Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Event Comics and the WTF Moment

The big event comic book series.  

In comic books, its the big epic story that brings together a bunch of heroes to kick the butt of some particularly intractable problem. It's usually massive in scale, probably cosmic or supernatural in nature. And the same tag line for each of these events remains virtually the same: 

"And NOTHING will ever be the same AGAIN!"  

The key to a big event comic is that at some point before the end, perhaps midway through, something happens that ratchets up the stakes of the series to date. If you thought things were bad or weird when this event series got started, things just took a turn for the WTF. 

WTF. What the fuck. If played right, you can't believe the writer just did something but damn it was cool and you can't believe something like that was never done before. If played wrong, you can't believe the writer just did something and it's not cool and there's a damn good reason why it wasn't done before.  

The original big line wide crossover that gave birth to the modern event comic book was Crisis On Infinite Earths from DC Comics. The big deal was that the multiverse was dying. Multiple Earths and their surrounding universes were being picked off one by one. The idea was that at the end of it all, there would be only 1 Earth and 1 DC Universe. But how serious was DC about getting to that point? For the first 6 issues, Crisis presented a number of minor heroes being killed off. But even with this event being new to comics, it was clear that some of these characters were cannon fodder. It was with issue #7 that we knew the creators of this series meant business. 

In issue #7, Supergirl died. 

Supergirl? Dead? WTF?  

And then, just to really screw with our heads, they did it again the next issue with the death of the Flash.  The Flash, the character that launched the Silver Age of comic books, who made super heroes cool again...died! 

Really, WTF?  

Nobody expected DC to pull the plug on two long running characters in their line up. Yes, sales of their solo series were moribund at best but they were still on the merchandising. But the stakes were that high for Crisis and both characters gave their lives in keeping with their established heroic natures.  

Since then, big crossover events at DC and Marvel look for that WTF moment. Sometimes these moments are still cool. They shock the reader but in a good way. The problem is these moments are achieved at the expense of character development. The shocking development is not seen as a positive.  

In the lead up to DC's Infinite Crisis in 2005, Justice League benefactor Maxwell Lord is revealed to be a bad guy and straight up murders Blue Beetle. OK, that made for a really shocking WTF moment. It also ran counter to everything that had been established about Maxwell Lord in all his prior appearances.  

Marvel's first Civil War series was filled with all sorts of WTF moments, all at the expense of established character traits. The most egregious was Spider-Man unmasking himself as Peter Parker on live TV. Really? WTF? 

The most recent version of Civil War has the Marvel heroes divided over a character who has the ability to predict the future. Apparently he has predicted that Bruce Banner is going to Hulk-out and destroy a bunch of super heroes. So Hawkeye decides to take preemptive action and put an arrow through Banner's brain. 

Hawkeye killed Bruce Banner? WTF? No one saw that coming, right? Right because Hawkeye isn't a guy who would just straight up murder a guy. It's not in his character. But who cares? It makes for a very shocking moment and raises the stakes. What the hell could possibly happen next? Better buy Civil War II#4 and find out! 

In full disclosure, no, I'm not reading Civil War II. The above is taken from what I've read of others who have read the book. People who know more about Marvel Comics than I are shocked but not in a good way. 

I know there is a lot of pressure to deliver the big WOW moments in an event comic book and it gets harder to do. But such moments should not come at the expense of character development. Yes, they are comic book characters, words and pictures on a page. But if we're not invested in the reality on the printed page through character development, we're not invested to keep putting our money down for the privilege of undervalued shocks.  

And that's that on that subject. Thanks for popping by. Another post is on the way tomorrow. Until then, remember to be good to one another.  


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