What Star Wars Comics Can Learn From the Massive-Verse

In small-town Lockport, Illinois, a writer, tens of thousands of dollars in debt, finds a black hole which connects him to the very heart of Existence itself. His partner in the journey to the center of Existence? A giant mech, bonded to him forever. In San Francisco, a mega-corporation has taken control of the policing of a city – fought only by an Afghanistan War veteran whose control of electricity connects her with the energy of her fallen squadron. Add to this ancient cults who rip cities from their home dimensions; a hacktivist; a serial killer; a teenager with the power of the sun who must battle the precursor to Satan himself; and a Chicago-based superhero union.

In Image Comics’ new imprint, the Massive-Verse, all of these stories take place in the same world. Created by Kyle Higgins, the Massive-Verse is a sprawling universe where authors are invited to create their own stories, within this world but genuinely unconstrained by what others are doing. While a lot of creators may claim you don’t need to read/watch/consume the entirety of their “universe” to understand what’s going on, the Massive-Verse is one instance where that may actually be true. There is generally only one time where the Massive-Verse requires a little extra reading outside of your favorite title: the annual Supermassive one-shot. This one-off story shakes up the entire Massive-Verse, without requiring much more than the six-dollar entry fee. Supermassive functions as a sort of micro-event: the story is separate from the main series, but features many of the main characters from those series. The events of Supermassive usually have a pretty big effect on the characters, even if their scale is smaller than traditional “events” like Secret War or Crisis on Infinite Earths. But Supermassive has similar goals as most of those events: to leave an indelible effect on its characters, an effect that won’t go away quickly and alters the course of their lives and how they interact with the world. 

In this article I will posit that Supermassive, and the Massive-Verse in general, have convinced me that there’s a better way to write events. Even more: they’ve convinced me to argue against something that I wrote myself, six years ago on this very website. In my original article, I argued that events should be moved out of the main series and into event titles, whereas here I will argue that events should be limited to a single ongoing series or confined to a one-shot. I also argued that mainline titles should be used to seed future events and deal with the fallout of previous events, which I have now come to see as a hijacking of the ongoing titles in order to serve event titles almost exclusively. The Hidden Empire event may, in fact, have been a case of “be careful what you wish for”, as I got everything I wanted, yet found it lacking. Here are some ways I think that Marvel can continue to refine their events, with a little help from Image Comics and the Massive-Verse.

One-Shot Events Over “Series” Events

The first thing that I think works in Supermassive, that Star Wars could learn from, is that the event itself is a one-shot, rather than a series. Since the 2020 soft reset of every ongoing Star Wars title, we’ve had four event titles: War of the Bounty Hunters, Crimson Reign, Hidden Empire, and the upcoming Dark Droids series. Including the line-focused one-shot Revelations, that adds up to twenty-one event-specific issues since 2020. Excluding the mainline series’ tie-in issues, that’s already a lot of comics to read to keep up with the new (but kind of the same) status quo of the comics. Alternatively, Supermassive is a genuine one-shot: a $5.99 MSRP gives you the entirety of the event.

There are a few benefits to this type of event, the first of which is accessibility. I wonder how many comic readers may be missing part of an event, not knowing that War of the Bounty Hunters technically began with an Alpha issue, or not knowing that Dark Droids was first teased in Revelations. While this can be alleviated in the trade paperback release, it may be hard for the average reader in a comic shop. There’s also the problem of cost, which adds up when you consider main event titles plus tie-in and ancillary material. In an age where money grows tighter and tighter, and comic prices are starting to increase again, this is a growing concern for many readers.

I think executing your event story in a one-shot really starts to address the potential problem of bloat. Some of these events can just be really, really long. The Hidden Empire arc features at least sixteen dedicated issues, and I would argue that the climax of the story begins in issue #14. Sixteen dedicated issues of an event, assuming one issue per title per month, means that the mainline series are “stuck” for a time, working in the cracks of the event and unable to fully explore the characters’ new status quos until it has ended. Some series were able to connect pretty coherently with the event, like Doctor Aphra or Bounty Hunters, which proved a strength for the series, and might argue for tighter or more focused events rather than big crossovers featuring every single series. Star Wars and Darth Vader had a harder time connecting, leaving both of them to work around the event rather than with it. 

What Supermassive does well, though, is shake up every character’s arc in a single issue. In Supermassive 2023, we are introduced to a few main characters from other titles, quickly reminded of their stories from the mainline comics, and then the story begins. Marshall and Nathan share the power of Radiant Black, but time is limited; Bibi has begun working for Amazon.com stand-in Morrow, and has to figure out how to destroy them from the inside; Caleb, the Rogue Sun, has been brought back to life to combat evil. All of the characters are challenged, and they face their worst fears: Nathan and Marshall must decide who will be the Radiant; Bibi asks if she can truly be a hero within a corrupt system; and Caleb discovers an ancient mystery related to the Inferno Girl. All of this plays out over a single issue, offering the other series a chance to evolve and change, adapting to the new circumstances rather than treading water. 

It’s hard to argue, after sixteen issues of Hidden Empire, that any of our Star Warriors have changed, that anyone’s status quo was truly shaken up. Most of the series are currently reckoning with the lingering effects of “Force waves”, where the Force ebbs and flows, but this plot thread looks to have a short lifespan with the coming shift to Dark Droids. This new event may yet spend some time dealing with the newfound limitations of Luke and Vader, but it is not unreasonable to expect that it would rather focus primarily on the threat of the eponymous droids. Marvel and LFL would do well to ask if their event series really need to be so long, if their consequences will only last a handful of months until the next event begins.

There have been some movements toward this type of storytelling in Marvel’s Star Wars line with the one-shots Empire Ascendant and Revelations. For the most part, I think these are on the right track in terms of length. Empire Ascendant provided a coda to the main series’ preceding volumes, bridging their pre-The Empire Strikes Back settings with the post-Bespin follow-ups. Revelations is closer to what I’m describing, having brought all of the main series together to present a new threat in Ajax Sigma. Unfortunately, this was more of a commercial for future comics than an event in itself, but both present a good change of pace and a step toward my current hopes for the Star Wars line. 

Events Take Place Apart From the Main Series

Another thing that Supermassive does really well is that it doesn’t hijack the main titles to tell its story. The Supermassive events are self-contained, but still have an impact on all of their characters. The Star Wars event miniseries do feature all of the main characters, or at least many of them, but their plotlines are spread out between the event series and the mainline series.

In my last article on event series I argued that events should be moved out of the mainline series and given their own miniseries. Subsequent events, as it turned out, would encompass both. When War of the Bounty Hunters was being printed, in addition to the main miniseries, all four ongoing series were given WotBH banners, taking an entire arc to tell the story of how the title interacted with the event. For some, like Star Wars and Doctor Aphra, the stories were direct tie-ins, showing us scenes that happened seconds after scenes in the event title. For example, a conversation between Boba Fett and Aphra in WotBH is slightly longer in Doctor Aphra. Conversations that happened with off-screen companions become on-screen conversations when Leia talks to Luke between WotBH and Star Wars. For Star Wars, the story of the cracking of Alliance codes and the formation of Starlight Squadron, and Zahra’s rivalry with Leia, is interrupted to tie in with the event. Darth Vader’s main story, about his quest to find Luke Skywalker, is interrupted by Ochi of Bestoon and his ever-shifting allegiances…and an assassination attempt? While a lot of these issues do broaden the scope of the event – as I had previously hoped – they didn’t feel naturally set up within the ongoing titles.

There’s another implication that follows from mainline series being tied to the events: really, you probably do need to read the tie-ins in addition to the event series to make sure that you get a full understanding of the event. Of course, all tie-ins are not equal, and some are a little more pressing than others. But as a whole, the tie-ins serve to pick up the slack where the event title doesn’t have enough space to tell the full story. This is another area where I’ve slightly changed my opinion from the last article. I think one or two series can certainly stand as counterparts to an event, but when four series become more or less required reading, it may argue that either the event is too big or needs to be rewritten to be more concise, letting the event happen on its own terms.

What Supermassive does well is to tell a story completely separate from the main titles. While it is informed by them, it doesn’t take any pages away from them. Supermassive 2023 is about the search for the Holy Grail, and you will not find a single mention of that in any of the titles that have been released so far. It truly does not require extra reading, either outside of the single one-shot or your favorite character’s title. You don’t need to know Dead Lucky to enjoy the event, nor will you need buy Rogue Sun #X to get more details. This lets the main titles breathe, tell their own stories, and react to the events afterward however they see fit. Some characters leave Supermassive as if it was a regular day: in Supermassive 2022, fighting extra-dimensional monsters is a regular day for Inferno Girl Red, but a massive event for Radiant Black. The way that the characters react is left to the individual titles – and crucially, their various authors.

Individual Authors Bring Individual Voices to Their Characters

Lastly, another thing that Supermassive does well is letting individual authors write for their characters within the one-shot. Melissa Flores, creator of Dead Lucky, is given the chance to write her biggest character moments in the book. (Dead Lucky as a character also premiered in the post-credits scene of Supermassive 2022, written by Flores.) Kyle Higgins, creator of Radiant Black, writes about the struggle between Marshall and Nathan in figuring out who can utilize the power of the black hole. These character beats were decided long ago: in an interview with the Radiant Black Podcast, the authors revealed that they had mapped out Supermassive long before the current (or recently finished) story arcs of each character were written. This gives them the space to naturally work up to these events, and then write their own characters with their authentic voices.

I felt this most strongly in the case of Hidden Empire and Doctor Aphra – both the character and the book. The Spark Eternal, the MacGuffin of the Doctor Aphra series since issue #17, was the dominating storyline of the series. Once the Spark possessed Aphra’s body, it seemed like it would have a massive role to play in the crossover. Instead, the Spark’s storyline was wrapped up in a few pages in Hidden Empire #5, without detailing any of the emotional ramifications we would have expected after spending fifteen issues reading about it. It seems likely that Alyssa Wong would have written the scene differently, had they been given the chance to do so within Hidden Empire. Wong did get their own shot at the fallout between Aphra and Vader in Doctor Aphra #30, giving the scene an amazing amount of depth. But in the main title, the moment passes without much commentary, and some readers may be left wondering what the point of it all was. If this plotline needed to be resolved in the event series, Wong could have been brought in to give it a bit more depth.

Another benefit here is, simply, foresight. The Supermassive authors know where their titles are going, so it’s easier to tee themselves up in an event title than it is for another writer to do so on their behalf. A surprise character appearance in Supermassive 2023, for example, allowed Mat Groom to better integrate them into the future of his title, Inferno Girl Red. Meanwhile, it doesn’t seem like anything in Hidden Empire moved Aphra closer to the Starweird, her current arc – something that could’ve been done if Wong was given a few pages in the Hidden Empire title. When the authors are given space to work with their own characters in the books, we see a lot of room for potential.

This also lets the event capture the voices of the characters a bit better. I keep choosing Aphra as an example because I think she illustrates this well. In a lot of ways, Doctor Aphra feels like a personal story for Wong, whereas Aphra is just another character for Soule. It would be cool to give the authors who have worked on each character for thirty-plus issues a chance to bring the characters’ voices into line with their voice in their individual title.

Finally, and this is a smaller point, but why I’ve chosen to say “what Star Wars can learn from the Massive-Verse” instead of just Supermassive is that Massive-Verse titles are also allowed their own events. Radiant Black, after a short hiatus, looks forward to the Catalyst War, where alien mechs are coming back for what was once theirs. The fact that Radiant Black is treating this as an event – with the special banners, variant covers, media blitz, etc. – shows that the creators still want to give the Catalyst War the prominence it deserves even though it’s limited to one title.

Star Wars, continuing to force events into the main titles, will always find its ongoing stories becoming subservient to others. In a way, I think it would be better to return to the form that Vader Down or The Screaming Citadel provided, where those events took place primarily within the two main titles of the time.

In the six years since my original article, I’ve come to believe that the smaller scale of the earlier events worked better for the universe. Hidden Empire’s biggest fault may have been that its parameters were too narrow to really encompass every single book the way it was intended to – Darth Vader’s struggle to tie in with the event being one example of that. There are a lot of things about Supermassive and the Massive-Verse that I think could help Star Wars tell better events. By telling event-style stories in a one-shot, the event doesn’t get bloated, it remains more accessible, and it shakes up the status quo more efficiently. The mainline titles are then free to explore their own stories at their own pace, not being bogged down or hijacked by outside influences. When all of the relevant authors are allowed to write in the event title, authentic character voices are maintained and cohesion with future and past stories is upheld a bit more easily. These points could all come together to strengthen both the event itself and the mainline series surrounding them.