Let’s talk about Marvel for a bit. They’ve always been a collection of heroes all existing within the same universe. The same can be said of DC and that idea has been amplified ever since the MCU popularized major crossovers on the big screen. As an avid Marvel fan keeping up with multiple books throughout the publisher, there is one thing I’ve begun to notice. You’re probably going to disagree with me on this…but despite the shared universe nature of its books, it’s a lot better when it’s not all connected.
Event Fatigue and Mismanagement
I am not crazy. I am not. No one is advocating for getting rid of crossovers or the Avengers or major events. I love those things, I don’t want them to disappear. Just hear me out. Certain things are better in moderation. The way the comic books industry has evolved, crossovers and big events are more commonplace than they’ve ever been. Let’s look at Marvel alone. They average about four to six major events a year. That’s not counting the other smaller self-contained ones. It’s too much.
Event fatigue set in years ago and sometimes it’s just too hard keeping up with all of them. With every major one that occurs, it feels like every character under the sun gets roped in. Not just that but their stories are hijacked as well to work in service of the current event. I don’t know about you but it’s exhausting. This “bring everyone together all the time” mentality often feels like it derails the momentum of solo stories as well. Even trying to follow said events feels like more work than it’s worth. Tell me if this sounds familiar. The latest Marvel event begins with a self-titled issue #1, and you want to continue only to be greeted by a checklist of several different books you have to read to keep up with the story. It’s frustrating.
Once comic books writers and publishers saw the appeal of major events and crossovers, it became sort of like opening a door that couldn’t be shut. It’s understandable. When you establish a universe of characters that all exist within close proximity to one another, it’s hard to tell stories where these groups or individual heroes don’t meet up. It doesn’t make much sense if Spider-Man was in a brawl all across Harlem and Luke Cage doesn’t step in to help. It becomes stories more centered on being in service to changing the world’s status quo than focusing on the individual arcs of major characters.
Solo Adventures and Reinventing Established Characters
There’s a bright spot though. More and more writers are finding ways to give heroes agency in their own stories, despite the interruptions from or attention being diverted to crossovers. What I’ve noticed is that these stories are better than the major crossovers. Once again, here me out. Major events over the past decade are hit or miss. Some of them come and go without leaving so much as a mark. Worse, many of them sacrifice good storytelling as a means to an end – that’s right, I’m looking at you Original Sin.
Meanwhile, writers have found ways to make an impression with the self-contained solo stories of their best heroes. Daredevil’s got to be one of the most consistently well-written runs across Marvel. Spidey’s time with Dan Slott is iconic because it brought us so many great character arcs and evolved Peter Parker in ways that made sense. My point is when creators craft stories without too much interference and work within a character’s own bubble, you’ve got some great content coming your way. The best example of this is character reinventions.
Most Marvel characters have been around for more than a couple of decades. There is always the responsibility of keeping those characters consistent in terms of themes, antagonists, personality, and storylines. Those traits have kept characters alive and popular for a long time, and there’s a big risk that comes with deviating too far from the tried and true formula. But when done well, the result produces some of the most iconic narratives we’ve seen in a very long time. Let’s look at a couple of recent examples.
Superior Spider by Dan Slott is a book I hated. Then I read it, instantly making that run one of my favorite Spider-Man stories. The idea of Doc Ock taking over Peter Parker’s body and becoming Spider-man felt gimmicky but proved to stay true to the mythos of power and responsibility through a different and darker lens. Al Ewing found a way to make the Hulk feel fresh again with his Immortal Hulk series. A run that has brought the character into the world of monsters and body horror, changing everything we know about the Hulk while providing timely commentary on the evils of the world.
Most recently, Hickman has evolved the X-Men by bringing them into a new era. While mutants have separated from mankind before, this time feels earth-shattering as the X-Men and former villains establish their own nation and conquer death. These are drastic changes to well-established characters that (to me at least) have a bigger impact than any major Marvel event. Even the solo series that don’t break the mold give hold better weight than events ever will.
Making Moments Matter
Crossovers will always be cool, but they need to be earned. It feels like the impact they once had is cheapened when the build-up isn’t worth it. I’m asking a lot. Events drive sales, which makes Marvel money. However, iconic stories are everlasting. Every hero should feel like they are a part of their own world and then when those worlds collide, we get something spectacular. At least that’s the idea.
What do you think? Are solo stories better than events? Should Marvel slow down big crossovers in favor of giving writers the freedom to do what they want with certain characters? Let me know what you think.