I HAVE TO BUY HOW MANY ISSUES?!
THE ART OF THE CROSSOVER (Part 1)
Last article we talked a bit about shifting tides in our favorite four-color medium thanks to the advent of digital comics, web comics, and the rise of the original graphic novel (or OGN for short). Smaller publishers are excited to broach these avenues in order to maximize exposure for their titles and not have to compete with the deluge of Big 2 titles guaranteed shelf space because of this banner or that strewn across the top of an issue indicating its part in a crossover event. But I ask you dear reader, what about those crossover events? What makes them successful? What is their purpose? And which are more successful – the line-wide (see “Messiah CompleX” in the X-Books, “Planet Krypton” in the Superman titles, and so on) or the company-wide (Final Crisis, Secret Invasion, etc.)?
First though, a small disclaimer: I grew up a Marvel kid. I make no bones about it but, as a result, much of what I talk about is going to utilize those titles and stories as examples. I may be able to comfortably sneak in a few DC bits here and there but the sad truth is that my education in the house that Superman built is still ongoing. I’d sooner stick with what I know for examples than try to point vague fingers towards something which may or may not support the thesis, dig? Also, I’ll be doing my best to keep this relatively spoiler free so read with some assurance that big story bits aren’t going to be ruined for you.
Looking at the overarching idea of the crossover, they typically set out to accomplish very specific ends for the publisher:
1) Increase exposure for underperforming or underappreciated titles by including them in the event.
2) Create hype around a line or the company’s universe by advertising large-scale changes.
3) Act as a springboard for new titles.
What makes these crossovers successful from a company perspective, in my humble opinion, is when it hits those marks. If readers are inclined (or forced, which we’ll talk about next article) to pick up a title they weren’t reading and happen to enjoy it, if they’ve gotten excited enough about an event to follow it from beginning to end with rapt attention, and if new viable print titles are created as a result of the story, then you’ve got yourself a successful event. Near as I can tell then, Marvel and DC have had some rousing successes with their company-wide events, turning them into nigh-annual occurrences.
How about the reader perspective though? If these company-wide events have been successful commercially based on the above criteria then surely they’ve got to have been successful in the reader’s eyes as well, yes? Not so, says I. All the unnecessary mini’s and tie-ins, the fact that they seem to just lead to next year’s big event and don’t give you a satisfying ending of their own (typically), it’s all just blech. Now, to be fair, I do understand the lack of a conclusive “The End” on any of these. They’re built as a launching pad for a full universe and, as such, can’t tie up everything. Still, reading some of these event series (your “Civil War”, “Infinite Crisis”, et al) on their own has been, for the most part, unsatisfying. So then, you say, “Surely reading all the tie-ins would help!”
Unintentionally I entered into an experiment over the past few years. You see, “Civil War” began right around the time I started to consider canning my pull list and, imagine my surprise when it got me super pumped. I fell right into the hype machine, like a junkie looking for one last fix. I followed the event rabidly, buying every mini and every tie-in. All told it was over 100 issues of story, read in the order handed down by the Mighty Marvel Checklist and editor/creator interviews.
Years later (as in, maybe two weeks ago) I had the fortune of seeing “Secret Invasion” in trade format. Having read none of the lead-in, none of the tie-ins, and having the entire main book collected in front of me was too tempting. “Let’s test the water,” I said casually as the other people surrounding the table in my local bookstore started to back away slowly. “Let’s see if what they purport to be is, in fact possible – let’s see if I can enjoy this story WITHOUT the tie-ins!”
Now I can say, for my own personal enjoyment, that neither quite hit the target. With “Civil War” I was loaded down with too many inconsequential points of view, stories which barely touched on the main event, and in some minor but notable cases, contradictions in character locations, costumes, scenes and actions, and so on, this last due to scheduling conflicts and miscommunication somewhere I’m sure. Overall, after being fleeced by my own excitement and not being thrilled with what felt like a rushed ending, I was left wishing I hadn’t picked up the ancillary books at all since none of them really did much to support the event or increase my enjoyment of the story.
With “Secret Invasion” on the other hand, I found myself feeling like I was watching a highlight reel. Bendis is great with characterization (I’ve yet to read an issue of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN I haven’t liked, and I’ve read most of them) but the large scope of the event felt too compressed in some places and too decompressed in others. Feeling as though this might be a case in favor of the tie-ins, and having read an interview or three where Bendis indicated that NEW AVENGERS and MIGHTY AVENGERS were nigh-mandatory for the event, I gave the recently released “Secret Invasion” tie-in trades a read for each of those titles. Did they help?
While they both served to fill in some interesting tidbits as to how things wound up the way they did in the main book, neither series was able to do more than that – neither advanced the story, since that was the intention of the main title, and they hardly fleshed out current events well enough to warrant the feeling of reading an overview elicited by the “Secret Invasion” series proper. I'm looking at you, Ka-zar. While I liked the concept of this event, and found myself drawn in a bit more than I was with “Civil War”, likely since I wasn’t diluting the main book with so many tie-ins, I was still left somewhat disappointed. I’m not saying I could’ve done it better, although I would love to have a chance to try it some time. I’m just saying that they left me wanting more, and not, I imagine, in the way Marvel intended.
Who knows? Maybe when the Final Crisis collections this summer will change my mind. Maybe they managed what Marvel didn't, in my eyes.
What's that? Superman sings at Darkseid? Oh hell...
Still, it is Morrison so I'm down for a try.
So then, if Mr. Critical (a.k.a. Yours Truly) wasn’t a big fan of either event even though they met all three basic company goals for a crossover, what COULD make him happy?
A good old fashioned line-wide crossover, that’s what.
TO BE CONTINUED…