Monday, August 27, 2012

Part 2: From Dark Obscurity to Newfound Popularity - The New Age of Comic Books

The following article is Part 2 of a 2 part series. I wrote Part 1 a year ago as a result of me wanting to reach out to fans of the comic book movies who don't read comic books. I observed that even though comic book movies were extremely popular, fans were reluctant to actually venture into the actual source material of these beloved movies. Part 2 of this series is how incredibly a year later, comic books are actually reaching a new renaissance as more fans of the movies are taking the leap into the comic book world, and why. The reason for this 2 part series is for us as comic book fans to contemplate, evaluate, and recognize the remarkable change in view that has happened to our beloved medium.  Enjoy Part 2, and Happy Reading! 

If you read Part 1 of this 2 part series, then you probably got a sense with how frustrated I was with the social stigma of comic book readers. At the time of the article,  telling friends, family, or new acquaintances I happily read comic books was not always peaches and cream. I never felt truly comfortable sharing this passion of mine. I was always bracing myself, like the desperate soldier in a shallow fox hole, for the quick bombardment of verbal assault or questioning stares that was to quickly come my way. The worse was when the people I was talking to would make quick and darting glances around them, hoping no one within ear-shot would hear that they were part of such a socially unpopular conversation. A year later all I can say is wow, how quickly things have changed. The social stigma towards comic books and their readers is greatly differing in the public's eye, and there are three main reasons for this: Christopher Nolan and Joss Whedon delivering comic book movies like none other before them, and Apple's creator the late Steve Jobs. 

The most intriguing part about the inclusion of Joss Whedon and Steve Jobs into the renaissance of comic books is that both of these parties had, after experiencing initial success, fallen off their pedestals into the dark world of public doubt and scrutiny, just like the comic book medium. Only through persevering through their own struggles and failures did they eventually rise from the ashes to be even better than they were before; thus having a renaissance of their own. As a result, it's only fitting that they would be incredibly influential into the rebirth of the love and appreciation of comic books. Yet, we first need to start this discussion with Christopher Nolan and Joss Whedon, not Joss Whedon and Steve Jobs, because if it weren't for their dedication, passion, and success as filmmakers we wouldn't even be having this conversation. But we are, and it all starts with them. 

This new comic book renaissance didn't just happen in 2012, but four years previous in 2008 with the second installment of The Dark Knight trilogy. Like Ra's Al Ghul in Batman Begins showing Bruce Wayne that he can be "more than just a man," The Dark Knight showed audiences that comic book movies can be more than just a popcorn summer blockbuster that gives us cheap thrills. Audiences were shown for the first time that comic book movies can be emotionally deep, intelligent, raise moral dilemmas, and have acting performances that will forever change our lives; in essence be a true cinema art form. The potential for comic book movies are now viewed in a whole different light. Who would have thought a movie about an angry billionaire dressed up in a cape and mask could take it's part in such heated debates as personal privacy over personal safety and it's moral cost, what possibly drives men to destroy the world around them, and what lies must be hidden for the greater good? Not only did The Dark Knight explore these topics, it did so in a mature and sophisticated manner. And despite how you feel about about The Dark Knight Rises, it is a solid blueprint of how to make a comic book trilogy work, as it is a great movie that connects, ties, and resolves an entire three movie story; something which had not been achieved in any comic book movie before. It gave non-comic book fans the realization that comic books aren't just about the hero going in and punching out the next costumed villain, but that they can showcase these same type of strong and engaging story traits that were seen in The Dark Knight trilogy. 

The Avengers has only continued and grown this now mature love affair for comic book movies. It must be said that whatever your view towards Marvel's five pre-Avenger movies, the fact that Kevin Feige spearheaded five different movies, all with varying different characters and stories, into one big movie universe is not only unprecedented, it's totally unheard of. Feige orchestrated the entire Avengers project like a true maestro, as it would have been very easy (and even expected) for this entire project to flop harder than Spier-Man on Broadway.  For those who don't like the heavy tones of The Dark Knight trilogy, the Marvel movies under Marvel Entertainment are a great substitute. They're fun, entertaining, and brought in new fans of these previously rather obscure Marvel characters. Despite all of this, Feige's greatest stroke of genius was giving the entire Avengers project to Joss Whedon. People don't understand how gutsy this was, as Whedon hadn't had success since his time on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer TV show. Yet now that The Avengers is over, to name any other person to write and direct this huge and lofty movie seems absolutely ridiculous.

The previous five Marvel movies created new fans, but what Joss Whedon did with The Avengers was pin those fans down for life. Whedon, who is a huge comic book fan himself, knows these characters by heart. He knows what their greatest strengths and weaknesses are, what makes them interesting as characters, and what motivates them to be the heroes that we have grown to love. No other comic book movie has had a person with such respect and passion behind the helm. Whedon's love for the characters is manifested many times in The Avengers, from seeing Black Widow not be a sex symbol but a strong and powerful S.H.I.E.L.D agent, to Iron Man evolving from the self-serving billionaire in Iron Man to the self-sacrificing hero in The Avengers. Joss Whedon showed audiences why Captain America should be every American's hero, the reason for Thor being the "Mighty God of Thunder" in word and deed, and (what I think is Joss's greatest achievement) turn the Hulk from a uninteresting and tolerable movie character into the most loved and praised aspect of the movie. In The Avengers, we don't just get just one character that we love and root for, we get a whole team of them. Non-comic book fans saw, because of Whedon's understanding of the characters, why comic book heroes have lasted more than decades. 

Ultimately what Nolan and Whedon did was give audiences a glimpse into why fans love these heroes and their stories, and it was extremely contagious. This is evident in the fact that I have seen time and time again through personal friends of mine or commenters online mention how they have started reading comic books because of The Dark Knight trilogy and The Avengers. In fact, one of my friends (he teased me so much about reading comic books that he prompted me to write Part 1 of this article a year ago) actually asked to borrow Captain America: Winter Soldier. He even ventured into a comic book shop with me. Words can't even describe how completely shocked I was, and still am. Another friend of mine who never understood why I love comic books and their movies now thinks that me doing a podcast dedicated solely to comic books is an awesome endeavor. A year ago I guarantee he would have laughed at my face. Only a movies like The Dark Knight trilogy and The Avengers, with such love, maturity, and appreciation for it's characters, could have prompted such miraculous turn-arounds. But what about the new comic book fans who want to try out comic books, but are still hesitant because of the social stigma attached to comic book readers and to comic book shops? That is where Steve Job's comes into play. 

Despite how you feel about him, with the creation of the iPad (and all other tablets from other companies), Steve Jobs created a revolutionary way for new comic book fans to deal with their fears and get into comics. This is extremely important. The biggest reasons I hear and read as to why people don't read comic books is because their vision of comic book shops, either founded or not, are that they are dirty and dark hole in the walls that they wouldn't be caught dead in. Let's be honest, sometimes this isn't far from the truth. Thankfully I have found a comic book shop that I love, but there are others in the town where I live that are run down, dirty, and quit frankly do not appeal to me whatsoever. If not for the great shop I go to, I don't know what I would do. But thanks to Steve Jobs, new comic book readers can try out comics with the swipe of their finger. This presents many pluses. For instance, comics can take up quit a bit of space, and realizing this for the first time can be rather disheartening. Yet with digital comics you can store everything through a cloud system and delete and reload comics at your pleasure, thus never having to worry about crowding comics into your bedroom closet. Another great advantage for new readers of comics who aren't comfortable yet with their new hobby due to social stereotypes, is that they can read their comics on their tablet without anyone knowing what they are actually doing. This is vital, as having privacy and not having to worry about what others may think of you when reading a comic will make new readers more willing try more comics. Plus, when The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises came out this summer, there were always promotions and deals for the comics that inspired these movies. This prompted new readers to the medium of comic books to become further engaged not only into the movies, but also into the comics that inspired these movies as well. 

The biggest evidence out there that there are new readers of comic books, and hence this new comic book renaissance, is the creation of DC's The New 52 and Marvel's Marvel NOW!. The "Big Two" saw the trend that was happening, and in my opinion smartly acted on it. New readers aren't knowledgable about current comics, and can be confused by comic book continuity as the characters they know and love in the movies are not always the same in the comic books. But with the new relaunched and revised titles, they can more easily become engrossed and familiarized into the characters in the comic books that they grew to first love on the big screen.

Is everyone that loved The Dark Knight trilogy and The Avengers going to venture into the world of comic books? No, and that's okay. Enough new readers are starting to, and now more than ever with new technology such as tablet computers combined with the launch of The New 52 and Marvel NOW, these new readers will actually stick. As for those who don't read comic books, because of the success and this summers movies, it is becoming less and less likely that they still view comic book readers as awkward weirdo's who won't leave the house. This is evidenced in the fact that we are seeing more and more people wearing comic book T-shirts and other memoribilia. We might even see a trend where owning something comic book related is now looked at as "cool."

The social stigma of comic books and their readers is changing, and more and more new readers are joining the ranks every day. Comic books are rising from their ashes of obscurity and darkness, and like Joss Whedon and Steve Jobs, will finally again triumphantly succeed and flourish. Yes, we are definitely witnessing a comic book renaissance, and the world is a better place because of it.


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