With both Marvel and DC running big, somewhat vague multiverse spanning crossovers this year, I decided to take some time to go over what retailers would be looking for from both of these series. Last week (a day before more details were released about the event), I went over the shape of Convergence and what it could do to move the sales needle. Today, I’m hitting Secret Wars.
While Convergence is an event being built out of near necessity, Secret Wars is an event that’s emerging from years of planning on the part of Marvel and writer Jonathan Hickman. Both approaches have their pros and cons. While I’m really enjoying Hickman’s work on the Avengers line, it was never anything I would be able to hand to a new reader easily – and his work on the title has only gotten more complex. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this approach, especially when you have several titles on the stands that new readers can easily gravitate to like Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, and Hawkeye – but when it comes to the big event, you want to try and make that thing as accessible as possible. DC can theoretically do this with Convergence by structuring their event as a low-threshold buy-in, featuring two part stories that exist without too much connective tissue. Marvel could theoretically do this, but there’s very little known about the actual structure of Secret Wars beyond the fact that it will be impossible to escape if you’re interested in their line.
The unfortunate part for people who are afraid or intimidated by it is, if you’re following Marvel Comics, you’re not going to be able to get away from it. This is a profound and huge moment in the history of Marvel, and it’s going to reverberate throughout the entire line, except maybe Star Wars.
-Tom Brevoort, from his interview at CBR on Friday
On the one hand, this sounds cool an ambitious – especially given the fact that many Marvel editors and creators have stated Secret Wars will effect Marvel through other forms of media as well. A project on that scale would be a cool thing to be a part of, even as a spectator.
On the other hand, an event with so much connective tissue also breeds a high level of incomprehension. While it’s all well and good to market to the hardcore audience every now and then, it’s long term murder to build a story that only your die-hards are going to appreciate the whole shape of. Built without some finesse, this event could be a very cool way to lose a lot of interest in your product. Built correctly, however, and you could turn a lot of casual fans into die-hards.
The first thing I would do, is have the event function on it’s own. Yes, it’s the culmination of a few years worth of storytelling, but keep the ideas at the core relatively simple. At first blush, it looks as though all the reality crashing that’s been happening across Hickman’s Avengers books will come to a head as all realities meld into one, saving everyone briefly before human nature takes over and territorial fights start to erupt. The key to running this would be to address the circumstances, but keep things simple. Speaking from experience, you can kill a person’s interest in something by explaining it to death before they have a chance to read it. Give people two sentences of description, and include a bit of meat on the bones to whet the palate. If they want to bite, they might go back and explore how things got to where they are, and if they don’t, you’re not implying that they have a big knowledge gap that they have to fill. I would go with a simple declarative, “realities have condensed on themselves, and it’s up to us to keep the peace”. Boom. Concept dropped, with the slight implication of history for those who are interested in going back to check things out.
Beyond that, the structure of the thing will have to be addressed. The main event should be self contained, requiring nobody to push out into other series to grab the whole context. Any other series that push out from there (presumably, the ones that feature specific realities as teased by Marvel over the past few weeks) should be able to function on their own, and be enjoyed on their own accord. Any ongoings that tie into this structure should be able to function as well. What I expect is for something akin to the original Secret Wars series to happen. One month, things are normal, and the next, Spider-Man is running around in a new costume, and people are left wondering until the facts are slowly revealed. This would point new readers back to the big series for more information, but again, if played right, will not require them to do so.
What I want to be true? Marvel pulling a bit of a fast one, pretending as though they are following the original Secret Wars formula by having different realities “infect” certain titles, before returning to a slightly altered states-quo when the event is wrapped. It would play beautifully into a culture of overly specific fan service, offering people a glimpse into realities and eras that the wish never went away, while not fundamentally changing the line in an irreparable way. Note: this seems to be what DC is doing with the two issue minis, offering people a glimpse into realities where Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon get married, where Stephanie Brown remained as Batgirl, where Wally West exists as he did with his family, and so forth and so on. Fan service bait, before a reversion of sorts to a structure that might not be pleasing to all, but cohesive enough to function on the larger scale both companies need.
In the end, I know the shapes of all of these events has already been decided, and that my natterings will have absolutely no effect on the shape of anything. That said, I always think it’s good for companies to take into account structures that would fit the needs of retailers in addition to their budgets, sales goals, and creative input. While retailers can be dragged along a certain amount, at some point, they’ll either wise up, or go out of business, and both options are lose lose for publishers. Build these events to welcome as many people as possible, market the hell out of it, and you’ll do just fine. Allow ambition and sales goals to dictate structure, and you could very well end up with a universe breaking event. That will sour retailers and fans alike on the aftermath – and in an industry built on the perpetual second act, that’s not a good thing.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Is there more? Maybe. I’d still like to hear what you have to say about Convergence and Secret Wars. What do you like from events. What do you want from events? Comment below, and I might address them in a third part to this series.
[Brandon Schatz has been working behind the comic book counter for eight years. He’s spent the past four as the manager of Wizard’s Comics and Collectibles in Edmonton, Alberta. In his spare time, he writes about the comics he likes over at Comics! The Blog. You can find him on twitter @soupytoasterson. The opinions expressed are those of Schatz and do not necessarily reflect those of The Beat.]