Tuesday, July 20, 2010

X-Men vs Vampires vs Malaise

If you’ve bought any Marvel comic in the last couple months you’ve been unable to avoid the fact that the X-Men are going to be fighting vampires. The general response among fandom seems to be the equivalent of shaking our canes at Marvel and telling them to get their vampires off our lawn.

I can’t say I’m terribly excited by Curse of the Mutants and doubt I’ll even be picking it up. But what bothers me isn’t the fact that Marvel’s putting vampires in my superhero comics. After all, the story where Dracula turns Storm into a vampire is a part of the more fondly remembered portions of Claremont’s run on the title and I enjoyed the hell out of Paul Cornell’s Vampire War story in Captain Britain and MI13. What bothers me about Curse of the Mutants is the way it’s being promoted.

Superhero comics are incapable of simply publishing stories anymore. They have to be major events. Nothing can just be a storyline in an ongoing title anymore. It has be an earthshaking event where nothing will ever be the same again! At least until next time. Sure, Curse of the Mutants looks like Marvel just cashing in on the current vampire craze, but I suppose there could be a story here. However, by setting it up as an earthshaking event, the story now has unreasonable expectations. Unless Wolverine is a vampire for the next five years or Dracula joins the X-Men, fans will feel deflated and treat the book as a waste of time.

I’m not sure where this event mentality comes from. Is it the companies pushing it on the fans or is it the fetish for continuity that exist among a lot of fans forcing the companies to make every story take on inflated importance? Might as well ask if it’s the chicken or the egg. Curse of the Mutants isn’t being sold to us as X-Men vs. Vampires and allowed to stand on its own merits. It’s being sold to us as “the X-Men are fighting vampires and, once again, NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN.” And if I were a betting man, I’d bet that the events of this book gets little to no mention in Uncanny X-Men or any of the other X-books. But I suppose we’ll see in the coming months. My point is, a story’s impact on the wider universe should not be the criteria by which I should evaluate any book.

Just look all around the Marvel and DC universes today. Fans typically judge books on whether or not they matter, or if they’re important. Right after the admittedly fantastic Sinestro War Corps storyline, Green Lantern did a 3 issue storyline about the Alpha Lanterns and a lot of fans complained not that the art was bad or the writing was subpar (they weren’t), but that it didn’t matter, it wasn’t going anywhere, etc.

To use a more current example, Astonishing Wolverine and Spider-Man is almost continuity free. It is also wonderfully insane and enjoyable. My friend Rusty, at Cosmic Comix, said it’s a good comic that would have been massively successful 5 or 7 years ago, but today it goes by virtually unnoticed because its not tied in with whatever’s going on this month. He makes a good point. Stuff like Morrison’s New X-Men and Bendis’ Daredevil are some of the greatest superhero comic runs of the last decade and I doubt either could be published today because they were so isolated from the rest of what was going on in the universe.

Now this isn’t to say events are all bad. Sometimes they can be really good (Sinestro Corps War or X-Men Second Coming) and can be used to launch great books that otherwise would go unnoticed (like McKeever’s Young Allies). However, I am not simply sick of events, I’m sick of this event mentality poisoning the way everyone looks at books. Curse of the Mutants may be good, it may be bad. And it may be judged on those factors, but I’d bet it’ll be judged on what kind of plot impact it leaves on the X-Men franchise.

I don’t know who’s to blame here, but I long for the days of a book being sold on the strength of its creative team and its premise, not its long-term ramifications for the Marvel or DC Universe. Cause when every new thing is promoted as the NEXT BIG THING, it all gets a little exhausting.

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