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Why I don’t get sucked into the big superhero event storylines

Maybe this is a follow-up to my post last week about being a Marvel or a DC, but whatever it might be, it’s a perfect example of why I don’t really get involved with the super-big events that Marvel or DC put out. I’m speaking of this tremendous post over at 4thLetter! Gavok breaks down Siege and its impact and how the Marvel heroes took down the Sentry. It’s a great piece of work; I encourage you to go read it. But he goes over the last 6-10 years of Marvel history and shows all the various threads that Bendis pulled together in Siege. It sounds very cool, but it also sounds like you really had to buy pretty much everything associated with the Avengers over the past half-decade to “get” it. How much money was that? How many crappy comics were sprinkled throughout the good ones? I love big, sprawling stories like this, but reading the Avengers and the various ancillary titles since 2004 sounds exhausting. Sheesh. I’m glad I missed it. But the post is fantastic. Check it out!

31 Comments

My best reading experiences are trades that require a moderate amount of pre-existing information. Since cross-over mania makes my favorite characters and/or creators frequently unavailable for the type of reading experience I enjoy the most, I tend to be borderline hostile toward them.

I dunno, the other stuff really isn’t as important.

If you followed just Bendis, you’d only need to have read Civil War to get the “main” picture – and if you just read Bendis, you’d get a lot of good comics.

Mike Loughlin

May 22, 2010 at 6:46 pm

What’s crazy is that it should be easy to write an average big crossover event. Take the Big Bad Threat, give him a Macguffin, team up heroes A-J, have them almost lose, then have them win, possibly with a Big Sacrifice. Sprinkle in bits of current continuity (e.g. a couple panels dealing with the history of the Macguffin, a couple panels dealing with the recent activities of the Big Bad, occasional comments from one hero to another based on their past dealings or lack thereof), and voila! Really, it should be hard to mess this up.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

May 22, 2010 at 6:54 pm

There were some crappy comics in there…most of New Avengers and Siege #1-4, for example.

Mike: I’m pretty sure that’s the formula for Siege.

Big Bad Threat: Norman and his “Avengers”
MacGuffin: Asgard
Tug-o-war battle: Norman starts kicking ass, Avengers start kicking more ass, The Sentry goes batshit crazy
Big Sacrifice: Ares, Loki, Sentry begged for death
BAM its over

Still, I’m kinda glad its all over and we can just move on.

I think the power of the big event has been diluted by the fact that a big event is happening all the fricking time.

To be fair a lot of the stories stood up on their own. While they all carried elements of a bigger story they were mostly good reads by themselves.
Is it necessary to read every single issue Spider-Man has been in to enjoy the character? There is a huge arc for Spidey from issue #1 (okay, Amazing Fantasy #15) and you can write an essay explaining everything that’s happened. But you can pick up an issue and enjoy it by itself.
I think you’re being a little hard on the Avengers storyline that has taken place since Disassembled, as you don’t have to read every book to enjoy what’s taken place. But if you do you get the added enjoyment of a fairly well-done story arc that’s taken place over the past couple years.
All good? Hardly. There’s been some crap sprinkled throughout. But a majority has been good enough to warrant reading. (IMHO the Skrull Invasion was pretty bad.)

Brian: Yeah, it seemed like not everything was vital, but part of the fun of reading superhero stuff is the fact that you get subtle stuff that might play out later. With some writers, that occurs in maybe one or two titles. Bendis was writing so many titles over the past few years that he spreads them out. No, you don’t have to read them all, but it’s neater if you do. And it seems really hard to do that in this case. I could be wrong, of course, not having read most of them!

I just thought Gavok bringing all the threads together was crazy cool!

Civil War killed so many books for me. Amazing Spider-man especially. I now call that the ‘worst comic I have ever read’ starring ‘the worst person every born who is obsessed with his Aunt’. Man, that was terrible. There was no way they could writer what they put out there and it had little plot and no ending. Plus, Iron Man does very questionable things that we didn’t think he would do, yet they write him as the same guy. That doesn’t make any sense. Cap’s not much better.

The worst thing is they are trying to ignore it now and act like everything’s O.K. and everyone’s happy now even though they that was supposed to be the biggest game-changer of all time for comics. How horrible does it get?

Yeah, I don’t like the New Avengers either.

Hey, I am for main events series, it gives me a coaxing opportunity to consolidate my comic dollars and have money for other personal luxuries like coffee, tea, and women. –Seriously though– with the the amount of titles one publisher puts out how can you enjoy any other titles from the other publishers they are really good.

capt usa(jim)

May 22, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Bendis failed again, Comic book conclusions of major cases like this have always been a combination of great leaders on the good side, a great strategy, a little luck, and usually one surprise helping element to win the day. In this case it was basically “Punch it, till it falls” with only Loki’s help being a little bit of extra effort. I mean the series was potentially very good, the first few acts were good, but the conclusion lacked anything, Cap coming back and using the strategy of “punh it till it breaks” fails in taking advantage of Cap, heck the fact that he didn’t rally anyone other than the people on his own side was a massive failure. It’s like the writers of todays comics have either never read a comic or are going out of their way not to follow well established successful formulas. If you rewrite a formula you should make sure it works. We all know Bendis is the master of dialog, and honestly cares not one whit about action, but comics, especially superhero comics is a medium about action and overcoming impossible odds(based upon strategy, inner strength and brains, not force)

As to complaints against Civil War, it set up a new status quo that could have been great storytelling for a few years if they would have let it happen, instead of pushing the skrull plot down the throat to make a quicker change instead of the gradual change that would have happened to show that Cap was right all along. (I don’t disagree about the complaint against spidey and his aunt fetish—I wonder if MJ ever dressed up as May for a role playing ceremony)

From House of M to Civil War right on to Secret Invasion following up with Dark Reign and ending in Siege has been, without a shadow of a doubt in my mind, the least well written and fun period of comic stories within the Marvel Universe. It’s nearly completely killed my love for the characters within that particular shared universe and whatever stories the future may hold. Quirky dialogue, “cool moments” and cheap “shock endings” don’t make for good stories.

That Gavok post was a was a great read. Despite some serious problems–especially the way Secret Invasion fizzled–I enjoyed the ‘anti-trust era’. It got me back into reading comics. But Siege was a disappointing, anti-climatic conclusion.

When you look back at the early parts of the saga of the last seven years (first two or three arcs of New Avengers, House of M, Civil War), the unfolding of events holds of fairly well. But I feel Bendis and Marvel got lost in events after Civil War and lost the trees for the forest. Whatever promise World War Hulk and Secret Invasion held was wasted. And as Gavok pointed out, much of the promise of Dark Reign was wasted, too. Good ideas. Bad execution. And that’s why events in the last few years haven’t been worth getting sucked into.

Maybe The Only One Who Enjoyed Secret Invasion

May 22, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Brian Bendis gets too much flack. Let him play with his toys in the sandbox and create some fun for all of us to enjoy. He is a great writer, he’s always 6 months ahead of the fans and keeps us, for the most part, entertained more so than any other writer not named Brubaker.

There’s always worse out there to harp on. For example, we could be complaining that the last cosmic event, Realm of Kings, killed off the Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy titles. Now those books are in limbo, we have to patiently wait for a reboot all because of Marvel’s insistance for a big bang for the buck (or 4).

Back to the point though… That was a great article about the past few years of our Avengers world though. While I may have disagreed with his final comments, I think overall we’re certainly ready for some nice quiet time. We’ll see how the writers respond to non-events and deal with characterization and build up a fan base for their titles again. It should be an interesting Marvel Universe now that Steve Rogers (the one true heroic person in the MU) is back and now in control. Let’s hope that the Red Skull has some tricks up his sleeve to liven up things! Avengers Assemble!

I read Siege having only read Dark Avengers previously, and it made total sense to me.

I like the point the author made about how nobody had been the Sentry’s friend. Even though he eventually became a One Winged Angel monster from Sephiroth’s wet dreams, Bob had the potential to become a hero, and none of the other superheroes treated him with any real kindness. Even those trying to help him like Tony Stark kept Bob at arm’s length, wary of his craziness. No wonder Norman was able to court his favor so easily– he could relate, even though Norman has never had any intention of controlling his crazy more than needed to avoid getting arrested.

Since Civil War, every Marvel event has been resolved by “Punch the bad guy harder”, which isn’t particularly clever. Even worse, basically every victory by a hero over a villain in a Marvel event has been “Punch that particular bad guy harder”.

For all of DC event problems, they at least tend to do “Punch the bad guy in a smarter or different way that tries to work with the character doing the punching.” Sometimes those scenes work well, sometimes they don’t bu at least its a bit different.

Thanks for the link to 4th Letter. That was an interesting blog.

I think it’s strange that, Bendis and Jenkins’ protests to the readers aside, within the actual stories the only person who was shown as coming even close to being the Sentry’s friend was Norman Osborn. Yeah, Osborn is a sociopath and a murderer, like everyone else he used Sentry as a living weapon, and he ordered Bullseye to murder Bob’s wife. But at the same time, incredibly, Osborn actually seemed to show concern for Bob on more than one occasion. And not in a phony “I’m pretending to be your best friend who completely understands what your going through, but I’m really just doing that so I can manipulate you” way. There were an instance or two where there was no audience for Norman to be playing to, and you could see what appeared to be genuine concern and empathy for Sentry. Maybe it was just because Osborn could relate to Bob. But, yeah, that is messed up when a character is intended to be the most powerful hero on Earth, and the only guy he can get to be friends with him is the freaking Green Goblin.

While some of the stories and concepts mentioned in the article and the Sentry’s Wikipedia entry sound pretty keen (In which book did the bit with the chair and mirror take place? Depending on the execution, that could be a devastating bit of storytelling.), for the most part it made me grateful that I haven’t spent much time or money on The Big Two since Age of Apocalypse and Contagion (Well, excluding anything that rhymes with Barth Bennis’ BunisherMax).

I hate these huge events even if they’re good, because I simply can’t afford to keep up with everything. (Particularly since they insist on making the important books more expensive.) But even more than that, they tend to get in the way of the stories the other writers are trying to tell. I really think they should restrict future crossovers to no more than four titles, and only if the writers of those series want in on it.
I know Marvel kept having these events to suck as much money as they could from their fans, but I wonder how many casual readers they lost because of them. And they can’t ever afford to lose casual readers because that’s where future fans come from.

I wish I could take a tally of how much the above complainers have contributed to Marvel’s coffers over the past four years of crossovers.

I can count mine in terms of appearances of the Agents of Atlas.

Bullshit. The nature of serial storytelling is that the more you’ve read the more little details you’ll get and the fuller your experience, but all you really need to know for these kinds of stories can be summed up in a few words. Fictional history is like any other history. Nerds with knowledge will take any opportunity to explain the minutiae of a huge swath of history.
A history buff, when asked to explain WW2, might start with the rise of German nationalism in the nineteenth century, and will definitely mention WW1 and it’s fallout, including the Russian Revolution. It’s likely that he will mention the Napoleon’s invasion of Russia with it’s similarity. But all you need to know to start learning is that Hitler took power in Germany and started a war of world domination with help from Japan and Italy.
Similarly, a comicbook nerd might start an explanation of Siege with Avengers: Disassembled. He will almost certainly mention the fallout of Secret Invasion, including Tony Stark being removed as head of SHIELD. It’s likely that he will mention the similarity of certain events to Civil War. But all you need to know is that Osborn was in charge of a SHIELD-like entity and was using it and his pet Avengers to take power, and Asgard was the next step.

I’m kind of amused at how, the last time an Avenger went crazy and became a menace that had to be put down, it was so tragic and devastating that they had to disband the team. This time, it’s “eh, let’s shuffle a few people around and get back to work.”

Marvel Maniac

May 23, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I guess the author of the blog overlooked the Siege: Loki tie-in which fully explained why Osborn went after Asgard. It was a dumb move on Osborn’s part for doing so, and likely would never have attempted to do so on his own, but alas, he was tricked by the most diabolical Marvel being of them all!

Steven R. Stahl

May 23, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Gavok’s piece was interesting but too long. The primary reason SIEGE failed as an event was the faulty premise, which resulted from being part of Dark Reign. Looking back, Dark Reign had a faulty premise, due to its connection to Secret Invasion, which had a disastrously bad ending. If Osborn doesn’t kill the Skrull queen, if the Skrulls don’t behave like an ant colony, if the heroes act intelligently and identify the Skrulls before Secret Invasion ever gets going, then what?

A flawed premise can stop someone from reading a story a few pages in; even if he keeps reading, the story will be less successful than it could have been, regardless of everything else the writer does. One of the reasons Bendis has been such a colossal failure over the past years is that the premises for his stories were often flawed to the point of being unworkable. The flawed premises led to predictably weak plots, and his stylistic weaknesses (e.g., dialogue; incorrect word usage; padding) usually made matters worse.

If the premises and plots in his Avengers storylines were subjected to the same scrutiny that plots in mystery or hard SF novels are given, Bendis might not have a job as a superhero comics writer. Reviews of AVENGERS #1 don’t seem to take issue with the terrible handling of time travel, even though the problems directly affect the handling of Kang and the premise for the storyline (BTW, there’s no need for a time machine; Dr. Strange can travel through time easily, Sorcerer Supreme or not).

I’d hate to think that reviewers were deliberately overlooking or refusing to comment on premise and plot problems because they fear losing readers and becoming irrelevant. That’s the impression that failing to comment on obvious problems leaves, however.

SRS

Well, superhero comics are NOT hard SF or mystery novels, Steven. The classic stories had lots of plot holes and inconsistencies too. I admit that I enjoy it when guys like Grant Morrison work some science into the stories, but you should not pay excessive attention to it in a genre where radiation gives people superpowers.

And I agree with Capt. USA. Bendis is not a good plotter when it comes to superhero epics, though. Even his buddy Tom Brevoort admited that the two main weaknesses of Bendis are plotting and writing big fight scenes. Many of his big fight scenes tend to be… indistinct, hazy, abstract. This becomes a bigger issue in “events.” By the way, he didn’t write Civil War, but the major battle at the end was also massively disappointing.

The big problem I have is that at the end of the day, the major crossover usually leads back to status quo. The changes (characters dying, new characters arriving, universe shifting) are so minor or inconsequential that they simply don’t make sense to invest in for the cost. Worse, the mega-event that has a character dying or some radical change occurring will usually see those changes undone by the time of the next crossover, usually in some cheesy, plot device driven way.

For example, Blackest Night ends with several prominent characters returned to life that most people suspected would be returned to life (it would have been more stunning if Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, the Hawks, and Firestorm had stayed dead). The “twist” of Deadman returning to life will probably be resolved in Brightest Day and he’ll go back to being dead and Deadman (after all, it’s hard to see a character calling himself Deadman for very long and not be dead), thus cheapening that. The heroes that stayed dead? Second stringers or minor characters that don’t really matter, and I’m sure by this time next year dead won’t really mean dead anyway in the DCU and some of them will come back. It’s predictable.

The mega-event has become something that is robotically done to little impact whatsoever, and after a few of them, one’s hard pressed to tell the difference between any of them.

Well, what keeps me from buying most comics today is the COST. I might be willing to pay 4-5 dollars per issue on a miniseries, but not for a crossover that sprawls over several titles (keep the main events in ONE title!) much less one that takes a FULL YEAR of issues to tell just because it looks more “cool” that way.

It is true, however, than even if they were cheaper, I would not buy as many crossovers as I used to. In the old days, an “Event” would only take place once or twice a year, thus making it feel like they mattered. But with one Event right on the tail of the next -often being a continuation of the preceding one- they just feel like one story stretched way past what it should.

And finally, when the only claim to meaningfulness that Events have is the fact that characters get *killed off*, I REALLY do not look forward to reading them. There ARE other story-affecting results, you know. For example, as unhappy as I was with Civil War, I though it set a new status quo that could be mined for stories (and unlike with DC, I KNEW the Marvel Universe would eventually be restored to its glory, so it was OK.)

i totally agree with Smokescreen when he says:
“The big problem I have is that at the end of the day, the major crossover usually leads back to status quo.”

i feel this way about all of these things and i’m usually proven correct. As these are properties held by giant companies, they won’t allow maturation of ideas often. When there is forward progress allowed, someone like Geoff Johns comes along & reverts things back to status quo.

So, i wait to see what the fallout is before investing money into big events. If they turn out to be good stories [or possibly change the dynamics of something in a way that i find intersting] i can track down issues/tpb’s later.
DFTBA

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