Marvel revolutionizes the superhero film genre with their shared cinematic universe. They make great, big, heaping piles of money. Everyone else wants to do the same thing now. Thus, copycatting. The superhero race was already long running, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe made everyone change their game, sometimes mid-step.
Now we have Marvel leading the pack from way out in front, while Fox is surging forward after lagging behind for awhile, Sony is still lagging but has hitched onto Marvel’s coattails, with DC far behind them all, but Universal is still back at the starting line, and facing backwards, so definitely in last place.
What’s there to add to that messy melee?
Well, there are comic book studios who deal in superheroes besides the two titans, Marvel and DC. They may be often overshadowed, true, not dissimilar to small David standing before Goliath. This does not make their heroes and stories any less valid for the big and small screens.
For instance: Valiant Entertainment.
First thing I want to say about Valiant: I know nothing of them. I don’t recall reading or even seeing any of their work anywhere, though I’m certain I must have at some point. The most I can vaguely recall is hearing a name, a title, here and there. I know they’re successful, that they had a great deal of notoriety in the 90’s, and I read that they have a library of over two thousand characters, which is no small thing. Also, they were apparently begun by a former Marvel editor-in-chief, so it’s no surprise they want to get in on the cinematic universe business.
Now, Valiant’s biggest advantage is the same as their greatest weakness. Being less renowned in the mainstream media and spotlight, they have something none of the big-time powers have: a blank slate. They don’t have to erase anything that’s happened like Fox did in Days of Future Past, or risk overpopulating a franchise with reboots like Sony and Spider-Man, or work against a history of lesser works like DC (I am, of course, exempting the Dark Knight trilogy and the original Superman movies from that statement). For most of the world, we are being introduced to their characters, their world, for the very first time.
That is a powerful advantage.
As an amateur storyteller and critic, I know the benefits of a clean slate, but I also know the danger. All of the above once had clean slates, and not all of them did a particularly good job with them. Now, however, they have an audience of fans awaiting the next adventure in rapt anticipation. In entering the race, Valiant is making to make their debut in direct competition with the established big boys on the block. That is a bold, aggressive move. It may also be a little insane, but there must always be a little madness to the method, ya know? Else what is life for? 😉
So, to make the most of this advantage, and to cultivate a loyal fan base virtually from scratch, Valiant needs to keep tight control of it’s properties. The last thing they want is to make Marvel’s ancestral mistake and let multiple competing studios have a slew of their characters and then do a crappy job with them! From what I’ve gleaned off the internet, that tight control seems to be part of Valiant’s plan.
Which, I believe I’ve mentioned, multiple times, the importance of having a plan. Not a bunch of things thrown together by the marketing department. An actual, concrete plan. This is what Marvel did right in launching the Avengers into the movies, and this is what no one else has done right. If Valiant is working so hard to keep control of their work, this tells me they are thinking of the future, and of making money in the long term, which bespeaks a plan at work. There is method to their madness, then, and this makes me more optimistic from the get-go.
Also, while I mentioned competing directly with the big boys, they seem to be doing so on different terms than usual. While the heroes of Marvel and DC are shining around the world, there is no doubt that they’re American creations, crafted to appeal to the crowd at home and then shipped overseas. Valiant intends to appeal to the international audience of seven billions people from the very start as well. As ignorant of their cast as I am, I am uncertain of how globally diverse it may or may not be, but one quick Google search shows me that at least one of their foremost heroes seems to be wearing the Japanese flag, much as Captain America wears ours. This is a promising sign, I hope, of further diversity. I mean, part of why I liked Pacific Rim was how international the cast was in representing all of humanity struggling for survival.
But whether or not the cast is international, Valiant aims to make their cinematic universe be so. Instead of facing the giants at home before going international, Valiant has been busy securing deals with DMG Entertainment, based in Beijing and partially behind Iron Man 3, to create films and television shows intended for global consumption. Not only does this give Valiant a foot in the international door, but an at-home friend for marketing in China and developing interest in their properties amongst a billion potential customers, who are neighbors to billions more.
Random analogy: in demonstrating the vociferous appetite of a school of piranhas, what would have more effect, a group of ten or a school of one hundred?
Not to make it sound as if Valiant were ignoring America. In fact, part of their effort involves partnerships with Sony on multiple films.
Ah-ha! Sony may be hitching onto Marvel’s wagon in order to stay in the race, but they’re working to start up an effort independent of Marvel at the same time! That is a good move, and one which may keep them from becoming a foot-note to Marvel’s success. Universal could learn something from that: if you don’t have any superheroes at your disposal, then go and find new ones!
Between DMG and their various partners, including Sony and the Sean Daniel Company, Valiant is out to produce films and shows for titles such as Bloodshot, Harbinger, Shadowman, Archer & Armstrong, X-O Manowar, and probably more. Sony, in particular, will be producing Bloodshot, following a shape-changing super soldier brought back from the dead, and Harbinger, following a young psychic runaway, with the two crossing paths in Harbinger Wars. It’s an effort which should start hitting screens sometime in 2017, and could prove most lucrative.
However, as I look at the lineup, I see one small wrinkle in Valiant’s plan: I see no single name for any group of them working together. Perhaps I am just ignorant of such, but as the first major crossover film I see is titled Harbinger Wars, this would indicate a lack of any such name.
It’s a small, subtle weakness, but we can conjure up all sorts of associations just by saying “Avengers” or “X-Men” or “Justice League.” The ability to categorize all sorts of different names and titles under one word or phrase which can resonate with the public at large is, I think, a great part of why Marvel and DC became the giants they are. Heck, they’re the two most famous names in comics and superheroes. In fact, Marvel formed the Fantastic Four and the Avengers in direct answer to DC’s formation of the Justice League. That tells me there is a certain power in having a simple name to refer to something large and complex. What are we going to nickname Valiant’s cinematic universe? Harbinger?
That said, and perhaps it’s making a mountain out of a molehill, I am looking forward to seeing what Valiant creates with this all new work of theirs. All things considered, the potential here is limitless. Depending on how they do things, especially the stories they tell, they could very well prove the true dark horse to compete with Marvel! It all depends on how they manage to make use of that clean slate, and hook the audience with their first film!
This could be the beginning of a new wave, of seeing all the independent publishers entering the cinematic spotlight!
Which, I will muse more about later! 😉