Since 1984’s Secret Wars, comic book events have been a regular part of the comics landscape. But what are they and why are they so important to the comic book industry?
Read on to find out all about them, including their structure, influence, and much more.
What Are Comic Book Events?
In a nutshell, comic book events are large-scale stories that have ramifications for characters, franchises, or shared universes.
From a storytelling standpoint, events are pivotal stories that are a catalyst for change. They give readers the payoff for long-building arcs and create a new status quo for fresh storytelling possibilities.
A notable event that was a meaningful payoff for readers was War of the Realms, which Jason Aaron had been leading up to for years in his Thor comics. While House of M is a great example of an event that shifted the status quo. Its conclusion of it influenced X-Men tales for many years.
Events are told on a grander scale than regular stories. The threats are larger, and there are more characters involved.
After their conclusion, it’s not uncommon for a publisher to launch new series off the back of it. These comics tend to spin out of what happened in the event comic and explore a character’s new status quo. In the case of DC Comics’ Flashpoint, a whole publishing line can be launched off the back of it.
What Kind Of Comic Book Events Are There?
Events come in all shapes and sizes, but three variations are most common.
The first is the company-wide variety. These are touch multiple points of a shared universe and bring in a range of different characters. Marvel and DC Comics are famous for doing this kind. They’re an easy way to shape future publishing plans around or, in DC Comics’ case, fix problems with the multiverse.
Similar to the company-wide events, these change up the status quo. The other advantage they have is they allow for a character to have longer stories in a short amount of time. For example, Spider-Man’s Maximum Carnage event was released in 16 parts in as many weeks. Instead of telling the story in Amazing Spider-Man over 16 months, it crossed over in the various Spider-Man series of the time in 4 months.
Finally, some comic book events act as a company-wide event but are focused on a particular character. For example, Blackest Night focused on Green Lantern, Flashpoint on The Flash, and World War Hulk on The Hulk.
The Structure Of A Comic Book Event
There’s no uniform way to publish a comic book event, but below are the most common structures:
- The miniseries approach. The main story is told in a miniseries, usually between 5-12 issues in length, with tie-in material supplementing it. Examples of this are Dark Nights: Metal, Infinity Gauntlet, and Empyre.
- The crossover approach. Popular with franchise-focused events, multiple comic book series come together and the story flows through them. Part one will be in series A, part two will be in series B, and it continues in that fashion until the conclusion. Sometimes these will be bookended by one-shots that serve as the debut and final chapters.
What Are Tie-Ins?
Company-wide events have additional comics that tie-into the main plot. These grow it out, showing other characters perspectives and outcomes that happen off the page of the main story. They provide the added scale that some readers crave and allow publishers to sell more comics.
99% of the time, you don’t need to read tie-ins to understand the main story. My advice on tie-ins is to read the ones that interest you based on the situations, characters, or the creators involved.
Why Are They Unpopular With Some Readers?
While comic book events often attract a lot of readers, not all readers are on board with them. There are many reasons for this, including:
- Cynical readers consider them to be cash-grabs that help publishers meet their sales targets.
- Event fatigue. Sometimes, there are too many events going on at the same time or in close succession.
- Some readers feel like they’ve been burnt by comic book events too many times. For them, they’ve read too many that have over-promised and under-delivered.
- Tie-ins can make reading comic book events expensive experience. Additionally, events can derail ongoing stories by forcing a comic to connect with them.
When Is A Comic Book Event Not A Comic Book Event?
Sometimes publishers can be overzealous in press releases. They announce a new miniseries or story and use the word “event” when it doesn’t apply. Most of the time, it’s to make the story seem important to readers, larger in scale, or more exciting.
The Influence on Film and TV
Film and TV have successfully adapted the comic book event model.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe uses it in movies such as The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War (based on the event of the same name), Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame.
CW’s Arrowverse has also been successful with event storytelling, making crossovers on an almost annual basis.
These examples show that film and TV are no longer using just the characters but also storytelling methods developed in comics.