Collective Consciousness: Tie-In Comics

by Nick Devonald on March 01, 2020

In this months Collective Consciousness we’re going to take a look at tie-in issues. Love them or hate them there’s no denying they’re big business in the comics industry just now. So let’s see how the CTG writers feel about tie-ins.

First off we’ll hear from our newest writer, Carlos R.

I have mixed feelings about tie-in comics. On the one hand, these tales help expand the universe or an event's ramifications and on the other, publishers clearly see this as a form to have readers buy more of their books.

I do think that tie-ins can be beneficial to world building and create an epic atmosphere for an event, but when every. single. event. has 30 plus tie-ins it loses all meaning. You can only change the universe forever so many times. For the most part, I consider tie-ins a cash grab, but there are those exceptions like some featured in 2015’s Secret Wars that really help establish the world of the event.

I remember back in my early collecting days I decided to read every aspect of the then-upcoming DC Comics event Flashpoint, I even collected the sketch variant covers. This was a mistake, but a beneficial learning point in my collecting habits. I loved the main storyline and even some of the side stories that were made. It definitely made the event feel like the entire universe was affected by Barry's decision, but it was a horrible decision for my wallet, especially at an age where I didn't have financial stability. 

One thing I really dig about tie-in comics is that it gives writers and artists a chance to work on characters they haven't worked with before. Tom King's Green Lantern issue from the Darkseid War comes to mind, it was awesome, and I started to try out some of his other series when they would appear. So, I think tie-ins can serve as a good sampling of a creator’s work.

I think, if done with caution, tie-in comics can build upon an event series. That'll take some work from the publishers, but until then I'm okay picking up a few side series from writers and artists whose work I admire or who I'd like to try out.

A cautious approach to tie-ins from Carlos. He makes a good point about tie-ins being a good sampling of a creator's work.

Next up we have Stephen Gervais.

Big Two Events and tie-ins

I have to admit I’ve been suffering from event fatigue for 3 to 4 years now but it’s reached a boiling point as of late. One of my favorite things to do each month is flip through the Previews catalogues. This month’s Marvel edition opens up with about 6-7 pages of Empyre solicitations which for whatever reason infuriated me. I actually stopped reading it and turned to one of the other editions. I eventually went back to it but it just goes to show how done I am with these “universe changing” events and the countless tie-ins.

I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old reader but back when I first started reading comics events meant something. It was this huge thing that only happened once year or so. I look back fondly at events like the Dark Phoenix Saga, Infinity Gauntlet, and Secret Wars.  I realize because of the huge success of these events that publishers took notice and had no choice but to increase their frequency to help with sales. I still had no problem with that. The events were still pretty fun and were for the most part self contained like Planet Hulk and House of M. There were some tie-ins but they weren’t necessary to understand the storyline and usually didn’t interfere with other ongoing titles. One of my all-time favorites, Sinestro Corps War, was contained to Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps with a handful of tie in issues. At the time I was only reading GL but enjoyed the event so much I picked up the GL Corps titles as well but I didn’t have to, to enjoy the event. It did add another prospective to the plot but again I could just read my normal collected title and not be lost. Also, for this event I’ve never read the loose tie-ins and still feel I got an amazing story. This led into GL Blackest Night which was a huge success and an amazing read. There were a number of tie-ins with this event but they could be skipped and didn’t interfere with any ongoing series from what I can remember. Pretty much, a perfect event!

Fast forward to now, one event just leads into the next. There is no chance for the reader to catch their breath and they really have no meaning or significance anymore. Nothing is usually universe altering and if it is you can bet it will be undone 1 or 2 events down the road. Which in today’s reading environment is only a couple of months away! This coupled with every event seems to tie-in with a good number of on-going titles you can pretty much guarantee that one of the titles you collect will be affected. Usually, the affected issue will have nothing to do with the current plot line and basically be a wasted 22 pages for you.

Even if the event catches your eye and you think yea I’ll try this one out it’s becoming a huge investment. I was intrigued by the latest Absolute Carnage event by Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman. I’m a huge fan of both creators and their enthusiasm for the event got me excited. This 5 issue event had 25 tie-in issues!! I didn’t get them but felt fairly lost throughout the 5 issue event. I’m a seasoned reader but had to read information online to fill in the gaps. I can only imagine if someone new to the comic scene strolled into a shop and decided to take a go at it. They would run away from the hobby!

The newest trend seems to be every major title gets an event or two annually and I just can’t keep up. Both DC and Marvel are doing this. Batman goes from one event to the next affecting every Bat title. Avengers are seemingly always in an event. Superman goes from one event to the next. This week it was announced X-Men would have a new 15 issue crossover starting this spring. It never ends. I wouldn’t mind these so much if they stayed within their title and it was just a good old story arc but the publishers insist on pulling other titles into the mix to make some quick cash off the event headline. Knowing that most collector’s are completists they have little fear that sales will drop because most will continue to purchase their regular titles and the folks buying the event will now buy the tie-in.

To bring it all back to Empyre, I’m done with these all encompassing events and won’t purchase anything with the Empyre banner on it. It may turn out to be a fantastic read but I just don’t have the energy or enthusiasm to take on a storyline which I know is just a precursor for the next event. To me, events have lost all significance and meaning.

No uncertainty from Stephen who is definitely suffering from event fatigue. Perhaps a scaling back of the number of events would lead to a bit more excitement when the next one is announced.

Now lets hear from Olivier Roth.

I have had a love/hate relationship with tie-in comics to big events for a few years now. Looking back, some of the first comics I ever bought were just around the time that Marvel’s Age of Apocalypse big event had just concluded, and I was all about trying to get every single issue I could. At the time, I think my desire to get every single issue had more to do with my love affair with the X-Men – being an 80s baby and 90s kid, I, like a lot of kids/teenagers, was obsessed with the X-Men 90s cartoon. I should mention though, at this time, I didn’t know what an “event” or “tie-in” comic was, so getting these books, to me, meant that I was getting the full story, not just random comics that were linked to a larger plotline.

As I grew up, I got a little wiser to the marketing tactics of the comic publishers but would still fall prey from time to time to wanting to get all the books linked to certain events. This will usually happen when I like the event or find what the publisher is doing to be quite interesting. However, this has bitten me in the butt more than once as tie-ins, quite frankly, aren’t always that great, and at their worst, completely detract from a story that is already being told in the regular series.

A tie-in that is its own limited series is something I’ve never really had a problem with as long as it supports the story being told within the main event. Something like Flashpoint from DC in 2011 is a great example. Flashpoint was a self-contained series that had a plethora of tie-ins, but those tie-ins served to explore the world around the main series without being necessary reading for the main event.

A tie-in within the main series of a comic, though, is something I’m not always a fan of for a few reasons. I’d like to use New Avengers (2004-2010) from Brian Michael Bendis as an example. The series back then was lauded by critics as a fresh new take on the Avengers concept and did gangbusters. I enjoyed it for the most part, but even then, knew that it was hampered by Marvel’s constant need to do big events. As Bendis was their up-and-coming star, he also handled most of those events. Because of this, New Avengers quickly became a vehicle for tie-ins and never really got that many self-sustaining stories. It counts 64 issues and 3 annuals during this period, and by count, has 31 tie-ins to events. Reading it back then, I remember being annoyed that there weren’t that many stories that belonged to the series as it was mostly a vehicle to support the many events.

These days, I’m much more discerning when it comes to tie-in comics, only ever buying them if they are already a series that I collect, and even then, hoping that it doesn’t detract from the main story, and when it’s a mini-series that looks like it could be fun, like Journey Into Mystery was last summer during War of the Realms.
 A sensible approach to tie-ins from Olivier Roth. 31 tie-in issues for New Avengers is more than excessive.

Last but not least we’ll hear Nick Devonald’s views.

I love the concept of tie-in comics. Having a big event that affects the whole universe and then seeing how it affects different characters, some who are peripheral or not participating in the event, is a great concept. The problem is in the execution and the frequency of events.

I understand that events are a great way for comic companies to make money, but they also happen with such alarming frequency that it can end up affecting their impact. UNIVERSE CHANGING EVENT!!! loses its impact when you know there’ll be another one less than six months down the line. Then we have the sheer number of tie-ins.

That’s not to say it can’t be well done however. Events and tie-ins, when well executed, are fantastic. However in later years it feels more like a cash grab when Marvel or DC have their latest event. I’m going to take a look at two recent examples, both of which I covered for CTG, to demonstrate the differences between tie-in’s done well or poorly. Absolute Carnage and Hellmouth.

First off, Absolute Carnage. I was enjoying Donny Cates run on Venom so much, and so excited for Absolute Carnage, that I bought EVERY. SINGLE. TIE-IN. Do I regret it? Yes. Normally Marvel Unlimited is my go-to for tie-in issues, with the exception of any that sound particularly important/exciting. But here I bought every single issue, and a lot of them disappointed. Not only did they disappoint but it hurt my wallet as well.

So would I have preferred no tie-ins to Absolute Carnage? No. But I would have preferred to have only ones that made sense. Deadpool is a great example. He wouldn’t have fit in tonally with the main event, but featuring him in a separate tie-in series makes sense considering his history with Carnage and symbiotes. Fans could read it and enjoy, appreciating that events were affecting more than just the main books, but buying remained optional.

Then there were the Spider-Man issues. Two issues from the main Amazing Spider-Man run, which repeated a lot of events from Absolute Carnage in a separate scenario, Pete vs Norman Osboune, felt unnecessary. Not only that but it hijacked the main Amazing Spider-Man comic for two months, not furthering that storyline any. It also featured enough of the ongoing storyline that if you were only there for the Absolute Carnage storyline you were going to feel lost.

But the biggest problem was just the sheer number of tie-ins. So many that they ended up feeling unnecessary and too much. Marvel would have done better making it feel more natural and important.

Then we have Hellmouth, the first event in Booms! Buffyverse. So in addition to the five issues of Hellmouth both parent series, Buffy and Angel, tied into the event. Buffy tied in directly, not only was Buffy absent but events in Sunnydale were directly related to what was happening with the Hellmouth. Angel had less of a direct connection. The Hellmouth wasn’t influencing Team Angel as such, but we had Angel’s absence, and then the heartbroken Spikes appearance and integration into Team Angel. None of this felt forced. It all felt quite organic and natural and worked really well. There was no need for every character who’s ever featured in either series to have their own issue or tie-in. That was one of the best examples of an event, and by extension its tie-ins, done right.

In the past Marvel have done events and tie-ins right. A great example is Dan Abnett and Andy Lannings run on Marvel cosmic. After the first two Annihilation events Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova had their own ongoing series. Then there was the War of Kings and Realm of Kings, which both the Guardians and Nova featured quite heavily in. So to have them tie into those events made perfect sense and there weren’t a hundred other series tying in for the sake of it.

The biggest problem in later years is the sheer number and unnecessariness of all the tie-ins. I would much rather Marvel scaled back both the number of events and more importantly the number of tie-ins, focusing more on making them feel logical, organic and necessary. They could take a leaf out of Booms! recent Hellmouth event. Tie-ins have a place, and when done right can be brilliant, but there’s too much emphasis on pumping out more books and making more money at the moment. I’m sure they would sell more comics if there were less of them flooding the market at once, only having a couple of tie-ins which readers wouldn’t begrudge picking up.

There you have it folks, the thoughts and feelings of the CTG staff on tie-ins. Generally a bit skeptical on the number of tie-ins but not completely opposed to them. Apart from Stephen who is suffering event fatigue, with good reason. Agree? Disagree? Something you think we’ve missed? Let us know below in the comics, or on Facebook or Twitter. Make sure to check back next month for the next Collective Consciousness.