Marvel’s penchant for “crossovers” and multi-title “events” has taken the comics industry by storm in recent years. What started simply as a marketing ploy for a new line of Hasbro toys (*ahem* Secret Wars), gradually developed into a company-wide strategy for cultivating and controlling continuity across their many books. These events have become increasing polarizing in the reading community. Though generally thought to bring people in to new characters and convince them to buy other books, the dearth of intertwined and overlapping stories makes it harder for comic traditionalists who just want to read a solo title about their favorite characters or enjoy something on the fringes of the greater Marvel continuity.
All of this is hardly news. Anyone who has read any Marvel comics since the 1990s knows about these crossovers and these complaints are all over Reddit and message boards across the internet. But not everyone hates events, and let’s be honest, not all of them are bad. Some have been really good (Infinity Gauntlet, Civil War), some are loved by some and loathed by others (Secret Invasion, Age of Apocalypse), but then some are just bad (Atlantis Attacks). The full range of complexity and creativity shown in these different arcs should give readership some hope that a Marvel-wide event can work. The real question, perhaps, is whether they all should.
Now, my opinion is that events tend to be too frequent. I don’t think events are inherently bad, but the frequency cheapens them. If every six months, there is a massive “earth-shattering” event, the magnitude of each is lessened. It’s a classic case of the boy crying wolf, especially when so few of these massive events can have far-reaching consequences or any lasting results. Another criticism of the frequency is that it prevents many of Marvel’s ongoing series to get any momentum going. This has been especially true of the recent Avengers titles (however many there are now). The team books are basically devolving into event-machines, leaving no room for smaller adventures or character development. And story-telling quality certainly suffers for it.
The proliferation of existential threats in recent comics also decreases the relevance of any solo adventures that manage to sneak in between these colossal events. If a character is on a super-team, why wouldn’t they always work as a team? Wouldn’t it be better to overwhelm any adversary with a fully-powered super-team than to go it alone and risk defeat? Sure, that doesn’t make for a good story, but it seems to be more plausible and risk-averse behavior. The original intent was that active Avengers would only come together to fight the fights that none of them could manage alone. This also operates under the assumption that each of its members are busy with their personal lives and smaller-level, solo crime-fighting adventures in between team activities. But if there is no time between mega-events, how can anyone have solo stories?
Let’s just calm down on the events for a few years. Maybe cut it back to every two years? I thought the new Secret Wars might help, but we’re already rolling into Civil War II, and I just can’t keep up, no matter how much I may (or may not) want to.
This same question has begun to plague the MCU. As excited as I am for Captain America: Civil War (very, very, hugely excited), there is a part of me that worries Marvel will start to make the same crossover mistakes they have been making with comics. I love the inclusion of so many of Marvel’s great characters into the MCU, but there is a risk of overpopulation. With too many heroes, each film will have to choose to cut some out (risking under-exposure of certain fan favorites), or virtually every film will become a massive Avengers film. To be clear, I love the Civil War story and Winter Soldier was one of the best Marvel movies ever (so props to the Russo brothers), but I don’t want to see every movie turn into a Secret Invasion style cameo-explosion. And maybe this worry is irrational. Kevin Feige seems to have earned our trust, turning unlikely heroes like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy into some solid properties. Let’s hope they avoid this pitfall and that, by the time we get there, Infinity War has fewer heroes in it than the name might suggest…