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Cronin Theory of Comics – “Avoid the Big Event”

This really has to do, I think, with the reason why so many writers are doing shorter runs on books nowadays.

When you look back at the “classic” storylines, you are likely to rememeber the “Big Event.”

Heck, DC Comics, in its trade paperback department, has pretty much acted like they did not have any comic published after 1970 and before 1994, and yet they still have trades for both “The Great Darkness Saga” and “The Judas Contract.”

Because those both were “Big Events.”

So I can understand the impetus of current writers to want to each try to write the “Big Event” during their run on a title.

The reason, though, why this coincides with shorter runs is because, in my opinion, if you want to have a sustained impressive run on a comic book, you CAN’T have a “Big Event.”

This is because, if you spend all your time leading up to a particular story, that story might be excellent, and you may always be remembered for it…but once that story is over, there really isn’t anywhere else to go.

For instance, after Elektra was killed in #181, Daredevil was still an excellent comic book. However, when you reread the run, Miller is clearly just treading water after #181, as he has HAD his ending…but the book still kept going.

Byrne and Simonson avoided this by not HAVING any one “big event” during their Fantastic Four and Thor runs. There were memorable issues, to be sure, but no one overarching story (except, perhaps, for Simonson’s last issue of Thor).

Other examples of when the big event just killed any momentum on a run.

1. The Judas Contract – People can rattle off so many classic Teen Titans stories PRE-Judas Contract. How many POST?

2. The Great Darkness Saga – Giffen has even commented that he and Levitz had basically peaked early, and Giffen specifically mocked the stories they followed up the Saga with.

3. Terminal Velocity – Waid had already dulled his momentum with the Return of Barry Allen, but Terminal Velocity just finished it. Flash #100 was, for pretty much all purposes, the END of Mark Waid’s Flash run. The fact that he managed another 40 issues after that is…well…odd.

4. Under Siege – I would still buy Avengers with Stern post-Under Siege, but let’s be honest, the title pre-Siege and post-Siege were dramatically different. And the former was much cooler than the latter.

5. Longbow Hunters – Did Grell EVER top this? Kinda weird to have your momentum killed BEFORE you start an 80-issue run. Still good stuff, but 80 issues of direction-less stuff.

6. Hawkworld – I know this was never trumped. The ongoing, in retrospect, was probably a mistake from the word go.

7. Dark Phoenix Saga- I hesitate about this one…because I think Claremont originally HAD a “Big Event” planned for X-Men #150 involving all the same characters, but that was trashed when he was forced to kill Jean in #137. However, since the X-Men under Claremont (besides a couple of interludes for Days or Future Past and God Loves, Man Kills) never really reached any major heights after this story, I guess I will tentatively count it.

8. Tony Stark’s Alcoholism – Michelinie had a really good run on Iron Man going when he went into the long Tony’s Alcoholism plot. But when the storyline finished, the rest of his run, while still good, really meandered.

9. Armor Wars – Michelinie II had the same problem. Once the major storyline was over, the plot just really meandered until he left. Some good stuff, though.

10. Pantheon War – Peter David did a pretty good job avoiding the “Big Event,” even managing to combine the Hulks without stopping any momentum, but #425 was finally the straw that broke the camel’s back. The book really meandered over the next 40 issues (not all of that was David’s fault, he also had Onslaught to deal with, plus two completely unsuitable artists in Sharp and Medina).

11. Supergirl/Buzz – Like Hawkworld and Longbow Hunters, this was an example of a book having a good storyline, finishing it…then having 60 plus issues on top of that. Even if you enjoyed Peter David’s Supergirl, I don’t think anyone would really put up much of an argument that, after the first storyline, the book really fell off big time. That’s because the first story told the tale, for the most part. Notice that there has only been one Supergirl trade (until the ridiculous “upskirt” run at the end).

12. Firestorm – Ostrander had a really good “on the run” storyline that concluded with Ronnie and a Russian fellow being merged together as a NEW Firestorm. The story really should have ended there – I think Ostrander’s run would be regarded a lot better if it did.

13. Welcome Back, Frank – I think even Ennis knew he really did not have anything left after this story, hence the recent MAX relaunch.

Anyone know of any other examples?

Of either a run that managed to avoid “Big Events” or a run whose momentum was cut short by a “Big Event”?


Bored Yesterday

May 31, 2006 at 6:25 am

Roy Thomas was finished with the Avengers after the Skrull-Kree War, then issue 100, and that was it.

moose n squirrel

May 31, 2006 at 7:48 am

The real problem here is that if you have a great story to tell, you obviously need to tell it, and back in the days before the superstar writers no one could be sure how long they’d be on a book, so it wasn’t like they could hold off and leave their best story for the end of the run. They had to write those stories while they could. These days we’re used to “hot” writers coming on to a book just to do their arc, so they can plan and pace out their stories and hold their “Big Event” for the end of their run, but the writers we’re talking about here didn’t have that luxury.

As an aside, the killing of Phoenix is undoubtedly one of the finest examples of good editorial interference. If Claremont had let Jean Grey commit genocide and then return to the X-Men to just mope around for a couple dozen issues in super-angst mode, I don’t think anyone would care nearly as much about the Dark Phoenix Saga; it would just be a neat but flawed story with a horribly anticlimactic ending.

I would add Mark Millar’s Ultimate X-Men story “Tomorrow People” to this list. He made a big splash with his openning story which featured Sentinels, Magneto, and the Savage Land. After that, the “Weapon X” story lost some steam, there was a sad Gambit story, a lackluster Proteus, a boring Hellfire Club, and a mediocre return of Magneto.

I always think of James Robinson’s Starman as the perfect template (although I think I’d give up my pinky finger if I could have had Tony Harris draw the entire run). He started with a big, dynamic action packed adventure in order to attract attention, then he told more personal character oriented stories. Every once in a while, he’d throw in something big, but it was never forced.

Bendis also did a great job avoiding the big event in Daredevil. The “outting” of Daredevil wasn’t an event. It was a sustained plot development that was allowed to progress naturally. With so many short term writers, we see a lot of events and virtually no development.

Annoyed Grunt

May 31, 2006 at 4:30 pm

I disagree with “Welcome Back, Frank’. While the Marvel Knights series that spawned after that was kind of mediocre, I enjoy some of the MAX stories far better. Born, The Cell and The End come to mind.

Right, that’s what I meant by saying it needed the MAX relaunch, BECAUSE Ennis had blown his proverbial load with “Welcome Back, Frank.” The whole rest of the Marvel Knights run was basically just regurgitating Welcome Back, Frank.

MAX went a whole other direction, to great success.

With New Teen Titans, I don’t think the problem was that Wolfman had no good ideas after the big event masterpiece, I think the problem was that the big event in question, “Judas Contract,” sucked donkey balls. I bought this trade last year to see what the big deal was, and trust me if you have no childhood nostalgia for the Wolfman/Perez Titans or no preexisting desire to really really like this book, I doubt you could enjoy it. I think Perez’s artwork was carrying this title, and I think Judas Contract was the wake-up call for people that these kids were never going to be anything else but whiny underachievers that couldn’t beat anyone but unnamed henchmen. Dark Phoenix Saga you can point to a bunch of “awesome” moments for the X-Men, like the Shiar Starjammers fight. What awesome moments did the Titans have in Judas? Crying? Getting captured repeatedly and mocked, first by Brother Blood singlehandedly, then by Deathstroke singlehandedly? The only people they beat are nameless henchmen, every major baddie gets beaten by falling rubble or something blowing up.

As far as Michilinie’s Iron Man Alcoholism saga, I skimmed through the recent trade to see what the big deal was. It was as terribly written as everything else I’ve read by Michilinie, I think it gets by because of the novelty of the protaganist in a superhero book being alcoholic. But it’s wrapped up too quickly and oversimplified like an afterschool special. Denny O’Neil handled it much better.

You can have good big events if you simply think of where you are going AFTER the big event. Japanese comics like Dragonball Z and Naruto are basically nothing but a series of big events but they work because they are done with a specific story purpose in mind, a jumping off point to an even bigger story.

I’m not sure this counts as an exception, but- Kirby/Lee, FANTASTIC FOUR, and the Galactus saga? They had some terrific stories after that (“This Man, This Monster!”, Annihilus’ debut), so the question is whether it really counted as an “event” or not. It was an event by Sixties standards, not so much modern ones.

The Galactus Trilogy definitely counts as a Big Event, in my book. Galactus was an incredibly important character to Jack Kirby, and the ensuing comics had religious themes as well as superfluous superherofare. The only reason it could be discounted is that there was no lead up to it, as there was with Darkness Saga, Teen Titans, or Dark Phoenix Saga (well, less so with Darkness Saga), but I wouldn’t discount Lee/Kirby FF after the Galactus saga, as it had the same amount of direction that the book had before, only this time with less new characters and concepts. Lee and Kirby didn’t really poop out after that point, but their standard was raised higher, in my opinion.

I can’t believe we’re forgetting one of the grandaddies of ‘event” storytelling, the Death of Gwen Stacy. Can anyone name a particularly worthwhile Gerry Conway Spider-Man issue or creation after that one? Before it, we’d gotten the introduction of Hammerhead and rather fun Hulk encounter; afterwards, we got…the Man-Wolf, the Molten Man, Mindworm, a warmed-over Harry-Goblin, and the original (and not very good) clone storyline (the latter two of which were just rehashes of the event in different guises).

Another one worth mentioning is Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America, a comic that never really had a particularly great story after issue #350 resolved the “replacement Cap” arc. There were some halfway fun bits, like the Bloodstone Hunt and such, but nothin remotely as interesting in terms fo playing with the comic’s basic concept.

This isn’t new to Cap, of course: look at the way in which Steve Engelhart lost steam rapidly after the Watergate storyline. (Though really, Cap giving up the suit can only go in one direction — backwards.) The difference is that Engelhart got off the book fairly soon afterwards and turned his energies fully to his work with the Avengers series.

Also, I must respectfully disagree regarding the Bendis Daredevil — I’d argue that it completely ran out of plot momentum (though not visual force) after “Hardcore.” Matt declared himself the Kingpin, sure…and then proceeded to do virtually nothing of import except be manipulated and thrown in jail. In the interim, we got a one-year gap during whose major change (the marriage) was undone before we’d gotten to see what the new status quo was really like, a Black Widow arc built around a gaping plot hole and a pointless resurrection, ALex Maleev getting to flex his pencil-muscles while Bendis meandered about undoing Frank Miller’s development of the Gladiator character, a weird anthology multi-parter that ended horribly (a baby demon?), and then finally a non-resolution to Matt’s problems in the Murdock Papers arc.

I suspect many here will disagree with that last one.

T: Japanese comics bear almost no similarity to Western ones. The cultural context is so starkly different that the real meaning and point of a lot of Japanese cinema, comics, literature, religion, philosophy, animation, and other cultural aspects is severely obscured to the Western viewer. The same is true for Western culture being exported to the East. That’s why Asian “knockoffs” of American ideas always seem so ridiculous to us, and why Americanized anime and manga are so completely crappy and so completely miss the point. Without a VERY serious degree in Asian Cultural Studies and Asian History, or a lifetime of living in the Asian cultural context, really getting an Asian comic book is too tall of an order for the Western mind. I’ve spent just enough time studying Asian thought to know that I don’t know dick, and neither do these Japanese beer-sipping, katana-owning, WoW-playing Miyazaki fanatics who live on the floor below me. Roundabout way of saying that comparing big events in a North American superhero comic book to big events in a Japanese comic book may not make a lick of sense.

I will argue until the day that I die that Geoff Johns’s work on FLASH just was not the same after “Blitz!” (FLASH #197-200). From the moment Hunter Zolomon was introduced, that book built to that storyline. After that storyline, the book had no direction whatsoever (‘Rogue War’? Really? I could forgive it if the Rogue War story had actually been some sort of war between rogues and not just half-a-battle before The Top messed with everyone’s minds)(Also, The Top?! Really? “The Buried Secret of Barry Allen” was STUPID. There. I said it). Scott Kolins had the right idea leaving when he did; Geoff Johns should have gone with him.

The Golden Spike

February 17, 2009 at 4:32 am

I would disagree with the Legion – there was some good stuff till just after the Baxter paper debut, with the war against the LoSV – after that, though, it just crumbled apart like so much wet cake.

Totally disagree with Levitz’s Legion. Sure “Great Darkness” was an early peak, but #300 was an amazing anniversary issue, the LSV War at the beginning of the Baxter run was strong, but so was the Sensor Girl ark, the Universo Project…I think Levitz held up fairly well until around when Giffen returned. Which is funny because I heard that was when he was going to leave originally, but he stayed on because Giffen returned.

But then I’m a bit of a Legion fanatic, so maybe I’m biased.

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