Tuesday, September 27, 2005

There's no "T.V." in "I-R-O-N-M-A-N"

Or: "Honey, where's the remote?"

Marvel has issued the following press release:

"MARVEL TAPS CARNIVALE CREATOR DANIEL KNAUF TO PEN SIX ISSUES OF IRON MAN: Emanating from his explosive imagination, Knauf will pen six issues of the monthly Iron Man title. The exhilarating storyline will feature a string of high-visibility assassinations, prompting an intense investigation by Tony Stark (Iron Man’s alter ego), as the killer appears to be employing the armor and weapons of Iron Man. Stark is shocked and horrified by the truth he uncovers, as a far deeper game of death and deceit is being played – with Stark himself as one of the pawns!"

Let's get the joke out of the way first: "Iron Man is a monthly title? Someone should really tell Adi Granov and Warren Ellis."

Okay, so this Knauf guy has joined the likes of Damon Lindelof, Joss Whedon and Allan Heinberg, TV writers migrating (some more temporarily than others) to comics. Specifically, to Marvel comics.

Superficially, you'd think this would be a good thing. After all, the more Marvel draws from a larger pool of talent, the more diverse and potentially interesting their product. And it's likely that, since these guys come from outside the comics industry, they might actually bring some fresh ideas to the mix.

But the problem with this exercise is that Marvel isn't quite thinking things through. They're so desperate to snatch up ANYONE with a career in movies, books or television that they aren't necessarily asking themselves the most important question: "Can they write comics?" Sure, the gamble has paid off twice so far, with Whedon and Heinberg putting out some rather high-quality work at Marvel (certainly topping anything the old-timers like Claremont or Miller are putting out at the moment).

However, Whedon and Heinberg were perfectly suited for their respective books. The former is a self-professed X-geek, the latter excels at teen-centric drama, with an emphasis on characterization - an essential tool when you're basically asking your readers to embrace a whole bunch of brand-new characters sight unseen. That's not always going to be the case.

The expectation is clearly that readers will associate the upcoming comics with the quality of the corresponding television show, and the books practically hype themselves: "Lost writer does Ultimate Hulk vs. Ultimate Wolverine in an Ultimate Limited Series, ULTIMATELY!" This does ignore a rather hard-to-miss fact about TV shows, though: they rarely have just one writer. So Damon Lindelof MIGHT be the guy who keeps "Lost" going, or he could be the guy who wrote that one episode everyone hated.

Nobody really stops to think about stylistic incompatibility anymore: it was a given that if Brad Meltzer could write mystery novels he could write "Identity Crisis". Of course, that kind of thinking also gave us Ron Zimmerman, which just goes to show you: those that can, do. Those that can't, also do.

It's different when you're talking about Stephen King doing a horror book for Marvel - that's his genre, his area of expertise. No one was particularly skeptical when Denise Mina, noted crime author, was announced as Mike Carey's successor on "Hellblazer". But "Iron Man" as written by the creator of "Carnivale"? Tchaa, you know what? Uh-uh.

If this turns into a marketing gimmick, the bigger threat is that Marvel won't be able to launch ANYTHING without a "TV name" attached to it. Good books like "Gravity" go down the drain because they're just thrown out there with no support. The unfortunate fact is that there's only one spotlight, and if it's not shining on the Crossover du jour, it's putting a divine halo around whatever TV shmuck Quesada manages to reel in, regardless of whether he can actually do the job.

But I guess you don't really need talent to sell books, as long as you're a "name". Just look at how well Sam Clemens is doing on "Worldwatch".