Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The City

I have a bone to pick with "geek icon" Joss Whedon. I read this article where Mr. Whedon talks about why he thinks that DC hasn't been more succesful at getting their characters to the screen. And I have to say that he's dead wrong.

He claims that the reason the characters aren't making it to the big screen is because they're "gods" and not "real people." Whedon doesn't know what he's talking about. The fact that the dials go up to eleven in the DCU is irrelevant. The main reason why DC characters have hit so many roadblocks on their way to the big screen is simple: DC Comics has no control over DC movies. Marvel has near complete control over their movie properties. DC Comics has none.

But that's all a story for another day. This isn't about Joss Whedon's mischaracterization or misunderstanding of DC's characters. I want to talk about this little snippet:
" Their characters didn't living (sic) in mythical cities, they lived in New York. They absolutely were a part of the world."
This really burns me up. I hate it when Marvel people declare that somehow Marvel is more "realistic" because it's set in the "real" universe.

Marvel comics isn't set in the real universe. It's not even set in a universe. It's set in New York. Spider-Man lives in New York. Daredevil lives in New York. The Avengers are based out of New York and I'm pretty sure Tony Stark was from New York. I know Captain America grew up in New York.

My point is that almost every character is built up around a single city. It's a real city, sure. But you know what? It's no more real to me than Metropolis or Gotham. I've never been to New York City. But I've been to Chicago. And with DC I can imagine that Gotham is like Chicago. And thus it becomes more real to me than Marvel's New York has ever been.

The other glorious thing about DC's fictionopolises is this: they allow the universe to breathe. There is an individuality that reflects their heroes that you can't get from sticking the hero in New York. Look at James Robinson's Starman. It is widely considered a masterpiece. Would the comic have worked it if had been set in New York City? Or Los Angeles? Or Seattle?

Can you imagine a world where Batman fights crime in Central Park or a Metropolis without that beautiful Daily Planet planet? These cities are individuals like the characters that live in them. These cities aren't simply landscape. And they are not handicaps for DC; they are among their comics' greatest strengths.

Joss Whedon may be a popular guy, but it's clear that he doesn't really get DC comics. And I guess that's okay. But whatever he says I would much rather spend my time in the amazing, larger than life cities of the DCU than the real life mundanity of a New York City...

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17 Comments:

At 11:32 PM, Blogger GL2814E said...

Actually I dont' think Joss Whedon is all that popular. How many shows does he have that fail miserably and quickly? How many successes?

How long did it take him to do two arcs of Astonishing X-Men?

Whedon is a case of cult-hype. He has devoted followers, and hell, he occasionally puts out something good, but mostly its short lived crap.

Great Post Diamondrock!

(Personally I hated that bit Bret Ratner said about how Metropolis is New York and its the center of the Universe... I hate that city if only for the slavish devotion people give to it...)

 
At 12:06 AM, Anonymous Glenn said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again, thank GOD they tossed this guy off of Wonder Woman.

 
At 1:08 AM, Blogger Garnet said...

On the topic of setting: until the last couple of years, when they wilfully screwed up the series, DC's best written second-tier hero has consistently been the Flash, and a big reason has been a firm sense of place: Flash is a midwesterner. Mark Waid wants you to think his hometown of Keystone is a lot like Kansas City; Geoff Johns wants you to think it's St. Louis. But within that range. It tells you something about the hero, and as you say, it broadens the DC Universe. Everything of consequence in the Marvel Universe happens in New York and that gets rather dull.

 
At 3:35 AM, Blogger Maverick said...

I seem to have a different perception of what a comic book is than Mr. Whedon. A big part of comic books for me is escapism.

If I want to read about New York City, I'll pick up a newspaper or surf the web.

If I want to read about cities defended by larger than life heroes who fly and shoot heat vision from their eyes, I pick up a comic book.

 
At 6:28 AM, Blogger kalinara said...

I don't mind reading about heroes set in real cities, but I do think that the fact that so many Marvel properties exist in the SAME city is pretty limiting.

Where are the heroes in Chicago? Detroit? L.A.? Seattle? New Orleans? It seems like there's a whole frontier out there that, barring a choice few titles, Marvel doesn't seem interested in exploring.

 
At 8:34 AM, Blogger Diamondrock said...

GL2814: Well, I know people liked Buffy, so I just assumed...

But yeah, the New York thing as always bothered me. As a Midwesterner the "New York is the center of the universe" thing always stuck in my craw. And in Marvel it *is* the center of their universe.

Glenn: I can only imagine what a Whedon Wonder Woman would've been like. Maybe good, maybe bad. But from the sound of it, not really Wonder Woman.

Garnet: That's one of the things I loved about Flash as well. Like I said before, I'm a Midwesterner myself. And it's great for there to be so many cities that almost everyone can relate to one.

Of course, seeing as I grew up in a little town I always connected the most with the one Whedon probably thinks is the *most* godlike: small town farm boy Clark Kent.

Maverick: I concur. Heat vision rocks.

Kalinara: I don't mind real cities either. Nightwing under Tomasi worked well in New York, for instance. So do the JSA. But if every single DC character was set in New York it would feel kind of stale after a while.

Marvel is really missing the boat on that. They may not want fictional cities, but like you said they don't even make use of all the wonderful *real* cities out there!

 
At 9:02 AM, Blogger SallyP said...

But DC does so WELL with its cities. Heck Opal City practically is a character in and of itself, as is Coast City and, Star City, and Gotham and Metropolis. Does Marvel have an Apex City with its afternoon meteor showers? (ask Scipio, it's where Martian Manhunter used to hang out) I think not!

Marvel is so used to having every hero in New York City, that it almost feels strange when they are portrayed in another location, such as the West Coast Avengers. I was just...off.

 
At 11:40 AM, Blogger Sea_of_Green said...

Huh? DC hasn't been successful in bringing it's heroes to the big (or even the small [TV]) screen? Since when? Sure, trends come and go, but has he forgotten the last 68 years of film history? Fleischer Studios, anyone? Robert Lowery? Kirk Alyn? C'MON!!

 
At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of Joss, but complaining that DC's use of made-up cities is part of the "problem"?

People who live in glass "Sunnydales" shouldn't throw stones...

 
At 1:09 PM, Blogger Diamondrock said...

Sally: Opal City is definitely the prime example. Here's hoping Robinson does for Metropolis what he did for Opal...

Sea of Green: Yep. Like I said, the modern difficulty with *big* screen adaptation stems (in my opinion) from a disconnect between DC Comics and the Warner Bros. side of things.

And couldn't you make an argument about DC's amazing success in animation? Where's the huge catalog of wildly succesful Marvel animated series, hmmm?

Anonymous: Nice, Anon! I totally let that one slip past me. It's a good point indeed. If Joss thinks fictional cities are so bad why didn't he set Buffy in NYC? :-P

 
At 1:11 PM, Blogger Scipio said...

I hate to resort to plebian swearing, but really...

Joss Whedon's a fucking moron.

I really don't know any better way of putting that.

 
At 1:19 PM, Blogger Nick Marino said...

just to throw this out there - Marvel didn't have control over their film properties until they brought them in house with Iron Man and Hulk. everything released previous to 2008 was made by a major studio. yes, they had Avi Arad doing production but they weren't "controlled" by Marvel.

while i disagree about DC's cities making the universe better, i don't think they should be a stumbling block in the way of making a great film. that's just small thinking. i do, however, see how producers could feel more apprehensive about tackling a fictional locale opposed to a real one. the fictional setting requires another layer of problems to work out in terms of filming and set making and CG.

 
At 1:31 PM, Blogger Diamondrock said...

Scipio: That's one way of putting it...

Nick: Even before Marvel brought their movies in house they had more control than DC Comics has now over their properties. Marvel had the option of shopping around to different studios and there was Avi Arad. DC movies get made by Warner Bros. Full stop. It doesn't matter whether or not somebody else could do a better job...

And we'll just have to agree to disagree about the fictionopolises. But I agree about their use in the movies. So we agree twice and disagree once? That's not so bad...

 
At 6:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're missing the point. I've been to New York a dozen times and its as glorious as Metropolis or Gotham City. I lived an hour away and it is mythical. You're saying its not a character? New York friggin City? c'mon

 
At 6:39 PM, Blogger Diamondrock said...

Anonymous: No, I think you're actually missing my point. New York is glorious yes. It's definitely a character. That's not my point. My point is that you can do things with fictional cities that you can't do with New York. If you insist upon keeping your story "realistic" you are bound by the things that actually are in the city. There are no limits when it comes to the fictionopolises.

But more to the point, they give variety which is something Marvel is sorely lacking in its super-hero stomping grounds...

 
At 8:55 PM, Blogger Garnet said...

We're onto something, here, Diamondrock. Whedon was born and raised in New York, so all of Marvel's tales happened on his doorstep. Of course he liked that as a kid. But DC's geographic diversity did a bit, I think, to make their comics appealing to kids growing up in places a long way from NYC. If you told me Marvel dominated sales in big cities but dwindled once you got outside them, I wouldn't be surprised.

Also, as settings go: Avengers Mansion vs. a satellite in orbit, or a clubhouse on the moon. No contest, right?

 
At 9:19 PM, Blogger Diamondrock said...

Garnet: Interesting. I did not know that Whedon was from New York but it makes sense. Marvel comics certainly would seem a lot more real to him because it's his city.

And about HQs... Like I said, the dials go up to 11 in the DCU. :-)

 

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