Sudsy Superheroes and Transmedia Storytelling, or, Why Comic Book Heroes Do It Better

Curator's Note

A few weeks ago, Elana Levine presented us with The Guiding Light’s efforts to tap into the superhero universe when heroine Harley Cooper was granted superpowers for an episode. This was part of a cross-promotion effort with Marvel Comics, which also ran an 8-page story on Harley’s encounters with the Avengers and the Sinister Six that same month. Whereas the Guiding Light’s goals seem driven by their need to forestall possible cancellation through what amounted to little more than a one time stunt, Marvel’s actions might be understood as part of the company’s current brand expansion efforts, and not only a response to sagging comic book sales. Marvel Comics is a comic book company in name only, as they clearly identify themselves as being in the business of selling stories and characters (IP) amenable and adaptable to any medium, genre, or audience. As stated on their website, "Marvel’s strategy is to leverage its character franchises in a growing array of opportunities around the world". From longtime GL bad guy Alan Spaulding’s on-going rivalry with Stark Enterprises, Iron Man’s alter ego Tony Stark’s company, to Harley being offered an Avenger’s Priority card, the comic book is an interesting example of trans-media storytelling. Springfield, the ultimate every town in which Guiding Light transpires, is seamlessly incorporated into the Marvel universe story world (rather than, say, having the Marvel heroes travel to an alternate dimension). The serialized cliff-hanger ending even hints at the possibility for future plot entanglements. What if Stark showed up as a rival to Spaulding on GL, or Harley dumped Gus to join the Avengers? One can only dream. Sadly, the limits of IP ownership put the kibosh on the likelihood of such continued plot intersections. While superheroes on soap operas seem a strange brew given the latter’s appeal to emotional realism, melodrama has long played an important role in suturing comic book fans to their favorite adventurers. In the superhero world, extraordinary beings are the norm, but often the emotional scars run far deeper than the bruises incurred in battle. As Marvel branches out beyond the printed page, tapping into the soap opera genre seems a viable convergence strategy. Personally, I’m rooting for Harley to fall in love with the Sandman. Then there will be two men in her life that get to call her "toots"…

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