16th Oct2013

In Defence of the Reboot #2 – Surprise!

by Mark Allen


A couple of weeks ago, Marvel sent out a preview for Wolverine and the X-Men #37, which showed a variant cover and interior pages that showed a strangely dressed Quentin Quire. It didn’t take much (or any) detective work to figure out that the Phoenix Force was making its return to the Marvel U (well, it has been a while), and some fans were more than a little incensed that they’d had what would likely be a major plot point revealed for them in a less than elegant manner. Before you say anything about simply not reading the story to avoid spoilers, let me add that the Phoenix connection was made explicit in the very title of CBR’s (and other sites’) articles, making it difficult for anyone reading Marvel’s current ‘Battle of the Atom’ storyline to experience events as they unfolded.

More recently, the upcoming death of Superboy and return of Stephanie Brown were also announced – not teased – at NYCC this past weekend, which begs the question: do DC & Marvel have so little faith in the talents of their creators that they’d much rather toss out any potential spontaneity or surprise in their storytelling than trust a writer and artist to do a good job?

I know it’s been like this for about as long as I’ve been reading comics, but it can’t stay like this. Movies aren’t this bad. Sure, there are plot-spoiling trailers that completely remove the necessity for a first act in summer blockbusters but at least they don’t go, “Psst! Batman dies in this one. But he doesn’t really”. TV doesn’t do this. In fact, when an extra-special character made a return or suddenly passed away

I suppose this might have something to do with the delayed gratification inherent in comics, being published on a monthly basis by-and-large. You can watch a six-part story on TV in a month and a half, but the same number of installments in a comic takes at least half a year (if the artist doesn’t get sick) to be completed. I guess maybe fans want a reassurance with an extended storyline like ‘Battle of the Atom’ that BIG THINGS are going to happen and they should keep throwing their money at it, but that seems more like an attitude projected onto readers by condescending marketeers who’ve long forgotten than comic book fans are humans too, with free will and nuanced tastes and quite possibly a disdain for corporate horse-flogging (well, despite what the sales figures say).

This problem is a macro version of one faced when actually reading a comic, a problem mentioned in passing by countless writers on “breaking into the industry” panels at conventions: the only chance you have to surprise an audience is the page turn. Once you’ve flipped from the right to the left you’ve, in the words of a fictionalised Patrick Stewart, “seen it all”. The jig’s up, you know how the fight ends or who gets resurrected or made to put the kettle on.

Again, you don’t get that experience in any other medium: you can’t see the next ten seconds of footage when watching a movie, ditto for a song’s runtime; the closest parallel would be prose fiction, but it’s very difficult to accidentally spoil the next page of a novel unless you’re focusing really hard on getting distracted.

So we know all that, and yet we read on. We do it because, presumably, we think the story’s good enough to warrant our continued attention, even if we’re rarely ever going to be surprised. But that’s hardly a certainty, especially when you’ve got event books with four or five different teams working on them. It’s starting to seem more like the spoilers are just beacons in the murk of uncertainty, markers to indicate more or less what you’re going to get (in an incredibly cack-handed, lowest-common-denominator way) if you commit yourself to this story for the next three months.

But those moments are rarely, if ever, the reason I read comics. Because they’re not stories – they’re just fireworks. They might be pretty and loud and exciting at the moment they happen, but they’re incredibly fleeting and never as memorable as you’d hope.

And the fireworks don’t even give you a chance to jump in fright or surprise…because they showed you a picture of the goddamn Catherine Wheels three months ago.

[Source: Comic Book Resources]

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