The world woke up to sad news on 13 November that the worlds original superhero, Stan Lee, passed on at the age of 95.
You may be thinking that it is weird that a technology blog is profiling Marvel Comics. But why not? The Marvel story is a prime example of how technology took a niche concept and delivered it to the world. Technology not only saved Marvel but made it accessible to the world.
From the beginning to now
Fair warning readers. I have gone full nerd on this blog. I recently read an interesting article on io9.gizmodo.com which shows how technology has influenced Marvel Comics.
The article points out that it is hard to deny that the Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has affected their comics. Characters generated on film have leapt into the pages of comics, and niche heroes are now comics megastars thanks to movie successes. But the movies’ impact on the comics stretches actually back farther than you’d think.
Marvel’s movie ventures and their comic book influence didn’t start with the beginning of the modern MCU in Iron Man. It arguably started with the movie that arguably invigorated the 21st century revival of superhero cinema: 1999’s Blade.
The article adds that before Wesley Snipes inhabited the role of a superpowered vampire hunter, Blade’s powerset was radically different. Highly trained in martial arts and weaponry, Eric Brooks’ origins saw him inherit the long life and ability to detect supernatural creatures that came with vampirism (even an immunity to vampire bites). But when Blade reimagined the character as a “Daywalker”, a legendary human/vampire hybrid with all the superhuman abilities of a vampire and none of the weaknesses, the comic character shortly followed suit following the movie’s success. In a 1999 story arc in Peter Parker, Spider-Man, Blade not only picks up a decidedly movie-inspired outfit, but is also bitten by the vampire Morbius and granted the superpowers he exhibited in the movie — and even the “Daywalker” title.
Speaking of costume changes — they’re perhaps some of the most obvious impacts of the movies on the films. This began with a subtle move the year after Blade got his power-up with the release of Bryan Singer’s X-Men. X-Men was widely lauded for its serious approach to the comic book material, most notably its ditching of the mutant’s iconic blue-and-yellow spandex for black leather getups.
The article points out that eager to capitalize on the movie’s success, Marvel tasked Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly to reimagine the X-Men’s look as part of their run on the series. In The New X-Men #114, released in 2001, they did just that. Although the yellow X’s on their chests kept some color, the X-Men debuted new, dark leather uniforms that they would wear until Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men returned them to spandex.
The X-Men were not the only characters to get a movie-influenced costume change. Although his movie costume was inspired by the Marvel Ultimate Universe’s interpretation of the character, following Hawkeye’s first proper appearance in 2012’s The Avengers, the main comic’s Hawkeye ditched his long-used purple mask and replaced it with a modern, sunglasses-toting look for Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye the same year.
The article adds that perhaps the most egregious and obvious instance would be Star-Lord. Following the release of Guardians of the Galaxy last year, ditched his comic book look whole hog and started using the movie’s leather duster, mask and element guns full time in his standalone series Legendary Star-Lord.
To many, Samuel L Jackson is Nick Fury. But the long saga of the actor’s impact on the Nick Fury of the comics begins well before the introduction of Nick Fury Jr.
The io9.gizmodo.com points out that when Nick Fury was introduced in the “Ultimate” universe in 2001, he was already drastically different to his main universe counterpart — cropped hair, clean shave, and of course, African-American. But suddenly a year later in The Ultimates, Fury was redesigned to be completely bald and bearing more than a passing similarity to Samuel L. Jackson (the comics even remarked on the likeness). Jackson got wind of the use of his likeness and contacted Marvel — instead of forcing them to change the character’s appearance, he merely instead asked that any future movie appearances by the character would be played by him.
Even with Jackson’s Fury being introduced at the climax of 2008’s Iron Man, it would take another four years before the comics caught up to the movies. The 2012 miniseries Battle Scars introduced Marcus Johnson, a.k.a Nick Fury Jr.. Johnson was introduced as an African- American (bearing, once again, a more-than-passing resemblance to Jackson) who was actually the long lost son of Fury. Eventually Marcus, adopting his birth name of Nick Fury Jr. became a S.H.I.E.L.D agent and even a member of the Secret Avengers, despite a mixed reception from fans concerned at the movie universe affecting the comics.
The article adds that just as Battle Scars had introduced an MCU-inspired Nick Fury to the comics, it also added another cinematic creation to comics canon: Phil Coulson.
Introduced as part of Iron Man and appearance in cameos up until his “death” in 2012’s The Avengers, Coulson joined the S.H.I.E.L.D of the comics to tie in with his leading role in the T.V. spinoff Agents of SHIELD. Despite wide approval of Coulson as a character, comic fans were hesitant at his arrival in the comics alongside the new Nick Fury, but Marvel paid no heed to the complaints. In fact, they went even further in mixing the movies and comics together by introducing the Agents of SHIELD characters of Melinda May, Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz alongside Coulson as main characters in the new SHIELD ongoing series, which began late last year.
Art imitating life
There is a popular proverb that art imitates life and life imitates art.
We have seen how technology has influenced Marvel Comics, but how has Marvel influenced the technological world of theatrical entertainment? An article on fandom.wikia.com perfectly illustrates this.
The article points out that studios have told a single story over multiple movies before, with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings prime examples. But no one had done it on the size and scale of Marvel.
Head honcho Kevin Feige had the vision to introduce multiple superheroes — kicking off with lesser known character Iron Man — in standalone features building towards team-up flick The Avengers. He also had the bravery and foresight to tell the long-term, over-arching story of the Infinity Stones through 19 films, leading into the battle for the Infinity Gauntlet in Avengers: Infinity War this May.
The article added that now everyone wants a Shared Universe. The Godzilla Monsterverse has been a success, as has the Cloverfield Cloververse, while Harry Potter is still going strong thanks to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And those new Star Wars prequels and sequels are making billions of dollars. But constructing this kind of multi-faceted franchise is harder than it looks.
The article points out that DC gave it a go with Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman stuttering towards Justice League in haphazard fashion. Universal used The Mummy to launch their Dark Universe, then promptly put it on the back-burner when that film flopped. And the less said about the recent Ghostbusters and Dark Tower efforts, the better.
So while Marvel has made it look easy assembling their Avengers over the last decade, the evidence suggests that it was anything but.
The article points out that there was a time when superheroes like Superman and Batman were introduced via their own standalone movies. Indeed the MCU kicked off that way, with Iron Man, Thor and Captain America all debuting in their own features.
But as those films turned into monstrous box office hits, so Marvel realised they could ‘soft-launch’ characters. The studio, therefore, started giving superheroes cameos elsewhere before launching solo vehicles. Black Widow — who first appeared in Iron Man 2 — will soon be headlining her own film. We met both Black Panther and a new iteration of Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War before their standalone flicks. And early word suggests we’ll see Hope van Dyne — who debuted in Ant-Man — don her Wasp costume for the first time in Avengers: Infinity War before getting a (semi-)solo movie in the shape of Ant-Man and the Wasp later in the year.
The article adds that other studios are taking this approach, with Wonder Woman introduced in Batman v Superman before going it alone, and Aquaman, Cyborg and Flash doing the same via some grainy BvS footage and Justice League. And it’s a tactic that looks set to continue, allowing studios to familiarise audiences with new characters in sure-fire hits before betting the house on them alone.
Finally, we’ve got another entry that the MCU didn’t invent, but did popularise. To such an extent that they have now become the industry norm; namely post-credit stings. Traditionally, these scenes — that play during or after the end credits — were used to conclude proceedings with a gag, sending audiences home with a smile.
The article points out that In the 1980s, the likes of Airplane!, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Adventures in Babysitting, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and The Muppet Movie all featured add-ons for comic effect. They rewarded those who stayed through the credits with a laugh.
But one film did it differently. Young Sherlock Holmes concluded with an end-credit sequence that revealed the film’s bad guy to be none other than super-villain Moriarty. It was a jaw-dropping moment, that very sadly didn’t trigger a series of sequels. The Pirates of the Caribbean films followed that example, teasing future instalments in their stings. But it was Marvel who took it to the next level.
The article adds that the studio now uses post-credit scenes to set up both characters and storylines. Nick Fury introduced the ‘Avengers Initiative’ at the end of Iron Man, Thor’s hammer was discovered post-Iron Man 2, and Thanos donned the Infinity Gauntlet and vowed to track down the remaining Infinity Stones at the end of Age of Ultron.
Marvel has also used them for laughs. From the Avengers eating shawarma and baby Groot dancing to adolescent Groot playing video games and giving Peter Quill grief. Indeed, such is their prevalence that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 featured no less than five stings.
The article points out that as with so many of these narrative devices and decisions, they’ve turned into conventions, with rival blockbuster franchises following suit. Predictably the X-Men and DC movies now feature regular post-credit scenes. As do the Transformers films. The Fast & Furious flicks. And pretty much every celluloid series looking to lay the foundations for their next entry.
Meaning it has become industry standard to add scenes to a film’s already lengthy credits. And customary for audiences to sit through them for a butt-numbing period of time. Which ultimately might be the cruellest gift that the Marvel movies have bestowed upon us.
Marvel is the poster child of how technology can take a company that served a niche market and transformed it into a company that became profitable beyond its wildest imagination.
“If I had to be a super hero, it would be Tony Stark. Jokes aside; we all have a Stan Lee within us. We need to take the advice that we give our children to heart, our abilities are only as big as our imagination. And technology gives us the ability to realise this,” said GTconsult Co-Founder and CEO Bradley Geldenhuys.