Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Yes, It's A Real Job: Not For All The Mutant Tea In China

For those of you keeping track of continuity, this entry takes the place of this week’s “I Was A Teenage Nerd,” just as last week’s “I’m Smarter Than You Are” took the place of “Yes, It’s A Real Job.”

Yesterday, it was announced on Newsarama that Marvel and DC were going to move towards doing more product placement in their comics. For the most part, it appears that this will mostly consist of emblems on billboards and T-shirts in the background, and that sort of unobtrusive thing. (Some other enterprising blogger might want to start a catalogue of such instances, if only for archival purposes.)

However, there was an announcement in the midst of all this about something a bit more, well, noticeable:

“DC will reportedly launch Rush City, a six part mini-series that will - along with serving as the vehicle (pun intended) for a new character called “The Rush" (the superhero alias of Diego Zhao) - will also showcase the Pontiac Solstice GXP as the character’s car of choice and a key part of the his adventures.

"The car will be as essential to the character as the Aston Martin was to James Bond," David McKillips, vice president of advertising and custom publishing for DC Comics told the Journal. DC has confirmed for Newsarama that the new series will launch in July, and will appear in Battle for Blüdhaven, Birds of Prey, Batman: Journey into Knight and Nightwing before his own series begins, written by Chuck Dixon, with art by Timothy Green and covers by Jock.

The series will also be supported with a six-page origin story a DCComics.com on a page that also sport interactive features, and house ads in DC comic books.”

Comparisons were almost immediately made to Marvel’s NFL Superpro, an early ‘90s series produced in conjunction with the National Football League. To say the series bit hard would be too kind; even the writers, Fabian Nicieza and Buzz Dixon, have been known to apologize for it. And the comparison is not wholly unfair. On the surface, it seems that this series is being produced solely for the benefit of securing a sweet licensing deal, and that the comic may well turn out to be less an entertainment experience and more a commercial.

On the other hand, there is precedent for this turning out not so badly. BMWFilms.com Presents The Hire, as produced through Dark Horse, turned out some interesting tales (although the series was plagued by lateness for never-revealed reasons). Two of the most popular comics of the 1980s, GI Joe and Transformers, were just as blatantly ads for toys as their cartoons were, but were beloved enough to merit a return to publishing twenty years later (two, in the case of the TFs). And you’ve all heard me go on about ALF.

Still, as a writer, I wouldn’t look forward to this job with any great enthusiasm.

Chuck Dixon seems optimistic, as per this post on his own message boards:

“I thought this was under wraps for a few more months.
I'm not sure how much I can say about it. It's a car-themed action book with lots of gunplay and fights and a special guest star early in the series.
The guys at DC ran most of the interference for me with the client company and I didn't begin work until it was all nailed down. I've completed three scripts in addition to that webpage origin story. The artist is already at work on issue #1.”

So, at least that sounds good; the editors can talk to the people at Pontiac and deal with design specs and what has to go where and so on. But still, I can imagine

Let’s start with the obvious: The car has to feature prominently. I would guess that Pontiac’s version of “prominently” means that the car has to show off its performance (i.e., be driven, and do something cool) in every issue. Aside from limiting story locales to places with roads (and Batman comics do well enough sticking mostly to the confines of Gotham City), it also means that every issue is probably going to have some kind of car chase scene. And that can get old, especially when the audience is aware that the primary reason for the scene is to show off the car. James Bond can get away with it by having a movie every two years; every month is a bit more of a stretch. Even if it’s handled well (i.e., very little “Thank goodness my Pontiac Solstice GXP has anti-lock brakes and or else the Joker’s molten chocolate slick would have sent me right off the road!”), I don’t know if the audience can keep its patience.

And it would be frustrating spending pages on that that could be spent on introspective character development. Which leads me to my next misgiving: the character of “The Rush” may well turn out to be another “Poochie.” I sincerely doubt that Pontiac’s marketing department kept their hands out of the character creation process. They have a demographic they want to reach, and of course they want to have the character appeal to that demographic. So, I would imagine, they had a laundry list of traits for The Rush to have. And, I know I’m being cruel and making a generalization with this, but I don’t care: marketing people are some of the most creatively retarded people on the planet. They’re very good at coming up with ways to hustle consumers (marketing, at its core, is merely legalized scamming), but they don’t know the first thing about character, theme, tone, plot, or any of the necessary elements of fiction (or, for that matter, creative non-fiction; try reading PR copy for a good hour or so, and you’ll find yourself in a deeper pit of creative despair than Alan Ginsberg ever dreamed). They employ creative people (like, in this instance, Dixon, Green, and Jock) to handle the nitty-gritty of realizing their ideas, but they unfortunately don’t take their non-involvement far enough. I shudder to think at what kind of “conceptualizing” went on at the Pontiac head office for this character.

I won’t even talk about the “guest appearances;” just Google “push pilot.”

I may be wrong about all this, of course. Pontiac may have wisely taken a hands-off approach to character development, leaving it, if not to the creative team, then the DC editorial offices. Or Dixon might be able to pull out a creative miracle on the order of Hama’s GI Joe or Simon Furman’s Transformers and have the stories actually mean something. Stranger things have happened; Atari Force turned into art almost by accident.

But I wouldn’t want an assignment like this. I might take it if offered, but I wouldn’t seek it out, and I’d have a very hard time looking forward to it. I have a low threshold of pain for dealing with the silliness of corporate wonks.

1 comment:

SpiritGlyph said...

Wow! The Rush is going to appear in Battle for Bludhaven AND Nightwing? Those are possibly two finest books DCs is putting out right now. I look forward to seeing how he interacts with Dick Grayson, Male Model and the dozens of obscure teams that have nothing better to do than hang around Bludhaven.

Seriously, though, I can't see this being good. A superhero who relies on his suped-up ultra sci-fi car, perhaps. But this is a real car. Is it going to have smoke screens, missiles, and invisibility like Bond's Aston-Martin? If I walked into a Pontiac dealership and was told I couldn't have missiles, I'd be rather irate.