Saturday, March 3, 2012

Six Guns - Part One: The Unwanted

In this introductory piece, I discuss the realities of a modern Marvel mini-series in a market resistant to everything the solicits promised.

Marvel has just released the fifth and final issue of "Six guns", the Andy Diggle and Davide Gianfelice's mini-series poised to reimagine the company's western heroes into a modern day marketable property. The sales have been disastrous throughout, leading to the conclusion that there's next to no chance in seeing these characters used again in this configuration for a variety of reasons, most of them having little to do with the quality of the series itself. Any kind of attempt to reinvigorate interest in Marvel's long forgotten western line was more or less doomed to a failure in the Direct Market, seeing as there's little interest for the company's work in non superhero genre and particularly when it comes to western, a classic adventure setting that's more or less an acquired taste for today's audiences.

The company has likewise shown a tendency of returning to it's several core 1970s horror franchises, but arguably there could be a case made that at least Man-Thing and Dracula have some sort of appeal due to the innovative work of the creators involved with their initial runs. DC has more or less encountered the same problem when trying to breathe some life back into its old western line, but at least in that instance they can get behind Jonah Hex, the character that's had lasting appeal beyond his original series thanks to a variety of follow ups and the strength of the original concept.

Of the characters featured in "Six guns", only Two gun kid has remained in the spotlight, thanks to the character having an unlikely guest starring role in Dan Slott's cult-favorite "She-Hulk". The rest of the cast are even more worryingly unfamiliar figures drawing inspiration from some of Marvel's least popular and largely forgotten western titles. Therefore, Diggle and Gianfelice were given a thankless task - to proceed with creating a series that the company can't afford to market extensively, hoping to sell the trade paperback on the strength of good reviews and word of mouth. Yet, using a "Losers"-like action movie approach meant that most critics would ignore it as a strange product of low ambition treating it as a given that it's pulp sensibility would endear itself to the readers who have long since grown used to equating Marvel with a very singular entertaining experience.

Having Butch Guice present the covers in a representational style is symbolic of a whole series of hurdles "Six guns" would have had to jump through in order to save itself from retailer and reader apathy. A simple fact that the company wasn't sure that displaying the interior artist Gianfelice's work front and center would be the best way to market his artwork shows that the company's audience still has problems with individualistic artists whose expressiveness lends itself to a non-traditional approach. Simply put, when the company's house style relegates artists such as Scottie Young on low selling titles such as "Wizard of Oz", then it's no wonder when the fans decide to ignore some of Gianfelice's first work for the publisher.

Continually presenting the work of Bryan ("Ultimates", "The Authority") Hitch as a gold standard for their entire line, Marvel have simply forgotten to train a new audience to appreciate the non-orthodox styles of drawing. And while a Chris Bachalo and the tried and true Adam Kubert still have no difficultly finding work at the publisher, a younger artist such as Gianfelice is in no such position. Having the "Daredevil reborn" creative team continue their work with a completely new project for the major publisher certainly seems a good idea in theory, but the realities of the Direct Market have arguably doomed the series from the start. Having the editorial approve the pitch that treats the official Marvel continuity like only so much window dressing and uses its one sequence starring a genuinely super powered character for a quick joke certainly seems smug and overconfident.

Despite the creators' clear bias towards exaggerated realism and modern action film esthetics, the editorial eventually proved to be the first and last ones to be so sympathetic. Marvel's audience traditionally seeks a very specific reading experience that can be modernized and improved upon, but not completely subverted. When Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker instill modern crime genre elements in their superhero titles, they are still supported by the relative malleability of the popular characters they're using. Yet when Diggle and Gianfelice reintroduce Black rider as a biker with a heart of gold there's no real audience response because there's no audience for the character in the first place, nor is the typical Marvel Zombie so forgiving to the biker stereotype as seen in movies or on TV that they would be quick to warm up to this version.

Interestingly, the very same audience would probably invest a lot more into following his story on film, because they have different presumptions when it comes to different form of entertainment. A Marvel comic is simply no place for an ensemble action drama and it seems like Diggle and Gianfelice are the only ones unaware of this.

Tomorrow: looking at the entirety of the five issues as a story in its own right.

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