The word sequel can garner many responses. If you’re a purist, you’re probably not a fan of part 2 or part 3. If you’re not picky, a sequel can continue the fun. It usually seems like comic book sequels disappoint, but up until the moment people bring them home, they are among the most talked about and hotly anticipated events going on in the comics world. People cringe at the idea of bad movie sequels, but they make tons of money at the box office, regardless of how good they are. Oddly enough, on the other hand, video game sequels tend to surpass their predecessors quite often. Why the disparity? Can a sequel be good? Can the magic ever be recaptured?
For months and months before the release of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again, comic fans boiled over in excitement at what the book might bring. The expectations were high. Miller hadn’t really let fans down before. There were things he’d done that weren’t absolutely brilliant, but they were still better than 90% of the drek that was out there. There was a fever pitch of excitement for the release of the new book though. There were write-ups in all the major news outlets. The Dark Knight Strikes Again was the most hotly anticipated comic event I’d ever experienced. Then the book was released. At first, comics fans, myself included, lauded the first issue. It was a bold new direction. The art was a little stranger, a little more abstract, and the color was a bit suspect, but people were willing to let that go. If you’ve achieved a certain level of respect, the fans will usually let you take a leap and give you the benefit of the doubt until they see where it’s going. (Fans never let anyone but the living legends get away with it however.) The problem with this book, is that it never did deliver. It never gave the payoff we expected, and most importantly it didn’t give us the same feeling we remembered from reading the first Dark Knight.
But is that even possible? Once you’ve traveled a road, can you expect to travel it again, and feel the same way you did the first time? They say you can never go home again, and maybe comics sequels are proof.
But it’s not just comics sequels that suffer. Sequels of great movies rarely live up to the charge we got from the original. There are often sequels that are “pretty good” but film sequels really only exist to make money, which is one thing they do very well. Strangely enough, sequels frequently outperform their predecessors at the box office, thanks very often to the raging home DVD market.
Sure there are exceptions. The first one I’d point out would be the original Star Wars trilogy, but I’d argue that episodes V and IV aren’t really sequels as much as continuances. The same goes for The Lord of the Rings movies. However, when a sequel wasn’t really intended in the first place, and the filmmakers are asked to repeat the gold strike that was the first movie, we see them frequently fall flat. I’m thinking of The Matrix: Reloaded in this instance. While the film is making a whole lot of money, there is a lot lacking from the film that the first one offered us. Then again, X2 sticks out like a sore thumb in the face of my argument.
That brings me to another point I’ve noticed about sequels. When they’re bad, and it’s obvious they’re bad, people will still defend them, because they really really don’t want them to be bad. It’s a form of denial I call “Phantom Menace Syndrome”. It involves a great deal of making excuses and dismissing people for “not getting” the real point of the story, with lots and lots of circular logic to explain it. Sequels give us that feeling that we had when we experienced the original, but they usually can’t keep it going.
It seems that in every interview I’ve ever read with Alan Moore, they ask him if he’s got a Watchmen follow-up, or a Miracle Man redux. Ditto for any comic creator who’s produced a seminal work. Why can’t fans get enough? Haven’t people figured out that by the fiftieth time they give Chris Claremont another shot at the X-Men that the magic is just gone? Well, let’s team him up with John Byrne again, that’ll work. But it won’t, because that moment passed. The legendary creators either need to move on and make room for new blood, or do something new, but if creators start repeating, or attempting to repeat, more often than not, they will fail.
It seems odd then, in the face of all this, that video games are frequently the exception to the sequel rule. With a more accurate percentage than comics or films, highly anticipated video games do actually sate the masses. Games like Grand Theft Auto 3, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, as well as Mario and Zelda sequel after sequel, surpass that which came before. The most hotly anticipated video games being awaited now seem to be Half-Life 2 and Halo 2. For some reason, no one doubts that these games will deliver, and do it better than the games they’re based on. I think this phenomenon is because, unlike in comics and movies, where the goal is often to repeat what was successful once, video games build on what they were, and become something more and other. Perhaps it’s because video games aren’t so reliant on story as film and comics are, and has other aspects to fall back on. At it’s core, a good movie, comic book, book, or most anything has to have a good story. If that’s not there, nothing else will be. Video games can really benefit from a good story, but at this stage, it isn’t the sole requirement. Whatever the magic component is, a game sequel is something to be anticipated, and more and more often, in my opinion, a comic sequel is something to be feared.
I don’t really know what to make of the sequel. The worst thing is, I continue to find myself being the customer of the sequel, good or bad. And like most other media, if you keep buying them, they’ll keep making them. I suppose all we can do is do our homework, and try our best not to support stuff that only exists as a way to bilk more cash from consumers with watered down also-rans. Still, I can’t help but know that if they ever do offer Alan Moore’s Watchmen 2, they’ve already got my money. Now Roger Stern’s Watchmen 2 is a different story…