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Chain of Events

A. David Lewis, writer of Mortal Coils and The Lone and Level Sands, has long been a champion of comics as a true art form, and currently teaches English at Northeastern University, where he does indeed sneak comics into the curriculum wherever he can. He first posted this article on his blog, Loose Pages.

The DCU splinters apart,
which ironically makes sales more cohesive.
And in the year two-thousand-four, lo, there came unto the Avengers an era of the "Disassembled." And "Disassembled" begat Avengers: Finale, which did beget New Avengers. And New Avengers begat House of M, which did beget both Wolverine: Origins and yon "Decimation." And "Decimation" begat "Deadly Genesis," and that did beget some really forgettable stuff.

In the last year to year-and-a-half, Marvel's released a pretty straight chain of Events, akin to Batman's whole Contagion, Cataclysm, and No Man's Land triptych. For better or for worse, the tie-in of the moment has been pretty clear at the House of Ideas; same goes for DC, I suppose, what with Identity Crisis, Countdown, the four mini-series, Infinite Crisis, and "One Year Later."

Still, in the case of Marvel, you get the sense that these tie-in Events are intrusions -- that they're derailing the storylines each creative team had planned, perhaps. In some cases, the books are ignoring things completely...and for good reason! I'd hate Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men or Ed Brubaker's Captain America "Winter Soldier" storyline to have been interrupted by House of M or some other such nonsense: Ooo, an alternate reality Bucky! Blech.

With DC's universe-wide story (heh, with the exception of Vertigo...and of Grant Morrison -- they can do whatever the hell they like), there's a far greater sense of cohesion. Now, that could also be interpreted as a greater sense of obsession, too, I suppose; a DCU reader might legitimately want to enjoy an urban, gritty Nightwing adventure without having to get sucked in to the intricacies of Alexander Luthor's master plot to reshape the universe.

Therefore, that reader is faced with the option to like it or lump it: Read on and perhaps get caught up in the Infinite Crisis fervor (the likely choice) or dump the title and pick up, say, Captain America separate of all Marvel's own cross-over nonsense (the unlikely choice). If DC's in the midst of a big, totalitarian storytelling era, why isn't Marvel responding with a slate of independent, freestanding stories of its own? DC's China, and, instead of trying to be Australia, Marvel's kicking it Cuban style!

Given DC's thoroughness and pervasiveness with Infinite Crisis, I'm surprised Marvel went with its own series of mini-events rather than counter-programming: Why not keep all the titles separate, thereby courting Infinite Crisis refugees? Of course, Infinite Crisis, admittedly, has been pretty well executed, so I don't know what percentage of DC's readership would bolt because of it -- Still, though, all of Marvel's big events and big revelations ("Gasp! There's another Summers brother? Wolverine had a wife? Spider-Woman's a spy?") are all dwarfed in comparison to the much more impressive chess game DC is playing with its characters.

Again, for my money, the return of the Sentry, Spider-Man moving in to Avengers Tower, and the return of Bucky are the only truly notable Marvel moments of the last year. However Marvel wants to spin it, these truly have been "mini-events" as compared to the master plan (and masterful marketing) of DC's Infinite sweep. Invasion or Genesis this ain't.

Worse yet, it doesn't look like it's going to get any better. Of course, there's already a long tradition in having all the Spider-Man titles intertwine as well as all the X-Men books intermesh. (Though surprisingly not Astonishing X-Men, which, tellingly, may be the best of the lot.)

Yet now, instead of continuing with the aforementioned New Avengers-to-House of M-to-"Decimation" chain of Events, Marvel is breaking into a slate of true mini-events all across its publishing line! Annihilation, "Planet Hulk," and Civil War, to name just three. Why are they embracing a plan that seems to purposefully make them appear second-rate to DC? Are they just playing for scraps? (Shades of the hasty Identity Disc in the face of DC's stronger Identity Crisis, my friends.)

In all fairness, perhaps the problem isn't Marvel. Maybe their marketing and promotion is the problem: Is DC's Infinite Crisis ramp-up and impact just getting bigger, better play in the media? Or, maybe Marvel does have a master plan to connect all these disparate storylines -- having the Winter Soldier appear instantly in Wolverine's backstory was pretty good -- and they're just not trumpeting it as loudly as 52. And maybe these mini-events will, in fact, be both very satisfying and very digestable, especially when compared to the massive plate of "One Year Later."

But I'm skeptical. The overall storytelling and implementation of all Infinite's branches has, in my opinion, been superb; with the exception of "No more mutants," Marvel's been continually playing catch-up. Which is a shame. Really, Marvel has as much talent with their art and storytelling as DC's posse -- If only they'd stop playing defense, stop arranging what seem to be reactionary events, and break off in their own direction.

Can Marvel give us something new?

A. David Lewis

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