What started as a rare, special occasion for Marvel Comics has now become a yearly occurrence: the crossover event. For years, the publisher has fallen deeper in love with the idea of either introducing a threat to unite all of its heroes, or a conflict to pit hero against hero with alarming regularity. The latest example of this for 2017 is the Captain America-centric "Secret Empire."
Following the massive success of 2006's "Civil War," Marvel began scheduling its titles and storylines to culminate in a blockbuster spectacle each summer. This type of storytelling provides an uptick in the number of comics sold while also attracting the attention of the casual comic fan, which is why Marvel has continued to roll them out like clockwork. Plus, each new crossover results in large-scale ramifications felt throughout the Marvel Universe, theoretically offering creative teams fresh new storyline fodder.
By all rights, fans should be going crazy with anticipation for the next yearly event, but that isn't necessarily the case these days. What used to feel like a special occasion has turned into a formulaic process where the illusion of change is serviced, but nothing really happens. To make matters worse, instead of focusing on a single crossover event per year, Marvel has been adding multiple mini-crossovers into the various corners of its universe.
Yes, more crossovers equal more money, but at what cost? Let's take a look at what the impact of the "perpetual crossover" has had on Marvel and its fans.
Event Fatigue Is Real
Imagine this: You love pizza. You could eat it every day, and on a whim, you decide to do just that. Pizza for all seven days of the week. Everything seems great, except on the eighth day, you start getting tired of pizza. Sure, you mix the toppings up each day to attempt to give your food an aura of freshness, but at its core, it's still the same meal over and over again -- pizza is pizza. On Day 10, you decide enough is enough, and cow down on some sushi instead. As a fan, this is how I feel when a crossover encompasses the Marvel Universe.
To put it bluntly, Marvel has gone to the crossover event well too many times these last couple of years. 2006's "Civil War" was successful because it was the first time readers saw their favorite superheroes truly opposing one another on the battlefield. "Civil War II" was an honorable attempt to recreate that magic, but it didn't fully deliver.
We've come to expect that every year the seeds for an event will be planted to culminate in a crossover that summer. Now, it seems like the only thing that makes these stories different from one another are the principle cast members. It doesn't help that Marvel touts each crossover as a universe-altering incident that will have repercussions for years to come. How can this be true if the following year's incident will change the status quo that had been established just a year prior?
When Crossovers Run Late...
Originally, a crossover would start and end neatly in a roughly three-month span. The fallout would lead to new storylines and ongoing series for Marvel's heroes and villains that lasted until the following year, when it would all happen again. Lately, however, Marvel has discovered the trick of implementing line-wide rebranding that involves relaunching comics after a crossover with a new number one on the cover. For this to be successful, the crossover has to end on time, which has become a real issue over the last two years.
Perhaps the most ambitious event series in recent history was 2015's "Secret Wars." Every major title was put on hiatus while replacement miniseries followed the adventures of Marvel's characters as depicted in the primary "Secret Wars" comic. While this was going on, Marvel started teasing an All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe, one that would be both familiar and new to its audience once "Secret Wars" wrapped up. Then, what started with an end date of August 2015 dragged on into January 2016 as artist Esad Ribic required more time to illustrate each issue than was originally allotted -- and that was before Marvel made the call to extend the series by an extra issue. Because of this, the All-New, All-Different branding began while "Secret Wars" was still running. Marvel tried their best to not spoil the conclusion to "Secret Wars," but some reveals couldn't be prevented, like the presence of a rehabilitated Victor Von Doom in the new Marvel U, and the disappearance of the Fantastic Four.
This is hardly the first time an event has stumbled on its schedule -- the original "Civil War" saw its share of delays, as well -- but the same problem happened just a year later with "Civil War II." Just like with "Secret Wars," "Civil War II"'s ending was pushed back, and again, an added issue was tacked on at the last minute, causing its storyline to bleed into Marvel NOW! 2.0.
Marvel appears to have learned from these two mishaps, having announced multiple artists (Steve McNiven, Andrea Sorrentino, Leinil Yu and Daniel Acuna) to illustrate "Secret Empire." Whereas Marvel used to prioritize a single artistic vision for its crossovers (with some exceptions), now the focus appears to have shifted to getting the issues out in a timely fashion.
Speaking of "Secret Empire"...
What's The Perfect Number Of Issues For A Crossover?
Since a summer crossover normally runs for about three months, the number of issues the main title consists of can vary greatly. "Civil War", "Secret Invasion," "Fear Itself," "Secret Wars" and "Civil War II" all consisted of between six and nine issues of the core series. "Secret Empire" will be a total of nine issues, but will involve a seemingly endless number of tie-ins from other comics. It makes sense to open up an event the scope of "Secret Empire" to other creative teams to work into their series, but with nine issues and multiple one-shot tie-ins designed to be crucial to the overall story feels like overkill. Considering that the middle portion of an event tends often to stall, as characters stand around discussing what's happened or what they plan on doing, the trend towards longer rather than shorter events has left me, frankly, exhausted.
From May until August Marvel is going to be non-stop "Secret Empire" -- unless it runs late and can;t cross the finish line until 2017 comes to a close. That's a lot of comics, and a long time for some titles to put their storylines on hold in order to service the event.
So, What's the Solution?
One way Marvel can still feature crossovers without turning them into line-wide events is to sprinkle the tales into pockets of its universe. Instead of every comic being affected, let the stories center around franchises like the Avengers, cosmic heroes (Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, Silver Surfer, etc.), X-Men, and Inhumans. Marvel actually did this in 2016 with "Avengers: Standoff!," "Spider-Women" and "Apocalypse Wars." The problem is, these are released in between the major company-wide events, resulting in even more event fatigue as there's no room for fans to breathe.
Three months into 2017, and three different events have already concluded or are set to wrap up: Spider-Man's "The Clone Conspiracy," "Inhumans vs. X-Men" and "Monsters Unleashed." We're not even accounting for the recently announced "Generations" that may be a tease for a future crossover event. The Marvel crossover wheel continues to spin at an accelerated pace with no end in sight. At what point does the 12-month publishing calendar turn into one huge mega-crossover? For some fans, it feels like it already has.