Last December, the big two comic book companies both dropped the first hints of their major events for this year. DC would run Flashpoint while Marvel would launch Fear Itself. For some fans, it was like a Christmas bonus- the next big story to get excited about. For other fans, it was a lump of coal in their stocking- another huge company crossover to complain about.
I took the middle position and adopted a wait and see attitude. I sometimes enjoy a big story. I appreciate the epic plots and the major stakes. I like the potential upheaval to the status quo and the sense that what is happening has consequence. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to buy every big story. I still pick and choose the ones that interest me. For example, I skipped World War Hulk because I’ve never been that interested in the character and I dropped out of Final Crisis because I didn’t enjoy the first issue.
However, I was at least going to give Marvel and DC the chance to convince me that their big story was worth following. A one or two-word title with a writer’s name attached wasn’t enough. Yet there was plenty of time between that initial December tease and the spring release dates for the big two to make their big pitch. Why should I buy this event?
Neither comic book has actually come out yet. Fear Itself is set to debut next week while Flashpoint #1 is scheduled for May. So this is a reflection, not on the stories themselves, but on the marketing.
The first thing that I found out about Flashpoint- after the title- was that it was a Flash-centric event. Flash would star in the story and it would, to some degree, spin out of elements in Flash’s own book. That didn’t really interest me. That’s partly because of my own predilections. I’m not reading the current Flash title. I’m more of a Wally West fan than a Barry Allen fan. And I think that major events driven by single characters are more likely to struggle. This early information may have piqued the interest of other fans but it made me a little leery.
The next piece of information was that Flashpoint would be an alternate universe story. Alternate universes can be interesting. The X-Men’s Age of Apocalypse was a major milestone in my fandom. I had a lot of fun with DC’s Tangent and Just Imagine special events. But alternate universes can also be boring. There’s a question as to why we should care about these characters and these situations when we’re going to return to the main universe when we’re done. I thought that hampered Marvel’s House of M, which had a significant ending but which was pretty boring along the way. I continued to keep an open mind, but the alternate universe announcement didn’t move my interest much in either direction.
Then DC got to the big news. They rolled out their official announcements. They even held a “Flashpoint Friday” on which they introduced the mini-series that would be a part of the event. Unfortunately, DC copied their earlier mistake. The announcements included little more than the creative team and the title. There was no story element. There was no content. The press release on DC’s own website contains only half sentences. For the Grodd mini-series, we’re only told “Africa belongs to…” The Legion of Doom mini-series is promoted with “they have to kill the…” By being coy with the story, DC failed to give us a reason to care about these characters or about what happens to them. There are times when I’ve bought a mini-series based solely on the creative team. But I’m unlikely to commit to a major event, with 16 or 17 tie-in series, unless I’m given a reason to care. At this point, I was pretty much decided against following Flashpoint.
The final news only confirmed my decision. The Flashpoint series are being published in addition to DC’s regular schedule. One of the nice things about the Age of Apocalypse was that it replaced the regular books. Tangent was published on the fifth Wednesday of the month when no other comics were scheduled to ship. You could pick up those stories without destroying your weekly or monthly budget. But there’s no way I could add 16 series to my pull list for three summer months.
I tried to be open-minded with Flashpoint. And it’s still possible that it will be a good story. But DC never gave me a reason to care, and they gave me one big financial reason to stay away.
My experience with Fear Itself has been very different. Like DC, Marvel started out by announcing only a name. At first, I wasn’t even sure who was writing the series. But that was kind of a good thing. The announcement wasn’t about the writer or the lead character as much as it was about the story. Yet I didn’t have enough information to make up my mind, so I wasn’t committing to Fear Itself any more that Flashpoint. .
However, the next wave of information certainly caught my eye. Marvel promoted Fear Itself with a series of in-house advertisements. Each ad featured a prominent character, like Captain America, Cyclops or Spider-Man. Each ad asked the question, “What do you fear?” And each provided a possible answer for the character in question. Captain America, slouched over a broken shield, was asked if he feared a loss of faith. The Hulk was asked if he feared losing control. Cyclops, depicted wearing Magneto’s armor, was asked if he feared what he had become. \
The ads centered on the characters. Yet they did more than that. They weren’t merely a notice- “this is a story starring Flash.” They introduced conflict. They introduced obstacles that the characters would have to face and internal struggles they would have to deal with. There was a reason to care, a reason to be interested. They advertised tension and characterization. This isn’t only a story with big explosions. This is a story with big questions. I admit that I was intrigued. I still wasn’t sure about the main series. But I was definitely looking forward to reading some of these companion stories about Captain America and Cyclops.
Marvel followed their series of house ads with a free sketchbook. The promotional piece introduced the main villain, the God of Fear. It mentioned some secondary villains, like the new Red Skull, showing that there would be some story complications along the way. And it teased a new villain, a daughter of one of the Norse characters like Loki or the Executioner, to whet the appetite for more.
In addition, the promotional sketchbook showed off the creative team. It included several black and white pages from artist Stuart Immonen. And it included several comments from the writer and editor, Matt Fraction and Tom Brevoort. For me, that was an instant hook. Marvel didn’t simply give me an artist’s name. They wowed me with the artist’s work. They didn’t tell me who was writing the story. They let the writer tell me what the story was about. There was enough information to make a decision. And it was intriguing enough to entice me to buy the story.
Now, it’s possible that Fear Itself might be a bad story. Marvel successfully lured me into buying Secret Invasion and that story stagnated at the mid-way point and never recovered. And, I can’t say that I’ve liked everything I’ve seen so far. I laughed at the announcement for Fear Itself: Home Front, a mini-series that is supposed to focus on the worldwide reaction to these events. But, as a marketing push, Fear Itself has been incredibly successful. It teased what it needed to tease. It informed when it needed to inform. And it did the job it was supposed to do- it got me excited to read Marvel’s big annual event.