It’s the year of announcements—Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Daredevil, etc. The floodgates have opened and every Kal, Bruce, and Logan has been plastered across our small and silver screens. C- and D-list white male characters (S’up, Gambit?) and even A-list male characters of color and white female characters (T’Challa? Carol? Very nice to see you!) have crossed the four-colored threshold into the third dimension. Is that scraping we may hear at the bottom of the barrel?
Not hardly. Hollywood has yet to fully exploit the superhero genre. Yes, we are well into our second decade and there are still stories to tell. Much like the reviled rom-com, the superhero is not going anywhere. Critics may cry that the movies are of no substance, but the films make very large numbers of people with considerable sums of money feel very good. And for that reason, much like your annual meet-cute vehicle for the ingénue of the moment, they will be around for a long time.
Yet much like the public tires of particular ingénues after a period of time, it will tire of particular brands as well. And still Marvel and DC approach the public the way a dealer approaches an addict—or, quite frankly, the way publishers currently approach comic-shop retailers—pushing more of the same product to the same people at a faster rate with no thought of changing markets or the condition of their consumers.
No, the public will not tire of superheroes, but if you saturate the market with one particular brand, one set of characters, it will grow weary of hearing stories about them. The tales of Marvel and DC characters are our modern myths; they will stand the test of time as did Zeus and Paul Bunyan. But how often does the public wish to hear the origin story of the Greek gods in 2014? The public does not even want to see the origin story of Jesus on-screen more than once a decade let alone Spider-Man’s!
To bring in an example from our modern era, how many James Bond tales can entice the public each year? Even one a year would be too much. Has the public tired of action thrillers? No. But it does have a set tolerance for James Bond. And when that level has been reached, it is time for John Wick.
If you flood the market the public will tire of you faster—and you will have to wait that much longer for the public to once again embrace you. Though the current slate of announcements has elated Marvel and DC fans, some of the upcoming superhero movies will be flops—more than likely those helmed by Sony and Fox, studios so desperate to hold onto a superhero franchise that they will churn out a subpar product to maintain it. I have a sneaking suspicion Inhumans will do poorly as well; it is a weaker rehash of the X-Men’s tale—a tale that has already lost its way by having no members of any ostracized groups involved in the telling of a story about a group of people contributing to a world that hates and fears them. The lack of voices from those the world currently, quite honestly, hates and fears has removed the teeth from the X-Men (and will from the Inhumans). Hopefully Marvel can fix this issue before the franchises are due for a major launch/relaunch by either including those voices or changing the basic premise of the two franchises. Both options are easy fixes.
If Marvel and DC wish to consistently remain in the spotlight and stay in the public’s good graces simultaneously they will have to bring more to the table than just superheroes. And they will have to let some of their superhero IPs lie fallow for a period of time. Luckily, they have quite a few IPs in other genres that are ripe for exploitation—characters that are currently languishing in limbo. Which ones? Well, that’s a topic for another blog post.