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Loncon: The Superhero-Industrial Complex

We registered at Loncon late today, so we missed the huge lines (I don't know if that suggests any problem with the con itself or is just inevitable). The convention center that the con is in one end of is certainly very, very long. But on the bright side, that means lots of mall-food-court type food and lots of tables with chairs where people can hang out, which Chad & I did after our program items.

Anyway, my first panel was today. Here's the description:

The creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been one of the most exciting pop culture developments of the last decade – and contradicts the decades-long strategy, followed primarily by DC, of keeping superheroes in their own worlds for their screen incarnations. Now DC have plans to follow Marvel's lead (and Sony are developing an entire Spider-verse), but will the "Marvel megafranchise model" work for others? Does an interconnected universe imply certain kinds of stories and not others? What are the advantages of solo films? And how are different studios using other media – in particular, TV – to further develop their properties?

Kate Nepveu, Jenni Hill, Glyn Morgan, CE Murphy, Gavia Baker Whitelaw

I was looking forward to this enormously, and it lived up to my expectations: it was well-attended and lively and fun (despite my feeling that I didn't quite do my best possible moderating job). However, I was kicking myself for not realizing that there were 90 minutes slots available and pushing for one, because it really needed it. I'd hoped to cover four things, and we really only got through two and a half, specifically:

(1) Everyone wants a cinematic universe / megafranchise because Avengers literally made a billion and a half dollars, but is being part of a cinematic universe necessary or sufficient for that kind of success?

(2) What are the pluses and minuses of cinematic universes from storytelling points of view?

(3) What about TV adaptations, how do they compare and contrast with cinematic adaptations?

(4) Diversity, please (damn it)?

And we covered the first two pretty thoroughly, got some digs in about the fourth along the way, but only glanced at the third and mostly through discussions of animated series, not Arrow and the many forthcoming live-action series.

We talked a lot about humor, about backstory and hoping to ditch or truncate the origin story, and the need for really good writing if you're going to connect up bits of a bigger universe with a standalone story without things feeling pasted on. With regard to the MCU, we talked about its structure and how its future scope depends on Guardians of the Galaxy (space; check!) and Doctor Strange (magic; unknown). Someone asked if there was anything Marvel could do that would wreck the MCU. I said that considering that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is currently atop the U.S. box office, we just have to accept that spectacle sells, sometimes regardless of whether it is accompanied by quality, so it's hard for me to imagine. Other people said that if Ant-Man [*] or Doctor Strange tanks, that's not such a big deal, but if the next Avengers is terrible . . . well, maybe you'd need two high-profile disasters before people lost their goodwill, but it was theoretically possible.

[*] Someone also pointed out that in any other situation, losing the director of a movie so close to its release date would cause a studio to just push back or shelve the movie; but since Ant-Man is part of the MCU, Marvel apparently views it as immovable, presumably because it is connected to or sets up things in other movies, despite the incredible time pressures that puts on production.

With regard to backstory, after the panel someone who lives in Europe and doesn't have English as a first language told me that interconnected movies are getting harder to follow without prior homework, which I thought was interesting, though Thor: The Dark World was specifically cited and I'm not sure I get the impression it made a lot of sense in English (I haven't seen it).

Ugh, there was a lot of other stuff but it's past midnight and I really need sleep. Chime in if you were there or ask questions if you weren't, jog my memory!

A few things I mentioned:

Max Gladstone on the appeal of small-f fellowships particularly as applied to Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy

Comics Alliance article about the MCU and diversity and how it's falling behind (a little more charitable than I would be, but I agree with the overall thrust)

And finally, if I didn't mention it I should have, a column from Forbes of all places about GotG:

But come what may this is a terrific start that firmly establishes that Marvel is a brand name unto itself and a more important marketing variable than whatever property it happens to be producing this time around.

[ . . . ]

Second, it means that Marvel can do whatever it wants now. So if they choose not to make a female-centric or minority-centric superhero film, it’s because they just don’t want to.

Oh, and before I go to bed, shout-out to the volunteer audience member who fiddled with the soundboard until our mikes turned on! We salute you, gentleperson, as otherwise we would have had to shout the entire time to be heard in that large room.

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