Monday, June 29, 2009

So What Happens Next?

A common criticism I often hear from people who don't like comic books is "Nothing ever really changes" or "there is no conclusion." It's at that point I just kind of stare confusedly at them since that's exactly why I love comics!

Consider for a moment any television show that you feel was canceled before its time or before there was a satisfactory conclusion. Don't you just want to know what happened next? Where the stories went to? If two characters got together in the end? If someone died? If someone ascended to another plane of existence or something? I certainly have. But the beautiful thing about comic books is that there's always something NEXT.

Will Marvel ever allow Peter Parker to grow old? Probably not. But there's always another story to tell. I do not accept the idea that "every story has been told." It's a matter of the details that count, the dialogue spoken, and the actual situations the characters go through. While I don't buy Amazing Spider-Man because of a certain story element that I've gone on and on about, I am fairly certain that at some point in the future that Peter and Mary Jane will get back together again. And it's the how that fascinates me and the anticipation of it that gets me to check out the book in the shop on occasion or in trade (even if I never buy the thing).

And the criticism of comics is particularly confusing when you consider how much of entertainment today is built on the idea of sequels and a continuing story. Would sequels be as popular as they are if there wasn't a market for a continuing story? Hell, I'm interested in what happens next in Watchmen, for crying out loud, even if I know the chances of a sequel are one in fifty gazillion.

It's why I get so upset when characters are killed. Does this mean their story is over? Their struggles ultimately pointless? Will they come back? And let's be fair, people, even though it's been said that everyone's died at least once, not every character is so fortunate to return to the land of the living in comics.

J. Michael Straczynski, when writing Babylon 5, showed a vision of the future where two main characters died at each other's hands. A few people were upset and complained to him, "But now we know how it's going to end!" His response stopped the complaints when he said, "Well yeah, but how did they get to that point?" I love to make trailers for upcoming stuff for Atop the Fourth Wall, to give hints and to talk to other people about what I plan to do, because I'd like to think people are excited as I am about what happens next.

Subsequently, this is why I tend to dislike prequels. I don't care about what happened before; we know the details well enough, and adding in "shocking new revelations" just makes continuity issues abound. Tell us what happens NEXT, not what's already happened.

It's been said that people want to relate to characters in fiction. Well, I may believe in happily ever after, but that doesn't mean the story itself is over. People may die or move on, but the story itself still goes on, albeit from other people's perspectives. We always eagerly anticipate the next chapter of our lives, to look ahead and think, "What happens next?" We crave the continuation, the next story, the next great event that will challenge us or our heroes and see how they overcome to it.

I love comics because I know that somehow, somewhere, there's always something that's next... most of the time, anyway. ‎

25 comments:

Robert Willing said...

As most people look at it, the origin is the first chapter, everything ele is the middle chapter. One COULD look at the two great DC elseworlds, Golden Age and Kingdom Come as hopeful start and end points but even then we have to be reminded they're elseworlds.

Although,when one thinks about it, Dark KnightReturns, Kingdom Come (Both for DC) and even Days of Futures Past for Marvel, all 3 are futures we'll never get to but we can keep hinting at

Frob said...

You bring a good point there! It's usually in comics there's always some sort of continuation more so than television or movies. Well, at least with big name comic companies, there'll always most likely be more stories related to something from the past. There's also already some Japanese comic artists who've made series or one-off stories that follows a series of theirs that ended years ago.

Now to wait and see when Captain America and Batman come back from the dead.

Joshua the Anarchist said...

I know what you mean. I nearly tore my eyes out when Firefly was cancelled. I desparately want to know what happened to Mal and his crew after the events of Serenity. At least we still have the occasional comic book miniseries.

What you said about knowing the end but not how they get there reminded me of Batman Beyond and the the DC animated universe. Sure, we know the Batman Beyond universe is their eventual future, but it's so much fun learning how they get to that point. I still wanna know what happened to Wonder Woman, or Dick Grayson, or how the Watchtower went from a space station skyscraper.

Lotus said...

Linkara, I think you'd enjoy the anime series "Baccano!" Cat did a great article about it on ThatGuyWiththeGlasses, if you'd like more information about it. It's a 16-episode series that has no main character, and no real beginning or ending, and the series specifically says that this is because that life isn't a storybook with a definite start and conclusion. It's simply not how things work.

angel_of_rebirth said...

I can understand where your coming from Linkara, though me personally I love a beginning, middle, and end. Sometimes I love a continuing series (such as Mouse Guard) though sometimes a series can be taken to far when it didn't even need to be brought back up (such as FF7).

While I can understand that people love to continue a journey with there favorite characters, but for me sometimes, it's just nice to have a solid story, and go back to analyze those moments that you enjoyed, rather than go on new adventures, thus probably missing the chance to analyze details in previous adventures.

Don't forget, the ideas that go into a continuing universe, could also be used to fuel a brand new idea...though like I said before, I like a good series sometimes, it just depends on if it's done right.

Anonymous said...

I do love comics

Psychotime said...

But that's only for mainstream American comics.

Everything else usually ends somewhere.

Derangel said...

Great post. I agree with your reasons for loving comics. What you said at the end about stories going on, only from the eyes of another person, is something I toy with when writing. If I ever get far enough to actually write out a novel and make it a series, that is something I'd love to do. Tell one story about one group of people and have that story be it for them. The next story will be about someone else.

As much as cross-over event comics can be a pain in the arse, I like seeing the events unfold from so many different eyes and sides of the playing field.

Defalco said...

I was actually thinking about this same subject just the other day. Odd.

But anyway, I'm going to have to slightly disagree with you on this. While everyone does want to continually want to know what happens next the story being finite gives it more of an impact. Knowing you're only going to get to spend a given amount of time with a set of characters makes that time more meaningful. For me, knowing that a story is going to be never ending somewhat waters down and cheapens the experience.

Also in terms of writing and characterization it's better that a story has a set ending point as you can have a plotted out and paced evolution of character rather than reactions to adventures dejour. I love the idea of stories or shows that tell you before hand that they're only going to be going for a fixed amount of time. It tells me that the story is going to have something to say and once they've said it they're done. Things that go on and on I feel are just speaking to hear themselves talk. It's not as interesting.

Having said that I think there are some things that a sequel could be interesting, but not all. Any sort of story, whatever media it's in, should have a clear message or point and the story itself should consist of highlighting a specific event be it fictional or nonfictional to make that point. When a story gets away from that it's not quite as potent as it was.

This is actually most of the reason I don't read comics. (That and I'm broke.) I don't like things that keep going on. I'm one of those people that want a story to take me on a journey and part of that is having a destination, an end. For me comics are mostly just a road to nowhere, if you'll excuse the expression. I'm sure they have some very nice scenery, but without knowing I'm going somewhere I'm fine skipping the trip.

Austin said...

@Frob

The cap should be coming back I think in a couple days. July 1st.

aa97464 said...

Interesting perspective....Linkara? Mr.Lovehog? How should I address you? I don't want to sound overly formal or too personal.

I've always been diametrically opposed to sequels. I read Watchmen and my first response was "Awesome, too few unanswered questions". That may sound like sarcasm, but it isn't. The unanswered questions are what sell me on a series, more then plot, or characters. Because ultimately, those provoke the most "Huh....I wonder" moments, which to me are the real joy of stories.
The Sandman series is my all time favorite because of this. The very first page raises a dozen questions. "Who was Morpheus fighting? Where? When? How where they able to weaken him so much?" none of which get answered in the series.

THOOM said...

I wish you'd get over your hangup with the current Spider-Man situation. These are great stories, 3 times a month in one comic title, no clutter, clean and good storytelling. So his marriage never happened, so what?

Did you refuse to see the Spidey movies because Gwen Stacey and her dad are alive there? And MJ and Peter aren't married there either. No one got upset that they "retconned" Gwen in the movies,

But if Gwen were brought back to ASM in the comics, people would be furious. It ain't fair. Why should the medium of comics be bound to the idea that Spidey should be married? Spidey has been married for twenty years in the comics, Quesada wanted to bring back the old Spidey to the new decade. The stories are fresh and good.

I don't buy the "stunted growth" argument. Spidey is a comic book character, not a real guy who grows old. He's flexible. He can be rebooted*. Don't cheat yourself.

* Though I do agree it should've been a divorce,not a deal with the devil. A comic book hero shouldn't make a deal with the Mephisto. Even though they are almost the same because divorce lawyers are in league with the devil.

Lewis Lovhaug said...

Well, you've pretty much answered my question for me, Thoom. I object to the way to get rid of it being the devil. Sure, I would've been mad about a divorce, but nowhere near the vitriol I have for it now.

And honestly, I've read these stories. There's nothing particularly that great about them, in my humble opinion.

As for why people are so hung-up on this couple, I raise you this post I made a while back: http://atopfourthwall.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-im-still-mad.html

Kate Holden said...

I remember as a little girl, I disliked stories that ended with 'and they lived happily ever after'. It was always like 'what, so this one event in their late teens/early twenties was the ONLY exciting thing that EVER happened to them and there are no more stories they can tell!?'

The only problem I have with sequels is they often tend to degrade in quality, but if this wasn't the case, sequels are just like episodes of a TV series. An interesting character like Spider-man can have more than the three adventures he has in the movies, he can have hundreds, thousands of adventures!

A person's life doesn't need to end with marriage, and people can still have adventures into old age, or pass on the torch to somebody else... A comic could feasibly go on forever so long as people have ideas for it.

Charly Dunst said...

You see, as for me, a comic needs a begin and an end. American comics are without an ending, which is why so many stories were made and a lot of continuity problems. It is true that a superhero can have a lot of adventures and stories, but a good artist or story writer should consider, that even a superhero can't live forever. Every story should have an ending or, if you prefer this, a reboot. Otherwise, it would run over and over and over and so on. This is also why I love manga because they have an ending.

Green Ninja said...

Very interesting thoughts there Lewis.
Personally, I guess I'm torn between the two sides of this discussion.

One the one side, I like change in some respect. When JMS started writing Spider-Man and added a whole new mystical angle to the character I was a bit irritated at first but I came to like it. Especially when they started to use this to increase his powers like e.g. using his web to sense the people in a collapsed building.

Also in the JMS run, was right after his first story arc the moment when Aunt May discovered Peter badly wounded my Morlun in his costume lying in his bed. After all these years where there was no real evolment of the character, but that changed with the moment she found out about Peter's secret identy and the stories that followed (including the following encounter with Dok Ock) were really good. And after 2-3 years with that I wouldn't have minded if the bullet from the the Kingpin's assassin actually would've killed her.

And I don't have that much of a problem if major characters die as long as it is for a reason.
Collossus is one of my favourite X-Men. And when he died to heal the legacy virus then at least he died for something he believed in. It was a great sacrifice but totally in line with the character. That he came back kinda ruined the whole idea.

Or take Cap for example. I recently read and Interview on IGN were some Marvel writers stated that they were planning to bring him back from the moment he was killed. But why bother then? Why al the effort? It had such a major impact on the whole Marvel-world, but bringing him back seems kinda....cheap.


On the other side, sometimes change can be very annoying. For example I don't have any interest in the new Venom. Sure, MacGargan has a history with Spidey much not nearly as much as Eddie Brock had. He involved into a very interesting character over the years which was quite fun to read (I love "deadly protector") but the Venom is not engaging at all.

And then there is of course "Brand New Day". The whole 'dead with the devil' thing actually didn't bother me that much until Lewis brought it up for the first time. What I despise about the "new status quo" and what made me and my brother stop reading Spider-Man was the fact that they basically flushed the last 30 years of canon down the toilet.
Retconning doesn't have to be a bad thing, but this just went to far. That EVERYBODY forgot Pete's secret identy just ruined the whole dynamic. The most threatening thing about Norman Osborn was always that he knew who Spider-Man was and that he used it against him.
Just like his partnership with DD, which evolved over years was basically gone and became just another Superhero team-up.


That's a lot of text so far, I think I' write more later on...

anthony said...

I leaned something new today! Now I know why comics have no conclusions.

Anthony said...

If you had the capabilities of doing a video series made of fail...while tying into our love of crossovers...we'd get "Countdown to Ultimatum." You'd have 2 months of videos right there.

Charly Dunst said...

@Anthony: Um... could zou explain what you mean?

Anonymous said...

Not sure I agree.

That is, on the idea that comic books don't 'end'. I mean, on the most basic level, there's many more contemporary examples that do; I've recently finished reading 'Y: The Last Man'. A lot more comic books are written today in order to function purely as temporary stories.

But what about long-running comic series? Again, I'm not so sure. I mean, look at Marvel; their comics are pretty much just crossover-event after crossover-event now. Taken on their own merits, each such story arc could be read as a story on its own, complete with beginning and ending.

We won't see the end of franchises until they become unprofitable, so characters like the big-name heroes are with us for the duration. There's no plans for the 'last ever issue' really, let's admit that. In the long run, a comic designed to be an ongoing series with no definite conclusion, will always pitter out at the end; look at Crossgen's history for example.

So baring that in mind, I think that the abundance of story arcs fills the void that people look for in concrete, narrative-structured stories. When a writer comes to a franchise, he wants to take the established characters and tell his own story, with (hopefully, barring editorial interference) its own conclusion.

The end result may be different, with editorial alterations wreaking an utter mess (the whole stupid Xorn debacle, and Countdown a prime example), but the intention of the author and the buying consumer is to take the characters they are familiar with, and experience a fully-formed story.

malkavian said...

I have to disagree with you: you don't always have to know what's next.People die, that's life...
Watchmen, the best comic I've ever read, HAS an ending...every book or movie has one, because a story has to end.

For another example, even though I like Superman, I really think he should have stayed dead after Doomsday.I felt his sacrifice was somehow cheapened by its resurrection.I don't want to make a litterature lesson, but for the Greeks, a hero was someone who died young, in its glory, rather than becoming an old man (Achilles vs his father Pelee, or Hector vs Priam).

Basically the problem with comic books heroes is that they don't get old, which is why I have difficulty to relate to them.My personal suspension of disbelief just wont let me.I can accept that a boy gets spider-like powers by getting bitten, but not that he stays a teenager for 40 years.

By leaving a hero alive indefinitely, you are bound to have crappy stories: I don't know any comic book hero who doesn't have one.I'd love to say One More Day was inevitable but this post would take pages for me to explain it...

I think your comparison to a cancelled show isn't right: we're talking about a real ending here...
Basically, the big Comic books company keep their heroes alive because they are afraid the next one won't be as popular, and they aren't going to sell as many: they don't want to kill the «poule aux oeufs d'or» (the hen that lay golden eggs).I'd say it has to do with the format (one comic every week or month).

Comics are awesome, but I find them to be less satisfying than a story with an ending.I could really go on for a long time, but this comment is already long, so I'll finish by asking for forgiveness for any mistakes (I'm French), and congratulating you for your awesome reviews...

The Elemental One said...

I understand your point however sometimes having a character's story conclude before it drags on can also be satisfying but that's just me.

The Elemental One said...

I understand your point however sometimes having a character's story conclude before it drags on can also be satisfying but that's just me.

De-Ji said...

Lulz. This reminds me of something that happened when I was still in high school. Me and two friends had the same class together, and the teacher was late so we had some free time. One of my friends grabbed my other's friend's book and read the last page to her. She got upset at him because he had given away the ending and put her book away. He did the same thing to me and I just gave him a look like he was stupid and said something along the lines of "Well I knew that was going to happen. It's in the title of the book. I still get to figure out how it happens though." He nodded approvingly and gave me back my book. I had always thought that people got that about stories, no matter what type of stories they were. I learned that day that apparently, people do not know that. It's kinda sad.

Mateja Kova─Ź said...

Yep, infinite stories rule. There are uppers and downers, but the fact that you don't know wether the next one's gonna suck or be really good is what keeps the interest alive.