By Fantasgasmic 8 Comments
The Blogs just keep on coming from me, don't they. Hopefully haydenclaireheroes won't be the only person to read/respond this time (P.S. thanks for reading/commenting Haydenclaireheroes). I guess the combination of announcements, slow time of year for work, lots of rain locally, have me reading a lot more articles about the comics industry. And all of those things make me feel like ranting into the void, so here we go again…
Anyone who reads my blogs/posts probably has a fairly decent idea about how I feel about current trends in comics. (I know opinions are like a**holes, everybody has one, and your is the only one that doesn't stink, especially on the internet.) Here on the internet one of 2 things happen when you express an opinion: you are accused of putting on the nostalgia goggles and thinking everything sucks nowadays and and just generally hating change, or you are an all out fanboy/fangirl and think the publishers can do no wrong, even the stupid sh*t like punching reality so heard it breaks. Just so we're clear, I think there are a lot of great things that have happened to the industry, including but not limited to: digital drawing and coloring, deeper exploration of characters, digital distribution, and incorporation of characters' rich histories.
But this isn't a post about what I like, this is about something that bugs me (because that's easier to write about). And as you've no doubt deduced from the title, I can't stand the constancy of "Major Events" and universe wide crossovers. So I'm going to try and convince you that this isn't just me being a crotchety old man taking about things "back in my day" and saying you kids don't know how easy you have it by explaining how I think events have changed, why I feel that change is for the worse, and how I think the industry can achieve the goals of big events thru different means.
The big 2 decided some time ago that the best way to increase readership was to have a big "game changers" every year. On the Marvel side we had Civil War, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, Siege, Heroic Age, Fear Itself, and now Shattered Heroes. Over the same time, DC has done Infinite Crisis, 52, Countdown, Final Crisis, Blackest Night, Brightest Day, Flashpoint, and now the New 52(DCnU). And that's not even taking into consideration all the mini-events, storylines that envelop an entire family of books but don't spill out into the rest of the universe, like X-Men's Messiah Complex, Messiah War, Second Coming, Curse of the Mutants, and now Schism.
But taking off those rose-tinted nostalgia goggles, you quickly realize this isn't a new thing. The big 2 have been doing "Event Comics" and massive crossover storylines about as long as I've been alive (to date myself slightly). In 1984 DC had its first major universe rewriting event comic, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Marvel had its first massive crossover team up story, Secret Wars. According to Wikipedia's rather lackluster list of Modern Age comic events, DC has only had a year without a major event 9 times, and Marvel only 6. And for the past 27ish years, they've only extended the length and scope of these events, (unnecessary) tie-ins, and frankly, filler.
I think back to the first major multi-year "events" I read Death of Superman, World Without a Superman/Funeral for a Friend, Reign of the Supermen, and Return of Superman. It was a huge story compiled in multiple trade paperbacks but it only really focused on the Superman family and only took place within those books. I compare that to Sinestro Corps War, Rage of the Red Lanterns, Agent Orange, and Blackest Night. Those were primarily a Green Lantern story but by Blackest Night there were sooooo many tie-ins and most of them went nowhere. The next bad sign was that I found it hard to try and determine when the modern event ends. With the earlier Superman story, there is a clear beginning middle and end, not only to each separate arc, but to the whole story; it starts with the arrival of Doomsday, and it ends with the (apparent) destruction of Hank Henshaw. The destruction of Coast City led to Emerald Twilight which led to Zero Hour, but by limiting the tie-ins it seems more like real life events stemming other events, and less like a giant never ending epic. If I recall correctly there was one tie-in with the Justice League when they fought Doomsday, and one Green Lantern tie in when Mongul destroyed Coast City, but the rest took place in Superman, Adventures of Superman, Action Comics, and Superman: Man of Steel. Contrast that to the modern evet. GL's story doesn't really have an end; it keeps going into Brightest Day, and then War of the Green Lanterns, and only really ended a few weeks back when the Guardians kicked out Hal Jordan again. In all that time it primarily took place in Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, and Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors, but there were a billion tie-ins in Blackest Night and Brightest Day (just about every major hero had one AND they made Blackest Night and Brightest Day their own event books!). And that is a major problem!
Comics have become Soap Operas. General Hospital (the first soap opera i could think of) started in 1963. Because it's gone on for 12,000+ episodes, if you sit down and watch a single episode, you will have no idea who anyone is, why they're doing what they're doing, or generally what the f**k is going on. Batman (the comic, not the character) started in 1940. It's gone on for 700+ issues, but if you sit down and read a single issue, you may not know who everyone is, or the details of what is going on, but you should be able to figure out the general idea of what the f**k is going on. Let's back up from the clumsily forced in metaphor now. When you ask someone why they don't read/stopped reading comics they most common answer isn't that they stopped liking the stories, it's that there were too many books to keep up with. And when you ask why they don't get back into them, the most common answer is it's too hard to catch up with all the stuff that's happened/figure out what stories you should actually read to find out what you missed. And the industry knows this, Marvel tried to make this easier with their .1 issues, and DC cited this as a reason for their reboot. But there is a difference between knowing something and understanding it.
So not only do we have pointless filler, and massive events that spill into dozens of books, but we have a constant stream of events. All of which claim to "totally change everything" and be a "game changer" and all that bullsh*t. And, how else does the industry try and drive up sales? Murder. From Cap's death in Civil War, to Johnny Storm's death in the non-event 3 (which was really just a vehicle to launch FF) the idea is that shocking the audience, or promising to shock the audience will drive up sales. But there's a problem, it doesn't work (I don't actually know if it affects the sales, but i do know it doesn't actually surprise anyone). The reason it doesn't work is because it happens all the time. They oversaturated the market, and made that their audience jaded. Promising to change everything and threatening to kill off my favorite characters won't make me read your books because I don't believe either of those will actually matter in the long run. In that sense, comics are like sitcoms, eventually everything goes back to the way it was.
By now you're saying "ok, so you have gripes, but do you have solutions?" Why yes, yes I do. And they wouldn't be popular solutions, but I think they would help comics immensely. First solution, get rid of characters. I think the big 2 need to cut the number of primary characters by between 20% and 40%. I don't mean kill off the popular characters and I'm not talking about doing it for shock value. I mean either erase them from history, kill them off off panel/ make a passing mention about their death in a totally embarrassing or non-hero related manner, or stop mentioning them entirely don't let authors mention them or artists draw them in the backgrounds under threat of massive punishment. Instead of creating a new character to be a storytelling device or McGuffin and keeping them around forever, use what you got, or end the character with the end of the story. The characters to be gotten rid of should start with the xerox copies of successful characters. I've said this multiple times, you only need so many characters that are exactly the same as each other. I tried to express this idea in my forum thread, "Give 'Em the Boot" and almost a year later, I think its an even better idea. In my opinion you don't need Thor, Beta Ray Bill, Thunderstrike, and Thor Girl; any symbiote other than Venom and Carnage shouldn't be allowed a permanent human host; 4 human Green Lanterns is 3 too many (2 GLs per sector because they're a police force and cops always have partners, but sectors are huge, so only 1 member of a species) etc. If I was gonna go off of my personal opinions about what works and what doesn't, about 90% JSA would be gotten rid of, Barry and Wally wouldn't both be Flash (not at the same time at least), this new Frankenstein Hellboy ripoff would never have gotten approved, etc.
Second solution, cut back the number of books, and have better editors. The idea that you have 52 new books, and that number will expand as characters from group books get their own spinoffs means you aren't solving the problem of "too convoluted, too complicated, too much to read." If you have an event, for the love of all things holy, do not make it its own series. Civil War took place in just about every existing Marvel book (except maybe cosmic ones) and then they added more books: Civil War, Civil War Young Avengers & Runaways, Civil War Frontline, Civil War X-Men, and over half a dozen one shot books like Daily Bugle Special Edition Civil War, or Civil War: The Initiative. This is exactly what people are complaining about. Instead of trying to come up with books for every kind of reader, make fewer books and sell more of them by making the stories better. Have consistent teams working on books; it doesn't need to be one author and one artist and one editor, but make it a real "creative team" that covers at least a whole arc. Arcs need to be paced better with less issues where nothing happens. Have someone (or a team) to oversee an entire family of books (i.e., all the Batman books) and get every book out on time! no exceptions! always and forever! If a book is running behind deadline, shift your resources put multiple artists on it, or use another writer from the creative team as a sounding board to help the writer of the book. If you still can't get that book out on time, delay all the books that tie in to its events. That way you never have to have one of those embarrassing boxes "This story takes place between issues X and Y of Book Z." But also have a backlog of issues. I don't know what the timeline is between when a book is written, drawn and published, but i think the entire storyline needs to be written (or at least outlined) before the first issue hits the shelves. Maybe a fluctuating release schedule would work. If you have an separate entities like Cosmic Marvel's Annihilation that doesn't tie in to the rest of the universe's massive crossover, Civil War, maybe run cosmic books weekly or fortnightly while the event is ongoing, and cut it back to monthly after the event is over. This way you can keep the event contained and avoid billions of tie-ins, and customers will know what is plot-centric reading and what is character-centric reading.
Third solution, more one shot stories between events. Current events go from point A to point B in event 1 and from point B to point C in event 2. But the real world doesn't always have such a clear line between cause and effect. Sometimes the repercussions of an event won't be fully felt until years later. I think that this is an idea that some comics writers really know how to do, and can also be seen in anime of all places. The anime example I would use is Cowboy Bebop, there is an overarching story to the series, but it's only told in 5 out of the 26 episodes. The rest of the show develops characters, shows their relationships, has fun wacky adventures, but don't feel like filler. The comics example would be Sandman. There are stand alone stories that play with the characters and there a stories that advance the plot, but none of it feels like filler, and sometimes things that seemed like minor points to a single issue or short term storyline get tied back in later in the arc as a whole. If there were Skrulls showing up after Avengers Disassembled, and characters underwent noticeable personality changes during the Civil War, maybe the Secret Invasion would've seemed more like it was a long thought out… umm… invasion plot, and less like a confusing game of "guess who's a Skrull."
So that's my 2¢. Let me know what you think.