Story Arcs – A Bridge To Nowhere Sometimes

y: the last man1

A while ago I wrote about how super heroes dominate comic books and how that puts me off as someone just starting to read them as an adult. Somewhere I read that I should check out Y: The Last Man. I’m glad I did.

Y has around 60 comics total to make up their story, so I thought it would be clever if I staggered my requests for each of the 10 books from my local library. I’ve been putting in hold requests on sundays which arrive by fridays. That way I can get something similar to the feeling of when these things came out initially, one-by-one. I get the same kind of anticipation and spare myself marathon sessions that tend to happen when you watch DVDs of a TV show for the first time.

But doing this made me think about how serialization can burn readers. In Y there have been a few story arcs that left me wondering why they were necessary. They start out making you feel like “Oh man! Something bad’s gonna happen!” but might as well end with “Oh, you thought I was going to kill you?! FOOLED YOU!” They add nothing to the main story, just three issues of something that if left out would not matter.

The other example I can think of is TV shows that start out strong, hook people, and then ramble on. Think of Lost and how mysterious it was at the beginning. Then around the fourth season it felt more like OH MY GOD WRAP THIS UP ALREADY.

Why? Because sometimes they aired episodes that had little or nothing to do with the main story. Lost is the best example because the writers resolved almost NONE of the mysteries that hooked viewers in the first place.2 Also think of that season of The Sopranos in which Tony was in a coma and pretty much nothing happened.

If you’ve got a good thing going, like a popular series, the worst thing you could do is wrap up the plot lines in a neat little package. With movies and novels (without sequels) there is an end in sight and they conclude in a way that gives their audiences closure. But serialized stories, like the ones found in TV shows, drag out for as long as they can get dragged out for. People need to keep watching, keep reading. It doesn’t matter if stories get wrapped up neatly.

So anyway, Y. I recommend it, but don’t think you won’t read an arc here and there that makes you think “Huh, that did almost nothing.”

  1. Photo by flickr user joey.parsons used under a creative commons license 

  2. Maybe it’s appropriate that the same complaints I have with Y also exist in Lost, because Y creator Brian K. Vaughan was also a writer on Lost. The whole series teased you with mysteries. What grabbed that pilot in the first episode? What was the deal with Hurley’s numbers (explain it like I’m a 6-year old that doesn’t read Lost wikis)?