Robot 6

Synergy assemble! Tom Brevoort explains how Marvel’s movies and publishing work together

The 14-year-old nerd in me still doesn't believe that these guys are the biggest franchise in comics

I’m hard pressed to think of a more unexpected development in superhero comics over the past half-decade or so than this: Somehow, the Avengers and Green Lantern have become the genre’s biggest franchises. On a one level it’s not much more complicated to explain than “Brian Bendis and Geoff Johns are very good at writing superhero comics people want to read, and their editors are very good at recognizing this and structuring their lines to support those comics.” Both writers reimagined these perpetual also-ran concepts — Bendis broke the team up, reassembled it with a mixture of Marvel superstars and personal favorites, and placed it at the center of years’ worth of shadowy conspiracy storylines; Johns revived the character at the core of the concept as we know it, then cracked that concept open to reveal a sprawling sub-universe of heroes and villains that arose from the original concept in a totally intuitive way; both of their publishers crafted multiple major event comics in which these freshly popular properties took center stage.

But in Marvel’s case, the newfound primacy of the Avengers was startling in that the franchise appeared to eclipse the properties that used to be Marvel’s bread and butter, the X-Men and Spider-Man. Sure, Wolverine and Spidey are members of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and adding them to the team likely gave it that initial push to the top, but it’s really the “Big Three” of Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America who’ve driven the Marvel Universe’s meta-plot for years now. It doesn’t take an omega-level intelligence to notice that these characters, and the team they’ve historically led, fall under the Marvel Studios movie-rights umbrella, while the Web-Slinger, the Ol’ Canucklehead and company belong elsewhere.

Which leads to one of my favorite comic-book conspiracy theories: Marvel deliberately pushed the Avengers in order to boost their future movie projects, while relegating the X-Men and Spider-Man to the back seat since their movie money goes to Fox or Sony rather than the House of Ideas. It’s a theory I’ve put before Marvel honcho Tom Brevoort myself; his response was that the franchise’s success was simply the result of the company trying to get the “Marvel heroes” area of their line firing on all cylinders the way they’d previously done with their other properties. After all, while Grant Morrison and J. Michael Straczynski were jolting the X-Men and Spider-Men, and Brian Bendis and Mark Millar were taking the Ultimate line to the top, those non-mutant, non-spider, non-Ultimate characters were keeping a relatively low profile. It just so happened, goes this line of reasoning, that when Marvel did decide to get the Avengers characters up and running — in no small part by taking Bendis’ Ultimate-line heat and transferring it to the Marvel Universe proper — they ended up being really, really good at it.

That’s an eminently reasonable and plausible response, as is Brevoort’s accurate contention elsewhere that they’ve published plenty of high-profile Spider-Man and X-Men comics since the Avengers blew up, thank you very much. But in a recent “Talk to the Hat” interview with CBR’s Kiel Phegley, Brevoort goes further than I’ve ever seen in confirming a relationship between Marvel Studios’ rights to the Avengers franchise and the concurrent rise of that franchise to the top of the sales charts. It’s just not quite the nefarious, Illuminati-style relationship you might have imagined…

[Kiel Phegley: I get the feeling that those of you in the office are a bit more connected to the Marvel Studios films not just because creatively Marvel has more of an impact on them than, say, the “Spider-Man” or “X-Men” movies, but I also feel that the in house movies have seen their characters benefit from an extra spotlight in Marvel publishing the past few years. Have you guys internally said, “Since our eggs are in the Iron Man/Cap/Thor basket, let’s try and ramp up those properties”?

Brevoort: Well, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that. Certainly we publish a lot of X-Men comics and a lot of Spider-Man comics. The difference is that – at least in publishing – on a day-to-day basis we’re not even aware of what’s going on with the film production on both of those characters. I’ve seen the “X-Men: First Class” trailers, and I know exactly as much about it as you do. Where as with the Marvel Studios films that we’re doing ourselves, we’re much more actively involved on a regular basis, and so there’s a little more opportunity for cross-platforming and cross-integration. A lot of that also has to do with the fact that the Marvel Creative Committee – which includes Dan [Buckley] and Joe [Quesada] and a few other folks – are involved in giving notes and feedback to Kevin Feige and his guys. So there’s a more direct pipeline. Every once in a while, Brian Bendis will start talking about something in regards to an “Avengers” script, and it’ll take me a few seconds to realize “Oh! He’s had some previous conversation with someone who’s involved with one of the films, and he’s put forth an idea there that he also wants to explore in ‘Avengers.'”

The immediacy of the interaction is such that it’s more natural that those characters are going to come to the fore. I think regardless, if you’re doing a big film with any of the characters, they’re going to become bigger. And if you have a successful film as we did with “Iron Man,” well then Iron Man is almost immediately going to become a much more important, much more prominent Marvel character. That’s true regardless of what we do in Publishing, though I think we should certainly take advantage of that in Publishing and steer into that. As Marvel Studios gears up towards a major film, we’re going to know about it, and if we’re not doing a lot of stuff with the characters involved yet – though it’s not like we were ever not doing stuff with Iron Man, Thor or Captain America – it’s easier when we know what things are coming up to direct our efforts on them. We aim for the movie release time and make sure there’s an accessible, mainstream-friendly story that’s in a collection on bookstore shelves. And we make sure there’s enough exposure for those characters, to help prime the pump for the film release.

[...]

So I don’t think there’s any greater emphasis on the Marvel Studios characters than the ones optioned by other studios. If you look at our “Previews” catalogue, it’s not like we’ve taken our foot off the gas on X-Men or Spider-Man. We still publish plenty of both, and we still put the same kind of resources against those books as we do Iron Man or Thor. Those characters matter to us. It’s just a little easier to get behind Iron Man or Cap or the Avengers because we know more about what’s going on on the film side. More of us have read the script or seen the production designs, and that tends to get people excited about the possibilities.

As you can see, Brevoort characterizes the link between the fortunes of the Avengers film franchise(s) and their comic-book counterparts as one of convenience rather than conscious effort: Many of the same people are involved in both mediums via the Creative Committee, so there’s a free flow of ideas and information there that simply doesn’t exist between, say, the X-office and the producers of First Class, a flow that naturally creates a “rising tide lifts all boats” scenario between film and funnybook.

Brevoort goes on to note several complicating factors. For one thing, Marvel’s ability to make superstars out of its C-listers remains untested: Thor and Iron Man may not be Wolverine and Spider-Man, but nor are they Ant-Man or Cloak & Dagger. For another, Marvel Studios may not control the movie rights to Spidey and the X-Men, but their animation wing is working with these characters, and similar cross-pollination is going on there. And in his latest “Talk to the Hat,” Brevoort says that the publisher’s Spider-Man-centric Free Comic Book Day offering was done in part to prime the pump for Sony’s upcoming Spidey reboot, showing that the publisher still cares enough about other studios’ productions to craft product with them in mind. But it does seem as though Cap, Thor, and Tony will remain Marvel’s marquee players as long as they’re on actual marquees.

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Comments

12 Comments

When will Marvel (or DC, for that matter), begin to advertise their comics before a movie (on the same big screen), in order to better capitalize on this broader interest in their characters?

I’ve seen Spider-Man added to the Superhero Squad toy line; wonder if he will have his cartoon debut.

First Class would be a tricky movie to capitalize on anyway — it takes place in the 1960s and borrows characters from different eras in a way that doesn’t match up well with any previously published comics, and any new tie-ins would be hard to fit into continuity. And with eight ongoing team books plus solo series, one-shots, etc. they’ve already got way more X-Men books on the racks than Thor or Cap ones.

@Neil: It feels like people ask that all the time, but I don’t know if anybody in the know has ever given a straight answer. I’m guessing it’s some combination of big-screen video not being an ideal way to advertise a print medium, as well as people’s association of “Marvel = comics” being strong enough that actually advertising it seems unnecessary.

(Or maybe it’s a cost thing. Or they figure advertising the comics before the movie risks causing a perception that the movie itself is an ad for comics.)

The problem with your theory is that Marvel Studios didn’t even exist when Bendis was brought onto Avengers.

I imagine that as far as the general public is concerned, Thor and Iron Man are on the same level as Cloak/Dagger and Ant-Man. Most people have zero familiarity with any of these characters outside of the few icons, so convincing them to see a well-conceived and made Cloak & Dagger film should be no more or less difficult than convincing them to see the initial installments of Thor or Iron Man. Actually, maybe less difficult, since Marvel has established its brand as a film company.

Totally loved this interview. Your great theory and questions earned an interesting response.

I hope one day all movie rights go back to Marvel so all of their properties get the best treatment instead of the disconnect X-Men and Spider-Man have been suffering without us even knowing it.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for X-Men or Spider-Man to revert back to Marvel/Disney. Fox/Sony would have to drive the franchises into the ground, ala Batman & Robin, before they give them up and even then probably wouldn’t. Shoot, Sony and Fox are still clenching Ghost Rider and FF/Daredevil despite mediocre efforts (at best) the first go around, no way they give up X-Men or Spidey.

Michael P: Marvel Studios was formed in 1996.

I’m not sure the theory holds much water, really. Marvel tried to take advantage of the X-Men movies with some moderate success. They also did it with Spider-Man (they even integrated the organic web shooters). Honestly, I don’t think there was much more that they could’ve done from the publishing POV for those two franchises at the time.

Also, I think you’re actually giving them a bit more credit than they deserve. Brevoort indicates that they wanted to shift the Bendis hotness from the Ultimate line to the Avengers books to give them a spotlight. The thing is, they’ve tried that before. Heroes Reborn and then again with Heroes Return. Both attempted to take hot or buzz worthy creators to put the titles in the spotlight. For one reason or another, the buzz they had fizzled much more quickly than they did when Bendis started monkeying with them. I think it was more luck than anything. It would be insane of them to suddenly stop promoting a line as successful as this one is. The fact that these titles have had a successful run recently is just icing on the cake that it has timed out with the movies. If Bendis hadn’t been successful (and really there’s not a whole lot to say he would’ve been–he turned down Ultimate X-Men because he felt he couldn’t do team books well), they would’ve tried to push something else.

I think that’s what they’re doing with the X-Men right now. They keep trying, but nothing seems to be able to bring back the buzz that the titles once held. They shook them up last year, and they’re getting ready to shake them up again. Spidey seems to go through a shake up every once in a while, too. Don’t forget that he has a big event coming up, too. Timed to coincide with the upcoming movie release?

I think you’re seeing more emphasis on the Avengers line now in an effort to have more books available to those who see the movies and want more (not the first time they’ve done that). I also with Brevoort that the same efforts are being put forth creatively with the Spider and X lines, but with maybe less books on the shelves.

Steven R. Stahl

May 17, 2011 at 12:15 pm

On a one level it’s not much more complicated to explain than “Brian Bendis and Geoff Johns are very good at writing superhero comics people want to read, and their editors are very good at recognizing this and structuring their lines to support those comics.”

I comment much more on politics than on comics these days, but — people read Bendis’s Avengers comics in spite of the writing, not because of it, as evidenced by the fact that nobody has ever been able to describe, in the form of an essay, what makes the writing “good.” Brevoort has been unable to do that himself.

A reaction that one can’t put into words isn’t an intelligent reaction.

It remains to be seen whether Marvel is any better at doing a series of films about any of its heroes than other studios are. The number of times that Superman, Batman, and, yes, Spider-Man have been associated with reboots indicates that once a writer gets past the origin story, coming up with material that he thinks will appeal to a mass audience is difficult.

SRS

Apollokid9000

May 17, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Just last week at my comic shop, I was talking with the owner about what the big picture goal was with the planned publishing of Marvel and DC. He stated that Marvel or better yet Disney, simply views the comics line as a R&D dpartment.

Marvel recent synergy is a mix of business savvy and luck. It really stems from the Nu Marvel years, Bendis’ and Millars’ stars rising. Yes, Bendis is the top comic writer at Marvel. When it’s all said and done, his run on the Avengers will be looked at in a similar view as Claremonts X Men work. But Millar also needs to get major credit for his work on the Ulitmates. His take on the team, which the misson statement was to modern the Avengers for todays audience, gave Marvel Studios the confidence to get things popping with their film slate. It was also happened that many of the main characters in the Ulitmates didn’t have the movie rights under another companies. Make no mistake, despite the current success of the Avengers franchise, the X Men still are the bigger names. Out of all of Marvels’ many properties, the Fantastic Four probably present the most possibilities. You could play them as straight superheroes that are also family. Or you could make it straight sci fi, playing up the imaginaut angle. Or you could add a more political bent, centering around Doom, Namor, the Inhumans, and Black Panther.

Despite being a fan of comic book characters, I never had much of a collection. That was due to not having a near by comic shop or my own money to but comics in my younger years. Most of knowledge came from the various animated shows of the 90’s, Wizard magazine ( yes, laugh it up), a pair of Italian reprints of X Men and Spider Man, and a scattershot of single issues.

About 4-5 years ago, at a Blockbuster store, I spotted something amongst the regular rack of celeb heavy magazines – a comic book. Specifically, a Civil War spolight issue with Spider Man in A IRON MAN color schemed suit. This peeked my interest to say the least.

Couple weeks after that, I found out that Barnes and Noble had a section of collected comics. Scanning the rack, again, something caught my eye. A cover of Avengers with Spider Man. In the black symbiote costume. Along side Wolverine ( who I’ve known longer than childhood friends) Doctor Strange ( who’s stature and appearance is interesting all by itself) Iron Fist ( the martial artist from my Maxmine Carange game) Luke Cage ( who was teamed up with Iron Fist often. One of the 5 actaully known black comic characters by people who don’t regularly follow comics). Spider Woman ( has to be with those eyes. Plus, she looks like the Spider Woman from the Iron Man cartoon). And a fully suited ninja ( ninjas- guranteed to get my attention).

That cover, as if often the case for people buying a comic, was enough to make my cop the book. Went, read it and I’ve spent nearly everday, in one form or another, think about the wide world of comics. As someone who wants to get into the art side of things, I’ve naturally looked at the business side of it all. This is just another view into that vast landscape and is much appreciated.

I’m a big follower of the Marvel “on screen” stuff, got nearly everything that has been published so far (this goes from the 1966 cartoons up till the newest movies and cartoon series), and there’s one thing I’ve noticed that sets the Marvel Studio productions apart for the “other” Marvel Movies, which is this: How close they stick to the original characters. Surely they’ve updated the origin stories somewhat, but that’s just common sense, they’re trying to reach a bigger audience, and we’re not living in the 1960’s anymore.

Looking at the upcoming X-Men: First Class movie: They’ve put a character in there that didn’t even exist until 2003! And looking at all the X-Men movies so far, all the characters are there, but most of them are wrong. For example: Rogue’s much too young. And the team itself doesn’t make sense, surely the characters have worked together, but not quite in this assembly. It seems to me they’ve just glanced at the comics, picked the chars they thought were “cool” and just put those together. If, with this in mind, we go to the bookstore, we see a huge number of X-men comics, but we won’t find one that features the movie team (except for the comic about the movie), so people who liked the movie don’t see a comic with their fav. team and therefor don’t buy a comic or at least not more than one, same goes for other heroes who got “messed-up”, the comics don’t compare to the movies, so anyone who wasn’t already into the comics probably won’t buy them. Therefor it’s only logic that Marvel would make the movies they produce on their own more in sync with the comics. And vice-a-versa put the little changes needed to make the movie work in the comics as well.

On a last note: when buying a comic most people will look at the art-work, and not so much at the story. Only “true believers” will buy comics with not so good art-work if the story’s worth it.

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