Events and cross-over stories are the bread and butter of the comic book industry for a plethora of reasons. You can't have comics without having massive, cross-over events. It makes sense, and frankly, they tend to be quite a bit of fun. However, when does it become too many events? When do the events start to get so big that they start affecting a publisher's brand negatively? At what point do readers start suffering from event fatigue?
Back in 1992, Marvel released four annual books that all crossed over into one story. It was called "Citizen Kang," and it was my first experience with a cross-over story or an event. It may not be the size and complexity fans have come to know in contemporary storytelling, but it was an event of sorts. The Vision had disappeared somewhere in Wisconsin, and it involved multiple super-hero teams to help out.
Well, my memory of the story is pretty weak because I didn't buy it for the stories. I bought it because each issue of the 4-part series had bios of Marvel characters in the back. I was a sucker in the 90s. Here's the thing, I don't remember events being as jam packed as they are now. Obviously, they existed. Cross-over events like Fatal Attractions, Phalanx Covenant, X-Cutioner's Song, and Age of Apocalypse still sit strongly in my mind, but there was still breathing room in between each one. Yes, the only events I can recall are X-related events. Guess what I read as a teenager. Now, it feels like events just follow one another non-stop to the point where some readers get "event fatigue."
The idea of event fatigue is pretty simple. When you have events back-to-back-to-back, the reader becomes disenchanted with the larger stories. They start getting sick of it and want their books to grow on their own. Fans start to become skeptical with what the companies are doing and some see the events less and less as "telling a story" and more and more as "cashing in on readers." The thing is that events have both positive and negative effects on their books, characters, and companies. Although the title of this piece questions "Do Larger Cross-Over Stories Help or Hurt the Industry," there is no yes or no answer, only pros and cons.
Events and cross-overs do a lot for publishers. Aside from the cynical answer of "they make the companies money," these larger stories can easily introduce readers to new characters and creators. Many folks can say they saw their favorite character first in a larger event. It piques the interest of the reader and that curiosity usually leads them to pick up that character's on-going series or the team they're involved in. The same goes for creators involved with the event.
It's also great, story wise. Aside from whatever story the writer and artist are conveying on the page, these events normally have characters interacting with each other than normally don't. Did you ever think Jean Grey would be working with the Guardians of the Galaxy? Or how about Lex Luthor working with Batman? Normally, those things wouldn't be plausible, but in the cross-over format, these things can happen.
By far, one of the best things about events is the lead up and aftermath. One of the coolest lead-ups to an event is easily the stories that took place in NEW AVENGERS before SECRET INVASION took place. It had a very conspiracy nature to it. Who's the Skrull? Half the fun was trying to figure it out before it was revealed. As for the aftermath, FLASHPOINT surely shook things up in the DC Universe, didn't it? While a good event, on its own, tells a good story, a great event lives on in those universes, years later.
Above everything else, a good event can be a lot of fun, like a summer blockbuster. Not everything has to be Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, or F for Fake. Sometimes, folks just wanna see something blow up. Half the fun of reading comics is being open to having a good time. It's ok to like something silly or action-packed or kinda dumb. Comics are entertainment and if you're not willing to try and be entertained, then why bother?
Not everything about events is sunshine and gumdrops on a cloud made of my childhood dreams (before they were all destroyed). Events and cross-overs both tend to muck things up for readers. First and foremost, events are incredibly repetitious. Many events can be described as "a larger than life force trying to destroy the world and it's up to heroes to stop it." If you're Marvel, many events tend to be "let's give everyone the same power and have them battle it out:" House of M (Mutants), Secret Invasion (Skrulls), Spider-Island (Spider-Man powers), Hulked-Out Heroes (Hulk powers), Fear Itself (Thor Hammers), and Avengers Vs X-Men (Phoenix Force). Sure, a few of those stories are great, but the repetition is pretty rough.
The most criminal thing about events and cross-overs is that it can interrupt other series and completely mess with characters, which results in these books not being allowed to grow on their own. There's a few pretty huge examples of this: NIGHTWING, CONSTANTINE, and PANDORA. Since early on, NIGHTWING was tied into a BATMAN story line for a large portion of its run. The books actually grew on its own incredibly well while Dick lived in Chicago, before the events of FOREVER EVIL. CONSTANTINE and PANDORA are both newer titles that were both tied into Trinity of Sin, followed by Forever Evil: Blight. Neither book really had a chance to grow on its own, as a solo series though. How could people want to read it if they don't know how it does on its own or if they know nothing about the character since there hasn't been any time to establish and development?
As stated before, there's no right or wrong answer to this question. Sure, you could say that events shouldn't cross-over into other books, but then readers would want to know how these events affect their favorite characters. Those stories could be told as mini-series tie-ins, but rarely to those books live up to their potential. There's no winning in this situation. People will be upset, regardless. The best thing to do is sit back and try to enjoy it and wait for your favorite books to return to normal. Because if there's one thing fans can rely on from Marvel and DC, it's that everything eventually returns to normal.
Mat "Inferiorego" Elfring is a loud-mouth on Twitter, a writer and podcast chap for Comic Vine, and a lover of comic books and events, believe it or not.