After a lot of internal back-and-forth about which book to focus on, some stray thoughts about the continued record-breaking success of the latest Marvel Studios offering means that there are spoilers ahead for…
Writer: Saladin Ahmed
Artist: Javier Rodriguez
Cover: David Marquez
“Are we about to go bye-bye?”
I had considered writing about Eternity Girl, in large part as an opportunity to talk about DC’s Young Animal imprint in general, and I will, one day, but today isn’t that day. (That is to say, I’ll write about one of the books from Young Animal, not necessarily – but probably – Eternity Girl.)
The reason that today isn’t that day is that last week was Free Comic Book Day, and, as mentioned there was a very strong turnout for it at my local comic shop, and because Avengers: Infinity War continues to make all the money at the box office.
The thing is, those two things – a good turnout for Free Comic Book Day and the box office success of comic book movies – aren’t nearly so connected as they could or should be. Movie success doesn’t do a whole lot to drive comic book sales. There is an entire generation of fans of different heroes who have never even considered picking up any comic books featuring those heroes.
Many theories exist as to why that might be, and what can be done about it, but one of the more common refrains is that it’s an issue of adaptation. That is, in the act of adapting comics to film, the moviemakers take a great deal of artistic license, picking and choosing bits and pieces from the stories that have been told throughout the years, mixing them together and adding in new elements to create versions of character that often share little more than a name with their four-color counterparts (if even that).
Some argue, then, that the solution is to align the comics more closely with the movies.
I’m not entirely unsympathetic towards that idea, though I don’t think that’s the core of the problem, given that it’s less a matter of people, flush with excitement about the latest blockbuster comic book movie rushing into a comic shop, grabbing a comic, and then discovering that the status quo for the character in the comic is radically different from that in the movie than it is that it’s not even occurring to those excited movie-goers to walk into a comic shop at all.
Beyond that, aligning comics with movies represents a substantial challenge, particularly for characters with long and convoluted histories, and with an existing fanbase that has grown weary of the kind of reboots that creating such an alignment would necessitate, and, to me, it feels like an unnecessarily restrictive approach to storytelling. More restrictive even then a hidebound commitment to adhering to decades’ worth of established continuity, I think, particularly given that there’s no guarantee that it will succeed anyway.
Much of the success of a movie depends on the people in it; I’m not sure that an Iron Man comic, for example, could present a Tony Stark who is as snarky and likeably dickish as the movie version without having the actual presence and charisma of Robert Downey, Jr to sell the portrayal.
There is a balance that can be struck, I think – though as someone who loves comics above all other things, I do sometimes wonder why the reverse argument of “Make the movies more like the comics” is seldom made – but even that is a secondary consideration, given that there are other barriers to entry in making the move from movie fan to comics fan.
The biggest barrier, I think, is cost, which is why you might end up standing in line on Free Comic Book Day, while having the comic shop all to yourself on any given non-free comic book day.
In any case, thinking about this is what led me to decide to write about Exiles this week, as it’s a comic that, somewhat free from the constraints of adhering to continuity, has created a bit of an alignment with the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the form of a version of a classic character based on the movie version of that character. Namely, a Valkyrie who is, at least physically, based on Tessa Thompson’s character from Thor: Ragnarok.
Exiles is a relaunch of a title from several years back which featured a group of characters – mostly mutants – from alternate realities who, guided by a device called the Tallus, travelled across the multiverse to deal with threats to reality. It was a fun book that I enjoyed, in large part because of the variations on familiar characters.
The new series features the return of one character from the original: Clarice Ferguson, AKA Blink.
Blink has ties to Fox’s X-Verse, as a version of the character is featured on The Gifted, though there’s little in the way of physical resemblance. Comics Blink is a yellow-eyed woman with lilac skin, pink hair, and pointed ears and is of West Indian descent, while TV (and movie, though played by a different actress) Blink is an Asian woman with weird eyes.
After having settled on Earth 616 – the mainstream reality of the Marvel Universe – Blink gets called back into action by the Tallus to form a new team of Exiles to deal with the threat of the Time Eater, an entity that is devouring entire realities.
The threat of the Time Eater is explained to her by a man known as The Unseen, who serves as something of a narrator for the book. The Unseen is the result of one attempt to align with the movies; while the MCU version of Nick Fury portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson was based on the Nick Fury from Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics (an alternate version of the mainstream continuity), the original Nick Fury was a white guy and World War II veteran who was given a life-extending serum that allowed him to continue to serve his country for decades.
However, now that the Ultimate line is no more, Marvel decided to introduce Nick’s biracial son, Nick Fury, Jr, who looks more like the movie version (and, like his dad, lost his eye and wears the trademark eyepatch) as the mainstream Nick Fury and sideline the original, but rather than simply killing off the old man, they made him into The Unseen.
The Unseen is imprisoned on Earth’s moon, taking the place of the late Uatu, the Watcher, forced to observe all that occurs, but unable to interfere.
(Like I said, there’s no way to clean all of this up and make it easily-accessible to non-comics readers without just scrapping everything.)
The other Watchers, however, believe that The Unseen, using an alternate reality’s OG Nick Fury as his hands, has violated the terms of his imprisonment and is interfering (by having formed the new Exiles team), and they intend to execute him.
Blink and company are there at the time, though, and things go awry, leading to the Tallus becoming damaged in some fashion and the Watchers either hightailing it or being destroyed.
The end result of it is that the Exiles find themselves being transported seemingly at random, as the Tallus has lost its ability to navigate the multiverse, unable to bring them to the specific location it’s attempting to reach, though managing to just barely keep them ahead of the Time Eater, which has been devouring every (non-Earth 616) reality they’ve visited so far.
In addition to Blink, the team consists of the aforementioned Valkyrie, an older, meaner, battle-scarred version of the current Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan (though she insists on being called simply Khan), a cartoony li’l Wolverine from a cutesy, kid-friendly reality, and Iron Lad, a young genius named Nathaniel Richards, who is, if I recall correctly, the nephew of Reed Richards, and who may or may not one day become Kang the Conqueror.
(While he’s from an alternate reality, he’s the nephew of the mainstream Reed Richards, the result of Reed’s father, years earlier, becoming stranded in another timeline. Comics are complicated.)
As they’re transported about, the Exiles find themselves in a strange reality ruled over by a hippie version of Namor.
While there, Blink bumps into one of her old teammates, Morph, who is a literal blast from the past, as he’s there as part of a mission with the original Exiles from years earlier. Their reunion is short-lived, however, as the Time Eater shows up and chows down.
Next, the team finds itself in an alternate World War II in which Peggy Carter has taken on the mantle of Captain America, and, with her sidekick Becky, is preparing for a mission to stop the Red Skull from destroying New York with something called an “atomic bomb.”
Peggy assumes the Exiles are the support team that was sent by the top brass to help with the mission, and figuring that they might as well, the team decides to play along. After all, none of them particularly wants to see the Red Skull blow up New York.
Along the way, they learn that it’s meant to be a suicide mission, and that no one from that pre-atomic era understands that blowing up a plane with an atomic bomb on it, even high above the city, is a really bad idea, so Blink teleports everyone – other than the Red Skull, of course – to safety, along with the atomic bomb, leaving the Red Skull to deal with the more conventional explosive left behind.
For the first time in a while, the Time Eater doesn’t seem as though it’s about to show up, so the team decides to enjoy some much-deserved downtime.
That…that doesn’t work out so well.
As I mentioned, I really enjoyed the original Exiles, and I’m particularly fond of Blink, so I’m glad to be able to see her in action again. (I wish TV/movie version were more in line with the comics version, at least in terms of personality.)
One aspect I like about the book is that it does have the kind of freedom to switch things up that most other books don’t, but, conversely, I also like that a lot of it is based on a deep knowledge of the history and continuity of the Marvel Universe, as it often draws from established alternate realities, or bases new realities on small, but pivotal, What If…?-style divergences.
It’s not there yet, but it has the potential to be a gateway for new readers who are only familiar with the movies while providing some lived-in details that will be of comfort to established readers, and providing something new for both groups.
The very notion of a multiverse – and travelling across it – opens up a lot of possibilities for creating synergy with adaptations in other media, and I think that having a version of Valkyrie from another reality who is at least somewhat like the movie version is a good step, but it’s a rather timid one. Given that they move through time as well as space, there’s no reason why she couldn’t be a younger version of the movie Valkyrie from an earlier point in her life.
(Alternatively, there’s no reason why there couldn’t be an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – assuming it continues past this season – that featured a portal that brings over a character from Earth 616, with a corresponding storyline in the comics.)
It’s just a thought, and we’ll see if it makes any moves in that direction as it continues.
As it is, the book itself is fun so far, though it is a strange mix of old and new – it follows the modern comics storytelling technique of decompression, but at the same time it’s rather compressed, with a lot of stuff packed into every issue, and very dense, panel-packed pages to accommodate it all.
I don’t think this comic is the key to translating box office success into comics sales, but I have to believe that there’s a way to do it, and even these small, ultimately timid moves, are necessary to drive the discussion.
That does it for this week’s Spotlight Sunday. Be sure to come back for the Showcase Saturday.
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