Hiatuses in comic books

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My initial guess was that Superior Spider-Man was going to be a hiatus for the Peter Parker Spider-Man. But they went in a slightly different direction, essentially keeping Peter Parker around as a supporting character. Both approaches come with advantages as well as drawbacks. Earlier, I considered the wisdom of a temporary change to a familiar status quo. Now it’s time for a related question: What is the wisdom of taking the main character out of the picture, for a little while at least?

There are two ways for a superhero to go on hiatus. Someone else could take his place for a little while. After Final Crisis, Bruce Wayne was replaced by Dick Grayson as Batman, while Steve Rogers was replaced by Bucky in Captain America after Civil War. This is what Marvel essentially did with Superior Spider-Man, although Peter Parker will be around, even if it’s in a supporting role.

The book could also cease publication until there is a combination of a new creative team and new direction. That happened with Thor when the new Avengers era kicked off. The Thunder God returned a few years later in a relaunch spearheaded by JMS and Oliver Coipel. He has since had a respected runs by Matt Fraction, in addition to acclaimed spinoffs Thor the Mighty Avenger and Journey into Mystery. The new book by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic is also one of the most acclaimed of the Marvel Now! relaunches.

This also happened with Doctor Who, a series which had a successful relaunch, although that came after a botched 1996 television film which was supposed to double as a pilot for an American series. An obvious problem with the Thor/ Doctor Who approach is the lost revenue when one of Marvel’s biggest characters disappears for an extended period of time. The team books in which Spidey currently appears will be less appealing, and writers will have to shelve certain team-up stories.

Spidey’s absence would give other similar characters a chance to shine. The new attention could allow the second stringers to be better-positioned for the future. But it’s possible, if not likely, that the second-stringers will be mostly ignored the moment Spidey comes back.

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When Spider-Man comes back, it will be a big deal. Either Marvel’s going to have to keep details about Spider-Man’s return a secret, withholding information about the new schedule/ direction/ creative team for a long time, or readers are going to be waiting a while for a project that’s probably going to be cooler than anything published at the time.

There will be a tremendous amount of pressure on the post-hiatus creative team. Moreso than usual. So it’ll be more of a disaster if something goes wrong. See JMS’s Superman: Grounded, coming in the aftermath of an year-long Superman hiatus.

If the post-hiatus creative team sucks, the next guys will have a similar opportunity to wipe the slate clean, without the need for a hiatus. After Superman: Grounded came Flashpoint, and four different writers for Superman. An initial hiatus gives the opportunity to go in a new direction in terms of scheduling.

A head start could make deadlines much more comfortable, although it also means that the creative team is working on material far ahead of everyone else. It could end up being out of place with the rest of Marvel’s product, with the writers and artists less able to respond to new developments. It also restricts the ability to respond to the reactions of the fans.

Anything that happens will be scrutinized for what it says about previous comics. This is usually the case, whenever the series goes into a new direction. Drastic changes tends to exaggerate the flaws of previous approaches. When Joss Whedon & John Cassady made the Astonishing X-Men superheroes again, it was seen as a statement on Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. Dan Slott’s solo Amazing Spider-Man work could be seen in some ways as a repudiation of the Brand New Day era, which could be seen as a repudiation of the JMS’s run.

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Unless there’s a storytelling reason for it, a hiatus will be largely unnecessary as a way to distinguish between two runs. A hiatus elevates the tension in the last Spider-Man stories before the intermission, and it means that the attention to the last Spider-Man story prior to the break won’t overshadow the eventual return. If Spider-Man has to take a vacation due to a beating, a writer could play around with expectations. If you know that the hiatus occurs at Amazing Spider-Man #782, you won’t be as worried about what’s happening to the character in Issue 771. The expectation is that it’s either going to be set-up, filler or deck-cleaning. And then Spider-Man gets beaten into a coma in 771! He recovers in the next issue. And spends ten issues in a much more weakened state, slowly realizing that if he’s going to live to be effective at saving lives, he has to take a break and allow himself to fully recover.

A hiatus is an effective way to kick off a new schedule. So if you think Amazing Spider-Man functions better as one of three monthly titles or as a monthly with 60 pages of content or as a weekly with occasional intermissions (my ideal schedule), that’s one way to kick it off. We don’t know how long Superior Spider-Man is going to last, or what the next schedule is going to be like.

A future hiatus is a significant restriction on long-term storylines as the writers have to figure out ways to use and work around the hiatus. If you know that Marvel’s not going to be publishing new stories with Peter Parker from March 2013 to October 2013, there’s a tremendous incentive to tie up all the loose ends by February, even for more complex narratives. You might see a disproportionate amount of finite self-contained work green-lit prior to the hiatus. And it could be a period in which the book is just treading water. This is somewhat similar with what’s happened to the Superman books during “The World of Krypton.”

Under normal circumstances, there would be pressure to do the deck-cleaning stories before the hiatus. These are time-consuming, get a disproportionate amount of attention and tend to suck. Unless all the creative teams are on board with the idea, the hiatus will also be largely editorially-driven. Things did go slightly differently with Superior Spider-Man. There weren’t many last-minute developments in the stories before “Dying Wish.” One reason for that may be that Slott was planning to have Doctor Octopus as the new Spider-Man for some time, with Marvel pushing for the development as early as Summer 2011, when Slott was able to suggest Spider Island as an alternative. So he had few incentives to go with drastic changes for the last year.

Avenging

One problem for Marvel was that Chris Yost didn’t start his Avenging Spider-Man run until after the big changes in Amazing Spider-Man #700. He was a writer who agreed to write the Peter Parker Spider-Man, but was then told that it would be an entirely different project. In the meantime, Avenging Spider-Man dealt with filler arcs by Kevin Shnik, Cullenn Bunn and Kathryn Immonen. That probably wasn’t good for the title’s brand, which may be why Issue 15 was only the 75th best-selling comic of December 2012, and Yost’s first issue, the epilogue to Amazing Spider-Man #700, was at 53.

But their patience has paid off. Now they’ve started the Superior Spider-Man era. And there’s one thing that works particularly well.

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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