Thursday, June 21, 2012

CONVERSATION: Big Summer Events Comics III

In the first nerds-feather roundtable (albeit with only two participants and without any physical table, let along one that is round), Philippe and the G are going to discuss those big, splashy summer events Marvel and DC love so much, and talk about what works and what doesn't. See the G's opening salvo here, and Philippe's first response here. 

Philippe, you make a compelling argument, but I'm going to suggest that this is only part of the problem. In honor of Comic Book Guy, let's call it:

Problem the First 

To recap, you argue that: 1) summer comics events are too obsessed with getting the reader to buy every tie-in; while 2) the main series loses its own narrative structure as it tries to integrate these stories; and 3) the tie-in series require too much background knowledge of the current narrative arc, outside the narrative arc of the summer event. Taken together, this leads to a frustrating, irksome and expensive reading experience.
I am lodging my complaint on the internets
I can think of a few summer crossover events that played out exactly like this. FINAL CRISIS is, I think, the most egregious offender. I remember a section where suddenly Superman is doing something very important in space, and you have absolutely no idea what it is or why it matters. Turns out, that story was being told in the SUPERMAN BEYOND tie-in. Then it happens again, and you need to have read the LEGION OF 3 WORLDS tie-in to get it...only thing was, delays meant this tie-in ended considerably after the main series. This guy spells it out the problem in more detail:
The biggest, most sinful affront to an event is when necessary plot points are in another book. Final Crisis does this in spades. Okay, to understand who the Tattooed Man is and why he’s gone to the Hall of Justice to help the heroes (Tattooed Man is a villain after all), you probably needed to read Final Crisis: Submit. It’s not even that great of a book, and it could have been explained in less than a page of exposition. But the biggest gripe I have is the 3-D two-part story Final Crisis: Superman Beyond. Each issue came laced with acid. If you lick a page, all you have to do is throw on those 3-D glasses and let Grant Morrison blow your mind. The idea of the book is actually quite brilliant, but the gripe comes in is if I didn’t want to read that book? If all I wanted to read was Final Crisis proper, I would have been screwed. I would have no idea who the shoehorned big bad of Final Crisis was if I didn’t read Superman Beyond. Why couldn’t the main event series be eight or nine parts long instead of requiring a tie-in to understand the end battle? Why don’t people, when so many bitch and moan about tie-ins to events, call DC on their shenanigans with Superman Beyond? Forget how unbelievably confusing the final issue of Final Crisis is (yes, I freakin’ know “time is broken”… I’m just saying nothing is actually explained and “time is broken” is about as shitty of an excuse for nonsensical conclusions as it comes), my biggest problem was actually the necessity of a tie-in to explain the sudden appearance of a vampiric Monitor that not once appeared in the event series proper.
So yeah, I totally agree with you. That said, I don't think it's the only problem summer crossover events have, nor do I think it affects all of them similarly. So, on to:

Problem the Second

Take DC's BLACKEST NIGHT or Marvel's SECRET INVASION, for example. You don't actually need to read the tie-ins to get everything you need from the narrative arc. Unfortunately, you don't actually need to read anything beyond the first and last issues of the series either. So if Problem the First breaks down to Marvel or DC saying "we've got this story and need 36 issues to tell it, and you have to buy all of them," then Problem the Second breaks down to "we've got this story and need 36 issues to te--oh **** we just told the whole ****ing thing in issue 1." Only, readers don't know this yet, so they inevitably keep buying the main series, and possibly the tie-ins too, even though absolutely nothing happens except for a bunch of repetitive battles that do exactly zilch to develop the story.

No repetitive battles shall escape my sight
To cite an example, in BLACKEST NIGHT, you have the Black Lanterns arrival on Earth in issue 1, followed by one fight after another where a dead character re-emerges as a Black Lantern to fight a living character. Ostensibly, the purpose of this was to highlight haunting episodes from these characters' backstories, but in the end it was just repetitive and grew less interesting with each issue. Skip straight to the conclusion, and you miss very little.

ARG, what could have been...
While that was a big disappointment, SECRET INVASION was worse. Why? Because the idea of shapeshifting aliens invading Earth absolutely begs to be treated as a paranoid thriller. There could have been infiltrations, sabotage, inklings among the real Superheroes that certain of their fellows were up to no good, more heroes and villains replaced by Skrulls, an investigation which revealed the dastardly Skrull plan and then--and only then--a climactic battle to save Earth. That would have been AWESOME. But is that what we got? No. We got all of that in issue one, followed by battles battles battles battles. Skip straight to the conclusion, and you miss absolutely nothing.

Problem the Third

If some crossover events empty the clip in issue one, others find themselves needing to resolve a slow-building story too quickly. CIVIL WAR comes to mind here. I actually really liked the first five issues: the story was good, it was well-paced and it was clear just from the main series why it all mattered. Everything looked good up to this point. Then Mark Millar had to two issues to end things, and in the rush, things started to come apart, most egregiously in the sudden, abrupt and unsatisfying ending. Given the nature of the narrative arc, I see no reason why this couldn't have been a year-long, 12-issue series. It should have been. But that would have screwed up Marvel's plans for THE INITIATIVE and the set-up for SECRET INVASION. (Oh wait...that sucked? Sorry Mark Millar!)

It was over too soon
This is the essence of Problem the Third, that summer crossover events aren't generally conceived of as stories told for the sake of telling good stories, but rather as stories told in order to set up universe-wide reboots that last exactly as long as it takes to get to the next summer crossover event.  I mourn for CIVIL WAR, because within its pretty good body beats the heart of a very, very good story.


Well, there's my rant to complement yours. Now I'd like to change direction somewhat, and ask what, if any, summer crossover events have gotten it right? What would it take for a summer event crossover to get it right?