November 9, 2006
A Firsthand Account and Reader Reaction to Marvel Comics/Guiding Light Crossover

Some of you may have been following the recent Procter & Gamble Productions/Marvel Comics crossover. Now Jonah Weiland, who had some firsthand experience behind the scenes of this partnership, has written about the experience. Jonah's account provides an interesting perspective about how these intriguing narrative crossovers, not only across two entertainment properties but across genres as well, comes about and is mediated.

This crossover first caught my eye back in September, when I saw mention of plans for Marvel characters to make their way to Springfield, the town in which Guiding Light is set in.

At the time, I wrote:

Although I haven't regularly read comic books since I was in high school, I know that my love for the superhero universes can be explained in the same way, especially with Marvel, which has incorporated soap opera-style storytelling in the adventures of its heroes over the years.

The crossover seems an interesting one, as it seems the target demographic of soaps and comic books are drastically different. However, Quesada says that the Avengers-GL crossover "is just one more way that we're trying to reach out beyond our usual audience in an effort to expose those who don't know anything about the greatness of comics and hopefully come back with a few new converts."

In an age of niche targeted demographics for almost everything, that's a refreshing statement to read. With the way things are currently structured, almost every entertainment property has a surplus audience that most writers/producers/performers ignore. Because of the immersive natures of both story types, I can see a very compelling reason why soap opera fans would love comics if they were ever exposed to them in a way that interests them. Hopefully, the Marvel writers can present a compelling story that also stays true to the characters of the soap.

Then, a few weeks later, I found out about plans for quite the reverse, as there was going to be a one-shot episode of GL which explored one of the prominent characters from the show as a super hero herself. My initial qualms about transplanting a super hero storyline in the middle of a soap opera was addressed by this being a one-shot fantasy episode, but it was an interesting example of transmedia, for sure. When I found out about that crossover, I wrote:

My prediction is that the comic book fans who don't enjoy the crossover will be fairly indifferent, while there may be a very vocal group of soaps viewers adamantly opposed to this intrusion on their show. However, with this being a one-day set-apart event and on a show like GL that have had some supernatural and dark stories in the past, it may be a little bit more acceptable.

And, not surprising was the reaction from the TMZ staff, who said, "in a marketing move created to finally satiate the underground fanboy/stay-at-home mom demographic, Marvel Comics will debut their newest superhero on the CBS soap opera Guiding Light."

But, I'm assuming both Marvel and GL knew there would be some doubters, and I'm actually in support of next Wednesday's episode, since it's going to be more of the What If? variety, taking a known GL character and giving her superpowers in a standalone episode. Works much better for me than the isle of the dead on DAYS for instance, since here they are teasing out a fantasy storyline while still preserving the narrative universe of the soap.

As I suggested, some soap fans did not react kindly. For instance, Des at TV Is My Drug writes that calling it embarrassing "would be an understatement" and said it was "UNWATCHABLE." This is the apologetic sort of fan who criticizes the show as a whole throughout explaining an affinity for it. But the breakdown of why Reva Shane should instead be considered as a super hero was quite entertaining.

On the comics side, Brad Curran wrote a lengthy response to the project. As a soaps fan and comics fan, he writes about both his and his mom's reaction to the episode--his mom was slightly amused, while he found it very embarrassing--and ultimately questions whether "the overlap between these two audiences just seems too small, despite the fact that long running super hero serials and soap operas are functionally the same thing on a whole lot of levels." I think quite the opposite, since Im' sure Brad and I aren't the only two soaps/comics fans out there. I think the problem is just in how different the worlds of GL and Marvel are, particularly on the GL side. Of course they played this tongue-in-cheek. The problem is that soaps are best at depicting the small moments of human interaction and everyday life and they have very little production budgets compared to feature films and primetime shows, so it's no surprise that they had serious limitations, in tone and in visualization, of the comic book world.

Also interesting is Tom Spurgeon's account, in which two brothers--one a GL fan, the other a comic book fan--review the episode, concluding that both fandoms would likely be disappointed or even angered by the episode.

Weiland writes about his visits both to Marvel Comics and the set of Guiding Light and his chance to meet the actress playing the role of Harley Davidson Cooper/The Guiding Light. He writes about the tough job of trying to enter a vast narrative universe you aren't completely familiar with and try to do the narrative and the fans justice in crafting a tale, the challenge for the soap writers when trying to understand the Marvel universe and vice versa. Weiland writes:

Writing the eight-page back up story was nerve wracking for McCann. As a comic book collector for over 20 years, he was intimately familiar with Marvel's family of characters, but he admitted that he hadn't always followed the CBS soaps. But, once it became clear the two companies would be working together, "Guiding Light" became a huge part of his life. "I watched about two months of episodes that I DVR'ed and I began to really pay attention to Gus and Harley scenes," said McCann. "Thank God for the Internet and the fans who spend so much time talking and examining the show. They're so vocal, just like our fans. I probably read four months worth of transcripts from the show. The last thing I wanted was a 'Guiding Light' fan to come in, pick up the comic and be completely turned off and say, 'They don't get us at all.' I wanted to make sure it was very truthful to the characters. When I turned in the script, Ellen, Alan and David Kriezman read it and came back with two minor dialogue tweaks."

Be sure to check out the whole interview.