Oversaturation and "Decompressed" Story Telling - Marvel and DC Comics

vaderSW1

Dark Knight of the Red Wings
#1
I've been meaning to start a discussion about this for awhile now and just couldn't get motivated enough to start the topic but I feel like now is probably as good a time as any.

I've been a fan of comics for as long as I can remember. My paternal Grandfather got me into collecting and reading comics when he started buying me Masters of the Universe (Star imprint via Marvel Comics) and Transformers comics (Marvel) when I was pretty young. I found a love for Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men through be introduced to those comics. I still have a majority of the comics from my childhood (albeit in pretty rough shape) and sometimes find myself going back to reread those books because they still hold a nostalgic place in my heart.

I stopped reading comics for awhile starting in my early teenage years. I think it was just after the whole Death & Return of Superman story and the Knightfall/Knights End Batman epic. When I returned to comics, I wasn't quite prepared for what I was getting into. I came back to comics due to the hype surrounding Marvel's Onslaught event back in the summer of 1996. I noticed that the art style in comics had changed quite a bit from what I remembered it being. It seemed to be inspired by something folks called "manga" which I had never heard of. To boot, gone were the old standard printing stock paper interiors. Now the interior pages all had gloss finishes.

I also noticed that the storytelling had started to change. In my youth, comics were written to be mostly self-contained stories. What we now call "compressed" storytelling. Sure, there may have been a larger story arc being told over several issues but for the most part, each issue was its own self-contained story. When I looked through the pages of the comics on the shelves at the comic book shop, I was just lost. The stories weren't self-contained. It was all a lot of exposition and cliff-hanger endings. I really didn't like that change at all. It didn't make any sense to me.

From what I understand, the whole "decompressed" storytelling movement in American comics started with an influence from manga and really picked up steam with Warren Ellis & Bryan Hitch's The Authority. It seems that based on the success of The Authority, that everybody jumped on board with this notion that they could tell a single story over the course of 6 issues (or more) instead of 1. In theory, "decompressed" storytelling allows the writer to put more emphasis on character development and setting a tone/mood. However, it is my contention that Marvel and DC have both used "decompressed" storytelling for reasons other than this. Primarily, they have used it for profit. On the face of it, there's nothing wrong with that. However, on a deeper level I believe it has created a problem for both Marvel and DC.

I think to best understand the problem, we first have to understand how we got here. I will do my best to summarize the story. During the 90's there was a sort of comics "gold rush." Comics started to become collectibles. People were buying multiple copies of various books. The comic book companies, primarily Mavel and DC, started to see this trend and started to feed into it. They started offering variant covers and different versions of books. A good example of this would be Superman #75 (The Death of Superman). There was a standard edition, a polybagged edition with a bloody red Superman emblem and some bonus items, and a polybagged edition with a platinum version of the Superman emblem. The platinum edition of the book was the rarest and, therefore, most valuable at the time. Shit like this started to become the standard. Then the whole thing crashed. The value of comics dwindled because the market was being over-saturated.

So, with the market essentially crashing it left Marvel in pretty bad shape. I think DC may have been in pretty bad shape for a time too but I don't think as bad as Marvel. I could be wrong about that.Regardless, I feel like both companies started to try to find a way to adjust. I think with the success of The Authority and the rise of artists and writers that were inspired by manga that Marvel and DC saw an opportunity to try to dig themselves out.

"Decompressed" storytelling would give the companies an opportunity to make a little more money from their monthly readers by basically forcing them to buy the next issue to see how the story concludes. Rather than just buying a single issue for a full story and then the reader deciding maybe not to continue on, they saw an opportunity for cliff-hangers and profit. I think that, as a result of the storytelling changes, it also put Marvel and DC in a position where they had to put out more books to try to introduce different characters or expand on existing characters. Thus, the market continues to be over-saturated.

It is my personal opinion that Marvel and DC have allowed the pendulum to swing too far in the direction of "decompressed" storytelling. There is certainly a place for that but I feel like it shouldn't be used for everything. I hate having to spend damn near $20 for 4 comics just to read about a single story line that may have crossed over into 4 different books. These books may not even be books that I would read on a regular basis. There shouldn't be a reason why I can't pick up say the "Secret Empire" books and not get a full gist and understanding of what is happening. I shouldn't have to pick up a bunch of ancillary crossovers to get an accurate picture.

I think independent studios like Image have proven that you don't need to over-saturate the market to have outstanding, best selling titles. Just take a look at titles like Saga, The Walking Dead, and Paper Girls. None of those titles have a bunch of spin-off's and crossovers. Nor are they necessary. The storytelling serves a greater, overall story arc, but often times can be held as self-contained stories as well.

Marvel and DC have put themselves in a bad predicament. There are way too many titles out there right now. Some of these characters don't really deserve or need a title of their own. For instance, why does Black Panther need 3 different ongoing titles? He's a very cool character but he's just not popular enough for 3 monthly books. Not to mention that the big 12 issue story arc that just finished in the main Black Panther book was one of the most boring stories I have ever read. There are also a litany of new X-Men and Inhumans titles starting to come out. I know Marvel is really pushing The Inhumans hard but is there really that big of a fan base for them? Do we need multiple Inhumans titles? I think even more egregious is the amount of new X titles coming. I love Jean Grey and Iceman but, IMO, they don't need their own titles. They just aren't interesting enough to carry their own titles. DC has done some of this too with books like Cyborg. I like the character and he works well with a team. However, he's just not interesting enough to carry his own book.

I think it would behoove Marvel and DC to cut back the number of titles they are producing every month. They should pull back the reigns on the "decompressed" storytelling. Get back to classic periodical storytelling. That method of storytelling can still work as evidenced by the indie comic publishers. Not every character needs their own book. Not every story needs to be dragged on for 6 issues. The recently completed I Am Bane story arc that ran in Barman is a very good example of how "decompressed" storytelling is going wrong. There was no need to let that drag on for 6 issues. That was 1 or 2 issues at best. Tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end and move on.

I'm curious to see how others feel about these subjects. Let's have a discussion!
 

X-SOLDIER

Harbinger O Great Justice
AKA
X
#2
There shouldn't be a reason why I can't pick up say the "Secret Empire" books and not get a full gist and understanding of what is happening. I shouldn't have to pick up a bunch of ancillary crossovers to get an accurate picture.
They do this with Trade Prints. It does suck for anyone wanting to read comics as they're released, but the sort of collected storytelling in larger volumes like that has been a thing for a while, and I think that it's interesting and also slightly obnoxious. There are positives and negatives to it, and I'm not always sure where I stand with it, because the REALLY GOOD wide-spanning arcs have actually gotten me to read some comics regularly that I wouldn't've been interested in, whereas recently, I've cut back to just the few comics I'm really devoted to.

Overall, it's the multi-title universal stories that haven't been keeping my interest and the small, well-told stories that have, so there's definitely an issue of some kind (but I also have WAY less time I spend keeping up on and reading comics, so it's much more difficult to tell if it's how I feel about them or just how I spend my time lately).

I love Jean Grey and Iceman but, IMO, they don't need their own titles. They just aren't interesting enough to carry their own titles. DC has done some of this too with books like Cyborg. I like the character and he works well with a team. However, he's just not interesting enough to carry his own book.
These are all about getting certain characters a chance in the spotlight and also better representation (whether or not that actually gets sales is something else entirely). Some of the more obscure folks who're given a chance really make for break-out titles and the only way to know is to try.


Aside from all that, I'm still very much more fond of smaller books and series lately even if I've fallen behind on a lot of them (Seven to Eternity, Monstress, Mayflower, Ragnarök but also with some Marvel/DC Books that often stay more self-contained Venom, Spider-Man 2099, Star Wars books, Moon Knight). If you want to look at a slightly expanded and occasionally cross-over-y title that really, Really WORKS – IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is my gold standard for that and also always one of my favourite comics.





X :neo:
 

vaderSW1

Dark Knight of the Red Wings
#3
There shouldn't be a reason why I can't pick up say the "Secret Empire" books and not get a full gist and understanding of what is happening. I shouldn't have to pick up a bunch of ancillary crossovers to get an accurate picture.
They do this with Trade Prints. It does suck for anyone wanting to read comics as they're released, but the sort of collected storytelling in larger volumes like that has been a thing for a while, and I think that it's interesting and also slightly obnoxious. There are positives and negatives to it, and I'm not always sure where I stand with it, because the REALLY GOOD wide-spanning arcs have actually gotten me to read some comics regularly that I wouldn't've been interested in, whereas recently, I've cut back to just the few comics I'm really devoted to.

Overall, it's the multi-title universal stories that haven't been keeping my interest and the small, well-told stories that have, so there's definitely an issue of some kind (but I also have WAY less time I spend keeping up on and reading comics, so it's much more difficult to tell if it's how I feel about them or just how I spend my time lately).
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying lets get rid of multi-title or multi-issue stories altogether. I'm saying that it needs to be more judiciously done. They need to be fewer. The exception rather than the norm. The indies are proving that single-issue stories hold people's interest more.

I love Jean Grey and Iceman but, IMO, they don't need their own titles. They just aren't interesting enough to carry their own titles. DC has done some of this too with books like Cyborg. I like the character and he works well with a team. However, he's just not interesting enough to carry his own book.
These are all about getting certain characters a chance in the spotlight and also better representation (whether or not that actually gets sales is something else entirely). Some of the more obscure folks who're given a chance really make for break-out titles and the only way to know is to try.


Aside from all that, I'm still very much more fond of smaller books and series lately even if I've fallen behind on a lot of them (Seven to Eternity, Monstress, Mayflower, Ragnarök but also with some Marvel/DC Books that often stay more self-contained Venom, Spider-Man 2099, Star Wars books, Moon Knight). If you want to look at a slightly expanded and occasionally cross-over-y title that really, Really WORKS – IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is my gold standard for that and also always one of my favourite comics.





X :neo:
I get what DC and Marvel are trying to do with giving certain characters their own books. I think there is a far better way of doing that than just throwing something at the wall and seeing what sticks. Why not engage the fan community on social media? Run polls. See what people like and what they want to see more of. That way comic shops aren't wasting mountains of money on books that don't move and readers aren't being hit with a barrage of books that makes them feel overwhelmed.

Your mention of Star Wars and Moon Knight as examples of good self-contained books is spot on. I love Moon Knight. He's always operated well as a self-contained character. When Warren Ellis started writing Moon Knight, using "compressed" storytelling, it was beautiful. I was so sad when he left the book. However, the book continues to be very well written and feels epic despite being self-contained.
 

X-SOLDIER

Harbinger O Great Justice
AKA
X
#4
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying lets get rid of multi-title or multi-issue stories altogether. I'm saying that it needs to be more judiciously done. They need to be fewer. The exception rather than the norm. The indies are proving that single-issue stories hold people's interest more.
Oh, I totally get that. It'd be cool if they were a big once-a-year thing, rather than a the-last-one-is-over-its-time-for-the-new-one thing.

I also think that having tighter stories works well, but that often conflicts with the focus on an interconnected-verse at times which is sort of the cruz of the issue. A lot of stories want to use other characters, and knowing when and where characters are doing things and not having conflicting versions of whatever characters elsewhere and having the escapades loop back into their stories, etc. sort of drives that who thing.

I get what DC and Marvel are trying to do with giving certain characters their own books. I think there is a far better way of doing that than just throwing something at the wall and seeing what sticks. Why not engage the fan community on social media? Run polls. See what people like and what they want to see more of. That way comic shops aren't wasting mountains of money on books that don't move and readers aren't being hit with a barrage of books that makes them feel overwhelmed.

Your mention of Star Wars and Moon Knight as examples of good self-contained books is spot on. I love Moon Knight. He's always operated well as a self-contained character. When Warren Ellis started writing Moon Knight, using "compressed" storytelling, it was beautiful. I was so sad when he left the book. However, the book continues to be very well written and feels epic despite being self-contained.
We'd never get anything new or break-out. Polls and the fan media will always give you answers to what's already popular and not necessarily what's good. I'd VASTLY prefer writers and artists to choose things that they think that they can deliver a fun and solid experience with, even if it's short-lived than live in a world with Fan-Base-driven comics. Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, The Mighty Thor, are some comics I can think of that probably never would've happened if control was left to the fans.

Same goes for Star Wars, actually. Marvel makes the comics they want to tell the stories that they want. That's it. The way that Star Wars is running its interconnected universe in the form of comics is really good, but that's also for a universe with an established history, and not one that's just got a focus on what's living and growing actively.

The main issue really just lies in the size of their universes and the scope of the characters that they focus on, but there really isn't a viable solution there to have your cake and eat it too, without shaking up the format of comics and storytelling significantly, and with things like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and even the MCU being hot items insofar as modern storytelling media is concerned, I don't see that wide focus going anywhere.

The only thing that I can think of with this is just tightening up teams and focus, and even that has its difficulties: I love Champions but I also really enjoy Ms. Marvel, Spider-man, & Totally Awesome Hulk even if I'm never sure when the events in Champions are occurring compared to what's occurring in all of their individual stories.

tl;dr – I don't really see any good solutions despite also being bothered by the existing problems.




X :neo:
 
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