Stories are made up of two elements: Structure and form. And the basis of a solid story is a structure that is made up of a fouindation that’s level that allows it to flow smoothly from beginning to middle to end.
Unfortunately at DC and Marvel most of their writers and editors don’t undestand how these two elements work in creating the platform for balanced storytelling these days. Oftentimes in today’s comics stories structure and form just don’t synergize. Because everything is so uneven when it comes to premises, plotting and pacing. And because these elements of structure are shoddy, the stories formed around them drag on and on.
At Marvel and DC It usually takes five issues to tell a story that used to take one issue to tell. That kind of imbalance in story pacing keeps readers from being compelled to keep buying comics or following a character’s adventures. The rule in writing is to move the story as quickly as possible. The faster the reader gets to the ending the faster the more they anticipate the next month’s comics.
When a story is balanced the reader is compelled to keep reading. And they buy multiple issues because they like what they’re reading, not because they feel forced to due to a multi-issue event in a crossover that goes over a hundred issues.
In addition to the pacing issues are the story models. Most writers today at Marvel and DC are forgetting what the first word in the world Comic Book are: Comic. In this quest to make comics more “real” Most writers write stories with an overly serious tone where every hero is a hero almost all the time. These days readers rarely get a joke in a superhero story. Or even a moment where we see the heroes having some downtime where they enjoy their hobbies and interests. Heck, we don’t even see heroes going to the movies or having a barbecue.
Either readers get super serious overly “dark” comics like Batman or Wonder Woman or they get overly humorous comics like Deadpool.
Due to this imbalance in the story models comics often feature underdeveloped and one-dimensional characters. And part of developing multidimensional characters is showing that they have balanced lives so that the readers get to see all the aspects of the character.
As I see it being a superhero is only about 1/3 of what makes a superhero character three dimesional. The other two parts are comprised of their alter ego and their personality. And a writer has to give all three parts need development in order for a story to have balance. When one part is underdevelopled readers are left with one and two dimensional characters they have a hard time relating to or connecting with.
Balanced storytelling usually features a tight plot, fast pacing and well-developed characters.
Moreover, Balanced stories usually follow the rule of less is more. Why? Because A little story goes a long way. The less a writer tells a story and the more they show the more impact it has on the reader.
Unfortunately, Most Marvel and DC Comics follow the rule of More, more, and more. More story, More plot, more chacters and more detail in costumes and comic panels. Sometimes there’s so much detail on a comic page it’s just overwhelming. Compound this with the long crossover events and it’s literally sensory overload when you pick up a Marvel or a DC Comic.
I was reading the synopsis for the Marvel Event Axis. And I got a headache trying to figure everything out. In between all the flipped characters the overcomplicated plot and the sheer volume of characters I just felt overwhelmed. There was absolutely no balance to the structure of the plot and so the form of the story was uneven and all over the place.
Contrast Axis to DC’s Legends in 1986. Legends had a very simple plot: Darkseid wants to turn the world against DC’s Heroes. While The story was part of an overreaching arc in all of DC’s Post-Crisis comics readers could easily follow the story in the Legends mini-series without buying extra comics to complete it.
Because the story was balanced readers were able to buy and try comics they usually wouldn’t.
Legends was one of the best events in DC’s Post-Crisis history. Why? Because It was balanced. It had a strong hook, was easy to read and defined what made DC heroes the icons they were while capturing the heart and soul of the DC Universe. Sure the story was Post Crisis, but new readers and old could pick up Legends and not feel lost at all. Every issue was an entry point.
And Contrast Axis this to the event Acts of Vengance in 1989. Acts of Vengance had a simple plot: Villians fight someone other than their arch enemies. And while the event was Avengers themed, and was part of a company wide arc, it was incredibly easy to follow and just fun. Sure we knew the mastermind was Loki back in 1989, but who cared? Just seeing the matchups of our favorite heroes taking on villains they usually didn’t fight was the event.
Out of all the events Marvel ever produced, Acts of Vengance was one of the best story wise. Why? Because it was balanced. It had a strong hook, was easy to read and was just good old fun that captured the spirit of what a Marvel comic is about. A reader could follow it easily by just picking up a single issue of any comic. No special issues, no special covers. Every issue was an entry point.
Moreover, a reader didn’t feel obligated to buy a hundred issues just to complete the entire story. They could pick and choose what titles they wanted to read. And because each individual battle between hero and villian was single and self-contained in individual character books it gave readers a compulsion to pick up titles they usually wouldn’t.
Thanks to the balanced story model featured in Acts of Vengance Marvel was able to successfully launch new titles like New Warriors, revamp stale characters like Psylocke and make them into icons and bring forgotten characters like Richard Rider’s Nova back as a regular hero in the Marvel Universe.
When a story has balance readers can easily follow a story from beginning to middle to end. Everything usually fits a three-act paradigm and compels the reader to keep reading to the end. Thanks to all the gimmicks at Marvel and DC most readers haven’t read a story with a functional three-act paradigm in years and because they haven’t seen a good story model they don’t know what a balanced story looks like. If comics followed more balanced models for storytelling readers would be excited to buy Marvel and DC Comics on the regular instead of feeling obligated to buy them just to complete a crossover.