Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Behind The Mask

The Summer Mega Event – Have We Had Too Many?

From The Infinity Gauntlet to Civil War to Secret Invasion, the summer comic mega event has practically become a yearly tradition. In the 1980’s and 90’s, the mega event was a special time that occurred once every couple of years. It was a chance to see your favorite characters interacting with others they normally wouldn’t see or fight on a regular basis and an opportunity to see them band together to deal with threats too large for just one hero or one team. Summer was also a chance to see your favorite comic book character doing something extraordinary in front of his or her comic book peers. But through the years, the excitement and novelty generated by these mega events has become diluted and I dare to ask if we comic book fans are getting a bit worn out by all these mega happenings.

If we’re looking at things from a sales perspective, the answer would be a resounding “no”. For comic book publishers, especially at Marvel and DC, the mega event means big sales and big money. The last four Marvel summer events, House of M, Civil War, World War Hulk and Secret Invasion finished in the number 1 position in terms of copies sold and total sales. They spawned numerous tie-ins and new comic book series.

From a character development and creative standpoint, the answer is a bit more complicated. Comic book readers and writers alike have found themselves having to shift gears and stop storylines abruptly because of publisher mandates to include their characters in the next big event.

When Secret Wars, the first big comic book company crossover, came out in 1985, I remember buying all twelve issues and thinking how amazing it was to see all those characters in one book. As a long-time fan of the Incredible Hulk, I remember reading issue 4 of the series. I floated in seventh heaven as the Hulk wound up saving his fellow heroes by bracing an entire mountain range that had been dropped on them by the Molecule Man. But Secret Wars, also served as a foreshadowing for what would happen with the Hulk in his own series, as the Banner-Hulk personality slowly eroded away. He had been the dominant personality when Secret Wars began. This would eventually lead to the emergence of the savage and then mindless Hulk in the Hulk’s own series (circa issues #293 to #300). This “mindless” Hulk would wind up fighting the likes of SHIELD, Power Man, Iron Fist, Thor and the Avengers and was ultimately banished by Dr. Strange to an inter-dimensional pocket universe called The Crossroads. During the Onslaught saga, Marvel’s summer mega event of 1995, Peter David, the writer of the Hulk at the time, was extremely annoyed that he had to stop his current storyline and make his stories connect with the current Onslaught crossover. Marvel mandated it. I remember sharing his annoyance as I was enjoying the current story arc in, The Incredible Hulk, and didn’t particularly care for the Onslaught tie-ins, which seemed a bit forced. I admit that my inner fan-boy came out once again when I read the finale to the Onslaught saga, Onslaught: Marvel Universe. I saw the Hulk after requesting the X-Men’s Jean Grey to shut down Bruce Banner’s influence in his brain, go toe-to-toe with the all-powerful Onslaught. The ensuing battle was so epic that it created a psychic tornado so powerful that the other heroes found it difficult to even approach the fight. The battle ended when the Hulk, after being pinned and goaded by Onslaught one too many times, unleashed a massive punch that destroyed Onslaught’s physical form, causing Onslaught to become a being of pure energy. The ensuing explosion also wound up splitting Banner and the Hulk into two separate entities.

While seeing the Hulk do something “incredible” once again was great, the moment became somewhat fleeting. Unfortunately, plotlines in the Incredible Hulk comic series from before the Onslaught event were dropped in favor of new, unwelcomed plotlines about the ramifications of Banner and the Hulk splitting apart. As a comic reader and a fan of the Hulk, I felt the switch in plotlines strained and uneven. The natural flow of the comic had been destroyed because the higher-ups at Marvel felt the need to make a radical shift in the plot and tone of the book. Apparently Peter David felt the same way since he wound up leaving the book shortly thereafter. I quickly followed suit too.

I eventually made my way back to comics and to the Hulk, but the Onslaught saga had me feeling greatly jaded (no pun intended). As I saw more of these mega events taking place, a part of me was happy that they were doing well from a sales and revenue standpoint for it showed that the comic industry was strong and an interest in the product existed. But at the same time, I hoped that my favorite characters like the Hulk would be left out of those big events unless it was fundamentally connected to what was going on in their respective title (or titles). I wasn’t so lucky when the Marvel summer event, House of M, took place with the Hulk getting dragged in. But I then got my wish and the Hulk was left out of the following year’s big crossover, Civil War. While Civil War was raging in the Marvel Universe, the Hulk had his own mini-event going on within his own title called Planet Hulk, which naturally segued into the next year’s mega event, called World War Hulk, which had the Hulk as the central focus.

In the end, the situation all comes down to dollars and how much the Marvel’s/DC’s of the world can generate. As long as mega events like World War Hulk and Secret Invasion continue to pull in big money, you’ll continue to see more of those events on a yearly or semi-annual basis along with more tie-in to mini-series’ or more spin-off titles from these events. That will happen regardless of quality, the threat of character saturation or whether the event has a logical or natural connection to the current storylines in each character’s or team’s book. The shift back to character-centric story-telling with less of these big crossover events will depend on the comic book consumer and how many dollars they spend as well as the number of books they decide to buy on a weekly or monthly basis.

Marvel seems to be getting the message. Summer of 2009 was the first summer in many years that they did not have a company wide crossover. They instead chose to focus on the ramifications of Secret Invasion, and the Dark RItaliceign of Norman Osborn and his cadre of former supervillains over the Marvel Universe.

In these tough economic times with the rising cost of an individual comic, comic buyers are being forced to buy only the titles that they feel they must have on a monthly basis. Ultimately, it's up to them to determine whether the mega event or the character/team book is more important.

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