Tuesday, July 1, 2008

An Amazing Journey vs. A Fabulous Finish

So we stand on the cusp of prime crossover season. I know some of you might think we already there but I think we have to wait for the Final Crisis tie-ins before we pop some champagne, set off a firework or two and yell, “Happy Crossover 2008.” As we approach, as the hype builds, my mind turns to the one thing that it always does during this time. My mind turns to writing.

In an ideal world every crossover would be perfectly written, with amazing tie-ins and fulfilled promise. Heck, in an ideal world every comic, not just crossovers, would be perfectly written. The characterization would be spot on, the plot/crisis (lower case here) would build logically and be well-paced, the story’s ultimate theme would be moving. It isn’t an ideal world though. Writing is hard and even the best creators fumble every now and then. There biggest pitfall for a crossover, arc, whatever, is that writers seem to be able to only craft either an Amazing Journey or a Fabulous Finish. Meaning we have great middles or great endings but not both.

The Amazing Journey

We have all had those comics where the story has been going along and it is awesome. Superman takes it to General Zod. Batman investigates the death of Orca while Harvey Dent wrestles with his halves, a new mutant baby was born. It is great to be a member of the comic community during an Amazing Journey: everyone is happy and this buzz, this expectation, fills the air. We, as a collective, can’t wait to see what happens next. We are provided with months and months of enjoyment, with things to talk and blog about, with things to get excited about in comics.

Until the ending hits. Chris Kent is lost in the Phantom Zone (yes, I know production schedule really screwed this pooch), Great White Shark is the big bad, and Bishop shoots Professor X in the head. Maybe it is because we were riding so high, maybe because the journey was so amazing, that when the it wraps up poorly, we are irate. We forget the months of wonder, the months of ups and downs, of bitten nails and churned stomachs. We are left with nothing. It is like eating a wonderful meal, savoring every bite, and then getting the runs.

The Fabulous Finish

We have all had those comics where story has been going along and it is not very good. It’s not terrible, it just isn’t that good. Freddy Freeman undergoes twelve issues of trials, the Runaways slip back in time thanks to Joss Whedon, Scarlet Witch changes reality. It meanders, it stumbles, whole issues bomb. It is not so great to be a member of the comic community during the time leading up to a Fabulous Finish. We complain and moan, we feel betrayed and feel like we are wasting our money. We wonder about out place in comics.

Until the ending hits. When a Fabulous Finish happens it changes everything. It takes those strands of dirty straw and turns them into gold. Freddy becomes Captain Marvel, the Runaways make sacrifices as they head back into the future, the mutant population drops to just below two hundred. The themes come out beautifully, we have heroic acts, moving decisions, and cathartic releases. We realize that everything is all worth it. We feel renewed in our love of the medium.

Now I know there are stories out there that don’t have Amazing Journeys or Fabulous Finishes. Sometimes you only have a Beautiful Beginning or none of the three. I am not talking about those crossovers, those arcs. I am talking about the stories that are good enough to be remembered, good enough to stay with you but still have a big flaw. I am torn on the issue. Sometimes I think a great ending makes a teeth grinding half a year worth it. Sometimes I think I would rather have good times and just be disappointed.

What Would You Rather Have: an Amazing Journey or a Fabulous Finish?


Devon Sanders said...

I'll take "The Amazing Journey" any ol' time, with Chase and Y: The LAst Man being perfect examples.

I didn't care for the abrupt, early and mandated ending for Chase or the natural ending of Y but the journeys or individual stories contained in both made them classics of my comic collection.

Whereas while enjoyed the overall journey to Civil War, the ending stifled my total enjoyment of the series.

Anonymous said...

The amazing journey for sure. For example: tv's Lost will have an ending, and it will be be a gigantic letdown no matter how it ends, because the ongoing story has been so enthralling.

BIG MIKE said...

I think it has to do in large part with how much good faith the journey can create. Y: The Last Man could've ended with the whole thing being a dream or something, and while that ending would've sucked, that comic brought me so much joy over the years that I couldn't complain too much. If a series is only a few issues of good story and then can't stick the landing at the end, that's another matter entirely.

Especially with big crossovers, which are supposed to be important because of their impact on the status quo. When they fizzle at the end... well... I guess you still end up up buying every issue of the next weekly maxi-series, but you do so with a stern look on your face.

Anonymous said...

At first I thought you were asking the equivalent of, if you have food poisoning, which end would you rather have it come out of?

But then I realized that I will take the Fabulous Finish any day. Why? Because while it doesn't redeem the horseflop that preceded it, it probably prepares the way for good stories to follow. An Amazing Journey with a craptastic ending, on the other hand, leaves a mess that subsequent writers are going to have to spend too much time cleaning up.

Daniel said...

I, the poor pitiful comic book reader, don't feel that I should have to make that choice.

I want both. I deserve both. I *pay for* both, and I feel cheated when I don't *get* both.

A journey without a destination is just a slideshow.

SallyP said...

Ah, six of one, half dozen of the other. In the final estimation however, I think that I would go with the Fabulous Finish. It's the big payoff, the reward for having stuck with it for so long, the final vindication, the WOOOHOO! moment.

A good story that ultimately flops, leaves me feeling unfulfilled...even cheated.

ChrisM said...

The Journey. I've just found that its REALLY hard to find a good Fab Finish.
Rarely do I find that Fab Finish that makes up for an otherwise mediocre or bad run.

Morrison's JLA was a GREAT journey with a wonderful start with a lot of peaks..but didn't really go out with the kind of bang I would have expected. Even Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing or his grand Watchmen didn't quite end with the high tide mark I was hoping for..

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Depends on the length of the story. I'll enjoy a story that was mediocre with a whiz-bang ending provided the mediocrity was no more than four or five issues. Longer than that, and it dang well better be a great journey along the way. If it's ten issues of awesome with a fizzling climax at issue eleven, I can live with it.

John Trumbull said...

Daniel is absolutely right. It shouldn't have to be a choice. We deserve both an amazing journey and a great finish, and it's isn't too much to expect BOTH when we're plunking down $3 for each chapter of a story.

That said, I think I'm more inclined to like a story with a great finish than one that doesn't have one. When the ending doesn't pay off well, I just feel gyped and am mad that my time has been wasted.

The X-Files is a perfect example. It was compelling for a few years, but by the end of the series, it was perfectly obvious that Chris Carter was just making it all up as he went along & he didn't have any real solution for his grand conspiracy arc. Heck, it's probably because I got so burned on The X-Files that I'm still so wary of arc shows like Lost and Heroes.

On the other hand, a good ending can elevate the story around it. Chinatown is a great example.

Anonymous said...


Great post as always. You've touched on one of my biggest gripes about modern storytelling today--the lack of follow-through.

Comics, television shows, and movies alike all have this problem of stacking the front end too high with teasers, anticipation, mysteries, and promises, only to drop the ball when it's time for the actual finish. Think about how "Lost"'s entire rationale is denying you answers to mysteries you want to know about, so you keep watching, only to find that the writers have no idea what the answers are either. Or "Battlestar Galactica's" infamous "organic" writing process, where Ron Moore just makes stuff up as he goes along, resulting in wildly contradictory characterization and plot developments that take you out of the action.

I agree with you that the great storytelling moments along the journey often make not-so-fabulous finishes worth it, but I feel like the writer owes it to the reader to give them a catharsis of some sort upon the journey's conclusion. Even if the ending itself is a downer, you have the understanding that it IS an ending, and it gives you the ability to process all that came before it.

Good examples of this storytelling I've seen in comics lately include the "Sinestro Corps War," where you had a beginning, middle, and end. There were plenty of seeds planted for future stories, but the end itself was clear, definitive, and well worth the journey. Same with "World War Hulk," now that I think about it.

I don't mind if a creative team doesn't know how they will get from point A to point B, as long as they demonstrate to me that there's some idea of how they will get from A to Z. Make sense?