Making Stephen Wacker’s Life Miserable

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On a CBR thread, Xistel asked how we would improve the Spider-Man comics. My response was “If I was in charge, I might change the schedule of Amazing Spider-Man from twice a month to weekly (or weekly except for when there’s an issue of Avenging Spider-Man on the stands) with occasional intermissions. But that’s just because I think that schedule would be effective.” To that, Stephen Wacker replied “Oh, how I hate you.”

So now it’s time to defend my proposed format. I admit that it’s difficult to pull off, and editing will be a bitch. Although it’s not quite as bad as it initially seems. With a weekly comic, there’s no loss of momentum, or questions about when the next issue of ASM is coming out.

Even for a weekly title, there’s no need to release 52 issues an year. Marvel could easily have chosen to release the series in spurts with an extended hiatus once or even twice an year. This encourages the writers to perfect the art of the cliffhanger, bringing the “season” approach of television storytelling to comic books, and producing one Omnibus collection’s worth of material an year.

Once a year, you’ll have a hiatus when fans discuss what’s coming up next. The creative teams gets a few months to get a head start on the next year or so of stories. Plus, after a four month intermission (preferably with one hell of a cliffhanger to keep readers guessing) the return of Amazing Spider-Man will be somewhat of an event. It also means that the inevitable omnibus could have a beginning, middle and end.

There’s no need to have the intermissions be at the same time every year, so it gives more flexibility than a TV show, which usually has to have one season premiere and one season finale every year. This book could easily have 40 consecutive issues followed by a four month break, followed by 30 consecutive issues, followed by a three month break, followed by 50 consecutive issues.

The beginning of each “year” would be a big deal. Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly had an interesting take on DC’s new 52 titles. He saw the initial increase in sales as the result of an entire month of highly promoted entry points, and considered if Marvel and DC should adopt a television season style approach. So something like that could be effective for Amazing Spider-Man. It would have the hype of a reboot without the complications for writers inherent in figuring out how a newly rebooted continuity works.

The upcoming Marvel Now approach will be a little bit different, with more spread-out entry level points. But this schedule could easily be adopted to something like that. It works regardless of when Marvel wants for the first issue of a new season. It can fit a gradual roll-out just as well as a month of jump-on points. And it’s something that can be renewed once a year.

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Although all sorts of complications are possible, especially when it comes to coordinating tie-ins to monthly books. Because of the itinerary, a lot of the work on Amazing Spider-Man would have to be done far in advance, which isn’t true of every Marvel title.

Rotating Show-Runners

Considering the amount of content this type of timetable would require, the weekly Amazing Spider-Man would almost certainly require multiple writers. That strategy usually comes with some disadvantages, as there’s the added problem of making sure that the people guiding the direction of the title are all on the same page, especially if all there isn’t one writer in charge.

TV shows usually have multiple writers, but the show-runner is the guy in command. He often handles the most important episodes, and guides the direction of the series. I don’t want to suggest that comics should lose what makes them unique, but television is the other popular serialized medium, so it’s something that may at times be worth stealing from. “Rotating show-runners” is an easier way of describing than “rotating lead writers” or “architects.”

This approach that’s difficult to translate into comics where the customer pays for each installment, while in television, the customer usually pays for the whole thing, if at all. This encourages comics fans to be pickier, but there are ways to make sure most fans understand that the material matters. Readers could easily be trained to ignore the material that isn’t by the main writer. One exception would be when a writer who isn’t the showrunner becomes much more popular. In that case, fans might be inclined to pick up those stories, rather than the ones in the major arc, which would be a different kind of problem. It would be the comic book equivalent of Russell T Davies’s Doctor Who, a period in which the best episodes were written by future show-runner Stephen Moffat, and Paul Cornell.

During the Brand New Day era, Dan Slott was arguably the most significant writer, with his work on the Free Comic Book Day prelude, first arc, first TPB-length story and the major anniversary issue. But the other writers had major storylines that were relevant to the overall narrative, so he was not as powerful as showrunner would be. Marc Guggenheim introduced Menace and Ana Kraven, crippled Flash Thompson, reintroduced Kaine, and tied up the various election day threads in Character Assassination. Mark Waid introduced J Jonah Jameson Sr and Michelle Gonzalez, had Peter Parker get blacklisted and wrote the final storyline of the Brand New Day era. Joe Kelly introduced Norah Winters, handled the American Son, Gauntlet: Rhino tragedy and Grim Hunt, which tied up an ongoing story. Slott also disappeared for extended periods, with no Amazing Spider-Man work between Issues 600-618, or 620-646.

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There may be one way to pull off the showrunner in a comic book series: make it a rotating position. That way the work by someone who isn’t currently in charge would still be special, as it could be consequential later. And the work of the previous main writer would still be interesting, dealing with the fallout from earlier stories.

It’s something that’s not done on television, as they have much less incentive to avoid a lot of filler. So here’s how it could work out. Let’s say Joshua Hale Flakov, Peter David and Christos Gage are the writers for a 36 issue stint, with Paul Jenkins also contributing two filler issues. This could be the breakdown for a weekly schedule…

701-703) Flakov’s opening arc as lead writer.
704) Single issue by Peter David.
705) Single issue by Gage.
706-707) Two parter by Flakov.
708) Single issue by Peter David.
709-710) Two-parter by Gage.
711) Single issue by Flakov.
712) Single issue filler by Paul Jenkins.
713-715) Flakov’s final story as lead writer.

716-721) Six part story by Christo Gage. This is what he’s been seeding in his preceding three issues.

722-724) Three part story by Peter David, as his stint as lead writer begins. This is what he’s been seeding in his previous two issues.
725-726) Two part story by Flakov, dealing with the fallout from his arc.
727-728) Two parter by Peter David.
729-730) Two parter by Christos Gage, dealing with the fallout from his arc.
731) Single issue filler by Paul Jenkins.
732-736) Five issue arc by Peter David, as his run as the lead writer comes to an end.

You’ll still have one guy in charge for several months, so he should notice if supporting characters haven’t popped up in a while, or if there are problems with issue to issue continuity. There are several other strategies that would keep this type of schedule going.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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