Saturday, March 15, 2008

Comics: RSEs

You'd think that since I was getting back into "The Comix Bidness", that I would lay off talking about the shared worlds of comic book creativity.

Yeah, dream on - consider the geek light to be lit.

For the past two years, both of the majors have been in the grips of multiple RSEs. By RSE I mean Realms-Shattering-Events, a term that came from the gaming side of the universe, after a spate of major trilogies in the Forgotten Realms, each one portending huge changes to the setting. Some changes were made, some quickly forgotten, and there were some opportunities that were not taken. But the continual major-league shake-up left some fans frustrated with the continual "crisis grind" of the stories, such that to this day change is considered a bad thing, to be greeted warily.

So too in comics. The big two have barely gotten out of one RSE before the next one comes barreling down the highway. These macro-events have gone too far, such that there is no longer a baseline of "reality" that can then be changed - "Forever".

Over at DC, the first big event of this type was in 1985, with Crisis on Infinite Earths. There were heroes crossing over between books before that, and major "events", but this one really went to town - "Worlds will live, Worlds Will Die" and all that. And part of the stated goal was to clear up the "Infinite Earths" of the DC universe. You had Earth-1 which was the "normal earth" and Earth-2 where the golden age heroes lived and Earth-X where the Nazis won WWII. It was madness! Absolute madness!

Flash ahead twenty years to 52, a yearlong weekly series that ended up returning, not infinite earths, but "a large-but-finite" number of earths (52, to be precise). And they've spend the time since then pretty much showing people that multiple earths ARE a bad thing, with characters shifting between the worlds pretty much at random so the level of continuity confusion is higher than ever. And after mixing everything into a froth (After a One Year Later and Countdown stunts) they are supposed to sort it all out again with Infinite Crisis, where the world goes down to one again. Or not. I'm really not sure anymore, and I've been trying to keep up.(Update, Nope, its not Infinite Crisis, it is Final Crisis that they are supposed to wrap things up with. Infinite Crisis was part of the 52 thing. So many Crisis, so little time ...]

Over in the Marvel end, its major milestone was 1984's Secret Wars, which pretty much had all the big heroes fight all the big villains, More recently, they pitched hero against hero in their Civil War over the challenge of super-hero registration, and the verdict pretty much is that Captain America's anti-registration side won. I say this because Cap himself was martyred, and since then, not a week goes by without Pro-registration boss Iron Man gets kicked in the crotch. No, I'm serious. Somebody has been beating the crud out of him on a weekly basis, and if not him, then his proxies, which include the heroine Tigra and SHIELD. Particularly SHIELD. Once upon a time, even THREATENING to crash the SHIELD Helicarrier was a big deal. Now its happening about once a month. Forget how much we're spending on Iraq, we're losing big money on those flying battleships!

At least kicking Iron Man around (who has a MOVIE coming up, so you'd think they'd treat him better) at least gives you something to look forward to. Instead they shifted immediately into blowing up most of New York City in World War Hulk (remember, the event that kicked off the Civil War was a supervillain blowing up a school, so the level of tolerable collateral damage has gone up again). Then they decided to undo Spidersman's marriage, and in doing so, undid his public identity (well, that lasted long). And that one is just wrapping up when they can unleash a Skrull Secret Invasion on everyone.

Too much happening, too fast. RSEs are not in and of themselves a bad thing, but they need to be the spice, not the main dish. Not only can the center not hold, there is no center to hold anymore. Even the most jaded continuity geek is overstressed, while the casual reader (are there any anymore?) needs a lot more that a single page summary to get onboard.

Now, there are some good comics out there. Out of the Civil War at Marvel came a extremely readable book - The Order, which, of course, has been cancelled. Over at DC, The Brave and The Bold, which is an old-school geekfest that teams up writer Mark Waid and artist George Perez (who did the original Crisis twenty-plus years ago). Wonder Woman under Gail Simmone has shown a lot of promise, but WW has no where to go but up. A lot of the interesting stuff is Independent at the moment - Paul Dini's Madame Mirage at Top Cow, Jonathan Hickman's alternate history Pax Romana from Image, Gerald Way & Gabriel Ba's The Umbrella Academy, Matt Wagner, back with a new Grendel series, and the "season eight" of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (all Dark Horse). And the guys from Action Philosophers are back with Comic Book Comics from Evil Twin, a history of the medium which ties things in deeply both with technology and political issues at the dawn of the comic books (nice job on that).

So there's hope, but you have to lay off the seasonings for a while and just let comics go without blowing up the universe for a little while.

More later,