Superhero Brand Management 101: One Pure Version Needed

 

Despite the success of the New 52 comic books from DC Entertainment’s DC Comics division, I’m still not seeing an ability by TPTB to consolidate their superhero properties into one source material. I’m a lifelong comic book fan, with a professional background in branding and licensing. I look at superhero properties not only as a fan but also as a brand manager. Here are a few problems I still see superhero companies like Marvel and DC struggling with:

 1) Superhero properties must be cross referenced and cross compatible. There isn’t one clear, solid mass consolidation of the characters across all major media- film, TV, video games, animated series and their related merchandising ventures. This goes for DC, Marvel and, to a certain degree, other comic book companies who overextend their properties. I think they’re taking the wrong approach. This is brand management failure in the making. By that I mean that there are too many versions and variants of characters and their costumes and storylines and it dilutes the core characters. At DC, they have a big problem: Why isn’t Superman’s costume and storyline from the regular comic books seamlessly tied into the 90’s Superman Animated Series, the CW’s Smallvile, DC Universe Online game and the new upcoming Superman movie? BTW, the next Superman movie has no relation with the past films, and is being produced as a relaunch/remake because Superman Returns wasn’t a big hit. Noticing how The Dark Knight made more money, Warner Bros. want the new Superman movie to be “darker.”  Unfortunately, they are all standalone, independent works with no consideration on how any one of these iterations relate to each other.

 Footnote: DC Comics editorial, Superman writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank superbly consolidated elements of the Superman movies and his past comic book iterations. Frank was allowed to illustrate Superman in the likeness of the late Christopher Reeve; the crystalline Krypton- designed for director Richard Donner’s Superman  by brilliant production designer John Barry, was incorporated into comic book Kyptonian architecture. The movie’s three Kryptonian villains (General Zod, Ursa and Non) finally appeared in the comic books. While General Zod originated in the ’50s comics, Ursa and Non were created for the  movies. It was Johns’ inspired idea to suggest they include all Kryptonian costumes designed by all comic book artists from the ’40s to present time, explaining that Krypton’s fashion was as diverse as Earth’s and what Kryptonians wore depended on their guild. Kryptonian fashion illustrated by John Byrne, Curt Swan, Gene Ha and from the films were all finally intermixed successfully. With the relaunch it’s unknown if they’ll keep that Kryptonian integration.

2) Too many %^$#**&$@ iterations of one character. Marvel suffers from this with all their properties. How many Wolverine comics are out there? There’s a title called Dark Wolverine and it’s not even the regular version of the character. And Logan once a proud loner is now in a whole bunch of teams! (Previously, he joined only the X-Men, that was the charm of it!) My question is: How does the comic book relate to the ’90s X-Men animated series, or 20th Century Fox’s X-Men movies, multiple X-Men video games, and other animated series? And now that’s happened with Spider-Man (the underdog loner) and all his different costumes. And let’s not forget there are two different Marvel Universes- the mainstream Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe. I know the reason behind it- sales and profits. Spider-Man and Wolverine are fan favorites. Marketing execs must love these infinite variations of the popular Marvel character since they can sell more comic books and toys, but it is confusing and turns away new readers.

3) Cost prohibitive and time prohibitive story lines.  I go across comic book aisles and see special event comics and multiple tie-ins and special issues (Blackest Night, Secret Invasion, DC’s numerous Crisis events and tie ins) and it turns me away. It’s unaffordable! It seems as if the larger companies are targeting upper middle class and upper class readers because the average fan cannot afford to buy so many comics just to get a complete story.

4) DC needs to scale back the amount of comics even more per month. Until the New 52, each month DC put out 52 regular titles, plus many four- and twelve- issue miniseries, and event comics for the tie ins and TBPs. Now they relaunced the DC Universe and cut back the number of monthly comic books to just 52. But it’s still too many comics to afford at $2.99 or $3.99 for each comic book. To read the full interrelaed story, the average buyer needs to spend $150 a month, and that’s for the New 52 comics alone! What about your favorite comics from Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, or Dynamite? But even if the prices were lower the bottom line is that the average fan doesn’t have time to read every single monthly comic book that comes out per month. It’s impossible. We have to pick and choose what we read and often it feels like we aren’t getting the full experience because no one is picking up every single tie-in. This was a problem when the comic book companies flooded the marketplace with too many titles and eventually everything imploded as a backlash from the speculator boom and the industry still hasn’t recovered from that. Back in the ’60s Marvel had a very manageable lineup with about twelve titles per month. It was easy for readers to jump aboard, experience the full Marvel Universe and not feel overwhelmed. Remember the adage, less is more!

5) Superhero costumes need to be consistent to maintain strong branding. Getting back to the New 52, one big example of this problem is the Superman outfit. In Zach Snyder’s upcoming film, the colors are way off; it looks bluish grey with red violet and no red trunks. In the New 52 comic books, the costume has the right red and blue colors, but no red trunks, just a red belt. And a collar, which seems to be a superhero prerequisite in DC’s New 52. Superman’s outfit is still not consistent from one medium to another. Unfortunately the producers of the new Superman movie, and DC Entertainment clearly didn’t want the classic costume meaning the costume differs from the one Supes wears in the New 52. The result is that already many fans aren’t happy. The same thing happened with Green Lantern. They made a choice with the film to have the costume appear organic and that was fine, it worked. But they should’ve used that costume when they rebooted the New 52 Green Lantern comic book. As a matter of fact, many fans expected they would do that, and were disappointed. DC had the perfect chance and pretext last month with the relaunches to do this but they didn’t. They need to realize that the movie medium is the strongest medium and should be the strongest point of reference.

6) Superhero Genre: We need to understand that superheroes aren’t a medium they are a genre that spans several media. This was proven back in the ’40s when Superman became a radio star and ceased to be confined to the comic book medium. What should be done is to just pick the version that is most popular, whether they be the movie version or the comic book version. In other words, all media should be cross-referenced to be compatible, with the highest priority given to the look of the costumes. This doesn’t mean that story isn’t important but comic books are more of a visual medium so the costume and visuals can’t be screwed up.

 

7) Executive-level decision mass consolidation of the characters and stories across all major mediums. This has to come from the top execs of WB and Disney sending  directives to DC Entertainment and Marvel respectively. For example, the likeness of an actor portraying the superhero or villain should be used in the comics, toys, etc. This can be expensive in terms of royalty but it just means they need to better negotiate this when coming up with the contract.

8 )Power to the (fans and consumer) people! Another thing the companies can do is have some kind of fan base council (with power and influence) that report to the big guns as to what is popular and what isn’t based on direct feedback from fans who can provide comments or answer polls. This will help bring about the highest level of consumer satisfaction.

 9) Price and online incentives: The price of a paper copy New 52 comic is the same as it is with the digital copy. The digital copy has no enhanced features. Why not? DC is missing out on a huge online opportunity: Incentives for digital comics could be online content like official character websites, commentary, videos, etc. Senior level direction is needed to map out where everything is in terms of the characters’ bios. Online charts and maps should be provided to help new readers understand what is going on, draw them in and appreciate any character’s rich history. 

Conclusion:

 There has to be one pure version of the property, and looking at this from a branding perspective, the property is still muddled. The standalone, independent business model that superhero companies are following is a bad idea. Their properties must be cross-referenced and cross compatible for all mediums, and whichever company has the guts to carry out this properly will win in the long run.

 

GEO

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Dinosaurs On The Small Screen

When I saw the new series Terra Nova on Fox I couldn’t help wondering about how many dinosaur-based TV shows there have been. It turns out there aren’t many, which isn’t surprising for the obvious budgetary reason. Here’s a brief rundown of such shows but for brevity’s sake cartoons, documentaries and shows that only had an episode or two featuring the extinct reptiles won’t be included.

Terra Nova — Currently airing on Fox after numerous delays. The show follows the adventures of a 22nd century family who time travel 85 million years into an alternate past to escape a dying future. They are part of a human colony called Terra Nova and contend with predatory dinosaurs, dumb teenage drama and renegade humans.

Primeval–A BBC program that first aired in 2007 and was recently resurrected. Taking place in Britain, time portals called anomalies appear more and more often throughout the land and deposit confused and rampaging dinosaurs, prehistoric animals and even future animals. The Arc, a research and security facility, is set up with misfits and soldiers who deal with temporal incursions. It was recently announced that a spinoff taking place in Vancouver called Primeval: New World will go into production.

Prehistoric Park–This was a six-part series that aired in 2007 on ITV and Animal Planet was more of a mockumentary that starred Nigel Marvin who played himself. The premise is that a prehistoric wildlife preserve has been set up on an island. Think of it as a successful Jurassic Park. In the show, Nigel time travels to prehistoric periods and rescues animals about to perish and brings them to the present. More often than not he wound bringing unexpected animals.

Dinotopia–Based on the series of books, it was originally a four-hour mini-series that became a show and aired on ABC in 2002. The network pulled the plug after six episodes, which was a mercy killing. In this show, two brothers crash their plane in an uncharted continent where humans and dinosaurs (some are sentient and able to speak) live in harmony.

 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World–This syndicated show ran for three seasons from 1999 to 2002. Loosely based on Doyle’s classic, it featured Professor Challenger and a group of people who are stranded on a South America plateau that is inhabited by dinosaurs, natives and people in latex makeup. It ended with an unresolved cliffhanger.

Dinosaurs–ABC aired this comedy, produced by Jim Henson Television, from 1991 to 1994. Coming off as a knock off of The Simpsons and The Flintstones, it was your standard nuclear family sitcom complete with the goofball dad, patient mom, wise children and a precocious little baby that kept screaming “Not the momma!” Only these were talking dinosaurs wearing clothes and complaining about humdrum problems. The series ended on a downer as a global catastrophe dooms the dinosaurs.

Land of the LostA personal favorite that first aired on NBC Saturday mornings from 1974 to 1976 and it set the standard. Rick, Will and Holly Marshall are out whitewater rafting and fall through a portal that transports them into an alternate dimension populated by stop-motion and puppet dinosaurs, hairy hominids called Pakuni and evil reptilian Sleestaks. Despite its juvenile trappings and budget the show really shone thanks to high-concept scripts penned by the likes of David Gerrold, Norman Spinrad, Larry Niven and D.C. Fontana. A remake aired in 1991 in syndication for two seasons but it had a lighter tone and wasn’t as memorable. And let’s not get into that Will Ferrell movie.

José Soto

Requiem For An Angel

Alas, poor Castiel. Everyone’s favorite Angel from the CW’s Supernatural apparently (click away quick if you don’t want to be spoiled!) bit the dust, consumed by the Leviathans that he inadvertently absorbed at the end of season six.

Such a waste really. Sure Castiel had to pay the price for taking over as God (who regular viewers know has left the building in the show’s mythos) and carrying on a destructive path in this season’s premier episode. But he was arguably the best character on the show, he took it to a whole new level when he made his debut back in season four. Castiel was so popular he even became a regular.

Played in a deadpan manner by Misha Collins Castiel almost seemed like a character from Star Trek. We could easily see him as a stoic alien who is fascinated by humanity and becomes a champion of sorts. How many times did he pull Sam and Dean Winchester’s butt out of the fire? The guy was a literal deus ex machina, but most of all he was quite a badass with liberal doses of modesty and naivete.

According to Sera Gamble, the show’s executive producer,  Collins is due to return later this season but is ambiguous as to what role he’ll play. But please don’t make him out to be the Big Bad that is being mentioned by the Leviathans. Only if some part of Castiel’s good nature comes out at the eleventh hour and conquers this season’s enemies. However cool that sounds remember folks, that is basically how season five ended when Sam took brief control of his body for Lucifer to be defeated.

What should’ve happened is that spinoff show should have been created. Starring Collins as Castiel it would’ve taken place sometime after the apocalypse was averted. That way the entire War in Heaven could’ve been explored more fully instead of being given to us piecemeal last season. Think about it, there could’ve been crossover episodes with Supernatural. Special guest stars, the works. But this is the CW wannabe network we’re talking about. Cas, we know you’re coming back somehow but for now, we already miss you and that rumpled trenchcoat.

Lewis T. Grove