Continuing our series of brief looks at some of the potential areas of exploration that we mention in our Call For Papers, this week we are considering the ways that US superheroes are positioned in global markets.
The obvious current example of this can be found in the news stories that this year's upcoming Marvel film Captain America: The First Avenger will simply be titled The First Avenger in some overseas markets (see, for example, this story from the Los Angeles Times, which seems to have been the original source). The film's director, Joe Johnston, has emphasised that the version of Captain America depicted in the film will be one that represents the ideals of America, ideals that Johnston indicates to be essentially universal, rather than being an unthinking flagwaver. Of course, this approach is taken at least in part to ensure that the appeal of the character is broad in a domestic as well as an international context, as well as fitting with interpretations of the character from the original comics, where the character has, at times, resigned his position as a government symbol because of a conflict between his ideals and the practice of the government.
The international marketability of a property is obviously key within the globalised media industries. According to BoxOfficeMojo, Marvel's previous production, Thor, has made a little over 60% of its box office from non-US distribution; based on domestic takings alone, it would only just have made back its production budget, a figure which probably does not include marketing and prints. Both Iron Man films made approximately half of their box office from domestic and half from international screenings, but would clearly have been far less profitable without their international success. The same applies to the X-Men films released to date, as well as Superman Returns, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
Television also has examples of the renaming of productions to focus on particular aspects: Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was known only as The New Adventures of Superman in Britain, retaining its connection to the 1950s George Reeves series, which had been shown in Britain from 1956 on, but losing the focus on the relationship between the two characters to emphasise the superhero aspects of the series. While Smallville did not have its title sequence changed, British television listings and continuity announcers referred to it as Smallville: Superman: The Early Years, to again focus on the recognisable superhero rather than to suggest any focus on the community in which the character developed which the original title suggests.
But it is not just titles that change. Last week's post mentioned the 1970s Japanese Spiderman series, which changed the character's origin and various characteristics in order to better fit with the expectations of Japanese programming. The X-Men are the subject of a current Japanese animé series, with a different aesthetic to the American X-Men cartoons of the past and present. The Turkish film 3 Dev Adam (1973) featured Captain America fighting alongside Mexican luchador Santo to defeat an evil Spiderman - all unlicensed. Which indicates that there are larger, and potentially more interesting, questions with the way that US superheroes are used in global markets, as opposed to the way that the copyright holder tries to position them.