It’s funny. I love comics, I love video games, I often side with the House of Ideas when it comes to the Marvel/DC rivalry, and there’s the whole “awesome movies” roll that they’ve sustained for longer than I’d have ever dreamed. Plus, I have a particular affinity for Telltale Games’ unique brand of storytelling and their revolutionary low-budget, episodic approach to game development. So why the hell was I not amped when Marvel Entertainment and Telltale Games announced a partnership developing games for release in 2017? I’ve been mulling this over since the announcement was made last spring and this is what I’ve come up with.
Even before the Marvel Cinematic Universe took over our cinemas and cemented nerd stuff as the most mainstream stuff possible (for the moment), we had no shortage of Marvel cartoons, comics, blockbusters, and video games. But with three major movie studios feverishly putting out all the Marvel they can to milk this comics boom for all it’s worth and television show tie-ins and spin-offs and even more cartoons and movie tie-in video games and merchandising and political debates about fucking toys based on these things, there is nobody on the planet thinking “man, I sure wish there was more Marvel stuff coming out”.
So you’ll understand if I’m not as amped as I would have been ten years ago to see an Ant-Man movie or an unspecified deal for Telltale to make a series of games based on Marvel properties. Honestly, the only thing that would make me genuinely excited would be if they chose Runaways, which is possibly the best thing Marvel has done ever, and yet somehow has been totally shafted in all this. Yeah, there’s been a film in development hell, but the property likely wouldn’t make a great film anyway. It’s much better suited as a television series. Or an episodic, dialogue-heavy video game. Just sayin’.
When Disney bought Marvel, it was a shocker. When they purchased Star Wars: more shock. All in the name of raking in more money for one of America’s most ruthlessly profit-driven entertainment corporations. Well, you know what makes more money than movies or comics or movies about comics right now? Video games. You see where I’m going with this.
For years before making the plunge, Disney cultivated a relationship with Marvel by producing cartoons with them, but the comic company was flirting with bankruptcy for years. And then just as it became apparent that Marvel’s risky cinematic experiment was going to pay off massively, the House of Mouse swooped in and gobbled them up just in time for The Avengers take its place as one of the biggest movies of all time. It was not a coincidence. Nor was it when fans were clamoring for more Star Wars to throw their money at while George Lucas thought to himself “Meh. I’ve got too much of it already” and suddenly we’ve got a million Star Wars projects in development by Disney.
After taking over the animation industry, the film industry, television, and comics, it’s pretty obvious what the next step is going to be to create a complete multimedia domination circuit for Disney. Disney Interactive is a thing, of course, but it hasn’t exactly set the gaming world on fire (I believe “shovelware” is the term most would use) and I doubt Disney Infinity is going to have legs beyond the the upcoming third iteration.
If only there was a small studio capable of generating massive revenue with minimal investment; perhaps one that excels at adapting existing properties. Properties like the kind Disney owns a bunch of. They’ve teamed up with Square-Enix for Kingdom Hearts, but Square is in the same boat Marvel was back in the 90’s. They’re a risk. Telltale is on a massive upswing and I think if this Marvel deal takes off we may see the small studio lose its indie spirit and be put to work cranking out endless Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar adaptations.
Not that I don’t like Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar, but I love what Telltale’s doing now in terms of making a diverse array of quality adaptations aimed at adults. They aren’t doing the obvious and they are constantly surprising us and taking risks. If they end up being sucked into Disney’s orbit, we can likely say goodbye to anything resembling risk, and definitely to adaptations of comics from competitors like The Walking Dead and Fables. I’ll get into this more specifically in a minute but I really would rather see them continue to give love to darker, more mature, less obvious, and less-known franchises then what Marvel brings to the table.
And consider what Disney is putting into motion with Star Wars. I kind of feel like it’s already overkill and the first film isn’t even close to releasing. As it is, I’ve been concerned about Telltale spreading themselves too thin by concurrently working on so many different ongoing series, but so far they’re pulling it off without a drop in quality. But when you consider the resources Marvel has behind them, even if the Mouse passes on buying them out they could still throw enough money at them to clutter up their release schedule and/or incentivize them to pass on better, more interesting franchises in favor of dipping into the Marvel well more and more. And while I love both Marvel Comics and Telltale Games (as previously stated) and I want them to make tons of money, I don’t want Telltale making the mistakes Marvel has with their comics and spreading themselves thin enough that the quality suffers.
And it has suffered. In terms of just comics, Marvel’s old grey mare, it ain’t what it used to be. Ditto their eternal industry rival, Detective Comics. As crazy as it may seem, in 2015 if somebody asks you “Marvel or DC” and you fail to see the invisible third option and choose it, you lose nerd cred. The badass elephant in the room of hardcore comic fans is the simple fact that Image Comics’ current comic line-up crushes either of the big two in terms of creativity and quality. And they’re a much, much better fit for Telltale’s brand of storytelling. Just ask The Walking Dead.
Sure, we could get excited about all the possibilities offered by superhero comics. You know: good guys with special abilities punches bad guys with special abilities, repeat as necessary. Or we could look at what Image has going on. The twisted, limitless multiverse of Black Science, the cannibalistic detective work of Chew, the raunchy, girl-power fantasy of Rat Queens, the hysterical exploration of human psycho-sexuality that is Sex Criminals, the chilling family-based horror of Wytches, the female-centric supernatural Western tale of Pretty Deadly, the grimy, punk-infused 80’s flashback brought to us by Deadly Class, every goddamn single thing about Saga; all screaming to be adapted to interactive form. And those are just some of Image’s titles from recent years. They have a long history of quality creator-owned comics that go light years beyond the superhero genre and its pile of worn tropes.
And maybe that’s why I’m just not that excited about Marvel taking up Telltale’s time and resources. Although I have a lifetime of loving Spider-Man, Daredevil, the X-Men, and all of the rest I just feel like it’s all been done to death and I’d so much rather see a spotlight on something new and unexpected. Telltale’s shown that they’re capable of just about anything with successful adaptations of everything from Back to the Future to Monkey Island to Game of Thrones to freakin’ Minecraft (okay jury’s still out on that one since it’s not been released yet), and I guess I’d rather they worked their magic to introduce some truly amazing independent comics to new audiences rather than go back over the same ol’ same ol’ retreads of massive franchises that have been mainstream for decades and never more so than now. But you know damn well I’m going to buy it anyways, so here’s to a successful (and hopefully brief) collaboration between Telltale and Marvel. And it’d better be Runaways.