Arc vs. individual story (#SFWApro)

greenlantern21Rereading Geoff Johns’ run on Green Lantern (cover by Ivan Reis, all rights with current holder) makes me appreciate how huge and long-rage the series arc was. Starting with the Sinestro Corps War, the overarching elements of the series—the multiple Corps for different colors (blue for hope, yellow for fear, red for rage), the looming threat of Blackest Night, and the rottenness of the Guardians—were constantly built and developed, over more than 50 issues (counting both the series shown at the left and the New 52 series).  It’s impressive as a long-range plan, but … not much fun to read.

As I’ve mentioned before, installments in a series have to work both in their own right and the larger arc (if there is a larger arc).  The installment needs to feel satisfying when you read it, but it has to advance the plot (Jim Butcher’s Cold Front succeeds, for instance). It’s possible to have a standalone story that’s not part of the arc; I think it’s much harder to have a good arc installment that doesn’t also stand on its own.

And that’s the problem with Johns’ GL. When Chris Claremont and John Byrne turned Jean Grey into Phoenix, then eventually Dark Phoenix, then dead, it stretched out over 30 issue. But those issues included unrelated-to-the-arc stories pitting the X-Men against Proteus, Magneto, Arcade and other foes. When they got into the Hellfire Club story that led into the birth of Dark Phoenix, every episode was part of a continued story, but they were great reading in themselves, with cliffhangers.

In Johns’ stories, pretty much everything was part of the arc. Even when he retells Hal’s origin, it’s heavily involved with setting up Blackest Night which was a couple of years away. Individual issues aren’t unreadable—Johns is too good for that—but they definitely suffer from being just a small part of a greater whole. That didn’t bother me on first reading because I figured the arc would eventually end and we’d get a break. Reading now, I know the arc never ends. The Sinestro Corps War fed into the introduction of the different Corps, which led into Blackest Night, which led into Brightest Day … the arc never stopped. Nothing was ever resolved. Nothing really challenged the status quo—there was always another cosmic-threat arc, more shitty behavior from the Guardians, more sneering from Sinestro and so on. It’s what eventually got me to stop reading.

I don’t normally mind it if a big, epic arc doesn’t actually change anything, but when it stretches that long, with so little result, it’s frustrating, unrewarding, and unsatisfying. It made me miss the days when GL would just bust a super-villain, hang up his costume and go home for a date with Carol.

I see no signs of me personally writing a long-running series any time soon (well not that anyone will read) but if I do I’ll try to keep that in mind.

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2 Comments

Filed under Comics, Reading, Writing

2 responses to “Arc vs. individual story (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: More on arcs: Rewatching Lost (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: From Justice League to Jefferson: Books Read (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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