An Event to Unremember

It’s with a heavy heart that I inform you that Marvel and I are going through a bit of a rough patch. We need some space to figure out if we can make this relationship work. If I’m honest about it, the problems go as far back as 2005, when Marvel released a huge, company-wide story dubbed House of M, a type of uber-story that is known in the industry as an “Event.”

On the surface, Events appear to be good news for fanboys and editors alike.

An “Event” is a story that spans all the flagship titles of Marvel (i.e. X-men, Spider-Man, The Avengers, etc). Each individual title shares a portion of the action relating to the Event, and a stand-alone miniseries does the bulk of the story telling for the main plot.

Since 2005, Marvel has churned out Event after Event, almost annually. On the surface, Events appear to be good news for fanboys and editors alike. Telling new, intrepid tales of derring-do while simultaneously boosting sales – it’s win/win! Unfortunately, it’s not that perfect a picture. Comic books are only published at the rate of one issue per month and events take anywhere from two to six months to wrap up. Factor in prologue and aftermath issues to bookend the plot, and we’re looking at the better part of a year. It hampers a writer’s ability to focus on the plot of any one title for long. One day, Spider-man is stopping Doctor Octopus from knocking over a bank, when along comes an Event and Spidey’s suddenly tangling with shape-shifting aliens invading the planet. Rather abruptly, the Event has hijacked the story before we learn why Doc Ock was robbing a bank in the first place. Perhaps the villain was merely supporting his crippling kolache addiction. We may never know.

Still, these mega-comics are hard to ignore. Events are marketed to be tantalizing to readers, often promising to drastically shake up the Marvel Universe. In the last six years, it’s been rare that an ad for an upcoming comic book that didn’t employ phrases like “NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME” or “THE ISSUE THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING…FOREVER!!!” Everything is EXTREME and TO THE MAX! I’m starting to worry that the editorial staff at Marvel are being fed nothing than Slim Jims and Mountain Dew.

Marvel wasn’t always like this. Just look at the scientific breakthrough of harnessing the energy of pure awesome and converting it to film (otherwise known as any Marvel movie made since 2008’s Iron Man). Marvel Studios’ films demonstrate a masterful balance of pulse-pounding action and special effects with rich, original stories housing characters so believably real, we want buy these masked men a beer once the credits roll. This success stems from Marvel Studios paring down the normally gargantuan scope of the comics. Only the essence of the characters, their best parts, makes it to the big screen. Also, Marvel concentrates on one character, one story, and one film at a time. The painstaking attention to detail, building a palpable and engaging environment, convincing us to care about the purely fictional people like Thor or Steve Rogers – these are cornerstones of consummate storytelling.

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Marvel served this up page after page, issue after issue. But fair warning – if you are a fan of the motion pictures planning to pick up a comic book to get more of the same, that ship may have already sailed. Not because Events are shoddily produced; the dilemma comes from the exclusive nature of Events. Try picking up a random issue of the recently completed Event, Fear Itself. You may find yourself just lost enough for your loved ones to start posting your picture on the back of milk cartons.

Unlike most books tied into Events, Deadpool doesn’t require the reader to have majored in Comic Book History.

I tried explaining the Marvel Event Civil War to my (very real, very non-inflatable) girlfriend. I got about ten minutes in before she threatened to leave me if I didn’t stop talking. And my girlfriend is actually an avid fan of Deadpool. Unlike most books tied into Events, Deadpool doesn’t require the reader to have majored in Comic Book History. She can pick up any issue, and instantly get sucked in by the off-the-wall humor and gory action. Deadpool wears its creative heart on its sleeve; the writing is geared toward entertaining the reader with the character’s antics rather than his muddled, mysterious past. Events tend to lose sight of the fact that a comic-book novice has to contend with half a century of continuity.

Perhaps the proliferation of super-sized escapades boils down to Marvel’s reaction to a stagnant market. Let’s face it: The internet has made it all too easy to pirate comics. Also, with the various formats from animated shows to videogames to movies, the gateway to Marvel no longer relies on comics; Events could simply be the most efficient method of squeezing a profit from the page these days. Don’t count out the possibility of supply and demand, either. Despite message boards filled with vitriol decrying the industry, Marvel may have their finger on the market’s pulse. After all, the internet can’t be flooded with tales of disappointment suffered at the hands of Marvel, unless somebody keeps buying the books month after month. Between satisfying an audience and raking in enough cash to keep the lights on, Marvel may be guilty of nothing more than finding a niche.

The technical and economic aspects of Marvel Comics are all a matter of formulas and equations and staying in the black. What can’t be tabulated so easily, however, is the strongest (albeit cheesiest) ingredient of the recipe for comic-book greatness: heart. Marvel Comics has a proud tradition of not so much writing about superheroes as writing about regular folk whose job just happens to be fighting crime. Spider-Man constantly scrounged for the rent. Iron Man struggled with alcoholism. These characters reminded us of people we knew. Often, they reminded us of the people we saw in the mirror, everyday. I’ll never forget the issue where Nightcrawler-the furry, blue, swash-buckling demon priest of the X-men-got the girl. As a teenaged nerd, nothing was more vindicating than reading about my favorite outcast sweeping the damsel in distress off her feet.

Spider-Man or Iron Man still exist, but these days they feel like little more than action figures with trademark action phrases. The spotlight has fallen away from each individual hero and how they relate to the world. They’re too bogged down saving the world (again) from some unstoppable malevolent force (yes, another one) that can only be defeated by making the ultimate sacrifice (insert gasp here)! In all the excitement, Marvel forgot to actually write in characters. Why should you care if Thor lives or dies while saving the world, if you don’t care about Thor?

Why should you care if Thor lives or dies while saving the world, if you don’t care about Thor?

The company has lost touch with the originality that set them apart. What’s worse is that whatever is making Events work now, will slowly render these stories obsolete. Events were originally introduced in the 1940s, and gained popularity in the 1980s. Events were amazing, because from the format to the content, these were stories fans had never seen before. Following the debut of the Event, readers would wait years until publishers like Marvel or DC would release another such all-encompassing harrowing tale. You never knew when you as a fan would the chance to partake in one again. But the more there is of any one commodity, the less valuable the commodity in turn becomes. Diamonds aren’t priceless because you can stumble over them on your way through the parking lot. If the trend of never-ending, earth-shattering Events continues, I’m worried that pretty soon Marvel won’t have any gems left.

Love them or loathe them, Events are here to stay for awhile. Maybe Events represent the comics for a new generation. Maybe this approach to comics will eventually fade into obscurity. Or maybe they’ll luck out, and the 2012 zombie apocalypse will draw attention away from the current comic book gold standard. Whatever the case the trend is very much set, with no sign of slowing. But in the meantime, Marvel continues to provide me with one heck of a cliffhanger. To see, month after month, if they change their mind.

Long time comic enthusiast, Stephen Vega is a fan all things awesome from videogames to movies to robot unicorns.

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