I guess by now everyone who reads comics regularly must be pretty tired of Big Event Crossovers, especially since Marvel and DC won’t stop foisting them on readers like a recurring case of herpes every year. It’s getting to the point where these crossovers are the only coherent books that can get the readers’ attention, and not always in a good way. “Event Fatigue” seems to be what readers and bloggers are calling it. “Fucked out” is the other term.
Big Event Crossovers are part and parcel of the superhero genre these days. It makes sense to have them once in a while when a company has a whole bunch of characters running around in their own series and it’s generally good business to have the characters meet up for a grand adventure to give their fans a thrill and also entice them to buy the other characters’ books or watch their shows if the fans hadn’t been following them before.
Like Marvel or DC, Japan has superheroes too, which translate into TV, manga, movies, and now games. The Japanese have two huge franchises: ULTRAMAN and KAMEN RIDER. Both series have been around since the 1960s and follow a set format. ULTRAMAN is about an alien who comes to Earth and assumes a secret identity as a member of the Space Patrol, which investigates and fights giant alien monsters that come and stomp on Tokyo real estate, and Ultraman then comes out and kills them with a few martial arts moves before finally making them explode. KAMEN RIDER is about a man who transforms into an armoured, motorcycle-riding cyborg (usually fashioned after an insect, beetle or cicada) to fight the mutants from the shadowy organization that changed him in the first place. Both series began on TV and every episode stuck closely to a set format and plot structure. Eventually, each series would reach the end of its story arc and there would be a new series the next year with a new lead character with a new costume and a new variant on the bad guys. After four decades, there are probably over 100 Ultramen and 100 Kamen Riders by now. I’ve lost track of how many more there were since I outgrew them when I hit my teens.
In the last few years, Big Event Crossover fever has hit KAMEN RIDER and ULTRAMAN as well. A new manga series KAMEN RIDER SPIRITS is aimed at both nostalgic older fans and current fans by reviving all the original characters from the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties to the present and having them reunite and cross over in several plotlines that will converge towards a Big Event. And ULTRAMAN is bringing back the original characters from the Sixties to the early Nineties for a big blockbuster movie this December called MEGA MONSTER BATTLE ULTRA GALAXY LEGEND (well, that’s the direct translation from Japanese, anyway. I’m sure everyone will eventually settle for calling it ULTRA LEGEND).
Everyone I’ve shown that trailer to wants to see the movie, even the people who have never seen an episode of ULTRAMAN before in their lives. I guess there’s goofy charm in watching guys in rubber suits spin-kicking each other.
The Japanese owners of their superhero franchises know to wait a few years before they trot out a new crossover special in order to make it feel like an event for fans. Unlike their American counterparts, they don’t feel the need to make the series darker, grimmer, bloodier or grittier to hang onto an increasingly dwindling and aging audience. They know what age group their target audience is and they stick to the formula that made them popular in the first place, only more than ever. They know their fanbases are renewable, that the target audience of pre-teen boys will outgrow them, but a new generation of boys will take their place, and they know that the older, nostalgic fans love the shows for what they are rather than what they’re not. They know they don’t have to make the heroes swear or have their girlfriends raped or get grim and gritty in an attempt to look more “edgy” or “adult” or “mature” to attract new audiences. The fact that they continue to have millions of fans in Japan, then tens of millions more if you add the rest of Asia, means they have the confidence of knowing they’re not going anywhere, unlike in American comics where they have to keep upping the ante for each successive Event in order to top the last one.
But all the above are motivated by business decisions. What happens when you have a writer-artist who can do whatever he wants without corporate editorial oversight, who decides to create his own FINAL CRISIS-style superhero crossover event?
That’s what I found when I read Jaime Hernandez’ story “TI-GIRLS ADVENTURES” in the first two volumes of the new annual LOVE AND ROCKETS anthologies. The funny thing is, more than half the superhero characters are totally new ones that Jaime made up for the purpose of this story, but convincingly portrays them as having a vast history that the reader is just stepping into the middle of. It really is his FINAL CRISIS, only he effortlessly and breezily beats Grant Morrison at his own game. It has all the themes and ideas Grant was trying to get across, including Morrison’s recurring theme of the characters finding out they’re really characters in a comic book, but Jaime does it in a way that’s light-hearted, non-obscure, extremely clear and doesn’t try to justify or disguise the fact that superhero comics are silly and childish. At the same time, he acknowledges that it’s the silliness that creates the primal myths that kids respond to, and the ending is more effortlessly poignant and profound than Grant straining to convey. There’s also a twist that makes you reassess all the last 20 years’ worth of Jaime’s stories, including the silly, breezy Sci-fi and superhero moments, and how they fit into his heroine Maggie’s story. It’s an intensely personal, deceptively light story by a creator who loves superheroes as much as Grant Morrison does. “TI GIRLS ADVENTURES” is pretty much a testament to why we like superhero stories as kids and look back on them with fondness and might continue to like them
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