Sunday, August 23, 2009

Blogathon 48: Content and the Promise of Content Next Time

Thinking back on the recent reactions to the conclusion of House of M, one recurring sentiment really struck me. It was the attitude that the story itself wasn’t all that good - too spread out, a little bloated, the tie-ins were kind of weak. But: the plot points it hit, the new set-up it created from the ashes of the old - it held a lot of promise for future stories, the potential for interesting things to come.


One of the elements of Bendis's work that I wanted to examine as I went was the difference between the content found in a particular storyarc compared with the promise of content to be found in future stories within the same storyarc. There's a sense around Bendis's work that nothing really happens, stories just promise that, next time, the story will be better. Secret Invasion, for example, doesn't end so much as say "Hey, now we're in 'Dark Reign' territory! Forget that Skrull nonsense!"

I'm not sure I agree with what I wrote in previous posts in this regard. Rethinking New Avengers: The Sentry, that story strikes me as one that's not particularly good, but acts mainly as a function to set up future stories with the Sentry. House of M Jog covers well. Civil War wasn't a Bendis story, but he was in the initial meetins that planned it and there's a lot about it that seems to exist just to set up new titles and future stories. I remember Millar talking about how it would boost the sales of certain books like Iron Man and Captain America -- the event book is meant to sell more comics. Not of itself necessarily, but books that lead into it, tie in with it, and follow out from it.

New Avengers: The Trust is a hard story to judge. Things happen, but so much of it seems to be set on reaching Secret Invasion. It's more a Secret Invasion prologue than a story in and of itself. The initial post-Secret Invasion New Avengers and Dark Avengers stories seem more like promises that the two groups would meet soon, teasing that out... while the most recent New Avengers story was a wild goose chase that results in Brother Voodoo as the new Sorcerer Supreme... something that could have happened much easier, but wouldn't have been nearly as effective in selling the upcoming Doctor Voodoo and Strange books.

There's a logic in thinking that only a quality story could work so effectively as a promotional tool, but all you need is the sense that something is important for it to become important and for it to seel books. Well, not just, but you get my meaning. Is it hyped by Marvel as a big deal that Brother Voodoo is the Sorcerer Supreme? Did he get the title after an arc in the flagship book? Who cares if it was any good! (Bendis does, of course... and Marvel, too...)

I think Bendis's reputation as someone who writes that was is exagerated because he does plan ahead. The current story feeds into the next, which feeds into the next, which feeds into the next -- and that could be seen as offering no content, just a demand that you read the next one and maybe it will be better, but actually reading the stories shows that's not the case. It's just not the sort of storytelling with clearly defined endings.

I do think that, sometimes, he needs clearly defined endings. Secret Invasion needed one. It really did. So did House of M. But, his New Avengers work in general has been rather content-oriented -- so did his Mighty Avengers work. While the first Mighty Avengers arc ended with Spider-Woman showing up with the Skrull's body, the Ultron story was clearly ended. The story you read concluded, the serial title and universe continued on. There's a distinction -- and one that Bendis is fairly good about adhering to. That works fine on ongoing titles, but event mini-series should be able to stand alone a bit better and they need to realise that. Otherwise, I stand by Bendis's offering of strong stories while also promising strong stories in the future. They're not all perfect or fantastic, but more of them than not are good. And that's something.

In 30 minutes, this ends. Thank god.

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