By Jayme Lozano
Marvel superheroes like Iron Man and Captain America have gained popularity in recent years, thanks to their blockbuster films. But before they were big screen stars, they were just comic book capers.
“Marvel Comics into Film” is a collection of essays and articles about bringing Marvel comics to the big screen. The essays in the book were collected and edited by Texas Tech University faculty members Rob Weiner, Robert Peaslee and Matthew McEniry.
McEniry, a metadata librarian at Texas Tech, was brought on to the project by Weiner shortly after he and Peaslee completed work on a book about Batman’s archenemy, The Joker. Because he was interested in the subject, McEniry said he accepted the offer and helped Weiner put out calls for different essays and also worked directly with the publisher.
“We got a lot of papers and worked on the book for a year and a half,” McEniry said. “It was a whirlwind process. Rob was great with his knowledge of comics, and Dr. Peaslee was great with helping with a lot of the proofreading.”
McEniry said one of the main aspects they wanted to explore was not the well-known Marvel Cinematic Universe, with which contemporary fans are familiar, but the earlier history.
“We only have one essay about The Avengers,” McEniry said. “We tried to make sure we didn’t get a lot about The Avengers and the current success of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe because we wanted to focus on the ones that came before and paved the way, even though they didn’t do so well.”
Peaslee, chairman of the Department of Journalism and Electronic Media, said he was invited to join the project by McEniry and Weiner during the first round of editing.
Being acquired by Disney in 2009 was a big turning point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, according to Peaslee.
“It’s allowed Marvel access to capital and cross-promotional capacities in terms of licensing, merchandising, promotional partnerships, everything that being part of one of the top three conglomerates in the world gives you,” Peaslee said. “I don’t think we get the MCU as we know it today without that relationship because there’s so much Disney can do to focus everyone’s attention on a given product.”
While Marvel characters, such as the X-Men and Spider-Man, had been adapted for the big screen before 2008’s “Iron Man” film, Marvel did not have the rights to the characters. Peaslee said “The Avengers” was a big risk that paid off.
“What they pulled off was not just a matter of sheer spectacle and marketing muscle,” Peaslee said. “These are not ‘Transformer’ films. They have pretty deep characters, real storytelling, cause-and-effect progressions from one film to the next. There are some films that aren’t spectacular, but for the most part, they’re all solid.”
Weiner, a popular culture and humanities librarian, said he felt the movies needed to be studied.
“This was something that would make you look at the historical cinematic universe as opposed to the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” Weiner said. “As bad as many of those movies are, it doesn’t mean that they’re not worth studying from a scholarly or academic perspective.”
While he has studied comics for a long time, Weiner said the Marvel Universe is still complicated, making it one of best fictional universes.
“The Marvel Universe is one of the most sophisticated networks in all of fictional narrative,” Weiner said. “So let’s not delude ourselves into thinking this is just stupid children fare. This is complicated stuff. There may be silly things going on, but there’s a lot there. To dismiss that, I think, is very naïve.”
Weiner said he is proud of the book because the diversity of the essays represents what he calls one of the most complicated networks and universes ever created.
“’Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Star Wars’, their universes are complicated,” Weiner said. “But it’s got nothing on comic book universes.”