Four Issues and Done

Is the best comic book event really just 4 issues long?



Why the Perfect Superhero Event Only Has 4 Issues - Comic Book Com

"It’s difficult to look at recent events like Civil War 2 or Dark Knights: Metal and make a case that every page was warranted based on the story it told."

I've seen this analyzed before: what is the best length for a epic adventure story? Either because of conditioning from Hollywood, it has been said, or because of something naturally inherent in western audiences, a comic book story arc of 120 pages or a movie running around 120 minutes in length seems to work best. Compare that to the length of epic adventures from previous centuries (Iliad, Odyssey, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, etc.) this might indicate the modern attention span is a fraction of the patience in the past. But compare: the Harry Potter* and Lord of the Ring cycles were split up into "stand-alone" separate books, which made the task of consuming the whole enchilada easier, with the accumulated sections making a story of truly gargantuan length.

Perhaps the dilemma of the very long superhero epics of DC and Marvel resides with the editors (as do so many problems) which is that the sprawl of the story line isn't organized into smaller stand-alone sections (not that any reader of LotR or Harry Potter was ever expected to only read one individual section, anyone finishing Fellowship of the Ring was fully expected to go on to The Two Towers, pronto). The ancient Odyssey, for example, is actually cordoned off into 24 sections (which are usually labeled "books," though all the pieces are printed together in a single volume). Organization seems to be the main culprit in keeping a modern Marvel/DC epic out of control and inducing reader exhaustion.

As a rough standard, with comic books, ideally a single page of a comic ought to be the rough equivalent of one minute read time, which is the standard for a Hollywood movie script. But comic books have for decades had shifting story telling standards, and text tools have been abandoned (how often do you see a thought balloon in a comic? Or narrative writing?) Unless you stop and examine the artwork at length for reasons not having to do with executing the story (which sometimes, with some 'superstar' artists, becomes the reason for the book altogether) many comics can be breezed through much faster than a minute-per-page pace. On the other hand there are those issues when the pages are filled with talking heads and the dialogue seems endless. Complaining there's not enough writing, and then complaining there's too much writing is a hard way to make a point, but how many times have you read through a multi-issue "arc" and then realized the last three issues could have easily have been condensed into a single issue?

"The Problems of Decompression ... One of the biggest issues with modern superhero events is the proliferation of issues in each one. These stories typically sprawl to include at least 8 or 9 issues in each narrative. That doesn’t include Free Comic Book Day tie-ins, prologues, epilogues, and unannounced additional issues. The strategy seems to be that more is better, when more is really just more. This level of decompression causes additional problems for both fans and the events themselves. Readers are already asked to spend an average of $3.99 for new superhero comics from Marvel and DC Comics. Events typically contain extended page counts and ratchet that price up to $5.99 or even higher in some cases..."

The writer (Chase Magnett) makes the obvious point: "The strategy seems to be that more is better, when more is really just more." This is where the role of the editor has the most impact for better (or worse), they are there to guard the reader from having to put up with writing which isn't an adequate exchange for the $3.99 being laid down to purchase the issue, and that means of course checking spelling and grammar, but also clarity (the most common problem I see in superhero writing), and the big intangible: whether something about to get printed and distributed under the DC/Marvel logo could just be a great big bore. - Kudzu


May 26, 2018 | Updated June 2019


*Harry Potter Page Counts - Total number of pages 3733, UK Bloomsbury softcover versions (American versions some what longer due to larger font sizes).

1- 332 pages Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
2- 360 pages Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
3- 462 pages Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
4- 617 pages Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
5- 800 pages Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
6- 542 pages Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
7- 620 pages Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Total pages Harry Potter: 3733

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