With the penultimate issue of Blackest Night in our collections this week, I figured it would be an appropriate time to discuss events in comics. Events usually do a good job of dividing fans as to if they like it or not, or occasionally where in between they fall. I can’t think of an event that didn’t have at least one complaint from a group of people, especially in recent history (when I look at things like Secret Invasion and Final Crisis), and currently I can think of at least three major company wide crossovers happening: Image United, Siege, and Blackest Night (although I’m admittedly not going to discuss Image United in this article).
So what makes an event work? When we as fans sit down to dissect these books both during and after completion, what do we generally enjoy and what do we flat out hate?
This article is the first of a greater article that had to be split into three parts. Sometimes I can be overly verbose (perhaps in an attempt to out-write Kieron Gillen?). Be sure to come back next week when I discuss event tie-ins. But for now, I present to you – The Event:
Before we begin discussing modern events and what we like and dislike, I think it’s important to first define what we’re talking about. So to help define events, let’s look at it in this cute analogy:
In the glorious world of comics, you’ll occasionally have self contained events in comics like Blackest Night, which at it’s core is just a mini series (usually up to 8 issues). They create huge changes to the universe that authors don’t want to neccesarily put in regular books, usually because if you have something as big as Blackest Night that will ultimately effect everyone in the DCU, you might as well take it out of the title it spun from (in this case, Green Lantern) so that every character can get involved without taking away from the books being published. These books are considered crossovers, but an event crossover is not the same as a crossover crossover. A crossover by that definition is when you have several comics overlap to create an event, such as when Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps crossed over to create the event the Sinestro Corps War.
So let’s say you have two big books such as “Brandon’s Excellent Adventures on Unicorn Mountain” and “David’s Fighting Force For Furious Freedom”, and the writers of the two books want to team up Brandon and David alone. Instead of maybe writing a singular arc in either book, they can have the two books in the crossover overlap, where part 1 is in Brandon’s book, part 2 is in David’s, part 3 in Brandon’s, etc. But then you have a book like “Matt Action Squad 7,” and within this book, the evil forces of Gil have arrived from another dimension to invade the planet (which of course has been fleshed out in some kind of mini, perhaps “Gil The Conqueror”). The writers and the publisher as a whole might consider this to have options that EVERY book can be attacked by, so a seperate event will be made spun out of “Matt Action Squad 7,” which can feature appearances by Brandon and David while both their books will continue on to do whatever it is they want and “Matt Action Squad 7” will have some kind of tie-in to the event.
So events are crossovers, and crossovers can be events, but an event is not the same as a crossover and a crossover is not always the same as an event. Simple, right? The main difference to note is that events will usually have universe altering changes, and crossovers will simply have character/single book altering changes.
How to tackle an event is a pretty hard decision on behalf of the writer. We as readers always except a lot in general from our storytelling, but having something so big that it needs it’s own book to tell the tale usually means that we, as fans, set the bar high. This is always the case, and always will be. I’m not saying that the writer will always please everyone with his decisions, but it’s the way of comic life. So what do we usually expect? Big changes, big action, big cliffhangers… big everything. With the case of Blackest Night #7, released this week, we have by far the biggest twist we’ve had for the entire duration of the storyline (the reveal of the Entity, as well as our first white lantern, Sinestro), making arguably the best issue of the event until perhaps the end, when we’ll all bite our tongues and praise that issue instead. But how do we even get to that point?Continued below
When I interviewed Bendis, he noted that he is aware that sometimes, due to pacing, an event can come out poor. There are times when you want to really play with it and drag it out (like Secret Invasion, which was a “spy/espionage thriller” in a sense), and other times (like Siege, which is first and foremost an action story) where you want to get in and get out and do your damage while the damage doing’s good. I’ve found that, more often than not, the average life span of an event is 6 to 8 issues total. Most of the big events in the past decade, when it pertains to Marvel and DC, have been 6-8 issues in length: Identity Crisis, House of M, Infinite Crisis, Civil War, Secret Invasion, Final Crisis. It’s actually rare for anything to go under. That’s because each issue has a specific purpose to serve.
Let’s look at an 8 issue format:
- Issue #1: The first issue is designed for all readers primarily, especially people who haven’t been reading the book the event spun out of. In it, we are usually briefly introduced to what we will be dealing with in later issues as a way to quickly play catch-up in a given storyline and show how bad it’s all about to get. Usually starts off with a good death or explosion.
- Issue #2: In the follow up issue, we need to begin to immediately deal with the consequences of the previous, no matter what that might be. With this, developing the plot is key.
- Issue #3: If we haven’t had it yet, now would be a good time to bring in a devlish twist of any kind. For an event to work, there needs to be a certain desperation about it that makes people want to keep coming back and care. Really, the whole point of event is a story too big for the main title, and I’d be hard pressed to find one that involves just rainbow and sunshine. Not all cards have to be laid out on the table, but it wouldn’t hurt to throw a bone or two the reader’s way.
- Issue #4: Now is where things really need to be rolling. It’s the halfway point, and this is where it “gets real.” If the story isn’t full swing by now, then we have a problem. By now, the big bad should be revealed (last page is acceptable) and the stakes should be raised all the way. We need to fully understand the danger that we are in, or we need to have a full acceptance of what sort of universal game changer is going on.
- Issue #5 and #6: When looking at a long event that runs 8 issues, these middle two issues can usually be duds. I’m not saying that the writer should purposefully not take time on them, but more often than not these are the issues that will make readers wary. This is mostly because it’s hard to push the story onward without giving away too much before it’s done. That’s why I find issues 5 and 6 are usually filler, with some cool moments and/or twists thrown in to keep the reader coming back.
- Issue #7: The penultimate issue could be the hardest to write. Basically, we’re just setting up for the grand finale, which usually is a grand showdown of sorts. We might have some sort of Big Bad battle in this issue, but generally the last issue is where the vampire is staked in the heart, so to speak. So in this issue, the more you reveal and the greater your twist, the better your finale is expected to be.
- Issue #8: This is it. Last issue. It could theoretically make or break the entire event. Everything MUST be explained, everything MUST be wrapped up. Allowing a shocking twist end that will continue on in another book is fine, but within the context of the story, everything that was set up in issue #1 needs to pay off. More often than not, a “happy” resolution is preferred. This obviously isn’t always the case, but to put your characters through hell and not offer even the slightest bit of hope is cruel both to future writers and the reader, let alone the characters.
So what are we looking at? Well, we’re looking at a somewhat ineffective system. If you notice, I point out that at certain points, the writer is really just pushing the story along as best as they can to meet a supposedly “desired” quota. I don’t think it’s written anywhere that an event has to be any amount of time, actually. It should be more about what the writer thinks that they could realistically pull off. I’m not trying to apply that the longer the event is drawn out, the worse it gets, but it should be noted that sometimes an event can suffer due to how long it’s drawn out for. With the case of Siege, Bendis knew that he wanted it to be fast and dirty, because it’s not the same type of story as Secret Invasion or House of M, his previous big events at Marvel. Similarly, Siege then offers a very nice parallel between how this all began with Avengers: Disassembled, which was also a short “event.”
Of course, we then have smaller events like Captain America: Reborn or Battle for the Cowl. In all honesty, I fully believe these stories could have been contained within their respective titles. Captain America took a break until Reborn was finished, but the title was written by Brubaker anyway, so if you ask me, Captain America: Reborn 1-6 as well as the one-shot could have simply been Captain America #602-608. It would’ve worked just as well. Same with Battle for the Cowl. Batman books took a break during this time and came back as soon as it was over, and I suppose considering there were multiple titles “involved” (i.e. Detective Comics, Batman, and Red Robin, as well as the newly launched Batgirl, Azrael, Gotham City Sirens, and Streets of Gotham), a hold during that event is possibly understandable (but the amount of tie-ins aren’t). I feel like with the case of Reborn, though, the title didn’t do enough that the main title wouldn’t have done anyway, so unless they really just wanted to offer a point for “new fans” to hop on with the storyline, there really was no point to a new book. I’d imagine that anyone who was really going to dive into Cap: Reborn probably could’ve done so at issue #602.
Never the less, I think that there is a certain stigma with fans of titles when it comes to events, because just the fact that they are events to begin with sets the bar incredibly high. We have basic expectations on any title as far as a streamlined story goes, so when getting events, more often than not, some people find waiting for trade is often better than actually buying the book as it comes out, if only for digestions sake. In recent memory, though, I really believe the wait hurts the reader. Given what transpires in the last issue of Blackest Night #7, I’m immensely excited for the final issue. In fact, the only issue I’ve wanted this badly was Blackest Night #1 itself. Certainly an immense part of enjoying a comic is the wait you and hundreds of thousands of people have to endure to get their fix of a given story. An event is fun when you only get it in bits and pieces, if only due to that “tension factor” you simply can not get while reading in trade. When everything is all said and done in trade, you run the risk of everyone around you already knowing what’s going to happen, as well as the possibility you’ll see a future cover that tells you how your story is going to end. Blackest Night is certainly a culprit of that, but that’s because these things are designed to be read as it comes out, not when it’s in trade (but we can discuss trades another day).
I honestly do believe that events can make for some of the most enjoyable comics around. Events are designed for the fans moreso than any other type of comic, and thats something that I think more people should consider. Yes, it is ok to hate on the event if it’s bad, but I have always been under the impression that events are basically the rewards we as fans get for sticking with a title and a character and a publisher. Infinite Crisis was an immense pay-off for fans, tackling a story that was about 20 years old and making it relevant to a brand new readership, as well as opening up the DC Universe to a brand new audience. Civil War came out at a time when political tensions were high and there was a large amount of people reading comics who were interested in having something mainstream in Marvel deal with bigger issues. Even now, many people who aren’t your average comic reader adore the story and message contained within.Continued below
So events are odd. They’re both satisfying and disappointing at the same time, and much easier to enjoy when it’s all said and done. A big part of it is definitely the ride to a given point, but being able to sit down and read everything in sequential order once you know how it ends is often by far the best part, if only because it all makes sense now and you can see what the writer was trying to do in the first place. That’s often the most difficult part about an event: the writer knows how it’s going to end, and what scenes pay-off where, but we don’t. I always feel that an event should be read twice: once when it’s coming out, once when it’s all said and done. That way you get to experience the tension of it all once, and when you’re done being tense you can relax and see the story from a more objective perspective as someone who “gets it.”
To be honest, I enjoy crossovers more than events when they’re coming out. The event is better when it’s done, but when you think about it, a crossover is no different then what you would’ve bought anyway, except now you’re able to explore a new title. And if you happen to be reading both of the titles anyway, then all the better! Take X-Men for example: all the X-Events are in crossovers. Messiah CompleX, Messiah War, Utopia, and even the upcoming Second Coming. This is because, as big as the consequences of each of the storylines may be, they only matter within the context of the X-World, and it works really well. Most X-Fans are buying all the X-Books anyway because they casually intertwine regardless, and rather than try and take things outside of one central story, the writers pinpoint the plot to what it really needs and spread it out amongst the titles. Messiah CompleX is one of the first things I really LOVED about X-Men in recent years because of the way the crossover read so well to a guy who only casually read a few of the books. I didn’t have to read a million different things, I just needed a knowledge of what was going on in the X-Books in general for the past decade and I fit right in. It was a very comfortable entry point to the world of the X-Men, and I’ve been satisfied with the way they’ve run things since. I highly look forward to Second Coming to see how things wrap up, as well as an excuse to possibly get into some books I haven’t really been reading (like X-Men Legacy).
Not only that, but the Superman books have done a GREAT job of being intertwined, even if they aren’t all that great. Since New Krypton, a crossover helmed by Geoff Johns, all the Super-books have been intertwining like crazy. There have been quick crossovers and storylines everywhere with the attempt of promoting the book to readers. The line between reading JUST Superman or Action Comics is not so clear anymore, and that is a direct spin-off of the crossover event. Batman still is a bit different in that category, as Detective Comics is still the street level stuff and the Batman title is supposed to be about all the weird stuff he deals with, but it doesn’t matter because a) Batman and Robin is the best Bat-title and b) I’m getting off topic.
The point I’m trying to make is: events are a great thing for comics. Outside of all the things I mentioned within storylines, events always always help boost sales for a company, simply because of hype and the idea that there is this huge new thing that will be accessible to everyone. While I firmly believe every event should be read twice (case in point: Final Crisis) so that the knowledge of how it ends is fresh in your mind for tackling the confusing parts in the beginning, I can’t help but note that an important part of the event, no matter if you like it or not, is simply the ride from the obvious explosive opener to the final climax (as is the case with any comic book really).
Besides, when it comes to events, there is only one thing that pretty much everyone agrees upon with love and/or hate, and that’s tie-ins. Unfortunately for you, I’ve clearly written way too much already, so you’ll have to wait until next week to hear me dissect that element of the event! So be sure to come back next week as I do my own tie-in to my own Multiversity 101 event.