Comics, at their core, are serials. They are chapters of a larger story. In the golden and silver age, these chapters were usually self-contained within a given series (e.g. Fantastic 4 storyline was only in Fantastic 4 comics). This made it harder for new series to launch, as cross-overs were harder to coordinate. In the 80s this started to change, and there were large cross-over events, like the infinity saga. To understand all the bits and bobs, you needed to buy multiple comics series in a given month. Since these events were contained, it felt special.
Then the 90s, and the quest for more money. Cross-over events continued and came with an overall increase in sales. So what would any greedy person do? Make more cross-over events! Marvel was notorious for this, where it seemed impossible to read a Marvel comic without having to buy 4 other issues. And then they came up with the idea of special covers for the comics, meaning collectors had to buy 4 or more copies of the exact same issue to get all the covers.
This has multiple impacts.
- Cross-over storylines were getting near impossible to follow, more like a giant conspiracy theory to track.
- The storylines lacked focus/closure because the “good content” was being spread across 4+ issues a month.
- Some of the links in storylines were made after publication. You’d pick up a comic and be confused as it referenced something that happened in a different series
- Market saturation generated a “bubble” effect, where people bough comics for their resale value rather than their story. This made supply a challenge, and people couldn’t follow the story if their local store couldn’t stock shelves.
- All bubbles pop. The market crashed and Marvel took the biggest hit (Atari vibes here).
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is following this same pattern, and doubling down on it.
The original Iron Man and Avengers had a clear linear structure and you knew that something else was coming. To watch a sequel, it was good to watch the first one (e.g. Iron Man 2 was better if you watched Iron Man). This all came to a head with the Avengers saga with it having links, but not dependencies, on the other films in the MCU (Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Dr Strange, Thor). Fine enough.
What happened next is the what I like to call the Disney effect, or as we know it, the quest for more money. Disney+ launched and with it the next phase of the MCU. Every piece of content released since then is directly tied to the Infinity Saga, either interstitially, or as a consequence. Wanda Vision was an amazing series (with a horrid ending), but it is also mandatory viewing to make any sense of the recent Doctor Strange film (Spider-Man 3 is more than useful too). What we have in this phase is non-stop cross over events, where superheroes in one series are impacting another.
We’re in the storyline fatigue phase, where you need a Disney+ subscription to watch an 8 hour film (cut into 8 pieces) whose sole purpose is to prologue another film, which is a prologue for yet another film. For a Disney+ series, you can stop it, go and see what’s needed first, and then get back to it. A movie though, the experience is diminished because you’re confused. When the last Infinity film came out, Wanda was good and intelligent. Why is she “crazy” in Dr Strange? What actually happened in No Way Home aside from setting up the multiverse (and a confusing link to Venom)?
There’s market saturation, similar to the “dystopian teen sci-fi” crazy of the mid 00’s. MCU is making some really poor decisions if they want this to somehow be sustainable, repeating the same mistakes Marvel made in the 90s. Hopefully they can return to independent storylines, and keep the cross-over events as special occasions.