Friday, March 10, 2006

Don't bother showing or telling.

Say what you like about Infinite Crisis (and you will, I know. Don’t give me that look), but at least it was impossible to get bored with it ahead of time. Oh, sure, you could get bored of all the hype, and of all the Countdown to… miniseries that theoretically led into the series itself, but still, you couldn’t actually get bored of Infinite Crisis, because no-one knew what the book was actually about until the end of the second issue.

(There are, of course, numerous problems with keeping everything about the book so secret that even those who read the first issue of it still have no idea what the true plot of the series is going to be, not least of which the fact that people who read the first issue would be perfectly within their rights and common sense to read the first issue, put it down and think “Huh. So that made no sense. I don’t think I’ll both coming back for the second issue.” Retailers, too, were screwed by this way of doing business, in that they were ordering more or less blind when it came to gauging potential interest in the series. All they had to go on, and the readers of the first issue as well, for that matter, was the hype, which was more than slightly misleading. Yes, each of the lead-in storylines, from The OMAC Project to the JLA arc Crisis of Conscience tied in with the overall storyline in some respects, but none of them really went more than a small part towards showing the bigger picture. It wouldn’t be entirely off-base to consider each of those lead-ins as a series of misdirections and red herrings to stop people from guessing just what was going to happen in the actual Infinite Crisis book itself.)

(Now that I think about it, while it may have been impossible to get bored of Infinite Crisis before it debuted because no-one outside of DC actually knew what it was about, it was more than possible to get frustrated with it for being so coy and for giving out so many misdirections. Hmm.)

(Too many parentheses, do you think?)

By contrast, Marvel’s summer event book, Civil War – it’s not a crossover, as Marvel will repeatedly tell you, despite the three tie-in miniseries that accompany the run (Civil War: Frontline, X-Men: Civil War, and Runaways/Young Avengers ), or the two oneshots that tie-in (Civil War: Opening Shot, Civil War: Daily Bugle ), or even the tie-in issues of various regular books, including seven issue arcs in Amazing Spider-Man and Wolverine, and a five issue epilogue arc in New Avengers. Because all of those are tie-ins, and not crossovers, you understand? – is something that I am feeling really bored with already, and it’s not out until May. Because I already have seen preview pages from the first issue, last month. And I’ve already read several million interviews where the plot is explained, and the creators congratulate themselves on the real world parallels to the current political climate in America while explaining that such parallels can be ignored if you’re a Republican who doesn’t like to mix politics with your superheroin’. It’s gotten to the point where not only do I feel like there’s any point in reading the actual comic book, beyond a voyeuristic interest in the mechanics of the whole thing, because I know exactly what to expect, but that I feel as if the comic book came out a couple of months ago already.

I know, I know. This isn’t a new complaint; both Joe Quesada and Dan Didio are known for complaining that spoilers are ruining the comic book experience, and that it’s getting harder to surprise the fans these days and trades are killing comics and yadda yadda yadda. And, you know, it’s true, but still, that’s not what I mean. What I’m more concerned about is that the publicity that the publishers are putting out for the books is doing the opposite of what it’s supposed to do; my apathy for Civil War isn’t based upon any spoilers from fans or rumor or gossip, but the very things released to get people excited about the damn thing.

I’d feel comforted if I thought it was just me. I have no problem being contrary, and I’m not uncomfortable feeling weird, as Elliott Smith once warbled. But looking on sites like Newsarama and Millarworld, a large part of a fanbase that would normally be going crazy for this kind of book are seemingly left cold by it, complaining that it’s yet another book in the mold of Avengers Disassembled, House of M, Infinite Crisis, Identity Crisis and whatever comes next in the effort of the Big Two to outdo each other and grab more market share. Meanwhile, DC’s current strategy of hyping up books by setting them up as mysteries – What is Infinite Crisis all about? What happens in all of the One Year Later books? – seems to be paying off, with Infinite Crisis maintaining its level of success even midway into an increasingly confused run.

Maybe that’s the next step: Media blackout marketing. As the market reacts negatively to seeing what’s coming up, the next big thing becomes telling people that something is important while also telling them that you can’t tell them why it’s important. Give people not the story of the issue, but the story of the tease, and see what happens next. It’s not a sure thing – Marvel tried it with X-Men: Deadly Genesis, but no-one apparently believed them, leading both writer Ed Brubaker and Joe Quesada to reveal more and more of the plot to try and convince people that it was a book with plot ramifications for other books in the future, but that perhaps speaks more to the credibility of Marvel hype than anything else – but if nothing else, it avoids the feeling of “Seen it already” that spells doom for a project that is still months away and is the cornerstone for the publishing plan for your company for the next few years.

Now, of course, watch as all those people who are claiming to be underwhelmed by Civil War rush out and buy both variant editions of the first issue, and it becomes the largest-selling book in comic history. Because, in some part of the back of your head, we all know that it’s going to happen.

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