Pacing and development in DC comics

I recently picked up a copy of the first few volumes of Supergirl (2011) and Blackest Night. They’ve all got the same problem: they’re outrageously rushed.

The amount of dialogue and the number of scenes in two hundred pages of comic (which is about average for Supergirl) is roughly even with 1-2 hours of a television show. A volume is expected to comprise one story arc. It introduces new characters, creates a conflict, and then resolves the conflict.

In a television show, a season might comprise one story arc and several filler episodes. This lets you tell a more involved story. It lets you cover more plot and show characters in more depth. This is a good thing in general. If you don’t have that much space to tell more story, you can work with it — you introduce fewer characters, make the conflicts more immediate, and tell smaller stories. But you have to work with it.

In both Supergirl and Blackest Night, the authors didn’t. They made no concessions to the medium. It’s a problem. I think they were trying to map one issue to a television episode, roughly, but they only have time for three to four scenes per issue, while even a half hour television show can cover a lot more ground.

Take Supergirl. Kara Zor’El finds a human who can speak Kryptonian: Siobhan. Instant trust. They’ll risk their lives for each other immediately. On television, we’d see several scenes of them interacting and building a friendship first. Later, Kara finds a character named H’El, whom she trusts deeply and implicitly after exchanging a few words. In a television series, there would be at least a little interaction between them, giving time for that trust to build.

This is bad. It’s unrealistic and paints characters as hopelessly naive and idealistic. At best, readers will assume that the character building and essential interaction is happening in some other series featuring the same characters. Is it? I doubt it, and I’d have to consult several wikis and spend $50 to check.

Blackest Night, on the other hand, relies on several years’ worth of comics to set the stage. It’s clear that a large number of heroes died, but if this were the opening to a television season, we’d have something to remind us how they died. (It’s perhaps unfair to compare New 52 titles to previous works, granted.) It introduces its antagonists as a primal force rather than characters and does nothing to show their motivations. Their origins are given very little time; you might as well describe Alan Scott’s origin story by saying that, in the beginning of the universe, the white light of life separated into the emotional spectrum, and Scott received an artifact that allowed him to use the green light of will.

Actually, that’s a more adequate and thorough origin story than we’re given for the antagonists in Blackest Night.

The result is a lot of confusion. In this case, since we’re starting with characters with a lot of history behind them, we don’t have the same problem with a lack of characterization — except for one Heel Face Turn and the primary antagonist — but we do have a horribly rushed main conflict.

This is bad storytelling.

It’s two types of bad storytelling in two different series, but it’s motivated by the same thing: reducing the number of pages to explore a given conflict. Because artwork is expensive to produce and expensive to print. And that is simply unfortunate.

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