Thursday, August 11, 2005

Crisis in cross-title stories

I don't read a lot of comic these days. I mainly select a few based on the writer. One I do read is The Hulk because I like Peter David's writing. I got a new issue a couple of days ago and found that the title has been taken over by the House of M plotline. The Scarlet Witch went crazy and reformed the world with mutants in charge and humans being hunted.

I don't care for these cross-title plotlines for several reasons. One is that this is a blatantly commercial attempt to get me to buy other titles. Plotlines dictated by commercial concerns are rarely readable.

Another reason is that variations of this plotline have been used before. Don't keep regurgitating the same stories.

Finally, I know that everything will be put back the way that it was in a month or so. That's how these alternate reality plotlines work. This is a commercial reality. You cannot suddenly redo all of your successful titles without losing most of your audience.

This is why I liked Babylon 5 and lost interest in the Star Trek clones. In Babylon 5, if something happened, it really happened. No one waved a magic wand and reset reality. In Deep Space 9 and the others, you knew that the really big changes were in an alternate reality/dream/etc. By the closing credits, everything would be set right again (moderate changes happened but only during sweeps month).

All of this was started by Jim Shooter, editor in chief of Marvel in the 1980s. Shooter came up with the "Secret Wars". Most of the "big" heroes and villains were transported to a distant world to fight for the education of an extra-dimensional being called the Beyonder. The Secret Wars had its own 12 issue limited series. It also worked into the continuity of the other titles. Each one had a page with the hero investigating an object in the Sheep Meadow in Central Park and vanishing. Each title had an issue without the hero, and each one had a major change when the heroes returned.

In some cases, the change was something that was already in the works that came to a head around the Secret Wars. Tony Stark who had been a homeless alcoholic went on the wagon. The Hulk who had Bruce Banner's intellect went sub-human.

In other titles, a change was introduced. Storm lost her powers. The Thing stayed behind on Battleworld and She-Hulk joined the FF. Spider-Man got a new costume which turned out to be alive and eventually became Venom.

In all, it was an interesting and fairly successful experiment.

DC got wind of it and launched their own cross-title book, Super Powers. It was written and drawn by Jack Kirby who was way past his prime and showing it. It was about as engaging as an episode of Super-Friends.

Marvel followed up the Secret Wars with a sequel. This time the Beyonder came to earth. This time they only had a few issues of Secret Wars II. The rest of the action took place in individual titles. This was the model for the current cross-title plots.

One or more writers plots out the main action. Either certain actions are to happen during the cross-over or something big will be happening that the heroes have to react to. The results are usually rough and uneven as multiple creative teams put their own stamp on the storyline.

The biggest of these was Crisis on Multiple Earths. DC decided to clear away nearly a half century of spotty continuity. An evil alien called the Anti-Monitor was destroying alternate universes (called "earths" in a fit of anthrocentrism). Eventually he was planning to become god, ruling over the remaining universe. By the end, the Anti-Monitor was defeated but only the simple "earth" remained. Through some mysterious process, the people who should continue to exist did and those who should not did not.

While they were at it, DC recreated Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Robin, making them more Marvel-style.

It took years to smooth things over after the mess this caused. Since then, no cross-title plotline has tried to affect things on this scale.

Which is why I know that by the next issue of the Hulk everything will be back to normal.

No comments: