Marc Alan Fishman: Marvel – Make Em’ Laugh. Make Em’ Laugh!
Howdy ya’ll. I’m back from Nashville. And you know what they say about Music City: What happens in Music City, stays in Music Ci… wait, no, they don’t say that. Feh!
It was a day-job convention. It was exhausting. It was very much not about comics, pop culture, or anything fun. But since ya’ll wanted to know, I saw Barbara Mandrell’s mansion and it was everything I expected it to be. Isn’t this cool, kiddos? I’m not even one paragraph in, and I already need to utter ComicMix’s favorite catchphrase, stolen directly from Peter David… But I digress.
So this past weekend I was able to enjoy Marvel’s latest movie, Ant-Man. And I emphasize how much I enjoyed it. Amidst a well-balanced story that juggled the motifs of loss, fathers and daughters, mentorship, and morality, there was an underlying current of pure joy that rooted the near-two hour run time with positivity. This spat in the face of the pre-movie trailer roll, which included Fantastic Four, as well as both the teaser and full trailer Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice: Brow Furrowing: I Hope You Bleed: Don’t You See How Much I Care? It leaves me dumbfounded and baffled to ask this – have Warner Bros and Fox simply not paid any attention to Marvel Studios for the past seven years?
Ant-Man, much akin to nearly every other movie in the Marvel Movieverse, ensured that laughter permeated the periphery of nearly every scene. When wonderful things happened, a quip wasn’t far behind. When things got awkward, Paul Rudd’s Paul-Ruddyness broke the tension. And when the world needed to be saved, grimaces were grimaced, long enough to solve the problem. And then, on with the yuck-yucks. This is as it was in Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avengers (1 more than 2). By the time Thomas the Tank Engine was ramrodding YellowJacket in the mush, I’d realized I’d not frowned once. My usual resting bitch face ached from the corners of an upturned mouth – a feat only last realized when Captain America: Winter Soldier was on free cable while I was in Nashville.
It begs me to ask: who here caught themselves smiling during Man of Steel? Who caught those sneak peaks of Batman v. Superman or Suicide Squad, and rocked back and forth in their chair with glee (save perhaps for our own John Ostrander, who is given a pass while The Wall is given quality screen time and played by a wonderful actress)? The only time we may have had the slightest guffaw might have been when Lex “Not the Facebook Guy” Luthor cackled that “the red capes are coming.” Suicide Squad‘s trailer did elicit a chuckle from me – but only when I was snarkily grimmacing at Will Smith’s Men In Wild Wild West Robot Independence Day impression of himself. And the less I say about the dark nightmare that Fantastic Four is to be the better.
In all of these cases I simply can’t understand the logic, or the lack there of. Marvel has been killing the box office with each outing. Paired with a ton of licensing deals for merch, streaming contracts, and cable air-play, it’s literally the cash cow they can’t stop milking. Every new movie could spin-off a trilogy. And with Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter making dub-smash videos showcasing that even on TV Marvel can’t stop having fun… it’s starting to become ludicrous to me that the others in the same space seem to think that the polar opposite must be the key to hidden treasure.
Forgive me if I get a bit philosophical before I wrap this up. More often than not, we turned to the funny books with the capes and cowls because they were fun. And while the industry at large grew darker over time – at the core, the fun remained.
And now, even amidst massive hits like the Walking Dead or Crossed (which is about as bleak as they can get), you can’t shake a stick without hitting brilliant explorations of innocence and joy. Beneath any layers of dread, angst, or fear, our pulp roots cling hard to the light in the world. Superman is, was, and will always be a symbol of hope. To yoke that with the sadness and pain of reality – and then double down with a dour and fighty Batman – is to celebrate those things that simply get in the way of how we want to feel when our heroes are given the opportunity to become that much more real.
If DC (and Fox) can’t see the forest for the trees… all they have to do is lighten up. Forgive me: Someone get those Pepsi-drinkers a god-damned Coke, and let them really taste the difference. There’s a reason why 7-Up ain’t even in third place, kiddos.