I realise this site has been covering comics quite a lot recently, and it’s probably because recently, I’ve had a lot of thoughts about them as a medium. I would start writing about other things soon, but it’s mostly unlikely. Comics have a weird way of getting to me, frustrating me, and yet at the same time, I can’t get away. A perfect example is the comic book ‘event’.
For those who don’t know what a comic event is, here’s a brief run down. Marvel and DC have their own separate Universes. DC’s has Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and all their other heroes knocking about, Marvel’s has Captain America, Avengers, X-Men etc…and whilst each of these character’s occupies separate titles, they exist simultaneously in a world-spanning continuity. Usually, once a year these characters will crossover into a massive epic series involving some huge worldwide threat. This is the event comic.
Probably the most famous one to date (certainly for a non-comic reading audience) is Civil War, Marvel’s superhero on superhero battle royale.
There are always indicators that you’re reading an event comic. If a major character dies, then you’re reading an event comic (see Captain America in Civil War, Batman in Final Crisis, Wasp in Secret Invasion). If major character’s do something that changes everything ever, then you’re reading an event comic (see Spiderman unmasking in Civil War, Batman using a gun in Final Crisis, Wolverine regaining his memory in House of M).
This all goes back to DC comics. In 1985 they had a problem, so many of their series didn’t make any sense when read alongside each other. They had Superboy in one comic, and Superman in another, wait, no, they had two Supermen. It was a nightmare. What they wanted was to clean things up, wipe away excess characters and start things fresh. What they came up with was Crisis on Infinite Earths, a twelve part crossover featuring nigh on all of their characters, fighting an alien god-like creature called The Anti-Monitor. It had all the hallmarks of a modern crossover, Supergirl dies, characters discover the multiverse and at the end, nothing was ever the same again.
Of course, DC was only doing this to clean up their stories, to make things more accessible. It was less a marketing ploy, more a company reshuffle. Except it sold well. Very, very well.
And why wouldn’t it? Crisis was a great story, a blockbuster tale of heroes and villains, plus space, lots of space. It was beautifully drawn by George Perez. More importantly though, you could go in without any prior knowledge and when you reached the end, you had an actual ending. There was no to be continued, no sequel. It was its own beast.
Flash forward to today and let’s look at Marvel’s Secret Invasion crossover.
Brian Michael Bendis came on board Marvel and almost immediately became one of their most popular writers. He took the reigns on Ultimate Spiderman, Daredevil and most importantly The Avengers (retitled New Avengers). His New Avengers series ran for ages (just over 60 issues for Vol 1, and still going on Vol 2) and in issue 31, he had former Daredevil lover Elektra murdered. When her body hits the ground, it’s not her anymore, but a Skrull. A shapeshifting alien race. Now there’s the chance that anyone could be a Skrull. Anyone on earth…
Secret Invasion sees the Skrull’s plans revealed (destroy stuff? I’m not too sure) and finds them invade the world (New York). Only it’s not quite as simple as that. The main series, Secret Invasion was 8 issues long, and told the main story (fight, fight, fight..stuff?). However, if you wanted to know what was actually going on, you had to pick up what the industry calls “tie-in” issues. And what series tied in to Secret Invasion? Only every single Marvel title out there.
In fact, if you count them up, it’s nearly 100 comics to tell the story. That’s around 26 collections.
Secret Invasion ends with the Skrulls defeated by a single gunshot – from Norman Osbourne (former Green Goblin), resulting in him being made head of S.H.I.E.L.D and leading into yet another series of tie-in issues under the banner Dark Reign.
See, event comics now are no longer about telling a story. They no longer have beginnings or ends. They are all the middle of something. Secret Invasion began way back at the start of Bendis’ Avengers writing, and if you hadn’t been reading it, you were a bit screwed. It lead into Dark Reign which lead into Siege which lead into The Heroic Age which lead into Fear Itself which lead into The Shattering which lead into Avengers VS X-Men which is where we are now.
It’s no longer a way of cleaning up continuity, or telling a great story. It’s a marketing tool. And those major characters who die? Fear Itself ended with the whole of Paris being reduced to stone (including its population), Thor died, and Captain America (at that moment, Bucky) died. By the end? Odin had given everyone in Paris their life back, Thor wasn’t really dead, and neither was Bucky. So no lasting change anymore either.
There are exceptions of course, Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis was delirious fun, and X-Men story Messiah Complex. But in essence now, event comics are the summer blockbusters of the comic book world. The big, bloated movies that everyone will flock and see just because, and that don’t deserve what you throw at them.