Ultimate Comics Cataclysm and the Problems with Event Comics in General
It seems like every two or three months, DC or Marvel has some “event” or crossover happening between one or multiple of their lines. I Understand that these “events” are supposed to draw in casual readers like myself, but lately there have been too many of them and they are messing up the flow of things.
Take for example Ultimate Comics Cataclysm. This event gained much attention early on. Given the fact all the books in the Ultimate line were replaced with Cataclysm tie-ins, many speculated Marvel might use Cataclysm to end the once mega popular line of comics. However, we now know that the Ultimate line is not going anywhere, only being re-branded “Ultimate Marvel Now.” Following the conclusion of Age of Ultron, Galactus from Marvel 616 (the main Marvel universe) is transported to the Ultimate universe and started doing what he does best — consume. The Ultimates, having saved the world from an Alien invasion, stopped the grand theft of America, survived the Ultimatum wave and ended Mr. Fantastic’s dastardly plans,have never faced a threat like Galactus before.
As exciting as it sounds to have one of Marvel’s most dangerous cosmic entities in the Ultimate universe – a universe were death is permanent and tends to be more grounded – comes to wreck house, the actually results are anything but. Headed up Brian Michael Bendis(DJ BenHaMeen’s favorite!), much of the Cataclysm story (the first four issues out of five) has been pretty exposition heavy. Galactus shows up, over powers S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Ultimates, blows up New Jersey and is pretty much only seen in the background of panels while the heroes try and figure out what is going on. Much of the tension does not come from Galactus himself, but the audience’s understanding of who and what Galactus is — which is cheap (narratively speaking.) Making matters worst, the exposition heavy narrative means the audience has to deal with characters restating information we already know, then restating that same info to characters that show up later.
There is nothing exciting about watching characters attack another knowing the outcome or being told information the audience already knows. Even plot points like Spider-Man and Reed Richards traveling to Marvel-616 looking for information, which should be awesome, are mostly uneventful. Then there’s Galactus, who is tragically underutilized. Galactuse is often a character you cannot view on binary terms. He understands he has to eat to live and his presence is more a force of nature than being of good or evil. He sends out heralds sometimes with the specific purpose of finding worlds to eat with the least amount of life to minimize the losses and has even shown compassion in the past. Here, Galactus is less a character and more an objective – the big bad – only there to lend creditably and tension to the event.
Often, if a big bad isn’t available or the time needed to build a legit threat is not there, authors will create one (shout outs to Doomday). Bendis is not the only one who falls for these simple traps. Robert Venditti, who started his run on Green Lantern with a “huge” shake up with the recent Lights Out event , does similar things with his bag bad Relic. Relic is a scientist and the only survivor of the time before the big bang (sound familiar? That’s also Galactus’ origin). He had a theory and tried warming his people the use of Emotional Spectrum energy was draining a reservoir from behind the Source Wall, which would lead to disaster. They of course didn’t listen, the reservoir dried up, the universe ended and reset itself with the Big Bang and Relic was left saying “told you so.” To prevent this from happening again, he starts stealing light from all the lanterns across the spectrum, while trying to figure out how to refill the Source Wall. This of course leads to a confrontation and all the lanterns “teaming up” to fight Relic.
There is something to the irony that the Lanterns are slowly destroying the universe every time they use their powers, but the story is kind of a mess and it’s hard to root for anyone. It’s clear Venditti wanted to make Relic a more complex character, but he’s rarely explored and he kind of just shows up and starts attacking everyone. He’s just a big foil the Lanterns can’t point their rings at in the end. After finding out they are contributing to the end of existence, instead of to trying work with Relic, the Lanterns continue to use spectrum energy for everything. In the end Relic is defeated and everyone goes back to business like normal. (Specific spoilers are being left out for obvious reasons and added cheekiness.) While Lights Out changes some things and puts Green Lantern on an interesting path, the payoff – like many other “events” — are minimal.
Many of these events happen the in the middle of arks in process or just beginning. Cataclysm happened at a time when Miles Morales was getting comfortable with being Spider-Man again, while a new threat was emerging. Two issues into John Steward’s leading role in Green Lantern Corps, Lights Out started which was followed by of all things a Batman Zero year tie-in. These big event are supposed to draw in readers to other sister lines, but when they interrupt normal runs for big dumb happenings, with more shock value then real narrative or emotional payoff, it’s more underwhelming than anything else. Often the big change these events promise are more subtle than they appear. It’s the illusions of comics — small changes over a long period of time. Maybe a character dies or an object that was there is no longer. Editors and writers find a way to trivialize that change by finding a quick replacement.
Death of a Family, Age of Ultron, Battle of the Atom, Trinity Wars and now Cataclysm, which of these have left you in awe — not only from the story told but their conclusion? Events, crossovers and tie-in need to be more than just their first and last issues. As cool as it is seeing Spider-man next to IronMan – especially in Marvel’s case – the novelty’s worn off.