A Comic Book Entry – Diminishing Returns

or, “Everything old is new again.”
or, “Why we can’t have nice things.”

Variety is the Spice:
Humans like novelty. We really, really like new things. We literally get a high from new things. But the unfortunate flip side to that is our brains get bored quickly. What was once new and exciting soon becomes routine and boring leading us to seek out new things. For a given stimuli, the resulting rush of good feelings from novelty steadily diminishes with the amount of exposure.

This manifests in a lot of ways, notably in how movie sequels almost always have a lower box office total even if the sequel is actually superior (rare, but it does happen).  A new TV series will initially lose viewers once the novelty has worn off.  Sustaining an audience/consumer base requires more than a single high-energy stimuli over and over again.  This is why Super Bowl tickets dropped in price after the Patriots beat the Colts (topical!); people are tired of seeing the Patriots in the Super Bowl.  It’s just not special anymore.

Crossing Over:
And this brings me to event comics. Part of the reason I dropped comics is that for the past decade or so (I am soooo old) there has been a decreasing emphasis on long-term story building and a greater emphasis on world events encompassing several titles for a short run of issues. I won’t say this is exactly new.  I just don’t quite know when it became the business model for both of the big two companies.  Why, for example, was it necessary to have a major Teen Titans/Legion Lost crossover event (with Superboy!) before any of the affected comics had reached 12 issues?  That’s right, a major event before the comics had even been out for a full year.

The latest symptom of event-itis is Marvel’s new “Secret Wars.”  Now, the original “Secret Wars” was a big, universe-spanning event that was pretty much written because Kenner wanted a big event to draw attention to their planned Marvel Superheroes storyline.  It was a straight-up attention-grabbing business move.  And therein lies the big problem with events.  All comics are supposed to sell, but instead of letting good stories stand on their own, events are advertised and marketed to the hilt to attract customers and the story is irrelevant. This latest “Secret Wars” planned has, of course, already been done, although DC called it “Crisis on Infinite Earths.”  This was hinted at in the New Avengers comic my friend accidentally received, although I didn’t make the connection then (as it seemed that thread was wrapped up; I guess not).  All the parallel universes have to fight it out to survive and in the end their will be only one single Marvel universe, just like what happened to DC.

Worlds Collide:
I could pick apart why this is a god-awful stupid idea on the face of it. Marvel has gotten a lot of story mileage out of their parallel universes (Cyclops and Phoenix have met three of their alternate-universe children; one of 616-Captain Britain’s primary nemeses is the Nazi Captain Britain [yes, comics are very weird]) so it seems like a poor move to cut off a rich source of stories.  Marvel’s tried large scale reboots before, with varying results true but the Ulti-verse (1610) is still going strong. Whoever wins or loses, there will be outcries from all sides, “You changed it, now it sucks!”  And, of course, the fact the whole premise is flawed because heroes ought to be working TOGETHER to SAVE EVERYONE instead of fighting each other (the fact the big two companies seem to have a very poor grasp of “hero” is a gripe for another time) in a contrived Battle Royale.

But the particular flaws in the planned event are irrelevant; that is, as I said, just one symptom of the problem.  The problem appears to be that Marvel and DC have forgotten how to build an audience.  In fact the more events they write, the more reboots and retcons that come out, the more I’m convinced I am no longer the target audience for comic books.  They don’t want my subscription.  They want a huge influx of cash as a new audience buys up all of the event comics.  After all, adults don’t read comic books, right?  I don’t understand catering to a demographic that doesn’t have ready cash to spend (i.e., kids and teenagers).  Or maybe this is the collector bubble all over again.  Instead of issuing “collector” issues to try to bolster flagging sales, they issue event comics instead.  And after the initial influx of cash, sales drop again because nothing is ever going to remain so popular as something new.  That’s the nature of diminishing returns.

All New! All Different! (Except Not Really):
Comic books are being marketed kind of like movies; discrete blockbusters with a loose continuity. Events are fine once in a while but not as a matter of course.  There’s no story building.  There’s no chance to really explore the consequences of the event before the next one comes along to change everything again.  For the potential long-term audience (that is, me), I find this exhausting.  Why should I invest any of my time or emotional energy into a character or world that’s going to completely change in two years or less?  Everything will change!  Except what will never change, or go back to the way it was.  Someone will die!  Except when they come back to life or are cloned.  Why should I care about any of it?

Sometimes I think the writers are fed up with this too.  I mentioned an Ultimate Spider-man comic I read in which the main character mentions basically in passing that the U.S. was under martial law.  I did a double-take.  But the writers aren’t in charge, so they have to go with this event-centric policy.  Well, I don’t buy comics for events.  I used to buy comics in spite of events.  I often found events annoying because they interrupted the main story and I usually had to go find out what the hell happened in another comic because mine just skipped that part.  Events also weren’t always the entire universe.  Sometimes there were momentous events that occurred just for the Avengers, or just for the X-men.  Now events involve everyone and their Aunt May.

The rush of a new story has diminished to irritation.  I have hardly any interest anymore because what I enjoyed about comics (the continuity, the weirdness) seems to be what the two companies are trying to excise.  Don’t get me wrong; there were major events I enjoyed (I read all 35 issues of the “Age of Apocalypse” storyline) but I jut don’t enjoy them all the time.  Maybe there is an audience who only likes discrete stories that require no investment in either the past or future of the universe.  It sure makes it easier to indulge in more and more events that have heroes fighting heroes, which I find to be a particularly tiresome plot.  Second in over-exposure to that is of course the “heroes turn evil” events which are DC’s stock and trade these days.

Overall – I’m bored by these events.  They aren’t new and they aren’t interesting.  I have no reason to emotionally invest in either comic book universe, so I have no reason to financially invest either.


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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