Marketing, Stories and Superheroes

This past weekend I attended my first ever comic book convention, HeroesCon 2015 in Charlotte and it was an absolute blast. The panels were the highlight of the weekend, I attended panels on the state of the DCU and Marvel Universe, Star Wars comics and comic book costume design. Both DC and Marvel (who are currently producing Star Wars comics) have gone through significant changes in the past year attracting a lot of media attention, for example Thor is now a woman, Batgirl basically lives in Brooklyn and Han Solo had a wife before the events of A New Hope. I’ve been reading all of these books and I can vouch for them, they are all incredible, however it is 2015 and there will always be people who complain about changes.The most common complaint is that these changes are nothing more than a “PR” stunt to get people to buy one issue before inevitably changing things back. The HeroesCon panels featured several of the creators who are responsible for the new status quo for several of the heroes and one point continued to come across, you can’t just make a change for the sake of change, it has to be part of the story. 

Take Batgirl for example; at the end of Gail Simone’s run on Batgirl all of her belongings were lost in a fire including her old costume, as a result she decides she needs to move forward with her life and moves to Burnside (Gotham’s Brooklyn). When the new creative team took over in Batgirl #35 she has a new practical costume that she made herself; a leather jacket, doc martins, a snap on cape and a cowl that doesn’t cover her ears. Babs Tarr the artist who did the redesign said the idea behind the costume is that it had to look like something a 21 year-old would put together herself. This weekend she was asked if she wanted to design a more practical suit for Batman and she said it wouldn’t make sense for Batman to have a practical costume because it ignores a fundamental truth about the character, Batman is very wealthy. Bruce Wayne is a billionaire he should have a high-tech suit, Barbara Gordon is a 21 year-old daughter of a police commissioner, what works for one character doesn’t work for another.

The female Thor is an even bigger example of a change generating a lot of media attention and the criticism that comes with such a drastic shake-up. Thor’s deal is that whoever is worthy can wield his magic hammer and last summer during a comic event called “Original Sin” something happened to Thor and he became unworthy. Afterwards a mysterious woman appeared and took up the mantle of Thor because she is worthy of the hammer. Such a fundamental change to the character was announced on The View and generated a lot of coverage; one of the most well-known male superheroes had been replaced by a woman. There was also signification backlash in the comic book community with several fans bitter about the idea of their Thor being cast aside for what they saw as a marketing stunt. Thor writer Jason Aaron was asked about the backlash this weekend and he explained that the change was part of his plan for Thor and Jane Foster (who secretly took up the hammer) the change was made to push both characters in directions. In the 8 issues since the change Aaron has crafted a story exploring how Jane reacts to being thrown in the role of Thor and implications of her duty as well as the old Thor’s quest to become worthy again. The story has revealed a whole new side of both characters and fans have responded. In May 2014 before the change, Thor God of Thunder #22  was the 53rd highest selling comic with ~37,000 copies sold, in May 2015 Thor #8 ranked 16th and moved ~86,000 copies. If the story was not there the increase in sales from the change would not have lasted 8 issues, fans would have dropped off the book.

The point is no matter how great or flashy an idea is, the idea needs a story or it will just be a flash in the pan and you won’t get the sustained benefit of the idea. Great concepts are nothing without considering the story and the context they exist in or else the concept dies just as quickly as it was introduced. Story matters period.

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Marketing, Stories and Superheroes

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