Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Endings

I think one of the major problems of the comic book industry is their reluctance to end stories. Having re-read some of Maison Ikkoku recently (a manga by Rumiko Takahashi) I realized that manga has a huge advantage story-wise over mainstream comic books - they have the luxury of ending their stories. I've always liked the saying "There are no happy ending because nothing ever ends." Unfortunately that phrase seems to haunt the American comic book industry. Even if there is a happy ending to a storyline it doesn't make much of a difference because a few weeks/months/years from that point someone will make sure that ending is ripped apart or red lined or horribly terribly altered. Or, comics will do a tragic story that actually touches the reader on an emotional level - but because nothing EVER ends even our tragedy is stolen from us! I mean, who can really mourn the death of a character when they come back time and time again? Let's look at some examples!


Amazing Spiderman #121

The death of Gwen Stacey was (one of) the best storylines in comic books. The love story between Peter and Gwen was a beautiful thing and Peter's emotional trauma at her death was so real the reader could easily empathize with him. Peter's romance with MJ never managed to strike me as completely real because of the Gwen Stacey tragedy. This story arch was one of the defining moments of Peter's life and as such I believe the creators over at Marvel should have left it untouched. Instead... they turn Gwen Stacey into the kind of girl who would sleep with the Green Goblin. If this story had been allowed it's ending Gwen would still be the girl I remember her as and her love story with Peter could have remained pure. Instead I get the image of Gwen SLEEPING WITH GREEN GOBLIN. Why Marvel? Why?

Nightwing

Anyone else remember how Nightwing "found" himself back when he became Nightwing? I know Chuck Dixon does, but Devin Grayson and now Bruce Jones both seem to think that Nightwing is still messed up over things he supposedly resolved. Not to mention even Grayson wrote the final issue of Nightwing (before one year later) as if Dick had risen above all the crap she threw at him. We even had him propose to Babs! But now Jones is writing Nightwing as if he never got over any of his issues. The writers keep ignoring ALL of Nightwing's "happy endings" because I guess people think that angst sells.

Donna Troy

I can't even remember the amount of times this poor woman has gotten a happy ending only to have it ripped away. Sure, this character has some serious continuity issues as it is, but even so I fell sorry for Donna. Back in the days of the New Teen Titans Donna got married and had a baby and I thought that was a great change for the character. That all got screwed up several times over. It's like no comic book character is really allowed a happy ending.

There are many examples of story arch "endings" being undone for one reason or another but I think the biggest cause of this phenomenon is that American comics think that endings kill sales. Instead of coming up with original ideas or building up new characters the industry recycles old stories over and over again knowing that nostalgia sells. They cater to "the good old days" and know that a book will automatically sell if they bring back a dead character. The problem is that the longer they do this the more it actually harms the story that was already there. Sure, you're selling to the readers who have been around forever but you miss out on new readers because who wants to pick up a book that you can't understand because you haven't been a reader for the past 5 years?

Sandman is probably one of the most well known and respected comic books around. I have met so many people who have read at least one graphic novel from the Sandman run. Why? Because it's a self-contained story. You don't have to delve into the entirety of a comic book universe to enjoy Dream's stories. The reason it is a great comic book is because Gaiman allowed it to end and DC was smart enough to stop the series when Gaiman finished the story. I can't think of a single comic that forsakes real endings that can outshine a self-contained story arch. I'm not saying that continuing books are a bad thing - I'm saying they're a bad thing IF the story doesn't move on. Life is about the actions that define and change you, people have to grow and so do characters. By constantly re-hashing old stories the writers/editors rob their readers of the good stories they have told as well as denying the new generation of heroes the chance to come into their own. Endings don't ruin stories, they make them.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Jim said...

True. Which is another reason I have always wanted characters to be allowed to age. Not necessary at a real rate, but age and grow and change. That woul allow for endings.

Something else that is hurting the industry is that no new creations have occurred in Marvel or DC for years to my knowledge. I believe that no new characters are being created because no writer or artist wants to lose the potential to own the next Superman or Spider-Man. So we are left with an endless recycling of the same characters.

But DC has done a good job of using the names and recycling different people under the mask. So whiel I may not like Ted Kord being killed, it was an ending and we have a tabula rasa for the new Blue Beetle.

The other extreme is never allowing a character to grow creates the Gwen Stacy sleeps with Norman Osbourne travesty.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006  
Anonymous Jeff said...

What we really need is an ending that is an ending. Would Sandman have been an ending if DC had allowed another writer to bring back Morpheus and tell more stories with him? Some of the most emotional moments have been ruined as you pointed out with Gwen Stacey. But what about Aunt May? She had a truly fantastic death that was undone later on. I was actually weeping like a wee lass reading about May's passing. Then they undid it, just like that. And Ted Kord could be reborn in a heartbeat. For an end to mean something, it has to be a real end. Death should be permanent, not a rotating door. When Joe Q took over Marvel he said "Dead is dead" and used Colossus as the example. Well guess who's back. That's right! Colossus is alive and well. Just who the heck is still dead? Doc Ock was killed and brought back. Ditto Kraven and Mysterio. Gwen Stacey and Green Goblin both still kicking. Jason Todd is back. Bucky is alive again. Thor died, but he's getting better. When death is handled in such a casual manner it takes all meaning away from it. There can be no ends if death isn't true death. Your point was agreed upon by David Peterson, creator of MouseGuard. He says that he wants to write the book as a series of miniseries instead of ongoing. He says that that way each story can have a beginning, middle, and end. So is that better than an ongoing where ideas run out and after 40+ years of continuity you have to scramble for any new idea to try and see if you can keep the book going just one more year?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006  
Blogger Arielle said...

Good observations, Gwen!

Seems like the American comic industry could really learn a thing or two from the manga industry. It isn't like having real endings has in any way hurt manga sales!

And Jim - another problem with death not being permanent is that whenever a character dies, people are likely to be skeptical and assume the character will be brought back, and therefore the death doesn't have the emotional impact it should!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006  
Blogger Brainiac6 said...

Jeff - that's kinda the point I was trying to make, that their endings just get ruined by a later writer. And the reason they run out of ideads for ongoing series is because most of the time they refuse to let the main charater(s) change. I don't care that people get brought back to life every once in awhile, but when did it become a given? It kind of ruins the whole point of having them die in the first place.

Jim - DC does a better job than Marvel with moving in new characters under old names, but that's still no excuse for refusing to bring in new characters. In the Marvel Universe the afterlife has the same revolving door as Arkham. I really like how they made fun of that in Dead Girl!

Arielle - yeah, I never understood how American artists will take some ideas from manga but the editors don't seem to do the same. Manga is incredibly popular in Japan (in comparison to our comics being popular here) and the writers just move on to new projects when they're done with a story. Fans buy there new story and are usually happy to have had some sort of conclusion. Manga readers are also lucky because they rarely have to deal with massive crossovers!

Thursday, June 08, 2006  
Anonymous Jeff said...

You know, one of the problems is the type of fans we have now. Many are completists who will continue to buy a series years after they've stopped liking it. I know many people still buying ongoings cuz their favorite character is the star. Great books that ended? Sandman, Hitman, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Shade the Changing Man, Cerebus, Bone, Starman, and so many others. What the business guys are thinking though is who will remember these books 10-20 years down the line? These guys have failed to create new heroes for new generations, so they're stuck servicing the copyrights ad infinitum. And really why throw away such great ideas as Spider-man, Hulk, Batman and Superman? DC really was doing a better job of moving things along, but then they went retro and brought back Hal, Ollie and the rest of the Silver Age gang. Endings are great and we could do with some more of them. A little change would really be appreciated too. How much worse is Infinite Crisis now that Didio has said that the New Earth is 99.9% exactly the same as the old Earth? Well what the heck was the point of all that then?

Thursday, June 08, 2006  
Anonymous Jim said...

Arielle -The fact that we have the term comic book deaths speaks volumes to how little an impact a death has anymore. In the last X-Factor issue Peter David manages to show the impact of a death and make fun of comic book deaths at the same time. Ask cshiana to borrow it.

I think endings and having stories that count really drew me to DC's Earth-2. Before they destroyed Earth-2 this was where the writers were allowed to show a natural progression of the character. Bruce Wayne married Selina and had Helina Wayne who became the Huntress. Infinity Inc. was the heir to the Golden Age heroes and we saw the creation of a lot of great second generation heroes.

Alas in DC and Marvel now all is the illusion of change, but nothing really progresses. So we have charaters with 40 years worth of stories and continuity behind them that weigh the characters down. Ultimately the characters become less interesting because you know nothing that happens ever makes an impact.

The shame of it is it that if stories that moved the characters forward and characters were allowed to change we would have more exciting comics then ever before. Look at Marvel in the Silver Age and the characters actually grew up and changed. I think Franklin Richards has now been six years old for 30 years.

Thursday, June 08, 2006  

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