Ruby Nation

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Glorious Five Year Plan: Franchise Superhero Continuity for The People

( In response to a very good post by stealthwise on the Comics Should Be Goodforum

I like this Glorious Five Year Plan, comrade stealthwise. The basic structure would make superhero comics much better, and increase the viability of the franchises. All it needs are the following tweaks;

1.) To be done on a character/book by character/book basis, as opposed to for the whole line. Instead of a sweeping reboot, have each character on their own, more specific cycle of renewal.

2.) Keep events to separate side-projects ( such as how the Ultimate Universe once did it; Warren Ellis does a three-part maxi-arc, but it doesn't interrupt any of the individual books and doesn't take itself any more seriously than it should ). Book-by-book crossovers are annoying in the direct market, and even more annoying in bookstore compilations ( the next Iron Man trade is a tie-in telling us what Rhodey was doing during Secret Invasion? If you care about Iron Man but not the bigger crossover, it's a bit of a slap in the face ).

3.) Be less specific about it being a reboot. Some of the characters need full reboots, but others are so well known outside of the direct market, and have such simple origin stories, that they don't need to start with a Year One. Instead, have them start at the point where they're best remembered ( Hulk as the green Savage fugitive, Spider-Man as a single college student, and for God's Sakes, Batman as Bruce Wayne ). Similarly, the ending need not destroy the whole world and kill the character; instead, it's more like that five year story arc introduces a problem for the character then solves it, leaving them more or less in the condition they were found in.

Here's how I might tailor it to an X-Men Comic;

1.) Introduction. X-Men are set up in a configuration similar to that of the early 90's; Claremont-type line-up, but school setting with the players in their default configurations ( Xavier is present and handicapped, Magneto leads the Brotherhood, Cyclops and Jean are going steady but Wolverine wants to do something about that fact, etc. ). Mutants are hated and feared but it's not Days of Future Past yet. Re-establish the basic essence of the characters with more archetypal stories, while setting up the larger conflict.

2.) Hook. Emerges in year one, but is the forefront of year two; the larger conflict for this particular five-year arc. For example, if you are to do a story about a pharmaceutical cure for the X-Gene ( and to make it actually matter to the story, unlike in Astonishing X-Men or the third movie ), the first year has rumblings of the cure, but the second year actually puts it to the forefront. An interesting hook is important to differentiate this from any other X-Men storyline, and to get interest from outside the people already reading the book. Year two is where it really starts to hurt.

3.) Transition. Status quo is altered as story sees fit. Changes are not permanent due to the five-year-cycle, nor are they so drastic that a person who only knew the X-Men from the movies and cartoons would be alienated. This is where the characters' lives have been disrupted and where they have to adjust; for example, if the cure becomes mainstream, the X-Men have to go on the run while they work out a solution, give or take a few members and a few traumatic events.

4.) Deconstruction. Things get much worse much faster here. This is Born Again territory in terms of adversity for the characters, though I use Born Again because it's a story that does have a satisfying resolution, because of

5.) Conclusion. The story about the cure is wrapped up, and that major plot thread will not re-appear. But the X-Men are still around and able to adventure in their traditional fashion at the end, but they are changed from the experience of the five years worth of comics. This puts the toys back in the box, but does so with an exciting climax, and leaves the characters emotionally affected. Maybe an expendable but likable character has died, or they have received an injury physically or emotionally; the X-Men revert back to the basic status quo they had in the beginning.

Lather, rinse, and repeat; though the fact that there are clear points that the books return to at the beginning and ending of the cycle keep the books consistent, they do not remove all continuity. The previous five-year story will be referenced, just not in an explicit way; the five-year plan makes sure the books focus on the Now.