewrite twenty-year-old X-Men comics for so long before people realize you're not exactly Godard.

And while we're on the subject, am I the only person actually looking forward to the Ghost Rider movie? All I've seen so far is snickering, which I don't understand at all. Ghost Rider has one of the coolest visual hooks in all of comics. The Ghost Rider I've seen in the trailer looks as much like the comic as you could possibily hope for. Flaming skull-headed biker out to wreak vengeance? Check!

It would be really hard to screw up Ghost Rider. At its core, it's one of the simplest concepts in all of comics: a dude makes a deal with the devil, gets screwed, gets cursed. As long as the movie hits those beats, it shouldn't have any problems. Yeah, the guy behind the camera is the same guy who made a mess of Daredevil, but the main mistake they made with Daredevil was trying to cram twenty years worth of story into an hour and a half. The result was a thin gray mush that was only occasionally enlightened by a few fun performances. Ghost Rider doesn't have any similarly iconic storylines to weigh the filmmakers down. With just a little bit of imagination they should be able to make the ... ahem ... bare-bones of the Ghost RIder story into a fun popcorn flick. If they fail at that much, I will truly bewail the idiocy of contemporary filmmaking.

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