I saw “Dark Knight” over the weekend. It was pretty good. I still think the movie Batman costume with the fake muscles is idiotic and ugly to boot — and, indeed, the movie’s design as a whole is pretty unmemorable. But the effects for the Joker and Two-Face were very nicely done — and Heath Ledger is great. The plotting is also very good; conistently suspenseful and clever. I’m on the fence about the movie’s message. The intimations of the war on terror, spying and torture as criminal justice measures, the limits of democracy, appeals to fundamental decency — it’s all clever enough, but seemed a little facile. The basic super-hero morality of good vs. evil is never challenged in any fundamental way (as it is in Watchmen, say, or even Dark Knight to some extent). As a result, the political/moral pronouncements, such as they are, seem there more for their exploitable emotional rush than for any actual desire to think things through. But what the hey — as a summer blockbuster action extravaganza goes, it’s pretty darn good.
Maybe the most interesting thing for me, though, was what was in the previews — or what wasn’t. Specifically, there were lots of ads for Coca Cola and for action adventure movies (I’m looking forward to the new James Bond, even if the title, “Quantum of Solace”, seems to have been designed by picking random words out of a dictionary.) But there were not advertisements for comics. Indeed, unless I blinked and missed it, I don’t believe the movie acknowledges it’s most immediate comic-book inspirations in the credits (Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween are the stories the director tends to cite, I think.)
This isn’t suprising, of course — despite the huge success of super-hero movies, there’s rarely much effort to redirect audiences from the big screen to the four-color source material. You’d think as a condition of licensing, the companies might try to get a 15 second preview spot, mentioning the relevant titles (maybe they could even get the stars or directors to issue an endorsement — seems like the least they could do for the creators they’re ripping off.) Or they could try independent ad campaigns; even, say, bookstore displays might have a big result. Why not put Heath Ledger’s Joker atop a table with a bunch of Batman graphic novels? As it happens, I was just in Borders, and they did have the Long Halloween and Year One displayed prominently — but there was no material to let civilians know that these books were the inspiration for the movie. I can’t help but believe that, if you told people it was a movie tie-in, they’d be more inclined to buy it. At the very least, you could spring for a new cover — special movie edition releases of the relevant books. How hard would that be?
Comic-book marketing, in other words, is almost entirely insular; it’s all directed at folks who are comics-nerds already. There’s no effort to invest in creating a larger audience. As a result, comic-book characters like Batman and Spider-Man or even Iron Man sell gazillions of tickets to all sorts of people, and yet this popularity has virtually no effect on the comics industry, which continues to trundle on, soliciting the dollars of the same shrinking pool of aging man-boys. The big two more and more look like vestigial appendages to their own properties. How long, I wonder, until these companies cease to publish comics altogether, and just become holding companies for licensed characters?