You know what I like? Event comics. But real comic fans shouldn’t like event comics; a real fan should recognize them for cheap marketing ploys that emphasize flash over story, continuity, character and good taste.
An event being defined here as a cross-over, double-sized issue, or spin off one-shot or mini-series or maxi-series. There are other marketing ploys – cover variants, bonus swag, change of creators, renumbering, etc, but for my purposes I’m not calling them events.
So popular wisdom often states that folks get burnt out by events. And that customers have a fixed pool of money to spend on comics so while an event might elevate the event comics it comes at the expense of other comics – often by the same publisher.
But it seems that they do indeed sell comics. So while they may go in and out of style, we can be assured that sooner or later they will always come back into style.
Anyways, I like them. Some of my favorite comics as a child were some of the cross-overs I read – mostly JSA/JLA/All-Star Squadron Crisis issues. Although they pale in scope to many of the events which followed.
Good Events vs. Bad Events
Here I think are some ways to distinguish a good event from a bad-one.
1) The event should matter. I talked about the illusion of change before. In events, some change to the status quo should arise. This is something the main publisher are mostly doing pretty well these days. But there are drawbacks – the JLA series has been doing ‘adapting to the new status quo’ issues for the past two years. It seems to have not actually told any stories.
2) It shouldn’t go on too long. In the past five years there have been several 52 issue weekly events and several 7 or 8 issue monthly events (with a hoard of tie-ins and delays). Some of the best have been the reverse – four issue series like Anhilation that were quickly done. It is tough to maintain a fever pitch of interest for a whole year.
3) Tie-Ins should make sense. The ‘red sky’ issue is a trope from one of the original big cross-overs. It refers to titles that indicated that they were part of the event, but which actually only showed by by having a scene where the cast noticed the sky was red.
4) The event should arise from something going on in the core series of the event. The reverse is the event just takes over the title for the duration of the event, pausing ongoing plots, which are then resumed when the event is over. It can be especially hard for tie-ins to have this make sense. Last year the great fables cross-over interrupted the normal Fables title to resolve the big plots of the Jack of Fables title. These plots basically just derailed Fables for 3 months. Grr.
5) There should be time between events. If my first suggestion is followed let’s have time to explore the changes resulting from the event.
6) Key aspects of the event should happen in the event. This might be clear from examples – Batman didn’t actually die in Batman R.I.P – not until next month in Final Crisis. Captain America didn’t die in Civil War instead he died a month later in a denouement issue in Cap’s own title.
7) Using death to underline that the event is important sucks. Supergirl and Flash bought it in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Nearly every cross-over since has had to compare to that. And most often the death seems like a stunt instead of a valid consequence of the story. As an editor I’m not sure how I’d guide a writer, but as a reader I know when it annoys me. Unfortunately both Johns and Bendis have this in their back pocket as normal tools.
In the last few years many of my suggestions are being followed. Other than #2 and #7.
One of the neatest aspects of an event it that it gives the opportunity to explore shared world in the big publishers comics universe. An opportunity for characters that normally exist within their own continuities to interact with the other characters.
It can be tricky to setup, but seeing a double page spread of all the heroes and all the villains facing off against one another can be awesome. Lump in the throat stuff – if you can get worked up by comics. Or having Superman or Thor show up as the cavalry in the nick of time? It has been done before, but if it doesn’t happen every month it can still work.
Also a status quo change can have a line wide effect. That can be really invigorating. Even though at some point we know that such a ubiquitous change will need to be reversed.
I like what I like. I’m a liker, but a well run event often highlights some of the strengths that can only be done in the comic book worlds that exist in publishers shared worlds and serialized stories. And it would be nice if marketing never impacted story, but this is reality and sometimes that will happen. When it does, it can be done well and it can end up being a win-win for both the publisher and the readers.