Sunday, September 19, 2010

Op/Ed: Event After Event, Event After Event, We Stuck No Breath or Motion

Are we ever truly free from events? Sometimes, it really doesn't feel like it, especially right now. After Siege, Marvel said "we're not doing major events for a while, but you might see smaller scale events among families of titles". At the time, it sounded relatively appealing, as long as it wasn't a constant thing, but it quickly became apparent that things were actually the same as ever and arguably much worse.

At the moment, Shadowland currently has the street level heroes wrapped up in an event, one that I hear isn't exactly all that hot. Chaos War is on the way. Both have a plethora of tie-ins; and from the sound of it, more is on the way. No, we're not dealing with major scale events at the moment, but things are about as bad as ever and I'm starting to have the feeling that the folks at Marvel just don't get it.

It was asked what fans thought about the smaller scale events; surprise, surprise, the fans pretty much felt that things were worse than ever with several different events. Well, Marvel responded and pretty much went on the defensive, bringing up that they didn't feel that the smaller events equaled the large ones they used to do and so on. Also, it's again pointed out that you don't need to read all the tie-ins and that part of fans problem is that they feel like they have to get them all. Not only did said answers kind of make asking the fans their opinion seem pointless - as did the later to come "vote with your wallets instead of your mouths" bit elsewhere - but it felt like they didn't really grasp what they were doing or why it was as bad. Not to mention there seemed to be a disconnect with what exactly constitutes an "event"; they may be big stories, but I'm pretty sure the "Punishment" storyline with Punisher and Daken or "Three" in Fantastic Four aren't events. If anything, big stories in the ongoings is probably what they should be doing to start with.

Even if you look at it from a basic standpoint, the problems pretty obvious. Sure, it ain't one huge event, but two to three smaller ones will add up to that level. So here we have Shadowland, which has multiple tie-ins and has taken over more than a few events. That ends the same month Chaos War starts, which embroils a whole new sect of Marvel in a crossover. So on, so forth. It perpetuates an event mode for certain parts of the line; and honestly, there's a lot of potential for this to get out of hand. Besides which, I'm pretty sure neither needed to be a big crossover with eight or nine tie-ins. It just seems like it never ends.

But the big trouble, to me, is that it feels like it hurts otherwise excellent ideas in the long run.

Look, I'll level here. I don't do events, for the most part. Especially not Marvel events. I've felt like they've been terrible for the better part of this decade. Hell, the only event with a spot for the trade on my bookshelf is Infinity Gauntlet, an event from over twenty years ago. I've gotten excited for my fair share, sure, but one of the best parts about being a tradewaiter is that I'll have a pretty good idea way ahead of time as to whether something is a pile of crap or not. As you've likely guessed, with Marvel events, this is all the time, pretty much. So I end up not buying them; if I read them, it'll be because of the library on down in the city and nine times out of ten I find I made the right choice in skipping it.

So the events suck; so what, right? Well here's the problem. The tie-ins? Never gonna escape them. They've got the branding, they often have big references or ties to things in the event and - for better or worse - they're not going to escape it. If an event sucks, who the hell is really going to want to read the tie-ins, good or not? You see the problem; and no matter how good a tie-in story may be, it's in service to the larger story. If that larger story is a dud, it's screwed.

I can only speak for myself - I'm only one guy, after all, and not representative of the entire readership - but event branding can be an outright turn-off. Especially if the associated event is a pile of crap. For example, I've not read a lick of Incredible Hercules, at least not yet. It's gotten gobs of praise, the scans I've seen have made me want it and it sounds like a good time. But those goddamn tie-ins have kept me away; I'm only now considering sucking it up and just diving in. Literally every other story arc of Incredible Hercules is a tie-in to some larger event. The launch was a tie-in to World War Hulk, then after one story arc there was a Secret Invasion tie-in, then after one more it was Dark Reign, then after one more the series closed out with the Assault on New Olympus mini-event, before we had a story arc in mini form before the coming Chaos War event. Maybe it's just me, but that is not very attractive to me as a reader and it's a lot of why I've skipped Incredible Herc thus far; I want to read about Herc's adventures, but it seems like every other one is roped into some event.

Can you imagine if Walt Simonsons Thor run had an event tie-in every other story? That's another thing. I don't think it's coincidence that it's the great runs on ongoings that are remembered far into the future. Someone is probably going to talk about something like Peter David's Hulk down the road more than most events. Hell, can anyone even fondly remember most events? Say the 90's for example. Didn't think so. So in favor of runs that are like building blocks - like how Daredevil's had ten years solid of long runs by creators before Shadowland derailed him - we go to lots of events, only on a small scale. Great plan guys; I'll be over here reading something else.

The sames likely to go for other projects. There's a Power Man mini tying into Shadowland. Whereas I might otherwise be interested in it, if only because of the creative team, I doubt I'm going to try it. Jeff Parkers Thunderbolts sounds like a good read, but come trade time, I'm going to be wary, because it seems like it's always either crossing over with something or tying into an event (hello, Shadowland tie-in). Probably going to pass on Dead Avengers (Chaos War). This is just what I can think of. It's even more ridiculous when you see Thanos Imperitive has the right idea and is running alongside these events.

Street signs read anywhere, anytime. Can you stop the bus? This is where I wanna get off.

To tell the truth, this is also part of why I don't read much Marvel. Seems like whenever I see something interesting to me over there, it's tied into something. Pretty annoying. Though it's not like DC doesn't do it; I'm convinced the overt ties to Infinite Crisis in the latter half of Batman: Under the Hood are why it's not a modern classic of a Batman story.

I think another problem with it is that the readership in general starts to become ever more reliant on events. After all, they're these big blockbuster storylines designed to at least try and thrill. When you've got big hyped events left, right and center, it's kind of hard to see that the regular titles might have a story just as big and probably even better, only with a difference in scope. Then comes the question of "what's next". After all, if you do big, then you need to do bigger and bigger. Eventually, going back to just stories in ongoings without the huge stakes seems less exciting.

Unfortunately, you can probably argue that this has already happened. Imagine my dismay when IGN's Comics crew made it pretty clear they wanted major events back. Something they mentioned that was damn near depressing was apathy for things that were going on, which mirrored a lack of a huge event. Of course, they then went on to argue their case, but that was the point that stuck with me. Despite quality books left, right and center, the lack of a huge event hit their enthusiasm for comics. Granted, when done well, an event comic is a beautiful thing, but how often does that happen?

Is that what we've come to now? Is that what comics have come to? If there isn't a huge event, it feels slow and nothing is exciting? Jesus Christ guys. How absolutely friggin' depressing. It's like comics have become the movie industry; if there isn't a huge, blockbuster event at the center of the summer, no one cares and everything's a failure.

This is what event comics have slowly done to the market and the higher ups just don't get it. So it's probably a matter of time before they come back; and really, the only change will be it going back to one big one instead of a couple smaller ones. Sales have slipped and as Tom Breevort points out, fans are idiots who talk a good game but get roped into the events every time while ignoring most of the other stuff unless it has a nifty banner. He's right to point it out; fans, after all, often have little sense come time to cash out but big mouths. Meantime, come trade time a lot of interesting series are saddled with tie-ins that lose relevance over time.

What a god damn shame.


  1. The thing that strikes me most about the different use of events between DC and Marvel is that at Marvel, lately they've been really used to shake up the status quo.

    I've been reading comics for a long time, and this big annual event is nothing new. It was huge during the 80's and 90's. It wasn't quite as big during the early 2000's. But it's back in a big way now. But I can remember Legends and Armageddon at DC, and the Infinity Gems stuff at Marvel.

    I think events are here to stay for a while. But at least for Marvel, they really seem to usher in the next stage of story telling. Whereas at DC, its just a bump in the road, and it doesn't really effect the main titles.

  2. There's an interesting point to be made about which company gets it right.

    With Marvel, what you describe is actually why I think they don't understand how to really do them. Most Marvel events, especially this past decade, are what Matches of Iceberg Lounge would call "purpose stories"; they're concerned with getting from point A to the interesting status quo at point B without much regard for the road to get there. Telling a good story is incidental. I think that's a large part of why most Marvel events are quickly forgotten once the status quo they ushered is gone (with the exception of Civil War for some damn reason). What I'm trying to say is that Marvel events pretty much lead to very interesting status quo's, but don't hold up on their own.

    DC seems primarily concerned with telling a story. Whether they succeed or not is up to each person to decide, but there's much more "meat" to their events on the whole, especially this past decade. Marvel events tend to boil down to nothing more than a big fight; DC seems to want to present a genuine story that won't be forgotten a couple years down the road. Of course, there isn't as much in the way of status quo altering events, for the most part.

    I think what I'm most worried about is the over-relience on them. When the August sales numbers came in, people were panicking. Not one title breached a hundred thousand oh my god the sky is falling. Of course... there wasn't an event there to prop the whole shebang up from either company. But I guess doom and gloom trumps sense. This is what I'm afraid of; the market is going to become too reliant on events for keeping themselves aloft. You could argue it's already that way.