Infinite Spider-Man 11.3: Weekly Problems

Posted by Mister Mets 29 June 2012

Let's be honest Spider-fans, you got mugged.
While the Brand New Day schedule was bold and had its benefits, it also had numerous disadvantages over the traditional format of two to four monthly Spider‑Man titles. These problems will persist should that format ever return in the future, something that remains entirely plausible.

The Lead Time Issue

It requires more lead time for creators (at least at first), since Marvel couldn't begin publishing an arc until they had every issue finished without the increasing potential for embarrassing delays, as those issues will ideally be released in quick succession. There would be an initial loss of a few months of productivity and there was be a longer wait between arcs by your favorite creators. For example, Dan Slott didn't write any issues of Amazing Spider-Man between #600 and #618. This complicated their longer arcs and subplots, while putting the stories by the other creative teams on the back‑burner for those six issues.

Thanks to solicitations, readers have lead time as well. So they're going to be aware of things ten issues down the line. That makes it much more difficult to set up certain storylines, as readers will have some major clues regarding the consequences. Many will also be impatient to get to a particular story. Someone waiting for Dan Slott's Mysterio arc for whatever reason might not give Mark Waid's Electro storyline a fair shot.

Multiple Creative Teams Working Simultaneously

Working in advance complicated matters for the writers, especially as the first scripts for a longer storyline will have to be finished and given to the artist half an year or more before the issue sees publication. This differed from the monthly books, where most artists will get less lead time, as there’s more time between published issues. Each creative team worked on their stories at the same time the other teams work on earlier or later tales, and they needed constant communication with one another in order to factor in the developments of others. It could be seen as the equivalent of the writer for Amazing Spider-Man 2 finishing work on that screenplay at the same time some other guy is working on Amazing Spider-Man 3, a third guy starts writing Amazing Spider-Man 4, and a fourth writer starts plotting Amazing Spider‑Man 5. (though it is also the way most television writers work.) In the comics, this means that if Amazing Spider‑Man #712 ends with Aunt May being upset at Peter, it would be better if the guys doing Amazing Spider‑Man #713 acknowledge this, especially if Aunt May’s still upset in Amazing Spider‑Man #720, even though the script for #713 may need be written before the script for #712, to accommodate the artist’s schedule.

Delays


Delays became more of a problem than ever before, with a current minimum of four different creative teams working on a book, where the order in which the issues come out matters, given the way one creative team’s storyline can lead directly into another in order to create the sense of a single coherent series. As the stories will be so interconnected, none of the writers or artists can afford to be late, as that will also delay the projects of others. Look at how much Joe Quesada’s delays on One More Delay held up all of the Brand New Day creative teams, since Marvel has good reasons not to publish those stories before they showed the One More Day developments which lead to the new status quo of “Brand New Day.”

Delays can mess up this type of precision. If the creative team for Amazing Spider‑Man #612‑614 is late, that’s going to delay Amazing Spider‑Man #615‑616 or result in that story (dealing with the ramifications of 612‑614) being released prematurely. As a creative team can not guarantee that they’ll be finished with a six issue arc on time, even if given enough lead time, that means that the only way for Marvel to guarantee that there will be no delays is to not solicit a story until every page is finished. This would add a few more months to the production time, which is one reason it didn't happen. What Marvel chose to do was to have several artists working on a single story, and in some cases, a single issue. The result was that the book was finished on-time, but the finished product was often unsatisfying.

The need to work so far in advance makes it difficult for future issues of Amazing Spider‑Man to reference contemporary events in the Marvel Universe and could lead to strange contradictions. For example, an Amazing Spider‑Man story written in May 2012 and published in December 2011 might feature Spider‑Man visiting the X‑mansion, while an X‑Men comic written in August 2012 and published in October 2012, might feature the X‑Mansion getting obliterated in a terrorist attack.

Potential Causes for Delays

Even if everyone on the Spider‑Man book finishes their work on time, there can still be complications, given how interconnected the Marvel Universe is. A late artist on another Marvel title could seriously delay an Amazing Spider‑Man issue that pays off of developments from that issue, especially if Marvel plans to have Spider‑Man interact with the Marvel Universe and take part in crossover “events” a move which led to renewed interest, great sales and some critical acclaim during Civil War. That would probably lead to every later issue of Amazing Spider‑Man getting stalled, unless Marvel decides to be in the awkward position of releasing the Amazing Spider‑Man issues on time, and spoiling major developments (perhaps even cliffhangers). Likewise, delays in Amazing Spider‑Man might wreck havoc on other Marvel titles.

The writers will also have to be exact in their plotting. If a three issue storyline becomes a four issue storyline, that may end up taking a month or more of the artist’s time, which would become a problem if the artist assumed that he’d have to be finished with only two and a half issues worth of material before the first one’s in production. A few years ago, when Steve McNiven’s Sentry arc on New Avengers went from three issues to four, that led to months‑long interruption on his Ultimate Secret mini‑series, as his best‑selling New Avengers got top priority and the inkers and colorists went on to other projects. Eventually a less popular artist (Tom Raney) finished Ultimate Secret. It didn't help the Ultimate brand when a less popular creator finished a much delayed mini series.

These problems would be more extreme on this title, given how catastrophic delays would be. The only thing Mcniven’s lateness on Ultimate Secret hurt were later issues of that mini‑series and its followup. And the delays don’t have to be due to the writer or artist, as inkers, colorists and letterers still need time to finish their part of the production process (and switching them in the middle of a story can result in the overall art being inconsistent). This could lead to Amazing Spider‑Man getting preferential treatment in any such circumstances, which sucks for the fans of the other more self‑contained books.

While Marvel could avoid any potential delays by announcing a temporary monthly or biweekly schedule when it becomes probable that the book can’t maintain its thrice‑monthly schedule (and later announce a weekly schedule to publish the comics by the creative teams that finished their work on time), any such move would lead to negative buzz and publicity, as many internet prophets would start claiming that it is proof that the new schedule (and probably the new status quo) are undeniable failures. With “American Son” Wacker & company realized that artist Phil Jiminez was unable to handle five issues in time, and the end result was that a big tentpole event came with three artists, two of whom lacked name recognition.

Problems With Fill‑in Work

Marvel could also try to avoid delays by making sure they always have a few issues on hand that aren’t as dependent on the state of the various subplots and can thus be moved around to better accommodate the schedule, similar to the old inventory stories, but not quite as insignificant. These stories would seem like “filler” material and need to be above average, as they already have the disadvantage of providing no immediate impact on the bigger subplots and storylines, although they can set up future threads for stories. Unless Marvel’s very careful, these types of stories ruin the sense that the work of multiple creative teams is all part of one coherent and intricate epic storyline, which makes the weekly format unique from the previous system. If the strategy is to have one issue’s events lead directly into the next (doing anything else makes the comics seem inconsequential) having movable stories becomes almost impossible. It’s an idea which works better with ensembles, where there isn’t usually one chief protagonist dominating the private subplots. And one need only see the sales figures to note that the fill-in issues sell a few thousand copies less than the usual books.

This solution won’t work for delays with longer storylines, if earlier chapters are already released, as fill‑in work becomes significantly more obvious (and more likely to be blasted by critics) when it’s suddenly in the middle of a seven part epic. The differences between movable stories and inventory stories essentially depends on how long Marvel will hold onto the stories before using them if there are no delays. Changes to the status quo mean that you’d still have to use even inventory stories by a specific time. A story in which Peter Parker is a Daily Bugle staff photographer would have had to be used before the story in which he was fired from the Bugle. A story guest‑starring Sentry would have to be published before Siege, unless it suddenly became a flashback. It’s also difficult to commission inventory stories without making it seem as if one creative team’s getting preferential treatment.

Too Many Spider‑Man Stories?

Out of continuity projects or storylines set in the past wouldn't be included in the new Amazing Spider‑Man,so you'd easily have more than four Spider‑Man books a month. The need to fill thirty‑six issues an year of Amazing Spider‑Man (in addition to any other possible Spider‑Man projects) means that Marvel may have to settle for sub‑par work by less talented creators, especially if the name creators get delayed, in which case that fill‑in work will have the added disadvantage of being completely inconsequential so as not to disrupt developments by the name creators. The need to provide three issues of the title every month could lead to more exciting experimental work and great opportunities for new creators, but those experiments and new creators can easily fail. It was also easier for Marvel to not ship a few issues of a mostly monthly title than to miss a few months of a radically different type of series.

Superman in the 1990s


There were some concerns that the (almost) weekly format would be similar to what happened to the Superman and Batman books in the 90s, when DC tried to have four different monthly with their own creative teams, supporting cast members and subplots also function as a weekly book. The big difference with the Brand New Day Amazing Spider‑Man is that each creative team does their storyline before it's the next team's turn. With the Superman Weekly format, writers were either forced to participate in a lot of crossovers, or allow for events in three other Superman monthlies to occur between all of their issues, which killed the momentum of longer stories and limited their ability to feature cliffhangers, as no writer could write two consecutive issues of the Superman books. In addition, the creative teams had all the limitations that came with working on monthlies, as each book needed twelve issues an year, preferably with consistent writers and artists.

The question of whether producing thirty six issues of Amazing Spider‑Man would force Marvel to lower the average quality of the franchise ignored the fact that Marvel has consistently produced about forty issues an year of Spider‑Man anyway. Because this is Amazing Spider‑Man, the writers and artists knew they have to bring their "A" game. Otherwise, Marvel had no choice but to fire them and bring in someone else. Under the Brand New Day format, Marvel was still free to do an additional Spider‑Man monthly/ almost‑monthly, and thus have a Spider‑Man book out every week, in which case readers would have no difficulty knowing when the next issue of Spider‑Man comes out.

Padding

It also encourages padding, when the writers know they have to produce X amount of issues an year, and that an embarrassing hole in the schedule can be resolved by turning a five issue arc into an eight issue arc with the shorter wait between issues making it seem less obvious. Granted, adding three issues to a longer storyline requires two additional months for even John Romita Jr, so the writer who pads his storylines would need a significant head start, during which time other solutions can be found. However, I could imagine eight consecutive issues by John Romita Jr being used as a major selling point and JR Junior devoting two more months to a storyline would buy all of the other creative teams an additional month to work on their stories, so it might be considered a worthwhile tradeoff.

Marvel avoided this during the Brand New Day era, by featuring shorter storylines, although it’s more likely that they went with with this strategy because of the disadvantages of starting a longer story so many months before the first issue sees print. The focus on shorter stories isn’t a completely good thing as some of the best comic book stories in recent years (and some of the all-time best Spider-Man stories) have been six issues or longer. It wasn't an advantage for the BND era that they weren't able to do material on the scale of Spider Island or Ends of the Earth.

Where Did All the Tentpole Events Go During Brand New Day?

For all of the complaints against "Writing for the Trade" there's no indication that fans dislike those types of stories. See "New Ways to Die" and the success of titles like Brubaker's Captain America, Bendis's Avengers, Geoff Johns' Green Lantern, The Ultimates or anything by Jeph Loeb

It was a mistake for Marvel to encourage the writers to do 1-3 part stories as much, as there's no indication fans prefer those. Perhaps, the publisher should have encourage three or so 5-8 part stories an year, at least two of which have a commercial concept appealing to readers who don't follow the title, such as "New Ways to Die," "American Son," "Spider Island," and "Ends of the Earth."

With more pages, you could also have more substantial developments with Peter Parker in the course of a single story, the difference between what can happen to a character in an episode of a TV show and what can happen in the course of a movie. With more developments, the stories will seem more substantial, which should discourage readers from dropping the book, and bring back some of those who felt that "progress" was too slow.

The main risk is that these tentpole stories may start to seem insignificant after a while. Or that they may make the rest of the issues seem unimportant. But it's the responsibility of the writers and the editor to avoid that. You didn't see enough of this in the Brand New Day era, which included one six-part story, three five-parters (I'm counting American Son with the Interlude). On something so carefully structured, it's difficult to find room on the schedule for a longer storyline. And it is harder to coordinate, with one guy working on a story that won't be published for some time.
The Many Writers and Artists

Given how interconnected the creative teams have to be, it may take a long time to replace an unsuccessful writer or artist, as by the time editorial gets reader feedback on the first issue, the creative team in question will be most likely working on their next storyline, which may not see print for another six months. It may be also be difficult to find a place for a new creative team, given how far in advance those creators will have to work on any multi‑part story.

Shifts in how the writers and artists interpret certain characters will be more noticeable, if there's a one or two week gap between issues of Amazing Spider‑Man, and those differences are even more jarring in TPB form, as most trades would feature work by multiple creators. That could lead to trade paperbacks selling less copies than they would if they only featured the work of a single creative team. For instance, a Bob Gale fan will be less inclined to buy a seven issue trade with two issues of content by him, and three issues by Slott, when he would have happily bought a five issue volume completely written by the screenwriter of a movie on IMDB’s top 250.

With many different artists coming on the book for a three issue (or less) stint, there is a loss of artistic consistency. As there isn’t one artist doing the majority (or even a third) of the work, the book becomes an easy project for artists who have a few months between major assignments, with less comparisons to a single artist and no expectation that they’ll be around for a long time. With so many artists working on the series, while the average reader will be introduced to artists with whom he is currently unfamiliar, the average reader will also eventually find a few that he dislikes, which may put him off the series. It’s also disappointing for a reader to learn that a favorite artist is only doing three issues, as that may encourage fans to wait for the next project. The work that took the average artist several months to draw (meaning he disappeared completely from the marketplace for that period) appeared over the course of a month, sometimes even at the same time as his work on another monthly title, where he required less lead time. That combination can make any penciler suddenly seem overexposed..

Writers who have worked closely together on these types of projects admit that it is more time‑consuming, meaning you’ll see less work by your favorite writers than if they were on more independent projects, though most writers would say that collaboration can be more rewarding and results in above average work. It's more glaringly obvious when the co‑ordination between writers fails, and one arc suddenly contradicts the developments of another. For example, there were some complaints about the first chapter of “One More Day” taking place a few days after Civil War ends, which didn’t leave many openings for the other “Back in Black” storylines (six issues of Friendly Neighborhood Spider‑Man, six issues and an annual of Sensational Spider‑Man, the Spider‑Man Fallen Son issue, World War Hulk, New Avengers #27‑35 and two issues of Avengers: The Initiative.) This type of problem would be more extreme if one issue of Amazing Spider‑Man contradicted or completely ignored the previous twelve issues. It hinders creativity, as the writers have to deal with the developments of other writers far more closely than if they were all on separate books.

There's a huge potential for a clash of egos, especially if the writers have different ideas for the characters, or if the writers compete to use an A‑list villain, or a bigger‑name artist. I wouldn't expect artists to be immune to this, as they could start competing for scripts by the bigger‑name writers, or with the bigger characters. Delays could lead to more clashes. If Mike McKone’s storyline is delayed because Lee Weeks is late, he might be pissed.

What happens when the writers disagree? Let’s say Zeb Wells thought it would be awesome to have J Jonah Jameson become Director of HAMMER after Norman Osborn goes down. He convinced Dan Slott, Joe Quesada and Steve Wacker that this would be a great development for Marvel comics. But Fred Van Lente, Mark Waid and Joe Kelly disagreed. The more writers you have on the Spider‑Man books, the more chances you have for public conflicts. At the same time, the creators could become protective of one another, and it becomes difficult for Marvel to fire an unsuccessful writer if three writers and four artists inform Marvel that if he’s gone from the book, the rest of them will follow.

When One Writer's More Powerful

There’s the possibility with this schedule, that one writer will become the most influential, and get declared the “architect” of the Spider‑Man line. If you hate that guy, you'll have more difficulty enjoying the other storylines than you currently do, as his work would have a tremendous impact on the work of the other writers. At the same time, even the least significant writer’s work will impact all of the other creative teams. It won’t be like before when someone who disliked Sacasa’s run on Sensational Spider‑Man could just ignore his work completely, knowing it would have no impact whatsoever on Amazing Spider‑Man.

Coordination Problems

Given how far in advance the crew have to work, it becomes difficult to use the most recent developments of fellow writers, and it takes longer to respond to fan reaction. For example, Norah Winters from Amazing Spider-Man #575-576 was well-received by readers (by all accounts) back in October, but the character won't be used until April, because of the difficulty of incorporating new developments (especially those that aren't part of the grand scheme.)

There were stretches of the Brand New Day era in which stories could have been published in an entirely different order, with no discernible effect. There was nothing in Amazing Spider-Man #577's Punisher story that affected Spider-Man when he fought the Shocker in Amazing Spider-Man #578-579.

Things are admittedly a little different in the Big Time era, in which the title comes out more than once a month, but with one writer. So we'll look at that schedule next.

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