Coming up in April 2012 is Marvel's latest event to rock their superhero-ridden lines: AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN! Who will win control of the power of the Phoenix? Will Jean Grey return? (Please, no.) And, more importantly, which heroes are scheduled to beat the tar out of each other as they race towards whatever epic conclusion Marvels promises WILL CHANGE THEIR WORLD FOREVEEEEEEEER!!!
If I sound a little snide about this whole proposal, it might be because I suffer from what I like to call "Comics Event Fatigue," or CEF, for short. It hit me around the time DC geared up for the mega event that was Superman abandoning Earth in order to infiltrate the planet his fellow Kryptonians were building just the other side of the moon. That event dragged on for months in 2009, starting with "World of New Krypton," spinning into "World Without A Superman," and culminating in a "War of the Supermen" that effectively killed off the entire supporting cast of Kryptonians that had caused the whole mess in the first place, including Clark Kent's adopted super-son Chris and his compatriot Mon-El, who had both gotten books out of the event. Useless books, given that the characters weren't given the chance to stick around and develop further in a forever-changed world with Supermen flying around. Of course, the world didn't change forever, since everyone important to changing that world died except for Superman, who'll never go anywhere, despite the current loss of his red under-trunks. And frankly, given all the brou-ha-ha over this titles-sweeping plot, at the end of the day, few of the individual books involving the event were stellar, and a loss of money, according to most Super-fans.
So no wonder I'm tired, right? Event comics because they drain my bank account and rarely deliver on what they promise. There are exceptions to that claim, however. I thought the entirety of DC's "Blackest Night"/Green Lantern zombie fest was a pretty rad and well-handled saga (even if it brought back dead white guys in favor of booting their minority successors out of leading roles, but that's a topic for another day). I also love anything involving Gotham cops and how their ordinary lives butt up against their shadowy protectors' extraordinary ones, so book-sprawling stories like "Officer Down" and "Batman: No Man's Land" are built to appeal to me.
My top favorite event storyline grew out of Marvel's "Civil War," which centered on a fight between Captain America and Iron Man over superhero registration with the federal government. That fight led to Cap's arrest and death (psych!) and generated "The Initiative," a series of books about the new teams of superheroes being trained by the government to fight crime across America's fifty states. Not only did that event freshen things up because it added new, young voices to the mix, it led seamlessly into Marvel's next event, during which alien Skrull invaders took over positions of power while masquerading as all sorts of heroes from the Marvel line. In a couple of giant leaps, Marvel was able to take all the paranoia and political confusion of the early 2000s and distill it into a rollicking superhero epic that actually had long-term effects on its characters, some of which are still being felt. (Main case in point: Jessica Drew and Tony Stark; I'd tell you why, but SPOILERS, and you should just read "Civil War" and "The Initiative," if you haven't already.)
But how does my beef with wasted storytelling opportunities relate to the main focus of this blog, i.e., how comics relate to and reflect everyday life. I guess the proof might be in the pictures. Way at the top of this post, you can find the poster for "Avengers Versus the X-Men." Below this text, you can see one of the main images released during "Civil War":
It's not just a matter of, "Oh, gee, who's getting in a fight now, and why should I care about it when I can clearly find other issues where even epic-er battle royales have taken place?" (Although that is a hang-up for me.) A larger point to take away might be this: What does it say about our society -- or the comics medium -- that popular stories can't be found in anything other than our heroes fighting each other, friends and family (as zombies), or themselves?
How do DC and Marvel know that the average comic buyer will tolerate, even embrace, the retread of "my friend is my enemy" plotline over and over? "Blackest Night" made beaucoup de bucks for DC, and "Civil War" is regarded as seminal storytelling by most fans (me, included). So where does the CEF come in? For me, it comes in when I'm forced to watch "The Initiative" turn into "Dark Reign" (where Spidey bad guy Norman Osborn takes over the government-run superheroes), which turns into "The Heroic Age" (where things are generally okay, I guess?), which turns into "Fear Itself" (where SPOILERS: Thor dies), just so everything can go to hell in a handbasket in "Avengers Versus X-men." It's exhausting, riding those waves, financially and dramatically. Especially when you know a more intimate story in an individual book might get sidelined in favor of continuing the twisting story that will CHANGE THE STATUS QUO FOREVER ... until the next event roars over the horizon.
I think event comics, by and large, are perhaps more ambitious in scale than they should be. Rather than watching characters make organic choices that directly affect them, readers are forced to watch their favorite folk try to punch Captain America or get possessed by a demon and kill their worst enemy (so they won't be culpable when they regain themselves; woot, Daredevil!). And what room for the audience lies in all of that perfectly positioned sturm and drang? Are the artists at these companies actually invested in these big storylines, or are all of these events meant to generate buzz and sales and have little impact on the heroes or their readers?
If I knew, I'd have a job editing comics and a buncha awards, I imagine. But my CEF gives me the sneaking suspicion that superhero comics could tell much more important stories than they often end up telling; I'm not saying we need to overtly reference social justice in every book, as was certainly done in the 1970s Green Arrow/Green Lantern series, or allow Superman to solve the crisis in the Middle East, as was done in early 2011. I'm just saying: wouldn't it be more daring for these books to touch the ground and give their protagonists something to fight for, rather than against each other? There's a lot of fighting going on in the U.S. every day. Why shouldn't our creations engage with that on a more than superficial level? After all, "Civil War" did, and the results were thought-provoking, even as they maybe spawned Marvel's reliance on event books as a whole.
I never really gave my final opinion on DC's reboot. By now, it's pretty obvious the folks at DC rushed into creating the New 52, or the DCnu, as it was first termed. But what's great, remains great: Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Wonder Woman, Batman. What started beautifully drawn, remains beautifully drawn: The Flash, Batwoman. What started solid, remains solid: Action Comics, Nightwing, Supergirl, The Huntress. What started inconsistent or playing it safe, remains inconsistent or playing it safe: Superman, Batgirl, Justice League. What started atrociously sexist, still seems to be unapologetic about its first issues: Catwoman, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Vodoo.
But I have my guesses on how long all of this will last before it's turned over for the next big thing. Clues in each comic give the impression we have a loophole out of this universe, but also: compare these publicity pictures; they say a thousand words.
How is this ...
Avengers Vs. X-Men: Jim Cheung, Artist.
Civil War: No clue. Any takers?
The New 52: Jim Lee & Scott Williams, Artists.
Avengers Initiative: Stefano Caselli, Artist.