This year has seen both DC and Marvel launch some major events – “Convergence” and “Secret Wars” – that have worked on a scale like nothing they’ve tried before. Both were multiverse-spanning events that seem to have opened up tremendous story potential, but both were something of a struggle. For all the sales success, retailers reported a high level of disruption. What’s more, “Secret Wars” issues have been continually delayed, with the summer event now ending in December, two months after the All-New All-Different Marvel launch.
Not all events are quite so, ah, difficult. Valiant Comics’ “Book of Death” has been a nice, slim, focused story – it’ll only run to four issues, although there’s a range of tie-ins. Still, that focus has allowed the story to work far more effectively than the vast worlds-spanning “Convergence” and “Secret Wars”. Valiant controlled the scale of the event, and as a result it’s been sheer quality, shaming its largest competitors.
It’s looking as though both DC and Marvel have recognised the problem, though. To date, the forthcoming events we know of – December’s “Robin War” and "Vader Down", February’s “Spider-Women” and “Avengers: Standoff” – all follow a very different formula, one that will be particularly familiar to fans of the X-Men.
The idea is, you bookend the event with an ‘Alpha’ issue and an ‘Omega’ issue. You then run a crossover through the relevant books in your range, getting all the creative teams to tell their respective chapters. It’s an approach that’s been traditionally applied to the X-Men books, used most recently in the “Black Vortex” event. Here, for example, is the gorgeous cover to the Alpha issue for the inevitable "Spider-Women" event:
There are a number of advantages to this kind of approach. First of all, it doesn’t depend too much on specific key talent; all the creative teams are already working on their respective books, and you shouldn’t ever encounter the delays associated with a focused event book. Then you’ve got the fact that it normally increases sales in some of the smaller titles, and, if you plan the event well, you may just hook some readers into a book that they otherwise wouldn’t check out.
The problem, of course, is that the creative teams may have slightly different visions, and so entire plot elements can be dropped – “Battle of the Atom” saw this, with Wolverine's near-fatal injury in X-MEN #6 swiftly healed off-panel in UNCANNY X-MEN #13, clearly a plot that Brian Bendis wasn't interested in. The same arc saw issues with characters dropping in and out of focus (most notably Jubilee and her baby Shogo, who were central to Brian Wood’s X-MEN, but not so much to the Brian Bendis books).
Worse still, if a creative team is working on building up momentum for their own stories, the crossover can get in the way, and the book can actually lose regulars because it’s felt to have lost its way. This, again, seemed to happen to Brian Wood’s X-MEN after said “Battle of the Atom” arc.
There is one further issue: delays. When you have a crossover, delays can mean that an event gets pretty confusing, and you’re really dependent on each chapter coming out on time. Marvel are currently seeing delays on a monumental scale, and managing crossovers effectively has to be a concern ("Black Vortex" had issues earlier in the year, with issues of ALL-NEW X-MEN actually published in the wrong order to make the timings work out!). That said, all of the events advertised to date have been inside one editorial team’s territory, whether it be Spider-centric, Bat-centric or Avenger-centric. That lessens the risk, as the same editors are keeping tabs on each chapter; it’s when events cross over between whole different ranges that things can get thorny.
I have no doubt that there’ll be more summer epics in 2016, of course - after all, one retailer posted on Twitter that he received this:
Still, it's worth noting that's yet to be mentioned at NYCC 2015, suggesting a very different strategy to last year's mega-events. Both Marvel and DC seem to have become aware that now’s the time to dial down on the events, cement their readers into the new status quo, and maybe try something a little more manageable.