Earlier this evening, Marvel released a trailer for the upcoming Age of Ultron event, written by Brian Bendis and penciled by Bryan Hitch. Rich Johnston has, very kindly, made it embeddable:
In the past, Jon has fantasized about a future in which comics, and not just the movies based on them, are promoted on billboards in prominent locales, but, save that Fables spot that Vertigo ran on the BBC a few years ago, I'm not sure I've ever seen something quite like this. It's interesting for a few reasons, not least of which is that I hadn't realized that Marvel was releasing Age of Ultron at such a fast clip. Three issues a month seems onerous, and I wonder if it might affect the sales of either the crossover or of some the company's other books. I know that, in terms of my own purchasing, it's a lot easier to take an extra $3.99 out of my wallet once in a given month without thinking about it than it will be for me to do it three times in the same span, so I think I'm going to pass. On the other hand, one of my major complaints about crossovers, Marvel's in particular, is that they last so damn long; even shipping twice monthly, waiting for AvX to conclude was numbing. With AU lasting just three months and change, I can return, blissfully, to stories I actually care about much sooner than before.
To return to the trailer itself: I wonder if this is the best way to advertise comics. It is certainly one way of doing it, but it fails to achieve what's really great about the movie preview, which is that it can give a real sense of the thing that it promotes, while also divulging just enough plot detail to hook an audience. Now, there a few ways to nitpick this particular trailer-- it relies mostly on already revealed covers rather than delivering much in the way of the new, the narration is reminiscent of those old commercials for Power Rangers video tapes, it utilizes animation in a way that is even more insipid than most motion comics and, most egregiously, it doesn't do a good job of explaining who the creators are-- but I wonder if even one that was more well made woud be a good way of giving a sense of what a comic would be like.
Part of the reason that I suspect it can't be is that video and comics work on similar, but fundamentally different, visual principles. Each is a kind of window, yes, but, when you watch a film or a tv show, the size of that window, in this case some kind of screen, tends to be the same when you start the thing as when you end it. This seems likes it would be true with comics-- page sizes tend to be internally consistent-- but the base unit of the comic isn't the page; it's the panel. This is not to say that panel sizes can't be consistent, just that they aren't always, and, specifically, that Bryan Hitch doesn't make his that way. Hitch's "widescreen" art style is neat because it gives comics, very small in physical size, a wonderful sort of scale up, making some of his scenes seem grandiose in a way that is much more common in film. That said, the style only really works when there are also many smaller, less grandiose scenes, which is why no one constructs comics out of splash pages alone, and why they didn't even when the widescreen style was in vogue. The AU trailer, which generalizes panel size by mediating panels, not pages, through both editing techniques like the Ken Burns effect and the consistent size of the YouTube screen-within-a-screen, totally robs Hitch's art of what makes it work. Watching the trailer, it is possible to see that some the art takes the wide view and that some of it does not, but seeing that isn’t really the same as understanding it, isn’t the same as being convinced of it. That comics can make meaning through the way that the size of its building blocks relate to each other is one of the things that makes the form unique, one of the things that makes it great.
That the trailer can’t communicate why I might be interested in AU as a piece of art rather than as a particular story is why it fails. I know it might not be for me--it's too general to be coded for people who are already readers of comics-- but the hook isn’t such a great one that a potential reader would be sold on the book on plot alone. If Marvel really wants to bring new people into the fold, shouldn't they emphasizing what makes their product interesting? And if they want people like me to take a risk on a book that we're not otherwise inclined to buy, particularly if they’re going to ask us to shell out $11.97 a month to follow it, I can't help but wonder if there's some way to give us some of what we love.