Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Comics: Dark Reign Gonna Fall.

So it’s been a while, let’s see how the big comic universes are doing with their mega-events.

Once upon a time, comics existed in their own little self-contained vacuoles, such that the DC heroes had their own feudal cities (Metropolis, Gotham City, Central City, etc …) and the streams very rarely crossed. Then they got itchy and started teaming up all over the place, and with the Marvel Era all of them were in the same city, interacting up a storm. Then we got yearly “events”, which often played out in three summer months or in an annual were bunches of heroes were gathered. And then we had the maxi-events, which would change the world forever, create a new continuity, and make things as they never were before.

Worlds will live, worlds will die. And because of the popularity, these crisis books have become their own sense of continuity, ever-continuing, creating a cloud of subordinate books, and no longer tied into the books that birthed the characters. And sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. (Oh yeah - Spoilers from here on out).

One place where it worked pretty well was Marvel’s Secret Invasion, which involved shapeshifting Skrulls, a long-time Marvel alien race, replacing a lot of key people in the Marvel Universe as a prelude to a full-scale military invasion. The time frame of the eight issues was no more than a couple days, and the main book consisted of little more than a bash-em-up with a traditional three act framework (which is, as we know – 1) Chase the heroes up the tree, 2) Throw Rocks at them, and 3) Get them down). It did it well, and occupied such as small footprint of continuity that the mainstream books could work around them. Plus, the idea of using core books (like the Mighty Righty Avengers and New Lefty Avengers) to fill in the back story worked out nicely.

Furthermore, the big event spawned off a bunch of smaller limited series as well as directed attention to lower-selling books (like Hercules and the now-cancelled She-Hulk). And as a sales ploy, it worked – I picked up a lot of the smaller books and felt I had a good feel for the mega-event itself.
Downside, when it resolved … well, it didn’t really. Sure, the heroes defeated the Skrulls (mostly by figuring out how to identify them as Skrulls and then punching them in the face), and a terrible price was paid (Luke Cage’s child went missing and Janet Van Dyne (the Wasp, one of the initial Avengers), died, but mostly it the last issue was used to set up the NEXT big crisis – Dark Reign.

Here’s the short form on that – the Heroes were thought to have screwed up so badly (Civil War, World War Hulk, and now some of them were Skrulls) that the US turns to the villains – namely multimillionaire Harry Osborne, formerly Green Goblin, and also formerly dead – to run things. Harry immediately convenes his “Dark Illuminati” – Loki, Red Hood, White Queen, Namor, and Doctor Doom, promising them what they want if they just play along. Having gotten the upper hand at last, they intend to keep it.

OK, that’s cool, but the fires of the Invasion are hardly out before the Reign begins. That’s my only real quibble. (Well, Hank (Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Yellow Jacket, Doctor Pym) Pym deciding to honor his late wife by becoming – the Wasp, is kinda lame as well).

Meanwhile, over in DC, its Final Crisis has produced the opposite effect from me. Plagued by delays, apparent revisions, and poor editorial coordination, it has kept me AWAY from books that tie in among its subsidiary mini-series. I am following the main maxi-series books more out of lurid curiosity than an expectation that I will like what’s going to happen. I use the phrase “dog’s breakfast” way too often, but this series is truly a morning culinary treat for Bowser.

Part of it is that the story has taken its fine old time chasing the heroes up the tree in the first place. Part of it is that they are throwing particularly sharp rocks at them (death, despair, torture, corruption). Part of it is that the story relies both on a very deep knowledge of continuity while demanding you immediately ignore continuity for it to work. Part of it is that it has no real connection (yet) with the parental books (there were some attempts early on, but once the delays hit, everything sort of shifted off into their own worlds). Part of it is that the story (Darkseid, the embodiment of evil in the DC Universe, finally wins) just isn’t a lot of fun.

Maxi-series crisis books are supposed to, at their base, enhance sales by attracting cross-over purchasers and expose new people to existing comics. This has done the opposite, repelling people from the connected books, cutting itself off from the books it has sprung from, and almost occupying it own reality Earth-Null, if you will.

Two universes, two companies, two major series. One makes all the right moves but in the end fails to resolve as a story, while the other aspires to greater things but collapses of its own weight and pretentiousness.

And in six months, they will have switched places again.

More later,