Monday, March 1, 2010

This is important!

A while back, Sir Edmund Hilary - The Greatest Living New Zealander - passed away. He had led a long and fulfilling life. He deserved all of the admiration thrown his way, with his modesty only increasing that worth.

Along with the mighty Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay, he was the first to climb Mount Everest. He was an explorer and humanitarian, dedicating his life to easing the plight of many, and was the only living New Zealander to appear on kiwi banknotes. In short, Sir Ed was a top bloke.

When he died, the entire country was united, for one brief moment. No matter who we were or where we came from, all New Zealanders could agree that the world was a better place because of Sir Ed, and a slightly sadder place without him.

Unfortunately, that feeling of community was almost totally sucked dry by the usual suspects, and Sir Ed's funeral, while still a powerful and moving ceremony, was soon turned into an Event. Television, newspapers and radio were all constantly telling us this was history in the making, that the funeral was a true event that was important and moving and poignant and on and fucking on.

The funeral itself was the subject of media saturation. The news aspect, that Sir Ed had passed on, was swiftly dealt with, but we were all told to keep watching, listening and reading about it, because the funeral was a National Event.

Unsurprisingly, while all this was going on, all I could think about were bloody comic books.

Over recent years, the mainstream comic industry has been devoted to making the big events out of nothing, with press release after press release intoning that the latest chapter in the ongoing mega-saga is important. There are plenty of companies who do this, but I'm picking on Marvel today, because they've got the whole thing down to a goddamn artform.

In the last couple of years, Marvel has stapled its entire line onto stories which don’t really hold up to this promise of importance. House of M was nothing more than glorified – and fairly dull - What If?, Civil War hid the oldest superhero cliches behind flash visuals and Big Moments, and the characters might have gone on and on about how bad the situation in Secret Invasion was, but the Marvel Universe gets invaded by Skrulls every five fucking minutes, so the impact of this latest incursion was hard to gauge.

For all the talk, for better or worse, Civil War actually had the largest impact beyond its own pages, setting a long storyline in motion that is still not quite wrapped up.

But for all its delusions of grandeur, the thing about Civil War was that was nothing new. The registration thing was handled in the '80s and eventually faded away, with Reed Richards taking care of the entire moral dilemma in one Walt Simonson written issue with little problem. Big Walt still managed to fit in gratuitous fight scenes with random villains, and then went onto more important things like helping Galactus destroy a future universe in a ridiculously fast paced tale.

And the whole idea of super-heroes turning on each other is about as old as you can get, ever since the Human Torch gave Betty Dean the glad eye and pissed off Namor back in the forties. (Although pissing off Namor is fairly easy. Take his last cookie and you've got a feud for life.)

But then the hype machine gets itself up and running and readers are continuously told that these are big and important and they’re not just stories – they’re Events.

And if it’s an Event, you can guarantee that Things Will Never Be The Same, but what's new? We’ve been promised that every time, and the law of diminishing returns means it lacks the punch it had, even though that original punch was more of a limp slap with a slice of cabbage.

It can't just be a story, it has to be an event, it has to matter, it has to be bigger than big.

We couldn't bury poor old Sir Ed without falling over ourselves telling each other how important it is. And we're losing the ability to tell decent stories about colourful superheroes without building them up like a house of cards, ready to fall at any time.

1 comment:

Nik said...

Yes, I've really gotten event fatigue from Marvel but I'm still such a stupid sucker for the things -- Civil War was OK enough if you overlook the overwhelming stupidity of much of it, but Secret Invasion/Dark Reign have mostly been long slogs. I keep saying it'll be the last one but then I get pulled in! I'm an addict!