Secret? What Crisis?

Last week I fell prey to an avocational disease: I bought a couple of comics because I felt the need to keep current. They were DC Universe: Last Will and Testament, by Brad Meltzer, Adam Kubert and John Dell, and Final Crisis: Revelation #1, by Greg Rucka, Philip Tan, inker Jeff De Los Santos and colorist Jonathan Glapion. Both are part of DC Comics’ current big crossover event, “Final Crisis.” DC says Final Crisis is what previous events from 2004’s Identity Crisis through Infinite Crisis and, somewhere in there, 52 and Countdown. The end result will be, DC said, to determine what their continuity will be for the next several years. In other words, the whole shebang constitutes a kind of four-year retcon.

Meanwhile, Marvel Comics has been running its own series of daisy-chained crossover events which, Wikipedia reminds me, includes “Avengers Disassembled, House of M, Decimation, and Secret War.” The current series is Secret Invasion.

When people like Douglas Wolk write about the high entry costs of corporate superhero comics—all that back-story—and declare that the pleasure to be had is the long sweep of the continuity-wide narrative, to some extent they’re talking about the succession of crossover series. Me, I hate ’em. Indeed, I wish they would get off my lawn.

The financial promise of the crossover event is that since one big story sprawls across many many comics people will buy more books than they would otherwise. The artistic promise is the chance to tell a big story with large themes and, to the extent the event will actually change things, real consequences. The latter promise is rarely realized. Meantime, math tends to make crossovers annoying. There are twelve months in a year. An eight-issue crossover series takes up two thirds of them, and either because of editorial pressure or authorial calculation, many books I’m reading because I like them will get swept up in the event of the moment. There’s a very good chance that what I like about the book has nothing whatsoever to do with the topics and themes of this year’s crossover. And, as discussed above the fold, both companies have been on a four-year crossover bender after several years of avoiding them. That means that every few months, the book you like has a real chance of getting rudely interrupted. On top of that, most comics are written in six-part arcs these days to simplify reprinting in book form. Moral: Don’t get too attached!

One of the biggest offenders, from my perspective, has been Peter David‘s X-Factor. X-Factor started as a noir-themed miniseries about Madrox, the Multiple Man. Its pleasures included a very intimate scale of threat and consequence—David understood that what makes good noir is that it’s personal. It also offered an impressively quirky take on what it would be like to be able to split yourself into copies and send the copies out to do your bidding. It sold well enough to become X-Factor the series. X-Factor the series became a kind of team book, with Madrox as the focal character and, at its best, the intimate focus of the miniseries. In one of my favorite single issues, Madrox has to decide whether to reabsorb a dupe that has married and started a family.

But X-Factor has been jerked this way and that by crossover events, including some X-events I didn’t even bother to list. From issue to issue I hardly know who these mutants are and why they’re in my book. I want to call 911. David and the creative team have seriously compromised the book’s essential pleasures in the name of, presumably, being good corporate citizens. If it weren’t for the inertia of the subscription box, I might not bother to read it.

Meanwhile, about the two comics I bought just to keep current. I liked DC Universe: Last Will and Testament a lot better than I expected to. I’ve never had much use for Brad Meltzer as a writer. And he’ll be forever infamous as the Man Who Had Sue Dibny Raped and Murdered. But this story has a little slyness to its ending. Requiem is the first issue of a five-issue miniseries. I thought it stunk. I’d suspect that was just me resenting buying a book just to keep current, but since I liked the other one okay, I absolve myself of this charge. Devon at Rack Raids explains why, within continuity, the character pairing of the (newish) Spectre and (new) Question ought to have resonance. It does for him. I found it utterly soulless.

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