Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Boy Do I Feel Stupid: The Pointlessness of "The Culling" & "The Omega Effect"

It's not that I expect great things from comicbook crossovers. I understand that their main purpose is to boost sales across titles, and secondary to that is the telling of a good story. It may not be true for everyone involved, but it tends to be the ultimate reality. However, for both DC's "The Culling" and Marvel's "The Omega Effect" I did let my expectations rise just a little because I was already reading the titles they spun out of (Teen Titans and Daredevil, respectively). And those titles were GOOD. Teen Titans wasn't exactly flooring me, but it was one of the most genuinely fun series I followed, always full of wit and with a cast that grew on me more each month. Daredevil, meanwhile, was even better, some of the strongest work done with the hero or his alter-ego in quite a while. And more often than not, it was better than any of the other superhero titles coming out from either publisher. Not only that, but both books had been building up to their respective crossover stories for a long time. Hell, Teen Titans since it's very first issue. So I was invested, inasmuch as I always am in the stories of series I like, and I think I was reasonable in my expectation of some amount of narrative closure from the crossovers. Because I was told, in-story and through advertising, interviews, etc. that they were what everything was moving toward. Problem is, "The Omega Effect" and "The Culling" have come and gone, Marvel and DC have each made extra money off of me for one month, and I have yet to find any such closure.
     Admittedly, "The Culling" is more successful than "The Omega Effect," at least in terms of its ultimate conclusion, but it's a worse, even less significant story along the way. Pages upon pages are filled with nothing more than teen meta-humans fighting each other without any clear victors or lasting consequences. All of which leads to even more drawn out fighting, this time between the big bad Harvest and the combined forces of the Teen Titans and Legion Lost teams. I don't mind a good old-fashioned superpowered slug-fest, even one that lasts for multiple issues, but only if it also serves to somehow move the story forward. In "The Culling," the fighting is the story, pretty much. The larger narrative arc is that the Titans and Legion want to free themselves and the other prisoners from Harvest and N.O.W.H.E.R.E.'s clutches, but basically all that amounts to is the two teams fighting various enemies on multiple fronts for four issues until the very, very end when a real plan is put into place and an evacuation begins. But by the time that evacuation and the subsequent destruction of the N.O.W.H.E.R.E. facility occur, it's hard to muster up much enthusiasm as a reader, because we've already had to slog through so much meaningless punching and yelling from such a vast number of characters that the point of the whole mess has been lost. Or, if not entirely lost, at the very least dramatically dampened by the ridiculously awful pacing and storytelling.
     The other obnoxious thing about the ending of "The Culling" is that, while it arguably ties up some of the smaller threads from of the overarching story of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and it's goals, it still doesn't even remotely attempt to explain what those goals might actually be. We learn a little bit more about Harvest than we knew going in, primarily that he is either from the future or has spent time there, but his endgame and the desires of his wicked organization remain as mysterious as ever. Which is what I mean when I talk about a lack of closure. For almost a year, Teen Titans has centered on the team's attempts to uncover and thwart N.O.W.H.E.R.E.'s undoubtedly evil plans, but even when they are in the belly of the best, the best they can do is, apparently, to blow shit up without getting any concrete answers. It doesn't help that almost all of Harvest's lines are intentionally cryptic and vague, which some of the other characters actually call attention to. But the bigger problem, I think, lies in the fact that "The Culling" spanned three different titles plus an annual, and so it was afraid to tell too complete a tale. Rather than answer any of the looming questions from the preceding Teen Titans issues, it tried to tell a story which could be understood by fans of any of its series, even if that meant drastically diluting the narrative quality of each individual chapter. Which, as I've said, is usually the main goal of any crossover, so maybe I should have anticipated it, but I believe now as I did beforehand that it would have been possible to do both, to provide new and important information regarding N.O.W.H.E.R.E.'s aims while simultaneously relating a unique and self-contained adventure involving casts of multiple titles. That the creators behind "The Culling" choose instead to do a story of so little substance that it could probably be removed from the canon entirely without majorly impacting any of the series involved is, I think, pathetic and a bit cowardly. But it's nothing compared to the utter pointlessness of "The Omega Effect."
     "The Omega Effect" kind of suffers from the opposite, or maybe inverse, problem as "The Culling." Rather than being a fluffy, meaningless story with a weak bit of unsatisfying closure at the end, it's a mostly semi-interesting story that has a cop out, bullshit ending which doesn't even try for closure. And that makes it, overall, the worse of the two crossovers in my book, even if while I was reading it I enjoyed it slightly more.
      Daredevil had already, in the pages of his own title, discovered and obtained the Omega Drive, a device with secret financial and other information on several of the "Megacrime" organizations in the Marvel U: A.I.M., Hydra, Black Spectre, etc. It was an interesting and dangerous situation, because DD knew he couldn't keep the drive out of his enemies' hands indefinitely, nor could he effectively use it against them on his own. So "The Omega Effect" was meant to be, or at any rate set itself up to be, the story of how DD would resolve the problem of possessing such a hotly-sought-after bit of technology. And for 2/3's of the story, that's exactly what it pretended it was. DD joined forces with Spider-Man and the Punisher, and after a bit of bickering, they all agreed on a course of action that would lay this Omega Drive issue to rest for good. Then in it's final act, the story inexplicably and needlessly changed course, and by the end of the crossover literally nothing had changed. Not in regards to the Omega Drive anyway. Yes, there was some tiny character development for Punisher's new partner, Sgt. Cole-Alves, but other than that, the status quo of everyone involved was exactly what it had been before the crossover began. DD still had the drive, Megacrime still wanted it, and a plan to fix all of that still needed to be devised. Apparently, the "Effect" in "The Omega Effect" was that it had none whatsoever.
     I'm still reading Daredevil and Teen Titans both, because they earned enough points with me before these crossovers took place that I wasn't going to drop them after one bad story. Especially one with extra writers in numerous titles. But as they move forward---Daredevil has had two issues since "The Omega Effect" and Titans' first post-"Culling" issue won't be until later this month---I find myself much less excited or anxious to see what's next. Which shouldn't be the case, because they're titles with strong track records and, because so little was changed by either of their crossovers, they still theoretically contain all the same story potential they did before. But I was so thoroughly underwhelmed and, more than that, truly disappointed by the crossovers that the sour taste they left in my mouth remains. Instead of using the momentum of these mini-events to launch into the next great leg of their respective narratives, these series now have to rebuild that momentum from zero. I do have hope that they can succeed, that in a few months these pointless stories will be distant, forgotten pieces of a much greater whole. Hope, yes, but no longer faith. Where once I trusted Teen Titans and Daredevil to regularly deliver the goods, I now feel only apprehension that they may no longer do so, and that right there is the biggest thing either "The Culling" or "The Omega Effect" accomplished. No great changes made within their own worlds, but out here in our world each series has at least one fewer enthusiastic fan.

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