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I guess the good news is we can follow along at home just by reading plot outlines

A while back i talked about this post at The Hurting where Tim O'Neil made the eye-opening but obvious in retrospect point that Marvel's events nowadays are basically planned as "a set of bullet points put together to clear out eight years' worth of dead-wood continuity problems". At the time he was referring to AvX. I looked at that and thought it rang true and helped explain why so many of these events seem so bad - they are planned by committee and a lot of the development for the story really just happens in the editors and writers' heads and the stories are just pushed through with brute force.

About a month ago, O'Neil put out another post about Age of Ultron, and writes:

Now, I want to stress that this was a momentary feeling - really, only a few seconds hesitation - but I was nonetheless attracted to the idea of Bendis as a high-powered surgeon who comes in, performs a high-pressure operation, and then leaves before the nurses begin the actual process of cleaning up the mess. When you view these things less as stories (which they aren't, not really) and more like spearheads for publishing initiatives (which they are, truly), the metaphor makes a lot of sense: Age of Ultron is messy, yes, but the idea is that it spawns a couple series and changes the direction of a few more books. People get excited so maybe they order a few more copies than they otherwise would of whichever books are spinning out of the event. New series that don't have a blockbuster creative team or popular premise need all the help they can get in this market, after all. The stories at the heart of the events are moot. They need to exist because the company has a need to earn a certain amount of money every fiscal quarter and major events are a guaranteed draw, but the quality or lack thereof is really besides the point.

All of which means, on a profound level, that the events in and of themselves don't really matter that much anymore. Sure, some events have had more lasting consequences than others, and to Marvel's "credit" they've done a good job of actually making these events "count." I put both of those words in the operational scare quotes for a good reason. House of M, Civil War, and Secret Invasion all had long-lasting consequences, and successfully changed the direction of the line for years to come. Everyone knows, everyone always knows, that everything will revert back to normal eventually, but Marvel has done a good job of playing these events in such a way that they actually do have consequences. The problem is that they've done too good a job here, in such a way as to alienate those readers who don't care about line-wide continuity repercussions and don't like their favorite characters having to participate in rolling crossovers every other month. ("Rolling crossovers" is roughly analogous to "rolling blackouts" in this context.) Dark Reign actually inspired a handful of fun stories, but woe betide any reader who was uninterested in Norman Osborne ruling the world and just wanted to read, say, a normal Avengers story during that period.

The bit about the surgeon comes from here, where Carla Hoffman at CBR writes:

Brian Michael Bendis is an incredible surgeon of event storytelling, and Age of Ultron #10 leaves stitches and scissors all over the reader's chest. I can't even say I'm surprised, nor can I really confirm that this is a "bad thing." There's no value judgment here: Age of Ultron needed to get to point B, it got there after 10 issues, and point C is going to be handled by a variety of folks (including Bendis himself, but we'll get to that).


In Avengers Disassembled, we had a problem of a stagnant Avengers comic; the book wasn't selling well, it had fallen into something of a rut creatively... Bendis grabbed a pen and introduced a major shake-up to Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the repercussions of which still last to this day. Too many mutants around thanks to Grant Morrison's wild ride? Bendis surgically struck with House of M, and "No more mutants" continues to anger our heroes (despite that edict being rewritten in a semi-Bendis-directed AvX). We needed a common enemy, old characters back on the playing field and another big shake-up to the Marvel Universe. Bam, Secret Invasion, which led to Dark Reign and beyond. Each time there's a problem, Bendis will solve it in an eight- to 10-issue story arc, and then he's out of there.

Rarely has an event book under his steady hand had a clear, definitive ending. The Avengers disassembled because the Scarlet Witch went crazy. Why? That was left for nurse Allan Heinberg to flesh out more in Avengers: Children's Crusade. Now that there's no more mutants, what happens to the X-Men? Welcome to the entire direction of the X-titles handled by everyone but Bendis at the time. Secret Invasion just ended with Norman Osborn slaying the Skrull Queen. What's after that? Dark Reign, where more characters were just pushed into place until Siege, where they were pushed back out of place and Heroic Age could begin. It's like there's no period at the end of Bendis' event sentences; they just keep going and going, running one into the other until someone else gets their hands in there and puts in that full stop.

Age of Ultron #10 is the best example yet of this strange, never-ending story phenomenon... Just when the day is saved, there's ... I don't know. A time quake? A big two-page spread of time fracturing and a variety of characters shouting out while history or the future plays out in shaky cam behind them? Reed Richards, Tony Stark and Beast all get together to stroke their chins and not really know what happened either. Apparently, Wolverine's fool move was the last straw and time is officially pissed off at the Marvel Universe.

And that's the end. Yes, there are more pages, but those are short ads for the miniseries Hunger (where 616-Galactus will invade the Ultimate Universe), Avengers A.I. (as Hank Pym now knows what he did wrong and what he has to do) and Guardians of the Galaxy (where Angela and the reader will figure out how she got into the Marvel Universe).

So putting it all together, not only are these events just hitting bullet points decided upon by committee and without the development necessary to get them there, but they are not even complete stories in their own right, just setting up the next new status quo. And not even fully explaining that status quo, and leaving it for the writers of the regular issues to deal with in whatever way they see fit until the next event, which will ignore all that to hit the next planned bullet point. When this started, it all felt pretty cool. I'm interested in the bigger picture of the Marvel universe, so seeing these events like House of M and Civil War, and the Norman Osborn takeover after Secret Invasion all have dramatic medium term effects on the larger Marvel universe, instead of, say, everyone defeats the Beyonder/Thanos/Apocalypse/Whoever and then goes home and back to their regular business, was exactly the sort of thing that i wanted to see.

Except... it never went anywhere, it just sort of weirdly jumped to the next big thing, and all of the books in between felt like they weren't coordinated with the big story. It's all been a confusing mess. And as O'Neil and Hoffman are saying, it's really by design. Let's eliminate most of the mutants. No planned resolution to that. Let's have a schism among the heroes. Ok, enough of that, let's have Norman Osborn take over SHIELD. Ok, wrap that up and now let's bring back the mutants. And that all sounds really good at the bulletpoint level but the individual stories start off enthusiastically with each new status quo, but with no real plans (and the inability to make plans since the direction comes from the top), they then meander for a while and then suddenly jerk to the next thing.

So while O'Neil says the problem is that Marvel is forgetting the readers that don't care about line-wide continuity, weirdly (for me at least) it's not working at that level either. In fact, it's gotten to the point where i've retreated from the line-wide events and i'm mainly picking up the fringe titles that stay out of this stuff - Young Avengers, FF, Daredevil, Hulk (actually the most recent Hulk deals directly with the Age of Ultron fallout in away that is really alarming to me, but more on that in today's Speed Review). And that's not where i want to be. I want to be reading the mainstream Avengers and X titles and all the big events, but they've just gotten so awful that i'm not able to. And per these posts i'm quoting, it's less the "Bendis can't write team books" and "Hickman is tediously boring" type stuff and more that the books are actually designed to be this way right now.

By fnord12 | August 12, 2013, 12:46 PM | Comics