On Business: Character Morphing

By | Monday, September 26, 2016 Leave a Comment
One of the things that struck me as a notable difference between Marvel and DC was that Marvel's heroes were centered around the personality and character of all the characters, while DC focused more on the name and the powers. I picked that up from the myriad variations I had seen of the DC characters even at a fairly young age. The Adam West Batman was very different from the O'Neil/Adams version I read in the comics. Which were both very different from the version I saw on Superfriends. I saw more examples as I got older... The Dark Knight, the Tim Burton movies, the older 1950s stuff I started seeing in reprints, etc.

Meanwhile, over at Marvel, Spider-Man was pretty much always Spider-Man. Some of the details might change or be simplified, but the character was, at root, the same character whether it was in a cartoon or a made-for-TV movie or the comics themselves. Nicholas Hammond seemed every bit of Spider-Man as Tobey Maguire did. Hell, even the Electric Company version of Spidey didn't seem too far off model.

I attributed a lot of that to the greater longevity of DC's characters. Superman and Batman were simply around for several decades before Fantastic Four #1 launched the Marvel Universe, so they had more time to accumulate additional variations. But it's dawned on me recently that Marvel has been branching out in those variations as well.

Efforts like Super Hero Squad seemed innocuous enough. It was clearly designed for a different audience than Marvel's "core" demographic. The more recent Avengers Academy seems like it's more of an overlap, though, and there's a more deliberate attempt to change the root characters away from who they've historically been.

Of course, there were the Ultimates versions of the characters which were very conscious departures. But what strikes me is then that the bleed-through to the movies. Obviously with Nick Fury, but there are also notable deviations with Hawkeye, Hank Pym, and the Fantastic Four.

Now there's certainly some validity to that approach. By varying the characters, you can get them to appeal to different audiences. And if you're able to attract more/larger audiences, there's more money involved. But it's what precisely does not appeal to someone like me. I've noted before how I felt some of my favorite characters were, in my opinion, badly mishandled during the "Civil War" storyline, and it occurs to me now that perhaps they weren't mishandled so much as intentionally changed to appeal to a different market. What if that was a calculated effort to present the character differently? A "New Batman" approach, if you will, that makes Marvel more like DC than it used to be.

If that works, and brings in more money, I suppose I can't fault Marvel for doing that, but I'm certainly not interested in a name and a power set so much as the character behind it. It means that you're crafting a story that's less about maintaining a character and more about ensuring ongoing brand recognition. That's not to say the folks at Marvel (and DC) aren't putting out the best stories they can, but with a different emphasis/directive, one can't help but see that shift play out in the pages of the books themselves.
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