It's the CBR staff's favorite time of the year -- round-up time! At CBR News, our writers often have to place their biases aside when they talk to and about the comics industry's creatives day-in and day-out; and the annual Year-End Round-Up is the one time they can just let it all hang out.
In other words, this could get ugly.
Participating this year are CBR staff writers Emmett Furey, Andy Khouri, Dave Richards and George Tramountanas. These four writers read easily over a hundred comic books a month between them, and sometimes even five times that amount. They've interviewed writers, artists, editors, colorists, letterers and publishers, and have a keen grasp of the trends in our business -- from what has happened to what is mostly likely to happen.
The biggest trend in mainstream comics of 2007 is undeniably the pervasion of enormous, multi-part crossover events. As such, our staffers had much to say on the subject, and this first of a two-part look at the trends of 2007 is dedicated to the variously controversial and popular phenomenon.
Superhero Crossover Events
The more I do these round-ups, the more I begin to see a cycle in the way the comic industry goes through trends. Take the Crossover Event comic -- by far the biggest trend in the industry this year. Crossover Events were huge back in the late '80s and early '90s before they disappeared for a few years, reappeared again, and disappeared once more. Now they're back and bigger than ever.
Every publisher capable of a crossover event has been doing one. It's obviously most noticeable with the Big Two (Marvel and DC), but even companies like Dark Horse have found a way to capitalize on their properties, as with the large Star Wars Vector crossover beginning in 2008.
And why wouldn't they want to hop on this trend bandwagon? As shown by the numbers, it's been hugely profitable for most. From past years' Infinite Crisis prequels to the event itself, from Civil War to The Initiative, and from Planet Hulk to World War Hulk, publishers have seen their sales numbers shoot through the roof. Heck, when a critically reviled series like Countdown can still sell consistently over 50,000 copies per-issue, why wouldn't publishers want to continue with Event comics?
It is worthwhile to examine the way the two majors are conducting their crossover events. Marvel seems to be overlapping its events, yet limiting them to specific corners of the universe. House of M definitely affected both the Avengers and X-Men corners, but the fallout from said event -- now occurring in Messiah CompleX -- is limited to their mutant-centric books.
Civil War begat The Illuminati, which begat Planet Hulk and World War Hulk -- all of which affects Hulk's corner of the Marvel U. Civil War was also responsible for Spider-Man: Back in Black, which gave us One More Day -- which has definitely changed Spider-Man's world. And the previously-mentioned Illuminati is also going to give us Secret Invasion, which will probably touch every book in the Marvel Universe.
Marvel's methods have several benefits. If a Crossover Event is a bust, the company hasn't upset all its fans. If a reader isn't interested in certain characters or genres, they can avoid those crossovers altogether. Additionally, with all the different events going on, Marvel can choose to utilize their writers and artists in ways that suit those creators' talents -- like placing former Legion of Super-Heroes writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning on Annihilation: Conquest.
DC isn't splitting its crossover-events, it's telling its audience that everything ties together -- in other words, all DCU books matter. The events taking place with Wonder Woman and the Amazons tie-in directly with the events of Countdown, which tie-in with what is happening to Superman in Action Comics, and so on and so on.
The benefit to DC's method is obvious -- if they win and readers buy every DCU title to keep up, DC wins big. It's like plunking all of your chips on red in roulette. However, if things come up black, well, it won't be pretty. DC is running a pretty risky game at the moment, and a lot of it is going to rely on how Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones execute Final Crisis (good luck, fellas!).
Eventually, no matter how great all these Crossovers may or may not be, I do anticipate reader burnout. I kind of worry the Big Two might be heading into a murky area in which Hollywood executives typically dwell, where money matters most. This past summer in cinema was a perfect example -- studios gave us sequels for Pirates of the Caribbean, Rush Hour, Bourne Identity, Harry Potter, and Spider-Man. Where did all the original ideas go?
Granted, if fans are smart enough (or frustrated enough), they'll find fresh books from Image, Oni, IDW and other publishers who aren't so Event-based. At the end of the day, it should be all about telling a great story. Whether it's in a Crossover Event or a simple book with a slice-of-life tale, entertain and move me. If you do, I'll keep coming back. If not, well, there's lots of comics on the rack.
I think George is right that the Crossover Event has become the comic book equivalent of the summer movie blockbuster. Sure, these stories can be loads of fun, but there's a danger when you play on such an epically huge field. Characterization can get lost in the shuffle, and it often becomes less important than the plot. Does that happen all the time? No. And when you get a large crossover with interesting character moments it's truly something special like World War Hulk was.
I can't speak to the quality of DC Comics' big crossovers this year because, like George indicated, everything ties into their Countdown event, and that's simply demanding too much of me as a reader. I passed up buying Gotham Underground -- which looked to be a pretty interesting old school Batman tale -- out of fear it would tie into Countdown.
Thankfully, the Big Two offer some islands for those suffering from Event burnout, such as Marvel's solo books like Daredevil, Moon Knight, and Immortal Iron Fist; and DC's JSA Classified and JLA Classified. Of course, the best solution for those suffering from Event fatigue comes in the form of the excellent non-superhero books being published by Vertigo and publishers like Devil's Due, Image and Dark Horse.
There may be an outcry against Crossover Events in the coming years, but I think too many comic fans are mired in the mentality that they must have every story with their favorite characters, even if that story is really bad. Until fans start voting more with their wallets, Crossovers -- regardless of quality -- are here to stay.
As George mentioned, the through-lines from one Crossover to the next have been decidedly more organic in recent years. And while I wholeheartedly support this, that alone does not a good Crossover make.
What does a good Crossover make, you ask? To make these big stories worthwhile, the payoff has to be big. And I'm not talking about a Michael Bay-style widescreen climax; I'm talking about an enduring legacy, a distinct change in the status quo. Granted, there is a long history of comic Crossovers filled with sound and fury, yet signifying nothing. This is precisely why, when Marvel's Civil War broke out, I fully expected the Registration side to lose -- and why I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong.
The fan community hemmed and hawed about the anti-climax of Captain America's surrender and his subsequently unceremonious assassination on the courthouse steps. But I found myself grinning ear to ear because Civil War, as an event, irrevocably changed the Marvel Universe. Like it or hate it, the post-Civil War Marvel Universe is markedly different from the one that preceded it, and has paved the way for new avenues of storytelling.
I'm not going to make you all listen to me dissect every major crossover from the past year, but 52 and Countdown do deserve a mention. Last year at this time, with 52 still in midstream, I could do little but call the project an ambitious experiment. But now I can say I believe it was a resoundingly successful one, both commercially and artistically (and how often does that happen?).
That said, I'm not sure 52 is an experiment that bears repeating. A 52-issue commitment is not only a daunting prospect for fans' pocketbooks, it's also a nigh insurmountable hurdle for new or casual readers who want to jump on the bandwagon.
A related and disturbing trend worth noting is itself the result of these Event comics -- letdown endings. More and more, I hear critics and fans being underwhelmed by the conclusions to these huge Events. With the large buildups the publishers mandate for these comics -- and how much fans have to pay for all the issues that tie-in to the Crossover Event -- one can understand where the readers are coming from.
The ending to Civil War was essentially we surrender. In World War Hulk, Tony Stark pulled out the deus ex machina equivalent of an Ultimate Nullifier to take down the Hulk. And Infinite Crisis? I'm not sure that even had an ending. It seems that series was just supposed to be a prelude for Final Crisis.
Buyer's remorse is one of the most formidable dangers the Big Two publishers are facing at the moment, and another is alienating creators. The Event comic does seem to come with this unfortunate side-effect, as some creators have made publicly known: Writer J. Michael Straczynski asked for his name to be taken off Spider-Man: One More Day, DC Comics editor Matt Idelson indicated frustrations about working on Amazons Attack, and we've heard of more incidents along these lines. It will be interesting to see if this type of creative frustration continues in 2008.
We observed this Crossover Event trend last year, and I think the reason our observations of 2007 are so similar to those of 2006 is because most of the stories began last year really haven't fucking ended yet.
That's pretty much all I have to say about the Crossover Event trend, except to add that the Sinestro Corps War situation is incredibly damning for the superhero publishers. Geoff Johns' storyline achieved in just eleven issues of two existing titles a complete story, a staggeringly high level of reader satisfaction, anticipation for more, and, arguably, a genre-redefining level of creative achievement that Civil War, World War Hulk, Countdown, etc. have never come close to.
In other words, the question superhero creators and editors need to be asking fans at conventions isn't, So, you like the weekly comics? but rather, So, you like the good weekly comics? because Geoff Johns has made everybody look really bad.
It's time to close out the first part of our discussion on the trends of 2007. There is much to mull over here, so contemplate, ruminate, and then head over to the CBR Community forum to share your thoughts. And don't forget to check back for the second part of our trends discussion, in which the CBR staffers delve into matters of digital comics distribution, late books, zombies, the infusion into comics of new voices from other mediums, and the growing relationship between comic books and popular music.
Now discuss this story in CBR's Community forum.