A few days ago, I was paging through some early issues of Marvel Age at the shop, reawakening those nostalgic feelings for the magazine that I’d noted before. For only a quarter (or thirty-five cents, or fifty cents, or…well, you get the idea) you got a 32-page full-color comic filled with previews of coming events, sketch pages, interviews, promo art…sure, it was full-on hype for Marvel product, and technically you were paying for 32 pages of ads, but you knew what you were getting. It was an unabashed house organ, but you got some fun cartoons from Fred Hembeck in a bunch of issues, some of the back-cover calendar gags were amusing, and you got plenty of creator interviews…not deep, meaningful stuff (well, except maybe for the Hembeck cartoons), but overall it was a fun little mag, and what the heck, it was cheap. Well, for a while, anyway.
Anyway, I was looking at issue #12 of Marvel Age, reading the hype for the then-forthcoming Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars crossover mini-series, when I came across this paragraph:
“This monumental adventure figures importantly in the continuity of nearly every single Marvel title. Events in this maxi-series will permanently and shockingly alter the histories of everyone from Captain America to the X-Men to Spider-Man! No matter who your favorite Marvel hero or villain is, you’ll find yourself absorbed in THE SECRET WARS to stay on top of the catastrophic changes in that superstar’s life!”
Of course, as most of you know, the changes weren’t quite as dramatic as the hype would have had you believe. Hulk broke his leg (lasted a couple months), She-Hulk joined the Fantastic Four (around for a couple years), and…did something happen to Captain America? I don’t remember. I think Colossus and Kitty Pryde broke up because of events in this series, maybe. And of course there was Spider-Man’s new black costume, probably the only lasting impact the series has had, though the evolution of that costume into his arch-nemesis Venom was more after the fact than because of anything in Secret Wars itself.
Marvel took some grief from fans and the fan press about the hyped changes that ended up being no real big deal, and when it came time to push Secret Wars II in Marvel Age #27 (June ’85), writer/editor-in-chief Jim Shooter took the opportunity to do a little back-pedaling:
“You know, a lot of fuss was made about ‘The Big Changes in Secret Wars!’ And the fact is that change was not the point of Secret Wars. It was never the point. I don’t know how the talk started because here at Marvel, we always have changes. [...] So the fact that in the twelve issues that made up the saga of Secret Wars there were significant events in the heroes and villains’ lives, considering how many issues there were, how could there not be changes?”
Most of these company-wide crossover series seem to promise big changes, new characters, new directions, permanent alterations in the status quo…and a few years, or even a few months, later, it’s as if nothing at all had happened, particularly if you’ve had yet another crossover series in the meantime.
Probably the only significant change at Marvel or DC that had its origin in a crossover series was from DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, which changed the very structure of DC’s shared universe by doing away with the decades-old multiple-Earth concept. Whether that was a good change or bad, I’ll let you decide, since twenty years on we’re still dealing with the repercussions of that series.
Crossover series also kill off or retire characters, which doesn’t matter because they’re usually revived or replaced with a new character with the same name sooner or later. Supergirl died in Crisis…and was replaced with a new Supergirl a couple years later (who was herself replaced with yet another Supergirl, just recently, with an origin similar to the original, but now showing more skin). To address more recent events, a while back I joked about Sue Dibny: Rebirth and Blue Beetle: Rebirth, reviving characters killed off in the most recent spate of DC’s crossover events…but all it takes is an editorial change and some new, hot writer who decides he really wants those characters back in the land of the living, and, surprise, there they are, as if nothing had ever happened to them.
New characters and titles are usually launched out of these events as well…DC’s Bloodlines and one year’s worth of Marvel Comics annuals introduced a whole boatload of new characters, most of which disappeared in short order (Hitman being Bloodline‘s big exception, though even that character has run its course). Most of these relaunches don’t last, unless it’s with an already established character (like The Flash or Wonder Woman). Again, to go back to Infinite Crisis…while Checkmate and the new version of Blue Beetle may be entertaining, chances are they won’t be around five years from now. But then, most new titles from Marvel and DC don’t last five years.
I know there are others…we got a good run of Starman out of Zero Hour, for example, though it too had run its course. But basically, this is why I don’t worry overly much about all the “significant changes” and promises that “things will never be the same.” Things may change for a while, but they’ll change back sooner or later. And if you don’t care for something unpleasant that was done to a character you like (for example, Wonder Woman having to break the neck of a bad guy), don’t worry…in short order it’ll be as if it never happened at all. How often is Superman’s execution of three Kryptonian criminals brought up nowadays? At the time, people were pissed…I bet at least a few of you reading this now have no idea what I’m referring to.
Let’s look again at Infinite Crisis. Did DC promise big changes because of this series? Yeah, probably, I don’t remember and don’t feel like looking up all the hype. I’m sure you all read it anyway. But what changes are we getting? Relaunched Wonder Woman, Flash, and Justice League comics, which would have happened anyway even without crossover events, since DC wouldn’t let those names languish for too long. Superboy is dead, and depending on the repercussions of recent legal decisions some Superboy or another will probably be back. Superman doesn’t have his super powers for the time being, which of course isn’t a permanent state of affairs. IC feels more like “course correction,” attempting to reintroduce and revitalize some of the characters and concepts in the DC Universe, rather than changing things wholesale.
I know I primarily discussed DC’s current events above, but all that applies to Marvel, too, in their four or five big event comics they’re currently running. Did I read correctly, that a Marvel character will have his secret identity revealed to the world during the course of Civil War? I’m guessing Spider-Man, since it would seem like a bigger deal for that character than for, say, Iron Man…and I don’t know if there are any other characters at Marvel where it would be a big deal. If so, someday someone at Marvel may decide that wasn’t a good idea, and cook up a storyline where, say, Dr. Strange casts a spell to make everyone forget Spider-Man’s secret. There, big change reverted, status quo successfully maintained.
So that was a long row to hoe basically to say “I don’t believe ‘big change’ comic book hype.” Just give me some good comics to read out of these events, that’s all I ask.
Nothing to do with the topic just discussed, but this amused me: in Marvel Age #12, Stan Lee (or a close approximation) writes about his work on a ’50s humor magazine:
“Years ago, about the time that Mad magazine was a’borning, yours truly produced a similar publication called Snafu.”
Phrased like that, it makes it sound as if Snafu simply simultaneously arose with Mad out of the same cultural zeitgeist that drove the need for new sources of parody and satire. But looking at the dates involved — Mad preceding Snafu by about three years — it becomes clear that Snafu came about for the same reasons all those other ’50s humor magazines did: the need to rip off the incredibly successful Mad. Yeah, I know: “What? Marvel copied someone else’s successful idea? The devil you say!”