It’s an amazing time to be a comic fan. The latest Marvel movie, Avengers: Endgame, shattered box office records, earning $350 million domestically and $1.2 billion worldwide…in the first weekend of release. Everybody’s happy: movie goers, theater owners, Disney stockholders. There’s a heaping amount of fan validation packed into it all. This incredible box office debut, combined with positive reviews, afford longtime fans the opportunity to say to the world at large, “See? I told this stuff is great!”
But a funny thing happened on the way to the victory lap.
The tightly-knit cinematic Marvel mythology vie is evocative and representative of the comic book universe. This movie, really just the latest chapter of a multi-year/multi-film epic, has all the hallmarks of Marvel Comics. It’s a sprawling crossover where the status quo is eager to change and grow bit by bit.
While the films used the comics mythology as a template, they don’t exactly portray the Marvel Universe of the comics. Nor should they. The tapestry of Marvel Comics is big and bloated. It’s cosmically convoluted. It’s a messy mythology that’s constantly being updated and corrected. But for longtime fans – it’s the “real” Marvel Universe.
Back in the 60s, fans inherently knew that Marvel cartoons like Hanna Barbera’s Fantastic Four on ABC or Grantray-Lawrence/Krantz Films’ Spider-Man, also on ABC initially, were reflections of the comics, not the real thing. The adapted several episodes directly from the comics. Things tended to get a little wobbly when they veered too far from the source material.
In the 70s, Marvel Comics fans would look to TV shows like The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man to find wisps of the comic characters they loved. The “real” Hulk or Spider-Man, (or Thor, or Daredevil) were there if you squinted a bit.
In modern times, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become that place that validates longtime fanboys. It’s often filled with high quality versions of characters and plotlines that look so good onscreen. Fans are constantly comparing the cinematic versions to comics. There’s a mental cross-check that dances in every fan’s brain, analyzing onscreen renderings and contrasting them to the well-remembered images of comic masters like Kirby, Ditko, Simonson or Starlin.
But today, for most of the world, the Marvel cinematic universe has become the prime universe. Most of the world is in awe of the triumphant battles, heroic sacrifices and inspirational bravery onscreen. Most of the world is saddened when bad things happen to beloved characters in Avengers: Endgame.
Comic fans shrug and think “Yeah, that’s cool. But I know what really happened…or what’s gonna happen.” To them, the real deal is found between the covers of comics. And collected editions. And online versions too.
I can’t help but wonder if being a long-time comics fan somehow de-invests one’s fandom in the cinematic universe.
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There’s a flip side to it all too. We are enjoying a plethora of comic-based movies onscreen right now – Avengers, Shazam, Hellboy and Captain Marvel have been recently released, rapid-fire, into theaters. On TV (broadcast & streaming) there’s everything from American Gods to The Flash to The Doom Patrol. Two recent series, Gotham and The Gifted just ended multi-season runs.
It’s encouraging to see Avengers: Endgame success create financial success for theater owners while series like Teen Titans and Doom Patrol help launch a new streaming service. But it’s discouraging that find so many comic shops struggling this year. Paradoxically, these geek victory laps don’t seem to be including the places where it all starts – comic shops.
There are so many great comic shops out there, though. This past weekend, we visited two stores in Buffalo. Each was wonderful and they couldn’t be more different from one another:
Gutter Pop is a cutting-edge comic shop that seems more like the city’s best book store than a comic shop. It’s clean, bright and celebrates indy comics as well as mainstream comics. The fella behind the desk was friendly, helpful and upbeat. I can’t wait to visit again soon. For more information check out Gutter Pop Comics
Queen City Books is, on the other hand, that quintessential old-time comic shop. It’s packed to the gills with treasures and bargains. It’s been family owned for three generations. Emil Novak, the ebullient owner, celebrates comics and fandom with every customer who walks in. I always secretly hope I will get “accidentally” locked inside his store for a week. For more information check out the Queen City Books Facebook page.
I’d urge you to find the type of comic shop that best suits you and drag a friend along to Free Comic Book Day this weekend. I can almost guarantee it will be great fun, and perhaps, just like Avengers: Endgame, it will be the start of something new and awesome. For more information on Free Comic Book Day