Thursday, April 28, 2011

Narrative Check Kiting! (Spoilers Abound)

Brightest Day has solidified for me what I've long suspected - the problem with mainstream comics is that they've become entirely reliant on "event" books to remain solvent, and the "event" books amount to nothing more than narrative check kiting.

Marvel and DC are no longer in the story business.  They are both illusionists at this point, with just enough rabbit coming out of the hat to sucker a couple of dissatisfied customers to the next show, which will certainly be thirty times more super, of course.  But the magic isn't there.

Don't take my word for it, though.  Take it from the experts, who are much less jaded and much more invested than I am..  Here's Doug Zawisza reviewing Brightest Day # 24 over at CBR:

"The shift in the last two issues to suddenly make this a book that featured Swamp Thing was dynamic and sudden, but also detracted from the wonderful stories being set up for the other characters who truly carried this book through."

How about this from George Marston from the Best Shots team over at newsarama:

"It was made clear early on that the series was building towards something, and sometimes felt like it was less a story, and more a tool being used to accomplish a task."

The game is counterfeit, folks.  The game is to beat the solicitation copy.  The trick is to do something, anything, as long as it isn't guessed at and it can be rolled into the next round of bullshit masquerading as a story.  And if you're Marvel, you really don't have to worry about the "keep em' guessing" part, because Marvel goes out of its way to ruin its own "surprises" on a daily basis.

So the point of Brightest Day is not to tell a story, in case you were ever fooled.  The headline is:


But all that stuff with Hawk and Dove, and Hawkman, and Firestorm, and Deadman, and's all bullshit.  It's all just a ruse to divert your attention from the Swamp Thing gambit, so you spend the money on Aftermath: Search For Swamp Thing.

Zawisza says the Brightest Day epilogues for the would-be stars of the series are "...hollow without any indication of where to follow these characters from here, save for Swamp Thing."

Look, I'm fine with Swamp Thing and JC coming back, but why can't it make sense, and flow?  Why does it have to be a bait and switch?

There's never any real money in these narrative accounts.  The trick is to get the sucker invested in the next bad check.  This is Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi we're talking about here, too.  The problem isn't that the writers aren't up to snuff.  The problem is that these things aren't even built as stories.

Go listen to John Siuntres talk to Matt Fraction on Word Balloon about Fear Itself.  It wasn't built on any place of inspiration, and it didn't develop from something vital in the characters or their history.  It came from editorial approaching Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker with "we've got these movies coming out with Captain America and Thor, what can you give me on those characters that's big"?

I'm not suggesting that Fraction is doing hack work, and I'm not saying that nothing good can come from editorial prodding.  I believe that Fraction is doing the best work he knows how on Fear Itself, but it's not a story he was dying to tell, and that kind of manufactured hype for hype's sake hasn't played well in the past.

I think we're likely to see a lot of magic hammers fall from the sky, a lot of characters will behave in odd and contradictory ways, somebody will "die" for about twelve minutes, and then it will end with everyone and everything back to the way it started but for some completely random and ill-fitting twist that will set up the next bad check they want to pass our way.  Call me the Amazing Fucking Ryan, but I think it's safe to say that's how this is going to fall out.  You'll have to let me know, because I'm not going to be buying any of it.

It's not about narrative.  The point of Secret Invasion is to set up Dark Reign so you can set up Siege.  It's an endless stream of narrative checks with insufficient funds, promising the next one will pay for it all.  For some reason an incredible number of us are still buying.

I read New Mutants # 24 today, God help me.  It's the big finale for the Age of X hullaballoo, and it's utterly bereft of any meaning.  Legion spins off a psychological genie, and at the end he just sucks her back in.  None of it was real at any point, and the solution was beyond Deus Ex Machina and straight into the "what was the goddamn point of that?" category.  By the way, haven't we gone to well on Legion enough, already?  That whole story was the equivalent of a dream sequence or a holodeck exercise, specifically designed to accomplish nothing.

Mike Carey calls it the most fun he's had at Marvel in the back matter.  Well, I'm glad somebody had fun.

Flashpoint is coming out soon.  Alternate reality, huh?  They're not even pretending about the ephemeral nature of the bullshit any more.  Are you still going to buy in?  Probably.

As your attorney, I advise you to go read Savage Dragon and leave these rubber checks alone.  Just sayin'.

- Ryan


Stephen said...

Here, here!

There was a point recently where I would still feel enough of a pull from picking up the monthlies to go and also try on the Marvel or DC event book 'Du Jour', but with my wholesale abandoning of the monthlies for the TPBs the pull is no longer really there, and by the time I catch up on the storylines which lead in to these 'events', I am able to make a more level headed decision on whether or not to follow the event via the collection. Having the benefit of hindsight and the opinions of others on an event after it is all said and done is definitely a plus to my comic-buying budget(which of course you have helped to expand with some recent timely advice on how to play certain amazon marketplace 'games', lol).


Killyrcomics said...

I realize there were events before this, but weren't Crisis on Infinite Earths and Secret Wars the first REAL events. Crisis existed for the sole purpose of fixing DCU continuity and Secret Wars was all about selling toys. I'm not sure which is more noble, but I enjoyed both of them in spite of their true motives.

Chronic Insomnia said...

Really, Secret Wars was the first. Contest of Champions is sort of a prototype, I consider Secret Wars the beginning.

And it isn't that there couldn't be an event built organically on storytelling. And it isn't that there couldn't be a manufactured event that paid off. Those things could happen, they just don't.

Honestly, Civil War was a galactically good idea. We could debate about whether the execution did service to the inspiration. I think letting Mark Millar run with that is tantamount to letting a schizophrenic trim your rose bushes with a chain saw. It didn't pay off. And it was late. And the characters and plot elements were inconsistent on the tie-in books.

Maybe Flashpoint will be fantastic, and I don't really understand what its attempting right now. I think it was Peter Milligan raving about it the other day, and I don't categorize him as a company shill. It feels like a manufactured pre-planned "none of this ever happened...or did it??" things that spills into the next BIG THING I won't be bothered with. Anywho. Nothing I can do about it other than not buy it, which I do at an Olympic level.

Killyrcomics said...

Ironically, when events grow organically out of storytelling, it makes much more sense to allow the event to take place in the actual title that the events grew out of.

For example, Walt Simonson's Thor run built up to Ragnarok and Surtur storyline in Thor #350-353.

Nowadays, Uncanny X-men spins it wheels for a few years to lead up to X-men: Schism which is, of course, an extra book I need to buy to follow the story. Shameless cash grab and I'm sick of it.