To me, the job of an editor-in-chief of a comic company is pretty simple. Know the past stories, and keep the writers in line as far as character development, internal story logic, and over-all continuity. However, the editor-in-chief, at least of Marvel, and this is over the course of the company, has not always done that, especially in the past couple of decades (I.e House of M, Mutants vs. Vampires, ret-conning Spider-man, ret-conning the ret-con of Spider-man, etc. etc.). Writers (and editors) almost always start out as fans, which means they probably have potential storylines waiting in the back of their minds since they start reading. Naturally they would want to bring some of these stories to life. However, what sounds like a really cool plot at age 13 probably won’t be so cool at age 35, and in the intervening years may not be plausible based on character changes and story developments. So this is the first of a few entries on the rules (and exceptions) I would have as Tyrant-in-Chief of a comic book company, with mainly examples from Marvel.
First, the overall guiding principle above all rules: respect the audience. This actually applies to all writing, but I think comic books suffer greatly from a lack of respect for the audience. Sometimes I think comic books staff think their audience is compromised solely of immature adolescent boys. This often leads to storylines and/or artistry that’s offensive to the part of the audience that is not adolescent boys (see my previous rant on “Women in Spandex Bikinis” or the rants on “Spider-man”). If the staff would respect that the audience is diverse I think the industry would fare better. But maybe that’s just me.
Rule 1 (and all other rules are simply variations on this rule) – Maintain continuity and internal story logic.
Exception 1) – there is no exception. If you want to write something that defies continuity and internal story logic, write a “what if.”
R2) No character, no matter how popular, may be on more than one team. As I write this, Spider-man is currently on the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. Wolverine is on the X-men and the Avengers. Luke Cage runs the Thunderbolts and is on the Avengers. There is simply not enough time for any character to be on more than one team.
E2) A character may join another team for one story arc, provided it does not contradict the long-running team comic either in events, time, or character (This means they can’t cover the same time frame, or have the character doing something in one book they swore they’d never do in the other, or have someone alive in one book that’s dead in the other and so on).
R3) No character, no matter how popular, may have more than two long-running comics. Right now, in addition to the two team comics, Spider-man also has a solo comic. There are not enough hours in the day, especially since most characters are supposed to have something of a social life and some (like Spider-man) are trying to hold down a real job. A team comic and a solo comic is acceptable as long as the events of the non-team comic do not contradict the team comic in events, time, or character.
E3a) Character mini-series are fine in large numbers, as long as it’s not more than 6 issues and doesn’t blatantly overlap the timeline from one of the other comics/teams (can’t contradict events, time, or character).
E3b) There may be methods to have more than two long-running titles, but it would require strict quality control. The rules, however, are the same no matter how it’s done – the events of one book cannot contradict the other in events, time, and character. Now, for a long-lived character like Wolverine, there could be a comic in modern times and one set back in the 1800s or something, which in general would make it easier to do. But running more than one title in modern times would be very strictly controlled.
R4) If a character is going to die, make it meaningful. Also, they must stay dead for at least five years of comic book time (or three years real time); basically long enough to make it count for something.
E4) There is no exception to this rule. Even if a lot of characters are killed off with the apparent intention of bringing them back in a huge cross-over event (I.e. “Blackest Night;” although I can’t say for sure that’s what happened, that’s what it felt like when I read it) it still runs the risk of making all their deaths seem like empty marketing ploys.