The Great Cover After the Best Cliffhanger Ever
At the request of Lincoln G, here’s the cover of the Amazing Spider-Man #33. Not surprisingly, the best cliffhanger also made for a terrific cliffhanger cover.
Long Term Teases, or This Better Be Good….
The best long term tease, the best tease of any kind is consistently great entertainment. Publishing compelling issue after compelling issue is the best way to keep people interested in what comes next. Build up enough momentum, enough reputation and even if the stories are not as good as usual for a multi-issue stretch, the audience will stick with a series for a while. It’s like a ride in a hot air balloon. You stay aloft for a while even after the burner is turned off.
I know you can think of lots of examples of the above.
So, besides being brilliant issue after issue, what can you do on a long term basis to entice people to stick around for future developments? Here are some techniques:
Slow Builds and Subplots
The slow build is cousin to the dramatized next issue blurb discussed last post. It’s a series of scenes unrelated to the story in the issues in which they appear that build anticipation of a story or Big Event to come some issues down the road. It usually goes something like this:
In an issue of the Fantastic Four (for instance) in which they’re dealing with the Super-Skrull, we cut to Doctor Doom’s laboratory in Latveria as he’s making an ominous scientific breakthrough. In the process, in very few words, we get across the essential info about Doom, that he’s smart and not nice. Uh-oh.
In a subsequent issue, in which the FF are battling the Frightful Four, we cut to Latveria again. Again, succinctly and elegantly we get across the essentials about Doom, plus the fact that he has discovered some frightening power. We look on with terror as he builds his Cosmic Pinwheel! That’s gonna be trouble…!
Once we’ve built the anticipation to epic intensity, we pay it off with the Doctor Doom Cosmic Pinwheel Saga.
Those of you who have more comics easily at hand than I do can probably find many examples. One slow build I can think of, off the top of my head, that led to a Big Event rather than a story, was the slow build toward revealing Mary Jane Watson’s face in Spider-Man. I believe the first partial look at Mary Jane came in Spider-Man #25. After several slow build scenes along the way, we finally see what she looks like in #42: “Face it, Tiger…you just hit the jackpot!”
The above is different than a subplot. A subplot is related to the main plot of the story and is resolved at the same climax as the main plot.
An example of a subplot: In the movie Rocky, the main plot is the story of the fight. The principal subplot involves Rocky’s inner conflict over his self-worth. People think he’s nothing but an aging pug. Even he wonders if that’s all he is. When the bell rings at the end of the fifteenth round the main plot is resolved—Rocky loses on points—and in that same moment, the ding of a bell, the subplot is resolved—he is still on his feet, something no one else has ever accomplished in a fight against the champ, and therefore he has proven himself worthy. He calls his girlfriend’s name, all other threads are tied up. The end.
P.S. the champ says “no rematch,” and Rocky says “I don’t want one.” Which, of course, doesn’t prevent a slew of sequels. : )
An example of a subplot that serves as a long term tease that comes easily to mind because I was involved was in the Avengers, in the Korvac Saga. In issue #175, Moondragon becomes actively involved in the search for the Enemy. Immediately, and in high-handed fashion, she pontificates to the Avengers about things. In particular, she lectures Quicksilver, who had a prejudice against “artificial” beings (established by others and related to the fact that he was upset about his sister, the Scarlet Witch, marrying an android, the Vision). “…eternity is vast—and its definitions of life are many.” Cosmic wisdom has she.
In the subsequent issue she disdains “…the self-righteous judgments with which you mortals soil your souls.” Then, using her mental powers, she simply erases Quicksilver’s prejudice!
Hawkeye’s reacts: “…where do you get off, baldy? Treatin’ someone’s mind like a…bathtub with a ring!” She’s high-handed, indeed, and oh, so smugly superior. She treats the other Avengers as subordinates, even leader Iron Man.
(All dialogue quoted above written by David Michelinie.)
We also get a hint that she gains some flicker of awareness of the well-hidden Enemy.
At Moondragon’s imperious insistence, the Avengers, who have been trying to detect the whereabouts of the Enemy using their powers, assemble and compare notes. A pattern emerges, as she knew it would. The Avengers find the Enemy hiding out in a modest home in Forest Hills.
A battle ensues. While the Enemy, who calls himself Michael, is distracted by the fight, Moondragon gets a glimpse into his mind…and is deeply moved by what she sees!
She does not join the fight!
At the climax, at the moment of victory, she reveals that what the Enemy/Michael had in mind for the universe was a sort of a benign dictatorship…not to “…interfere with our madness!” but “…only to free us from the capricious whims of eternity,” i.e., bad stuff.
She judges Michael the good guy and the Avengers, unwittingly the bad guys who “…slew the dream…then the hope!”
But she would think that, wouldn’t she…? Moondragon, who thought it was just fine to “fix” Quicksilver’s mind. Her take on what happened is colored by her belief that it is okay for “superior” beings like herself to make things better for us lowlifes.
She wipes the Avengers’ minds so all they will remember is a great victory. But she will remember what she thinks of as the tragedy they caused “forever….”
So, the subplot leads to a resolution for Moondragon at the same point that the main plot resolves, specifically that she has been changed by the experience. And might be up to something.
If I had continued on the series, I would have soon thereafter brought that bird to roost. As it happened, it was some time before I got around to it, in issues #219 and #220, in which Moondragon, emulating Michael, simply takes over a war-torn planet, forcibly bringing about peace.
(ASIDE: In reprintings of the Korvac Saga, long after I was gone, editor Ralph Macchio had an idiotic “Epilogue” tacked on that destroyed the ending, which he obviously didn’t grok. The Epilogue retroactively eviscerated the payoff of the Moondragon long term tease in issues #219-220, “…By Divine Right,” and “War Against the Gods.”)
A subplot can set up and tease a future issue.
Of course, you can do a combination of subplot teases and slow build teases. Anticipation for the revelation of the true identity of the Green Goblin involved both slow build scenes and subplots played out over many issues of Spider-Man leading up to the ending of #39.
Another long term tease technique is the “Easter Egg.” Drop a small hint, show a potentially interesting item, or plant a clue, but keep it incidental and, at first, seemingly unimportant.
For instance, in an early issue of Spider-Man, Aunt May needed a blood transfusion. Her nephew Peter, who had the right blood type, volunteered. At the time, he briefly wondered whether or not the radioactivity in his blood would affect her. And as a reader, I thought, oh, my God…! Aunt May gets spider powers?
It seemed to be nothing…until the Master Planner Sequence, in which the radiation that affected Peter positively turned out to be harmful to Aunt May, slowly killing her, in fact.
When the Master Planner Sequence came along, I remembered the transfusion bit long before. And I loved the fact that I did.
Easter Eggs are the most subtle of long term teases. I hadn’t been eagerly anticipating consequences of the transfusion, but when there were some, it helped to hook me even more on the series. It made it seem that everything mattered.
That’s how Easter Eggs work. You start looking for them, start wondering about possible consequences and speculating.
Gerry Conway used to plant Easter Eggs all over the place, usually having no idea (he said) what he was eventually going to do with them. Someone leaves a valise at the train station. Wonder what could be in it? A scientist detects something unusual. A strange gem is among those heisted in a robbery…. Whatever. Somewhere down the road, the secret plans for the Cosmic Pinwheel would turn out to be in that valise. Etc.
Writers often merely find some item or event that was a natural part of a story some issues back and find a way to retroactively turn it into an Easter Egg. The pen with which Doctor Strange signed the UPS guy’s receipt, an utterly incidental prop in a story about packages being switched turns out to now be charged by Strange’s touch with the Insidious Ink of Ichabodius. Or something.
Lots of ways to create and sustain long term interest.
The important thing is this: If you’re going to build up anticipation, suspense and high expectations, keep in mind that when the reader gets to the payoff, somewhere in the back of his or her mind, the reader is thinking, “This better be good!”
OVER THE WEEKEND: Thanksgiving in Newark
MONDAY: Ditko at VALIANT and DEFIANT