Tuesday, July 3, 2012

CONVERSATION: Big Summer Comic Events IV

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. Earlier entries are herehere, and here.

At the outset, I should inform my gentle reader that the criticisms below are directed largely at Marvel crossover events. I have read the main DC crossovers -- Crisis on Infinite Earths, Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis -- but, asI have never been much of a DC fan, they left little impression on me. I was a Marvel fan as a nerdy lad, and I continue to be one as an adult nerd.

This post draws largely on three particular Marvel events of the last decade: Civil War, World War Hulk, and Secret Invasion. I focus on these three for two reasons. First, these storylines both brought me back into reading superhero comics after a decade-long hiatus and they turned me off of them for the next couple of years. Second, I reread them last week.

Finally, I am purposely not addressing the X-comic events, which have a very different dynamic and history. Plus, House of M was pretty good.

In this post, I want to focus on three rather annoying aspects of crossover events: the fight-centric storylines; the resulting inconsequential deaths; and poor endings.


The basic plot of a crossover mini-series is as follows. Something happens to force the superheroes to either turn against one another or to unite. Then there’s a big fight scene which ends without resolution. The superheroes retreat and lick their wounds. Some marginal development occurs. This is followed by the big fight. Then it all ends -- which I’ll deal with below.

The problem with these big fight scenes is that they never live up to expectations. The idea of all the superheroes and supervillains in a massive brawl sounds awesome. But it almost never is. What we usually get is a lot of splash pages with heroes and villains grimacing, posing, throwing punches, firing blasts, etc. All to little effect. No one really gets hurt, no one is felled by a blow or by an optic blast. They just pose and grimace some more. And Spidey says something that's not very funny.

In these huge battles, there’s often little attention paid to the dynamic of the fight. Actual action sequences are sacrificed in order to fill pages of the book with as many characters as possible. So, we’re left with a mess, sometimes an artistically pleasing mess, but almost never enjoyable as an action sequence.


We shouldn’t necessarily blame the writers and artists for this. Given the limited number of pages they have and the large number of heroes they’re expected to include, it would take a genius on the level of an Alan Moore-Will Eisner love child to pull off a fight sequence on this scale. 

Inconsequential Deaths

Yes, Captain America “died” in the aftermath of Civil War. And yes, the Hulk was seemingly no more at the end of World War Hulk. But we all knew they'd be back. No superhero really ever dies. (Heroes Reborn, anybody?)

Well, some superheroes do die. The crappy ones. Goliath died. The Wasp died. And nobody cared. Because these characters don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

“Hold on”, you say. “The Wasp was a founding member of the Avengers.” So what? She never got her own series. Hell, she never even got a signature costume.

The point is that you can kill off a superhero in a crossover, so long as they are a minor player or someone who hasn’t done much since the seventies.

Even in comics, the black guy dies first

Under these conditions, deaths are still rare. Consider all the terrible heroes from the seventies that Brian Michael Bendis resurrected during the last decade. Civil War could have been a massacre! They could’ve killed off Spider-Woman or the Iron Fist and no one would have cared. Well, no one except for Bendis. And, since he was writing many of these crossover stories -- and apparently had significant influence over the Marvel editorial division -- he didn’t kill them off. 

The unwillingness to kill heroes is the main reason why World War Hulk sucked. Since the Hulk was targeting the big names of the Marvel Universe there was no real drama or tension in the story. The reader never worried about whether or not Reed Richards and Tony Stark would die. The only question was: How are they not going to die?

Deus Ex Machina

There’s a mighty narrative imbalance inherent to crossover events: Huge premises, weak resolutions. A couple of civilians tackle Captain America so he gives up the war. Tony Stark uses a satellite laser to disable the Hulk. Reed Richards invents a gizmo that can tell Skrull from human. Fin.

I call bullshit. Why didn’t Stark use his nifty satellite weaponry before the Hulk kicked the crap out of the heroes and leveled much of Manhattan? Can’t use a nuke against the Hulk because it will only make him madder. But a laser fired from space? Sure why not.

And Reed Richards comes out of a torture-induced coma and immediately devises the ultimate in anti-Skrull tech. Just in the nick of time! It takes me an hour to recover from a nice nap. Then again, no one calls me Mr. Fantastic.

And the Civil War’s ending just sucked. Terribly.

Save Iron Man! He's the only one making good movies!

‘Nuff said, bitches.