So What Happens Next?


A common criticism I often hear from people who don’t like comic books is “Nothing ever really changes” or “there is no conclusion.” It’s at that point I just kind of stare confusedly at them since that’s exactly why I love comics!

Consider for a moment any television show that you feel was canceled before its time or before there was a satisfactory conclusion. Don’t you just want to know what happened next? Where the stories went to? If two characters got together in the end? If someone died? If someone ascended to another plane of existence or something? I certainly have. But the beautiful thing about comic books is that there’s always something NEXT.

Will Marvel ever allow Peter Parker to grow old? Probably not. But there’s always another story to tell. I do not accept the idea that “every story has been told.” It’s a matter of the details that count, the dialogue spoken, and the actual situations the characters go through. While I don’t buy Amazing Spider-Man because of a certain story element that I’ve gone on and on about, I am fairly certain that at some point in the future that Peter and Mary Jane will get back together again. And it’s the how that fascinates me and the anticipation of it that gets me to check out the book in the shop on occasion or in trade (even if I never buy the thing).

And the criticism of comics is particularly confusing when you consider how much of entertainment today is built on the idea of sequels and a continuing story. Would sequels be as popular as they are if there wasn’t a market for a continuing story? Hell, I’m interested in what happens next in Watchmen, for crying out loud, even if I know the chances of a sequel are one in fifty gazillion.

It’s why I get so upset when characters are killed. Does this mean their story is over? Their struggles ultimately pointless? Will they come back? And let’s be fair, people, even though it’s been said that everyone’s died at least once, not every character is so fortunate to return to the land of the living in comics.

J. Michael Straczynski, when writing Babylon 5, showed a vision of the future where two main characters died at each other’s hands. A few people were upset and complained to him, “But now we know how it’s going to end!” His response stopped the complaints when he said, “Well yeah, but how did they get to that point?” I love to make trailers for upcoming stuff for Atop the Fourth Wall, to give hints and to talk to other people about what I plan to do, because I’d like to think people are excited as I am about what happens next.

Subsequently, this is why I tend to dislike prequels. I don’t care about what happened before; we know the details well enough, and adding in “shocking new revelations” just makes continuity issues abound. Tell us what happens NEXT, not what’s already happened.

It’s been said that people want to relate to characters in fiction. Well, I may believe in happily ever after, but that doesn’t mean the story itself is over. People may die or move on, but the story itself still goes on, albeit from other people’s perspectives. We always eagerly anticipate the next chapter of our lives, to look ahead and think, “What happens next?” We crave the continuation, the next story, the next great event that will challenge us or our heroes and see how they overcome to it.

I love comics because I know that somehow, somewhere, there’s always something that’s next… most of the time, anyway.

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