Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio. This week, Bennett asks the question, "Did Avi Arad keep his receipt when he acquired the rights to Popeye?"
I realize I've already written on this subject ("Confessions of a Comic Book Guy--This Intellectual Property Is Condemned") but a couple weeks ago ICv2 ran a story that brought me back on topic. I refer to "Avi Arad Has 'Popeye' Rights" which announced "former Marvel Studios head Avi Arad had acquired the screen rights to E.C. Segar's Popeye and plans to develop a Popeye theatrical film." It went unremarked upon here but after reading it I remember thinking, "Boy, I sure hope he kept his receipt."
Because while I won't deny Popeye is a "true cultural icon" (as the piece so rightly put it) I'm just not exactly sure how much one of those goes for these days. It's been quite a while since his last big screen appearance and when someone has been absent this long you start giving things you've always taken for granted a second look.
Like, is there really that big a demand, especially among kids today, for a stuck in the 1930's vision-impaired, physically deformed sailor with a speech impediment?
A number of vintage characters have successfully managed to reinvent themselves (Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, etc.) but one as idiosyncratic as Popeye is by its nature resistant to revamps. And it's dangerous to try, and not just for 'artistic' reasons; mess too much with a franchise that's been a cash cow for decades and you can turn a Popeye into a Poochie (the test market conceived 'extreme' dog from The Simpsons episode "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show", like I have to tell any of you). But if you stick with the original formula just about everything about him makes him a hard sell to modern audiences, putting the producers of the new movie in a tough position.
Popeye has managed to remain popular culture royalty for decades and there's no reason he can't stay in that strata for decades to come. But inevitably the day comes when every intellectual property goes from (to once again use my strained to the breaking point metaphor) "inhabitable" to "historical landmark." Just go ask Mutt and Jeff.
Created by Bud Fisher in 1907 it's considered the first daily comic strip and concerned the misadventures of Mutt, a compulsive gambler with a wife and child but no fixed income, and Jeff, a girl crazy idiot who somehow always managed to hold onto his top hat. You can read it for free everyday at the gocomics web site and if you do I think you'll agree with Bart Simpson (from The Simpsons episode "Helter Shelter"); "Mutt and Jeff comics are not funny!"
I myself read it every day, not for the supposed "jokes" but rather the wonderfully old fashioned art style of Fisher's replacement Al Smith who drew it for almost fifty years. It's now hard to imagine it appealing to anyone, let alone kids, but apparently it did because Mutt and Jeff had their own DC comic book series until 1958. It was syndicated until 1982 but now the only evidence that it was ever even here is Mutt and Jeff is still used as a term for a mismatched team. And even that expression is increasingly antiquated.
In that earlier column I also wrote about Syfy's impending post-modern do-over of The Phantom and they recently posted the trailer online. Not only does this version deviate wildly from the accepted canon, adding to the injury of the 'new look' costume* is the insult that instead of Africans, The Phantom dynasty has been aided for centuries by The Legion of Nondescript White Guys.
Marvel Mystery Handbook 70th Anniversary Special. Along with some nice entries on neglected Golden Age heroes like Blue Blaze, the one for Marvex actually tries to explain how The Super Robot changed heads in between issues of Marvel Mystery Comics. But the highlight of course just has to be the full page that's devoted to Terry Vance, which makes up for the fact his assistant Dr. Watson only received a minor mention in the Marvel Pet Handbook (any ape that can be trusted with a loaded gun deserves better).
The Venture Bros. on Adult Swim. But those who caught the October 18th season premiere saw an episode that revolved around a NM copy of Marvel Comics #1.
* I said the initial designs made it look like a "security guard from Dune" but the finished product has more in common with the Daredevil outfit from The Trial of the Incredible Hulk TV-movie).
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
Column by Steve Bennett
Posted by ICv2 on October 20, 2009 @ 11:42 pm CT