Monday, August 29, 2011

What I Did On My Summer Vacation - Part 1

One of the things that has given me pause over the past thee months of rebootening is just how hard it is not to skip the meal and go straight for dessert. What I mean is, it's pretty tricky when sketching out a story or setting to not just skip over the worldbuilding and go straight for the shock reveals. Maybe I'm just horrible at keeping secrets, or maybe, like most comic fans, I'm just a sucker for a dramatic moment. We like the oh snaps, oh shhhiiiiiii, and shit just got reals moments we find it comics. The monthly pamphlet format like'm too as it's physically set up to deliver a shock or story beat every sixteen to twenty pages or so.

But this raises a concern - what if the love for shock reveals, surprise deaths, and weirdness ex machinas that works so well on a tactical level in comics is what's killing them on the strategic? Because that's what the Big Crossover Events are, just those last page reveals writ large across the setting. I don't think any setting can withstand a constant barrage of reveals, each one ramping up the imagined impact more and more. Blow up a planet? So last month. This month, it's a solar system. Then a galaxy. Then a multiverse. Pretty soon, we have a Michael Bay movie of a setting, just blurry motion and random explosions. Thing is, Bay movies end. In theory, comic settings should go on forever.

To switch nerdity gears for a moment, let's spoil the season before last of Supernatural. So the show is about two brothers who fight monsters and demons and ghosts and stuff in a neo-gothic American heartland that looks a lot like Vancouver. Fine with me. Sam and Dean traveled up and down the backroads, fighting evil and sometimes fighting (their forbidden love for) each other. And then they went and saved the world from being destroyed by the Devil. And the archangel Michael.

And it was the worst thing that could have happened to the show. My wife and I just sort of stopped watching. After all, once your characters save the world from the Devil, where the hell do you take them from there that still going to have the same level of danger or excitement?

Thus the problem with our current state of Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again events. Now, I'm not saying they can never happen, but that they cannot keep happening. If Nothing Is Ever The Same Again every six months, then we lose the stability of our setting, that baseline of 'normal' that stories revert to, and that costs us. It costs us in attention, in identification with characters, and even strains our willingly stretched suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. Why bother trying out a DC comic this August when you know everything changes this Wednesday? Does it matter that Character X dies? The dead could be returning from their graves next year. Besides, who hasn't spent a little time dead on the four color funny pages?

Problem is, and here's me trying to bring this back to something I learned this summer, not going for the fast thrill is hard. Keeping a world organized and believable within its own fantastic elements is really hard. We've moved beyond the days when it was assumed that comic readers only had a two year memory, we can't just wait out our screw-ups. That big reveal on page 22 might be really awesome, but it could also be a tipping point that kills a comic dead within a year.

Again, I'm not saying that we shouldn't ever do anything big or ambitious or shocking in our comics, but that we should focus more than we have been on keeping everything running smoothly and logically. If this means less explosions, so be it, as that's space we can use to examine our characters. A few more breaths between saving the world would let our characters interact, develop, and become more like real people than someone who can shoot lasers out of their eyes has any right to be.

So as I start to read the NuDC that'll be blasting its way onto my iPad this Wednesday, I'm not going to be looking for big story elements, but stable story beats. I hope others do the same and vote with their wallets. I'm fully aware that not all of the 52 will survive the year. I'm just hoping that the ones that make it are not the ones that go for tactical explosions and nonsensical reveals that will burn us out on danger before five years is up. Instead, I want the ones with a stable base, a story engine that can generate interesting tales, and three dimensional characters to make it.

Because otherwise, once all the flash and bang is done, there might not be anything left.

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