The 10 clichés of the comic book mega-event

Illustration for article titled The 10 clichés of the comic book mega-event

With DC and Marvel's big summer events, Flashpoint and Fear Itself, shaping up and getting hyped, it's time to ponder the ten most common bromides of the modern comic book mega-event. And no, we don't mean "hologram covers."


10.) The High-Profile First Act Death
To establish that The Event Is A Very Big Deal, the event will toss a fan-favorite (but not eminently marketable) character under the bus. This death simultaneously justifies the publisher's PR hullabaloo and attracts the ghoulish interest of fans intrigued by the possibility of a high body count. Often the character quickly dies at the hands of an upcoming or second-tier villain, who must prove himself as a worthy nemesis. Comic publishers are like the Thugee cult from Temple of Doom — they know that any good party must start with a human sacrifice.

SEE: Ares in Siege, Martian Manhunter in Final Crisis, Nightcrawler in X-Men: Second Coming, Vision from Avengers: Disassembled, Wasp in Ultimatum, Hawkman and Hawkgirl in Blackest Night, Banshee in X-Men: Deadly Genesis, Bullseye in Shadowland.

9.) The D-List Mid-Game Death(s)
To keep the narrative a-chugging, the event will happily chuck underused or barely remembered characters into the meat grinder. This is the event's way of twiddling its thumbs before the grand denouement.

Let's take Goliath from Civil War. Goliath (a.k.a. "Black Goliath") was, in sum, a scientist who could become extremely tall. He enjoyed a nominal amount of fame in the 1980s — unlike Black Vulcan, he didn't have his own cartoon series, but his outfit too was made for the discotheque. After the early 1990s, (Black) Goliath was almost entirely shelved until 2006, when he was killed out of the blue by Thor's evil cybernetic twin in Civil War (yes, Thor had one of those). His last words? "Get ready for the shortest comeback in history, Thor." Indeed, mega-events are the abattoir for no-name heroes.

SEE: Caliban in X-Men: Messiah Complex , Vanisher in X-Men: Second Coming, Pantha and Bushido in Infinite Crisis, Damage in Blackest Night, The New Warriors in Civil War (but they died in the first act, making them a unique amalgamation of points #9 and #10).

8.) The Immediately Cancelled Spin-Offs
In the wake of a mega-event, the publisher will usher in a bunch of new spin-off titles to ride on the event's coattails. Some of these books can be fun (see: Kieron Gillen's S.W.O.R.D. post-Secret Invasion); a lot of these books run out of steam and sales several months later. Occasionally a book will gain life past its initial tie-in (Garth Ennis' Hitman was a happy byproduct of 1993's Bloodlines), but most spin-offs are axed and consigned to the dollar bin.


7.) The Legion of Titles Tenuously Tied To The Main Event
During line-wide events, a smorgasbord of nonessential miniseries tied to the main event will hit comic shops. There's nothing wrong with this per se — some readers really want to know what sweater Aunt May was crocheting during Secret Invasion or what was on Thomas "Pie-Face" Kalmaku's Netflix queue during Blackest Night — but these comics offer the illusion of urgency.

For example, if you're reading Power Pack during the Infinite Invasion mega-event, the Infinite Invasion: Power Pack miniseries will 9 out of 10 times have zip to do with the Power Pack main series or the Infinite Invasion event. You can blissfully ignore it, that is unless...


6.) The Mega-Event Puts Major Plot Points In Other Books
Countdown to Infinite Crisis was really bad at this. If you were reading The OMAC Project miniseries back in 2005, you wouldn't have known that Wonder Woman killed supervillain Max Lord (i.e. a big plot point) unless you were reading the Wonder Woman comic as well. Blackest Night and Secret Invasion did this to a lesser extent, tucking salient information away in the Green Lantern and Avengers titles, respectively. Imagine you're watching Lost and, in order to find out where the newest mystical thingamabob is, you suddenly need to subscribe to HBO.

5.) The Nonplussed Mainstream Media Response
It's a media coup for publishers to get CNN or AP to cover shifts in their comic universes' status quos. This occurred when Spider-Man unmasked himself in Civil War, Bruce Wayne franchised Batman, Captain America died, and the Human Torch was doused last month. Never mind that all of these changes will be moot (everyone's alive again!) in a year or two; it's just that you don't see CNN covering Days of Our Lives with a similar vigor. Then again, soap operas don't command the zeitgeist like superheroes do — there will never be a $200 million, explosion-laden Days Of Our Lives summer blockbuster scored entirely to AC/DC.


4.) Variant Covers
Nothing wrong with variant covers if you dig the artwork, but all those hologram covers from Fatal Attractions I once so assiduously collected aren't exactly tearing up eBay. But hey, maybe I just need to wait another 18 years for my investment to mature.


3.) The "Important" 11th Hour Death
Death undoubtedly carries narrative heft, but it leaves the reader cold when a hero who was stuck on the sidelines for most of the mega-event dies simply to imbue the story with significance. During Secret Invasion, the Wasp just sort of hung out, alternating between being very small and the size of a barn. She dies saving the world, having maybe 10 lines in the main series.

(Sure, her death impels her alien-abducted superhero husband Hank Pym to stop being a self-centered tool, but the series wasn't really about their marital shenanigans. It was about Oprah being an alien, duh. SEE: Everyone who dies in the last issue of Ultimatum.)


2.) The "Real-ifying" Of Light-Hearted Superheroes
If you're a chipper, silly, or otherwise milquetoast superhero headlining a comic mega-event, get ready to be killed, maimed, or twisted into some sort of self-destructive headcase. Your ebullience is offensive to comic readers' extreme modern sensibilities, as we all brush our teeth with roofing nails and gargle with sulfuric acid.

SEE: Enlongated Man in Identity Crisis, The New Warriors (particularly Speedball) in Civil War, Ted Kord (the Blue Beetle) in Infinite Crisis, The Global Guardians in Cry For Justice, Roy Harper (an ex-heroin addict turned happy single superhero dad turned childless heroin addict) during Cry For Justice.


1.) Inevitable Internet Bellyaching
SEE: Points 10-2.




You missed "The inevitable return of deceased characters several issues later, either due to realizing that killing off a flagship character is a dumb idea or that killing off a sideline character pointless in order to put in a little blood and mayhem wasn't very productive either. Or some other writer wanted to do some stuff with him. "

I also suggest the 'Characters will bizarrely act completely out of character in order to be shoehorned into the big idea'. Also known as the Mark Millar effect.