Ultimate destruction and desolate despair consume most major comic crossover events, but another method may be more enticing to readers.
Two of the most recent major comic crossover events are Marvel’s King in Black and DC’s Dark Nights: Death Metal, which both contain classic storytelling problems. While the goals of comic book events are to introduce a threat more powerful and dangerous than any faced by the specific heroes before, sometimes the destruction left in a villain’s wake during such events can be too much to bear for the characters and readers alike. Usually the heroes come out on top in the end, but the victories are perhaps too brief compared to months of comic issues depicting nothing but loss and misery.
In Dark Nights: Death Metal by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, nearly the entire DC roster of heroes and villains fights against multidimensional threats including the twistedly sadistic Batman Who Laughs. The heroes fight well throughout the series, but even after some victories, their losses outweigh their achievements. In Dark Nights: Death Metal #3, the Justice League is successful in saving Superman from the Anti-Life cells attacking his system, but cannot save a number of heroes imprisoned by Perpetua. In the latest and final issue of Dark Nights: Death Metal, the DC heroes are triumphant and effectively undo the disasters that took place throughout the event, but only at the expense of Wonder Woman, as well as the previous six issues of pain and loss suffered by their super friends. The ending also leaves readers with the promise of more suffering to come, describing the continuation of a never-ending war stretching across the Multiverse.
King in Black by Donny Cates has yet to conclude, but currently within the crossover the Marvel heroes are experiencing nothing but losses with no happy ending in sight. In King in Black #1 the Sentry is ripped in half by the god of symbiotes, who then wraps the whole world in symbiotic darkness. In Black Cat Vol. 2 #1, fans witness many of Marvel heroes taken over by Knull’s symbiotes, as well as the capture of Doctor Strange, who is one the Avengers' best bets at defeating the King in Black. King in Black #2 sees the despair is turned up a notch after the apparent death of Eddie Brock, who seems to be the only hope in defeating the villainous Knull before his symbiote is ripped from his body and he is then thrown off of a building. With everything that has gone wrong throughout the event so far, it is hard to imagine the payoff will be able to make up for the amount of anguish depicted throughout the storyline.
King in Black and Dark Nights: Death Metal have built up the severity of their respective threats through the continuous torment of the heroes to the point where a brief happy ending isn’t enough to pay off the amount of losses endured by the readers and heroes alike. Throughout a major event, which takes place over months of story building, fans constantly see their favorite characters lose and the worlds around them become shrouded in darkness. The intention is to create an end-all-be-all situation that surpasses the event that came before it. But a more subtle crossover storyline with a slow burn and heightened character development may be a refreshing change-up to the end-of-the-world type of scenario fans are used to reading. Plus, the last thing many fans want to read about is a hopeless world, especially now amid a global pandemic and societal unrest.
A more nuanced way of crossover event storytelling could provide a different and more in-depth way of producing major events that could bring uplifting wonder to fans looking to escape from whatever hardships they may be facing. That would also break the mold and fix the classic problem shared by both Marvel’s King in Black and DC’s Dark Nights: Death Metal.