Right now, the pop media is full of stories about how Robert Downey Jr. is about to sign on to Captain America 3. Evidently, the only thing holding up the deal was his amount of screentime: he wanted more. He really wants this to be a true Marvel-style crossover, ushering in the Cinematic Universe’s adaptation of the first Civil War storyline.
I think Downey has a very strong understanding of how the Marvel Universe works, and how to bring that over to the movies. This crossover flies in the face of the movie star image: he’s fighting hard to be the second banana in a movie titled after somebody else. It’s hard to imagine Al Jolson doing that.
O.K. He gets it. Other than making a potentially fun movie happen, how does that affect us?
Well, for me and hundreds – now, maybe, thousands – it protects our jobs. This, in turn, protects the future of the comics medium in America.
Prior to Iron Man 1, the comics business was on the ropes and heading into the worst economic crisis we have seen since The Great Depression of 1929 – 1941. Then this particular movie, starring a number of actors who really were no longer “A Listers” at that time and featuring a property that was hard-pressed to be considered a “B Lister,” was unleashed on a world in need of some high-quality diversion. And the comics business has never been the same.
Let’s face it: the profits of even one well-received movie can eclipse the profits made by that property in its entire history of publishing. Fine. Something’s got to provide fuel for the engine, and shoveling in flatcars full of money usually works.
Lots of such movies started being made, and most of those produced by Marvel Studios made just unbelievable amounts of cash. Some of the others didn’t do badly either, although Batman has its own momentum and Superman has been treated like a leper. And, now, Batman has to bail out the Superman franchise.
A year after Iron Man’s release, Disney bought Marvel Comics for a mere four billion bucks. That’s not publishing money, that’s not even movie money. That’s movie-and-licensing-for-movies-and-television-and-new-media money. Yep, that’s Steve Jobs’ face on the one billion dollar bill.
Only one month later, Warner Bros. took control of DC Comics, renaming it DC Entertainment in a fit of reality. They started measures to move the company to the left coast, a process to be completed sometime in late spring.
Whereas I’m not crazy about Hollywood running a marginal industry that it (and most MBAs) does not understand and wouldn’t believe if they did, it beats oblivion. And let’s face it, you cannot keep your stockholders happy with profits that would barely impress even the most conservative investor.
And we owe it all to Robert Downey Jr. His performance was electrifying, akin to Orson Welles’ Harry Lime. We wanted to see more, and by “we” I mean moviegoers, not just the ever-tightening circle of comics fans. Iron Man probably would have been a fine movie without him, but with him we were able to root for the previously-troubled actor at the same time as we were rooting for his character.
So, Mr. Downey, on behalf of the Greater Comic Book Community, I thank you for helping keep our jobs alive.
Next time, lunch is on me.