The Road To Civil War: Marvel Renaissance


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Marvel Renaissance
"Pacy, to the point and smart enough not to outstay its welcome."

They were the darlings of he industry, an American publishing phenomenon and a source of untold delight for their fans for six decades. Then, in December 1996, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. There was panic throughout the industry. What would happen if Marvel fell? It was responsible for more than a third of the trade. Comic shops would go under; then other producers would have no outlets. Small businesses would quickly collapse. Even the company's famous rival, DC, would struggle to hold on. It could be the end of the art form.

It's strange to look back on this today, when superheroes are recognised as some of the most valuable properties on the planet. Strange to think that Spiderman, swinging across cinema screens, packing out the toyshops, barely survived that encounter with the terrifying foes that were the creditors. Philippe Guedj and Philippe Roure's documentary sets out to explain how Marvel's fortunes turned around, and to give due credit to the men who made it happen.

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At first glance, it's difficult to see who this is targeted at. Finance and comics usually attract distinctly different kinds of geek. It's in the nature of the geek, however, to want to know everything, and this creates crossover potential. For the comic fans, the film provides interesting background and explains the big reset that recently saw a flood of new origin stories appear. For those with a financial background, it provides an interesting case study in the importance of understanding the product and its consumers. In many ways this is a real world expansion on the scene from Big in which Tom Hanks tries to explain to a confused executive what makes a toy cool.

Although the Philippes do a good job of walking us through the financial issues, they do so in bursts of rapid-fire exposition which may prove hard to follow for the uninitiated. The fan-focused side of the film is much stronger, with input from the likes of Mark Millar, Tom DeSanto, Louis Leterrier and Mark Waid, all of whom have entertaining anecdotes to keep the film from getting too dry. Avi Arad is interviewed at length and helps to connect the two threads, contextualising the financial story, often in the language of comics. Working in the industry at that time, he says, was a bit like watching Galactus and the Silver Surfer fighting overhead, knowing that, whatever happened, there was nothing one could do about it.

Pacy, to the point and smart enough not to outstay its welcome, Marvel Renaissance is a solid little essay on a piece of history that feels personal to a lot of people. It may not go very deep beneath the surface but it still manages to tell a complex tale.

Reviewed on: 26 Jan 2016
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The story of Marvel and the men who saved it from collapse.

Director: Philippe Guedj, Philippe Roure

Writer: Philippe Guedj, Philippe Roure

Starring: Mark Waid, Tom DeSanto, Louis Leterrier, Mark Millar

Year: 2014

Runtime: 52 minutes

Country: France


Glasgow 2016

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